Non League Club

Team work makes the dream work

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on March 2, 2014

Lewes v Dulwich MaidstoneRemember my article from Tuesday night about The Nowhere Men and the dark secret world of the football scouts?  Well, here comes the litmus test.  Just how good was my intel when it mattered when Dulwich Hamlet arrived at the Pan for today’s game. Firstly we should all raise our glasses to the immense work carried out by the Pitch Team (groundsmen sounds so web 2.0) who once again performed miracles in getting the game on.  In fact, on Thursday it was almost as good as a goner, but then they found a machine in a locked cupboard at the ground which was basically a big sponge on wheels and used that to mop up the water.

We needed to get today’s game on.  Not only would the Dulwich fans be travelling in big numbers to see their table-topping side, but with only one game having been played at The Pan since Christmas, we could have really done with some gate receipts.  Some Premier League fans may not realise that it’s not all Official Partnerships with fizzy drinks companies, or selling media rights to Uzbekistan in the Non-Leagues.  We actually need paying fans through the gate on a regular basis so that we can do little things like pay players, utilities and maintain the ground.  With no chance of any help from our dear leaders at the league, Lewes, like virtually every other club at our level (and below) have had to pray daily for an end to the rain.

Beer-Festival-poster-e1391783221190There was also the small matter of the leftovers from the Lewes Beer Festival that needed finishing off.  Not that football fans need an excuse to have a beer, especially as at The Dripping Pan you can have said beer whilst watching the game.  Twenty guest ales, some of course exclusively provided by club sponsor and world-famous brewery, Harveys had been lined up for Friday night, and whilst the locals did serious damage to the volumes of beer, there would be some left over for today.  Left over beer?  No such thing.  Just beer that hasn’t yet been enjoyed.

So a perfect combination of football and beer was on the cards.  And to celebrate the sun even decided to make an appearance.  Terry had kindly pulled my lucky number out of the monthly Panning For Gold draw so I arrived at the ground £60 better off.  Could the day get any better?  Well if the Lewes side that traveled to Cray last Sunday made an appearance rather than the one that took the field at Grays on Thursday then this could be the best day ever.

Lewes 2 Dulwich Hamlet 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 1st March 2014
Sometimes you just want to bottle a feeling and smell it every day forever.  Not only did Lewes put on their finest performance of the season, nor did my scouting plan demonstrate the exact weaknesses that we exploited.  It wasn’t just the fine beers that were still left over from the Beer festival or the £60 I had in my pocket from the Panning For Gold.  It was a mixture of all of those elements plus the sun shining for the first time in months.  Heck, Piers Morgan could have been standing next to me today and I would have probably shaken his hand at the end of the game.

12863293954_f43a9a9d46_bAs we walked away from The Jungle at the end of the game we tried to decide who was our man of the match.  And therein laid the beauty of the day.  We couldn’t agree.  We couldn’t agree because to a man, every player who took part could have been in with a shout.  Football is a team game and that is how Lewes won.  Team work makes the dream work, so they say and that is what happened today.

We almost didn’t have a game at all.  Despite the efforts of the pitch team it seemed that the perfect playing surface wasn’t good enough for the referee when he arrived at the ground at 1pm.  He was “concerned” about a couple of areas of the pitch and ordered some sand.  Do you know how difficult it is to find sand in Lewes, on a Saturday, at 1pm when you have a 15 minute deadline.  Fortunately, Homebase had some sandpit sand that did the trick and we had a game.

12862852085_bf64a66ef3_bLewes started brightly with the three central midfielders, Dixon, Walder and Logan pushed up the pitch to stop the dangerous Dulwich midfield having time on the ball.  They weren’t hunting alone.  Every time one of them got the ball, the three Rooks surrounded them, hassled them and unnerved them.  Balls were played in behind the Dulwich full-backs thus stopping them getting forward.  Pressure was put on Chico Ramos in the Dulwich goal when he had the ball as he didn’t like to kick the ball.  All in the report lads.

Best chance of the first half fell to Blewden who saw his header hit the post.  Half-time and all square.  But that changed in the first 90 seconds of the second half.  Wheeler’s corner was caught by Ramos, who inexplicably dropped the ball over the line under no pressure at all.  Of course we went easy on Ramos for the rest of the half especially when ten minutes later he could only parry a Blewden shot that slowly trickled towards the empty net only for Adeniyi to make it back to clear.

If the referee was proving unpopular with the players, benches and fans alike due to some strange decisions (over ruling his linesmen on numerous occasions when they were better placed) then the build up to the Lewes second goal with ten to play saw him removed from the Dulwich Hamlet Manager’s Christmas card list forever.  Dulwich’s right-back Boyer left the pitch as part of a substitution but his replacement wasn’t quite ready.  The ball went out of play but instead of now allowing the replacement full-back on, he waved play on.  Lewes broke, Brinkhurst ran through the empty space, rounded Ramos and slotted the ball home.  The Dulwich manager was incensed and play was held up for six minutes whilst he argued with the officials despite being sent off.  At one point the referee and linesman retreated a good 20 yards from the bench and we feared he was going to abandon the game.

12862918703_5bf54cc46f_bFinally we were back underway.  That lasted 30 seconds before he saw another offence that no one else did and booked a player from each side whilst everyone was scratching their heads.  The second goal gave us some comfort as we played out the six minutes of injury time. Full time, job done.

One final word on the afternoon. Dulwich Hamlet’s fans came in numbers (about 150), saw their team underperform, but conquered with their non-stop singing and assisting in finishing the last barrels of beer from the Beer festival.  So in many ways, they were winners to.  Hats of chaps and the best of luck for the rest of the season.

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on October 6, 2013

BVmHhwgCQAAP6U0Today, Lewes faced possibly their biggest test of the season. Yep, we said that before we travelled to Maidstone United in the pouring rain, and again when we faced the wrath of Wealdstone just 50 or so hours after a bruising encounter at Wingate a few weeks ago but on both occasions we came away with draws. But today we travelled to Dog Kennel Hill, in the Metropolis, to face Dulwich Hamlet.  The Ryman Pemier new boys have certainly adjusted to life quickly in the rarified heights of Step 3 of the Non-League Pyramid, scoring goals for fun and coming into this game in second place in the table.  Competition at the top is intense with no fewer than seven teams having held top spot so far this season and despite the Rooks unbeaten record since day one, they still sat outside the play-offs in 6th place, but just six points (with a game in hand) behind AFC Hornchurch in top stop.

This was a game that had a big red ring around it on the calendar.  Not only do I have a few Dulwich supporting friends who had been nervously trying to taunt me about the impending end of our record-breaking start,  but it was one of our rare away days that I could cycle to.  Could cycle ,I said, not was going to cycle.  Technically, I could cycle to any game but I was never going to get on by bike for the 60 mile trip down to Lewes, was I?  But Dulwich Hamlet, as the crow flies is just 8 miles from TBIR towers.  Being so close obviously meant an opportunity for a beer or two with the Lewes Lunatic Fringe as well as such noble gentlemen as The Real FA Cup team, who just happened to be not only Hamlet fans, but sponsors of their captain Ellis Green.

10107155104_e31589c767_bBack in the day, when I was a few pounds lighter, I often played on the old Dog Kennel Hill ground, which in its day was a fine old-fashioned stadium holding over 20,000.  In fact, it could claim the honour of being one of a small elite of grounds that has hosted Olympic football in this country (alongside Old Trafford, Wembley, Ilford and of course Walthamstow), back in 1948 when over 23,000 saw South Korea beat Mexico.  One of my greatest moments came when I scored here from the half-way line for Fleetdown United versus Dulwich Vista, spotting the keeper off his line and BOOSH…1-0!  Alas, my performance in that game would be best remembered by the dozen or so spectators for taking the ball around the keeper before deciding to smash the ball as hard as I could at the empty net from 8 yards, only to see the ball hit both posts and rebound back to the keeper in a move since copied by Liverpool’s Ronnie Rosenthal against Aston Villa a while back.

Today, the turf I graced is under the cold meat counter in Sainsburys.  Back in the 1990’s, the club having fallen on hard times sold the land to the supermarket giant and built a modest ground next door.  The access road, Edgar Kail Way, was named after the club’s most famous player, who was capped by England whilst still an amateur player during the club’s golden period that saw them win the Amateur Cup three times at Upton Park.  But the spirit of the club has never been stronger.  Their support, both home and away gives them a real advantage but had they yet met their match in the form of the LLF – The Lewes Lunatic Fringe.

10103607074_32c6365788_bMany have tried to infiltrate the LLF, trying to understand the psychology of the group, but have failed.  To know them you have to be one of them, something I have learnt through years of running alongside them.  Today, I am welcomed into their bosom but it was not always the case. I stood on and watched the carnage in a pub in Dorchester when Terry found out his ploughman’s lunch didn’t have a pork pie in, or the lunacy of failing to buy a bottle opener before the long trip home from Lowestoft Town.  The Dulwich game would be a real test.  The plan was a 12pm rendezvous in Millwall territory, platform 9 at London Bridge where we would aim to give the authorities the slip. Quick train ride down to East Dulwich before we entered the Actress, did unspeakable deeds to The Bishop before larging it with not one, but two different flavours of crisps in the East Dulwich Tavern – right under the noses of the Hamlet fans, armed with footballing trivia, real ale guide vouchers and potentially Cynical Dave’s concealed humus.  People still question why we do it.  Well, it’s the buzz ‘init.

Dulwich Hamlet 4 Lewes 2 – Champion Hill – Saturday 5th October 2013
The run had to end at some point and there was no shame in it being against Dulwich in a very pleasing on the eye encounter.  The toll of injuries, suspensions and a rampant Hamlet side was the undoing at last of the Rooks who probably put in one of their best performances of the season so far but came up short in terms of attacking intent.  The absence of the centre-forwards Nathan Crabb and Ade Olorunda, plus the enforced withdrawal just after half time of Jack Walder put the Rooks on a backfoot that against other teams they would have been able to cope with but today the home side were simply too strong.

10107133103_ea79d99c52_bAfter a very enjoyable pre-match warm up around the pubs of East Dulwich we had hardly taken our places behind the goal when a superb cross from the right was turned into his own net by Steve Brinkhurst to give the home side the lead. “That’s his pocket money gone for this week!” said his Dad next to us.  But then Lewes kicked into gear and it is fair to say that they dominated the rest of the half. just lacking the finish to the possession which Crabb or Olorunda would have given us.  But on 35 minutes we got our equaliser when Jay Lovett pounced on a loose ball in the area after Dulwich had failed to clear a Ross Treleaven “Delap-style” throw in.

The second half was barely a minute old when Dulwich had the ball in the net, but it was ruled out for offside. Oh how we laughed at their premature celebrations for all of 30 seconds before Jerome Walker scored for real.  Two became three just before the hour mark when Kevin James scored which seemed to wake up the Rooks and Jack Dixon’s screamer from 25 yards 90 seconds later brought Lewes right back into the game.

For fifteen minutes it seemed that Lewes may get something out of the game.  If Dan Smith would have been wearing stilts then he would have had a simple tap in at the far post from Matt Crabb’s cross but alas such items are still banned by FIFA and it turned out the next goal won the game, scored by dangerman Marc-Anthony Okoye, the player I had highlighted as a major concern for Lewes when I scouted Dulwich a few weeks ago.

10107035605_232fccbeac_bAt the final whistle there were no complaints from the fans or the management team alike.  It had been a great game of football and we came up short, simple as that. Dulwich had simply been too strong over the 90 minutes and the win kept them in seventh place.  News came through that Wealdstone, the league’s only other unbeaten side, had lost to Margate so we will claim we had the longest unbeaten run in the league, albeit by a few seconds.

It would have been rude not to finish off an excellent away day with a beer and around these parts you don’t have to wander too far to find a pub.  The LLF were in a philosophical mood, contemplating the biggest game of the season next weekend when Sutton United, third in the Conference South, would be visiting in the FA Cup.  As Hamlet himself once said, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”

Happiness is a game at Hamlet

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 17, 2013

When London hosted the summer Olympics in 1948, the football tournament was spread around the capital with a few detours down to the south coast. At the time the amateur game had never been so popular, coming after the war when football-starved Londoners had been denied their regulars fix of the beautiful games, so the decision to use some of the classic old-school grounds was very popular with the public. Games were played at Lynn Road, Ilford, Green Pond Road in Walthamstow and Champion Hill in Dulwich.

dulwich 4The first two grounds no longer exist, their history buried beneath supermarkets and executive-style apartments. But football is still played every week at Champion Hill although the ground has gone through a number of changes over the past 65 years. Home of Dulwich Hamlet, and their tenants, Fisher Athletic, crowds are a modest few hundred rather than the thousands that flocked here in the old amateur days in the innocent age of football including that gloriously typical English summer’s day in August 1948 in driving rain when South Korea beat Mexico.

Dulwich Hamlet are one of the oldest clubs still knocking around the London Non Leagues. The club was formed in 1893, by Lorraine ‘Pa’ Wilson when Dulwich was an affluent village-like suburb of London, hence their rural name. Their greatest ever player was Edgar Kail, who scored over 400 goals for the club as an amateur who went on to win three caps for England in 1929, and turned down moves to professional clubs to stay playing for Dulwich, loving life at this level. Despite winning the Isthmian League just after the war, it’s been a story of near-misses characterised by the last few years which has seen play off defeats to Leatherhead and Bognor Regis Town in the past two seasons for a spot in the Ryman Premier League.

But this season it could be third time lucky for The Hamlet. The lead at the top of the Ryman League South seems like a two-way love-in between Dulwich and Maidstone United, swapping top spot on regular occasions. This Saturday the two giants are due to meet at Champion Hill in the biggest game of the Ryman League South season. But it’s not all about the league. The Ryman Cup gives all clubs a shot at glory, albeit on a small-scale, and a look at past winners just shows how open the competition is.  In the past five years, the winners in every year, bar Bury Town last year, have come from the lower divisions including the likes of Tilbury, Ramsgate, Leatherhead and Wingate & Finchley.  So Dulwich Hamlet were in with as much as a shout as anyone this season.  After beating Eastbourne Town and Herne Bay, they faced Wealdstone in a third round tie on a chilly night in Saarf London, with a home tie against Kingstonian in the quarter finals a prize for the winners.

With all of our work country managers over in London for a few days surely they would be keen on a Tuesday night slice of proper culture?  You can take your London Eye, your Madame Tussards and Buckingham Palace but what visitors, with limited time in London really want to see is an Isthmian League Cup game in South East London, right?  Well, apparently not.  Despite my best efforts to sell the game to the Danes, French, Germans and Swiss, the only takers I had were from Ben and Luge, both expats who actually lived a stone’s throw away from Dog Kennel Hill for many years.  Typical.  But never ones to turn down a trip to some Non League football we made the 13 minute train journey down to East Dulwich, only briefly stopping for some liquid refreshment at the Britannia along the way.  It promised to be a night of cup drama, intelligent conversation and freezing feet.

Dulwich Hamlet 1 Wealdstone 0 – Champion Hill – Tuesday 15th January 2013
In a mirror of games being played in the FA Cup, was this really a shock result?  Not really.  Unfortunately the shoppers next door in Sainsbury’s stayed in the frozen foods aisle which was a good few degrees warmer than the action on the pitch in Champion Hill. Neither side put out first string sides, with Dulwich taking the opportunity to field a much younger starting XI. The difficulty clubs have at this level in trying to field full sides twice a week was clear to see as Wealdstone couldn’t name a full bench, although there were a few familiar names on show including Rikki Banks, Richard Jolly and Chris O’Leary.

P1070013The home side always seemed to have that extra yard of pace, creating a number of good chances that saw Banks the busier keeper. Ellis Green nearly opened the scoring on the half hour mark for Hamlet when his shot from distance cannoned off the post. All this excitement drove us upstairs to the bar, and one of the better views in non league football. In fact the warmth of a radiator kept us there for the remainder of the game, despite Damon’s appearance with a prototype of the 500RTLF “Beerscarf” that he claimed kept him warm and his beer spillage free-standing on the terrace.

Five minutes into the second half and Dulwich scored the only goal of the game. Oztomer sent in a corner which was well met by Turner forcing Banks into an excellent save but he was powerless to stop Ryan James forcing in the rebound. The goal sparked Wealdstone into life with the veteran Jolly causing problems for the Dulwich defenders nearly half his age. But Wilson in the Dulwich goal was a virtual statue most of the half, frozen to the spot (he should’ve bought his beerscarf).

photo (1)The game ended more with a whimper as the sub-90 crowd trudged out of the ground and into the cold South East London night. Wealdstone won’t shed many tears about losing in this competition, with their eyes still on the major prize, promotion to the Blue Square Bet South. Dulwich too hope that promotion will be on the agenda come what May. But whether the stay-away fans would see any action on Saturday is another story. With temperatures dropping by the second the prospect of any games making it through the “beast from the east” are already slim to none.