They say you never forget your first time. I wish that were true. It was a long time ago...and I was only ten years old! It's not what you're thinking....I'm talking about relegation!
In the grim years of the nineteen sixties Dulwich Hamlet were invariably shoulder to shoulder with the traditionalists of Corinthian-Casuals, standing firm, or should that be stubbornly, against the mass encroachment of 'Shamateurism' that had overrun the Isthmian League. Back in those days amateur football was completely separate from the professional game & never the twain shall meet. Illegal 'boot money' was rife, but it was a case of 'out of sight, out of mind.' Everbody knew it occured, and could not be stamped out. Times were changing, and there was no will from the powers that be at the old Lancaster Gate headquarters of the Football Association, to stamp out the common practice.
In truth, for the Hamlet, after the War was over, & our last Isthmian League championship success in 1948/49, the next couple of decades were an uphill struggle, with rare 'blips' being the '55/6 campaign, when despite ourselves finishing fourteenth out of sixteen, we still managed to reach the semi final of the FA Amateur Cup. Which was the closest we ever got to playing at Wembley Stadium, after the final was switched there eight years previous. It was Corinthian-Casuals who defeated us in the penultimate round at Stamford Bridge, home of the then reigning Football League champions Chelsea, after their first ever title win in 1955. We went down by three goals to one, in front of a crowd of over 27,000; with a reputed fifty supporters' coaches making the trip across South London from Champion Hill! The following two seasons we finished third from bottom, before an unturn in 1959, when we were runners-up. A spot we have been unable to achieve again.
For a couple of years there was a bit of respectability about the boys in Pink and Blue once more, slipping to seventh the following year, but rising up to fourth the next. Then the really bad years kicked in. Down to eleventh, & then second from bottom, with only Corinthian-Casuals below us. Come May 1964 & it was once again second from bottom, Clapton propping us up this time, with the Casuals just ahead of us. The end of the '64/65 campaign was an improvement of sorts. 'Only' third off the bottom! Clapton once more, & Woking the real dross of the Isthmian that year. The ignomy & humiliation of being rock bottom for the first time in our history was suffered in the summer of 1966. With the entire country on a huge high with England going on to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy at the end of July, it was only the long suffering Hamlet fans who wore glum faces. There was no riding the crest of the wave following on from that defeat of West Germany, with another bottom spot for us in 1967.
Thankfully back then there was no relegation, & the Isthmian League only consisted of one division. Below that was the Athenian League. But an 'old pals act' kept the Hamlet on board, being voted back into the League was a mere formality. One can only wonder what might have happened if there had been automatic ups & downs between leagues, as is accepted practice nowadays, & how far we would have plummetted, or even survived!
The latter part of the sixties saw the Hamlet rise to the -by those standards- 'heady heights' of the top half of the bottom half of the league! But 'normal service' was resumed at the beginning of the seventies, with a lowly second from bottom in 1971/72; with once again who else but only Corinthian-Casuals underneath.
Clearly whatever remnants of real amateurism that was left at Champion Hill wasn't working, & a new manager was appointed in the summer of '72. Jimmy Rose came in, having been at nearby Croydon 'anything but' Amateurs, in the Athenian League, where he had achieved succesive promotions to take the Blues (now the Trams) to the Premier Division of that competition for the first time in their history. Without him at the helm the following year they struggled, finishing thirteenth out of sixteen clubs.
Rose made a number of new signings to the Club, and although we were officially still amateur, to my mind there is simply no way that experienced campaigners like Trevor Bladon, who had been an England amateur international, as was Ken Jelly; plus a host of former Croydon Amateurs in Geoff Parsons, Ray Major, Peter Gaydon, David Burke, Phil Davidson, Ken Baker & Graham Smith would have all suddenely appeared on the doorstep at Champion Hill if all they were getting in their boots was a nice comfy pair of socks! Perhaps it was the increase in admission charges that season that made all the difference...it was now 20p to enter the ground, with a higher 30p charge for the main stand. Prices halved for juniors. Not that any of that extra lolly would have officially gone into players pockets anyway, of course!
It took a while for the Rose team to gell, and it was a mere twelveth place finish, in a 22 team division, but that was still the highest league campaign for over a decade. An almost forgotten about for a generation title challenge came over the next three seasons. Not quite there, but for the first time in living memory for many supporters the Hamlet were a team that was hard to beat, with highly respectable placings of a fourth spot, followed by two fifths. As well as two Surrey Senior Cup wins.
With much of those squads still in place for the 1976/77 season it came a shock to most when the Hamlet struggled, after a seemingly reasonable opening week at the end of August. A one one draw on the opening day of the season away to Hayes was followed up with a comfortable 2-0 victory at home to Ilford. Alec Jackson headed the first early on, from a Harry Falconer free-kick; with the second coming from the boot of Errol Rhoden. It was a match between the two sides that were relegated at the end of the season, but after taking four points from their first six I doubt there were many, if any, Hamlet fans at Champion Hill that night who could have forseen that eventuality.
In actual fact this was to be the last Isthmian League victory for the Hamlet in our SE22 heartland until the 16th of April the following year against Bishops' Stortford! Further points were picked up in draws against Barking, Tilbury & Sutton United, before another three points were earned at Fetcham Grove, overcoming Leatherhead by the odd goal in three, our scorers being Alec Jackson & Kevin Walsh.
This match was the start of a run of away games in both the league & cup competitions that was to stretch to six clashes on the road, two victories, one in the FA Cup at Letchworth Garden City, a rare Rodney Brookes goal being enough to win the tie 0ne nil. I recall being on the 'noisy' supporters' coach to this game. Back then we often had two buses going to away matches, organised so well for many years by Ron Mitchell. Our one actually conked out at the top of Dog Kennel Hill! But spluttered on to Hertfordshire, suffering two more 'breakdowns' en route. The last being in the town itself, and slap bang in front of a wedding party coming out of a church! I wonder if they could ever forget their big day with a coach by the side of the kerb on the road with several dozen blokes chanting out of the windows: "You mug, you mug!" to the groom! Despite all the setbacks we just got to the ground in time for kick off, though the programmes were sold out. My brother Ferenc managed to purchase one by offering a home fan double the cover price for his copy...paying a whole ten pence instead of five!
The week after we travelled to Dagenham, where we surprisingly upset the form book to run out 3-1 winners in the London Senior Cup, which back then was a competition that was taken seriously, unlike latterday humiliations against Hanwell Town & South Kilburn! Walsh was a scorer once more, with the others coming from local Camberwell boy Charlie Pooley, now in his fifth year at Champion Hill, & the St. Thomas the Apostle PE teacher Dave Barker, who had returned for a second spell at the Club. He is a player who will be well remembered by one of his former pupils Mick O'Shaughnessy. Mr. Barker is the reason that he became a Hamlet fan! Mick intially popped down out of curiousity as a schoolboy, to barrack his teacher, but slowly but surely got hooked, and is today one of our most loyal fans, being a regular both home & away! The coach journey home was particularly boistrous, & not only because I remember it as my first ever trip on the Woolwich Free Ferry, but for a passenger on it who still sticks in the mind. A rather rotund chap (to say the least!) on a moped, which he seemed to smother, had to endure a coachload making jibes and chanting at him & his likeness to a popular TV detective of the era, called Frank Cannon! Being stuck for ten minutes on an open deck of a boat there was nowhere for him to hide!
By the time the Hamlet next took to the field at Champion Hill, on 23rd October against Wealdstone in the FA Cup, the only topic was much more serious. The departure of Jimmy Rose, who had tendered his resignation & moved across South London to become deputy Chairman of the top Southern League side Wimbledon, lured no doubt by their constant successes. this campaign would be their third consecutive Southern League title, & at the end they finally broke that 'old pals act' to get elected to the Football League, replacing the far flung Cumbrians Workington; who ironically knocked out the new Dons club AFC Wimbledon, formed in 2002, in this season's FA Trophy recently. The old Wimbledon club, now a former shadow of themselves based in Milton Keynes, actually played their last ever match as a non league side at the old Champion Hill. On Tuesday 17th May they defeated Staines Town 0ne nil in the London Senior Cup final replay, with the scorer being a former Dulwich Hamlet man in John Leslie, who they had signed from us the previous season.
The programme for that Wealdstone programme began it's notes with the departure of Rose, and you are left to wonder how popular he really was among the old Club members & committee men, who hankered back for the old amateur days when managers knew their place: "Much water has flowed under the bridge since your scribe last put pen to paper. The resignation of Jimmy Rose is history now, of course, but we would like to place on record our sincere thanks for his efforts on behalf of the Club during the last four years. As a flamboyant manager in the mould of a Clough or an Allinson, Jimmy certainly had his critics but no one can deny that his drive and enthusiasm was mainly responsible for putting Dulwich Hamlet back on the footballing map." Why Rose left we will never know, but it was said that he walked out after the Club hierarchy refused to sanction the purchase of a new set of socks for the First Team, and the set they were using were too worn & tatty! Whether this is true or not doesn't particularly matter, as it makes a superb 'footballing urban myth' as an anecdote!
His replacement is seen by some Hamlet fans as worst manager in the Club history, to this day. The Committee promoted the 36 year old Reserve Team manager George Rocknean, who in fairness, he had served an excellent apprenticeship in the hotseat. Fred Pudney, a long serving Hamlet regular throughout the seventies, became his coach. If it were possible results went from bad to worse under their charge. Apart from one win at second division Hertford Town on 27th October in a new competition, the league cup for which entry was compulsory for the first time, we only had two draws throughout the whole month of November. A 1-1 draw at Walthamstow Avenue. We come from behind after one of our former players Dean Mooney had given the Avenue the lead. Our equaliser came from the penalty spot, the ever dependable Steve Rodgers, with every much as hot a shot as the famous Leeds United striker of the time Peter Lorrimer, blasting the back of the net after Alec Jackson had been fouled. A defeat at Dagenham followed, a reverse of the score from our London Senior win there. And then an extremely rare Champion Hill point, honours shared in a 2-2 draw with Woking. We had fallen behind after our keeper Alan Thomas fumbled over his own line from a corner, & a minute into the second half the Cards doulbed their lead. But we fought back for a share of the spoils with two goals in a minute! First Alec Jackson, then moments later Dave Barker sidestepped his marker to rifle home from the edge of the penalty area. Despite the point we slipped into one of the two relegation spots, after Kingstonian ran out 3-0 victors over Southall & Ealing Borough.
The following game saw a 4-2 defeat against bitter rivals Tooting & Mitcham United, memorable not for the result, but for being played on a traditional Champion Hill quagmire of a pitch & earning the distinction of being the only game taking place within a hundred mile radius of London! On the night they were fortunate that we were reduced to ten men in very sapping conditions after Kevin Walsh was sent off in the second half, the score being an even one apiece at half time.
December brought a rare three points, when we travelled down to Surrey, returning from Kingfield with a two nil success at Woking, with a goal apiece from Jackson & Barker. Rocknean tried to shake things up on the park, signing two forwards. Peter Lavers arrived from Leatherhead, where-to be fair- he was a proven scorer; & Benny Odeje re-signed for the Hamlet, having been at Clapton. Neither were a success, making a mere nine & six appearances respectively. Neither managed to get on the scoresheet.
The first two months of the new year were a total disaster. Hampered by bad weather there were a number of postponements, only five league matches being played. All lost, and only one goal to our credit, in a 3-1 loss at home to Leatherhead, having taken the lead through Dave Barker. There was a lone Surrey Senior Cup victory to lighten the mood, Barker again the scorer in a one nil goal victory at Kingstonian, at their old Richmond Road ground, following a no score draw in on a heavy Champion Hill pitch.
Enough was enough & with relegation seeming inevitable the Club Committee went for one last throw of the dice. Rocknean was finally sacked, his spell in charge of the First Team being an unmitagated disaster. Fred Pudney was relieved of his coaching duties at the same time. Jimmy Langley was appointed as coach until the end of the season. A former professional with Leeds United, Brighton & Hove Albion,Fulham and Queens Park Rangers, where he won a Football League Cup winners medal in 1967. This was the first ever Wembley final in that competition, and the then third division QPR shocked everyone in beating top flight West Bromwich Albion. He was also a former full England international, having earned three caps in 1958, just under thirty years after our own Edgar Kail earned his trio. Langley returned to Wembley as player-mamager of Hillingdon Borough in the 1971 FA Trophy final. His footballing pedigree could not be brought into question. The dire situation was extremely serious, but the Club hierarchy hoped he would pull things round as the programme notes of Saturday 12th March told:
" Most of you will have learned by now that, following a Committee Meeting last week, Team Manager George Rocknean and Coach Fred Pudney have been relieved of their duties. Our results in recent months have been so terribly disappointing that the Officers and Committee felt that a chance was neccessary in the best interests of the Club. Accordingly former England player Jim Langley has been appointed coach for the rest of the season and we wish him every possible success. Our position at the foot of the league table may well appear desperate but, with three points for a win, we can still under Jim's guidance, avoid the drop to Division Two. In conclusion, may we thank George and Fred for their efforts on behalf of the team. We hope they will both stay with the club in some capacity."
Not a hope shared by the long suffering supporters on the terraces, who were glad to see the back of a clearly out of his depth Rocknean.
A morale boosting gigantic 6-0 victory against second division outfit Ware followed, in the League Cup. Admittedly they were rock bottom in their table, but you cannot underestimate how much of a fillip this tie must have been. Ossie Bayram opened the scoring, but the star of the show was second half substitute Charlie Pooley, who came on for Errol Rhoden, & hit a hat-trick! The other two being headers from Chris Lewington & Eric Allinson.
Despite being into the later stages of the season there were still fourteen league games remaining, thanks to previous postponements in inclement weather. It was a tall order to avoid the drop, but there were still forty two points to play for.
A 3-0 reverse at home to Hendon followed, always a strong side, who were to finish fourth. The League Cup run continued, which proved a timely pick-up, as another Second Division side, Harlow Town, were beaten. By the time this game was played Langley had already been promoted to manager, which he combined with his coaching duties. The Owls may have been from the league below but we were almost scalped by them. Two down with only six minutes left on the clock, our longest serving player & captain Peter Smith pulled one back with a snap volley. Then as the match went into injury time Dave Barker laid on a simple goal for Alec Jackson. With the clock ticked down to almost nothing roles were reversed for the last attack of the night. Jackson took on and beat two defenders before crossing for Barker to head in the winner at the near post!
Now the question was could this good cup form against lesser opposition be repeated in league matches? The answer was yes! A home point followed against Walthamstow Avenue, a late Alan Hart goal cancelling out their first half penalty. The following Tuesday we celebrated our first league victory for three months with a 2-0 win at Sutton United. Steve Rogers made no mistake from the spot just over halfway through the first period, after a blatant handball; with Charlie Pooley clinching the points in the 82nd minute, latching onto a poor back pass, & dribbling round the hapless keeper.
The hard work was undone with a home defeat against FA Trophy semi finalists Slough Town, & then a narrow loss by the odd goal in five at Sandy Lane. But the battle was not yet lost. The games were coming thick and fast, with three games a week for the rest of the season! Tiredness may defeat us, but the will to win was still there! A repeat of our Surrey Cup tie score saw another lone goal victory at Kingstonian, another Steve Rogers penalty securing the full points. Despite this win the programme for the next match, at home to Bishops' Stortford, said the result only 'kept alive our flickering hopes of relegation'. If they were only flickering after the Stortford encounter the candle of hope was positively burning! We didn't just win our first home Isthmian League game since way back in August, but won it in style, scoring five! Earning our only 'bonus' of the season. A bonus was a £40 prize awarded by the Isthmian League sponsors, Rothmans, for each game won by a clear three goal margin. A first half Ossie Bayram goal was all we had to show for the opening 45 minutes, but after the break the goals flowed! Just before the hour mark Fred Pudney-free from the 'pressures' of coaching- made it two, for his first goal of the season. And than a minute later Charlie Pooley pounced on a goalkeeping error to walk the ball into an empty net. Stortford reduced the arrears, but moments after Bayram restored our lead with a superb solo effort. It was fitting when Ossie clinched his hat-trick just before time, with a left-foot volley, from a low Steve Rogers cross. Such was his performance that the 'South London Press' said that Bayram had 'set Champion Hill alight' with his superb show!
Next up at Champion Hill were Kingstonian, & just like the Surrey Cup it was a draw. The young wizard that was Ossie equalising in the second half. A run of four away matches following in quick succession. The first had no bearing on the league position, thankfully, but was a game not needed in an already congested fixture list. The Hamlet went down 3-1 that Thursday night, but it was a game long remembered for what happened OFF the pitch, rather than on it. Despite the presence of the local police Dulwich fans were attacked by locals, and had to dash round into the stand for safety. The supposed upholders of the law actually turned a blind eye, with the lame excuse that '"they were changing shifts at nine!" As a result of their total inaction a window was smashed on the Supporters' team coach. When we next played at Victoria Road two seasons later, it was the first time in living memory that there was no Supporters' coach to an away game, as Ron Mitchell was concerned he could guarantee the safety of Hamlet followers, who were even advised not to travel! Thankfully the April '77 incident was a 'one off', put down to 'hangers on', as the Daggers were on their way to Wembley, becoming the first ever Isthmian League side to reach the FA Trophy Final, though they lost to Scarborough by three goals to one, despite being cheered on by a coachload of Dulwich Hamlet supporters. This was actually my first ever visit to the venerable grand old home of English football. In truth a bit of a dump, & not worthy of the mystique that surrounded the Twin Towers.
Less than 48 hours later it was back to the relegation scrap, and a journey over to North London.
Hendon, who were to finish fourth, were the opposition. Under Rocknean we would undoubtedly have rolled over, but Langley was a different proposition. The only goal came just after half time, when Charlie Pooley pounced on a rebound after a low Ossie Bayram shot was palmed away. Midway through the half there was a massive downpour & the referee called the players off the pitch during a huge hailstorm. The massed Dulwich ranks dashed under the large covered terrace along the side & gave a constant rendition of "We shall not, we shall not be moved!....just like a team that's going to stay up!" I was a happy boy that day going home on the bus back to Champion Hill...not the Supporters' Club one, but good old London Transport! I went to the match with my brother, using what were travelcards of their day, called 'Red Bus Rovers'. Walking down to Camberwell Green we took a number 12 bus to Oxford Circus, & from there a 113, which seemed to take hours wending its way down the Finchley Road, & then toward Brent Cross. unsurprisingly that was the only time I ever went there & back by bus!
By now, despite it being a tall order, the Hamlet faithful were starting to believe the unbelievable & were genuinely convinced that we could beat the drop! Tuesday night saw an awkward trip through London & up north to Bishops' Stortford, who proved to be a tougher proposition than their recent capitulation in SE22. It wasn't until twenty minutes to go when Ossie Bayram gave Dulwich the lead with a fierce volley, adding another five minutes later. Which made for a nerve-wracking last minute & stoppage time, after Stortford hit what proved to be a mere consolation with 89 minutes on the referee's watch.
Two nights later proved to be one Thursday night journey too many. Dulwich dominated at Slough Town, hitting the woodwork no less than four times before the 'Rebels' bagged the points with two goals in the last fifteen minutes.
Despite that setback the Hamlet rolled up their sleeves & somehow recharged their batteries for our last Saturday home game, versus Hitchin Town. We bounced back in style, scoring four goals in the league for only the second time that season. Early goals from Charlie Pooley & Alec Jackson put Dulwich in the driving seat. We then had 'lady luck' on our side at the 'Canaries' were not on song, missing a penalty, though they did pull one back, to make it 2-1 at half time. After the interval we dominated but with no further goals until the final ten minutes, when Pooley plundered two more, for his hat-trick. We were only denied our second £40 bonus when Hitchin pulled one back in a late rally.
In our penultimate match of the season it was the first ever Isthmian League visit to Champion Hill, for fellow south-east Londoners Croydon, who had effectively risen four divisions in a decade, to now being on an even footing with the Hamlet. When Jimmy Rose first took over them in the late sixties nobody could have envisaged they would be playing at a higher level than the Hamlet ten years later! But for tonight it was our boys in Pink and Blue who were still the 'top dogs' locally, a defeat would have sent us down, but a goal apiece from Dave Barker, Ossie Bayram & Fred Pudney in a 3-1 victory meant the 'great escape' was still on!
And so to 'D-Day'! D for destiny. Nothing less than a victory would suffice. For both sides! At Wycombe Wanderers. We needed maximum points to have a chance of beating the drop, while Wycombe needed to win, & hope Enfield dropped points to clinch the title for themselves! To say this was a bit of a tall order for the Hamlet was a bit of an understatement, to say the least. For Loakes Park, & it's infamous slope, was not a happy hunting ground. True the previous season a lone Trevor Bladon goal had secured all three points, but this was our first victory at their ground in the Isthmian League since the 1951/52 season! There was a price to pay for this, as a brick was thrown through the back window of the Supporters' Club coach as it left the ground. But the culprit was apprehended, and was later fined by the local Buckinghamshire magistrates.
Expectations were still high though, & with so many footballing miracles under Langley since he had arrived two months previous, left most fans genuinely believing there was one more still to come. But it was not to be.
At this point I must confess that I wasn't at the game myself. The Supporters' Club coaches were due to leave the bottom of the hill at 12.30pm that lunchtime. But, for some reason, myself & my brother Ferenc were cutting it fine. Too fine in fact. And as we were running through the short cut by the adventure playground at the back of our flats we saw them driving up Dog Kennel Hill. I was distraught, & promptly burst into tears! I wasn't to cry again at a Hamlet match until that FA Cup 4th qualifying round tie twenty one years later, when we beat Newport (Isle of Wight), to reach the First Round Proper for the first time in fifty years. But they were grown up tears of joy. Back on the 7th May 1977 I was a little ten year old boy bawling his eyes out! Big bruv calmed me down by offering to take me to a big professional game, Crystal Palace at home to Lincoln City, in the old Third Division. The Eagles were pushing for promotion, & this was their last home game, where every point counted. It was sandwiched in between two games against Wrexham. On the previous Tuesday they had won by the odd goal in three, so this match was huge. And Lincoln were brushed aside, four one. I don't remember too much about the game, except we were in the huge unsegregated 'away terrace' at the Holmesdale End. My brother was there with the late Peter O'Shaughnessy, who also followed the Hamlet from the nineties, until his death in December 2002. I do recall my brother telling me to 'stay where I was' and he dashed off in a huge charge across the terrace toward the Lincoln fans as I saw football holliganism 'live' for the first time in my young life! Other than that my mind was at Loakes Park....
Crystal Palace, incidentally, DID clinch that third promotion spot, winning 4-2 in Wales on the Wednesday night, in front of a huge Racecourse Ground crowd of 18, 451; which no doubt included several thousand suburbanites from Selhurst Park.
But back to the town of High Wycombe, a few days previous. The inevitable happened, and after a game Dulwich first half performance where there was no score, we succumbed to the Wanderers after the break. Wycombe took the lead in the 46th minute through Ian Pearson, but Alec Jackson reignited our hopes, by quickly heading an equaliser. We dominated for a while, but Pearson dashed the Dulwich dreams by adding two more for his hat trick. So we went down, on 41 points, which was by far the highest total for any relegated side since promotion & relegation was introduced over the previous three seasons. Harlow Town went down with the same total in 1982; as should have Tooting & Mitcham United in '84, but were extremely fortunate to have been reprieved when mid-table Staines Town were demoted instead, on controversial ground grading infringements. It only postponed the inevitable for them though, as Tooting did go down fair & square five years later-despite ourselves 'gifting' them four points out of a possible six! The day they actually got relegated in 1989 coincided with the Dulwich Hamlet end of season bash at the 'Twilights' nighspot, in Sydenham. The disc jockey's turntable was constantly hijacked by fans requesting the Status Quo song ' Down', with the lyrics being drunkenly reworded: 'Down, down! Tooting are down!"
The last day victory for Wycombe counted for nothing from their point of view, as Enfield defeated Slough Town to take the title, the second of a hat-trick of consecutive championships for the E's. Pearson, who got all the goals for Wycombe, went on trial at Millwall in the summer, as did our own Ossie Bayram. In the end the Lions only signed the Wanderers striker, & Ossie returned to Champion Hill, scoring 33 goals for us the next season, as we bounced back as champions at the first attempt, which was their loss not ours!
But Jimmy Langley would not be in charge for that magnificent campaign. He left once the season was over. Some South London non-league managers were safe in their jobs. The local press reported, after the close of the season, that "Tooting & Mitcham manager Jack Payne has agreed to stay at Sandy Lane after another successful season." Jack Payne? Whatever happened to him? I doubt any Hamlet fans back then could ever have envisaged that the gaffer of the arch enemy would end around three decades later as our Chairman!
There was just one more game to play, at home to Redhill, in the first round of a one off Surrey Centenary Cup competition, which was organised by the Surrey Football Association to commemorate their one hundred years of existence. It was an invitational competion for eight of the county's oldest clubs-and not eight of the oldest " country's " clubs, which our programme inadvertently stated! It was to contine over the latter months of the year, during the next season. This match must have been a bit like 'after the Lord Mayors Show', and similar to how fans felt many years later, in May 2004, when we lost to Wealdstone in a penalty shoot-out to miss out on a last promotion spot. I mentioned earlier how I cried after I missed the coaches to Wycombe, as a ten year old. I was also in tears after that Wealdstone play-off, when I was a little older, aged thirty seven! We defeated arch rivals Tooting & Mitcham United two days later in the London Senior Cup Final 2-0 at Hendon, through two Omari Coleman goals. Back in '77 it was a closer 3-2 winning margin that signed off the 'nearly miracle man' reign of Jimmy Langley. Ossie Bayram bagged two more before his short sojourn down The Den, before Redhill hit back, with Charlie Pooley snatched the winner with ten minutes to go in a very disappointing season. There was a statistical consolation of note at that Redhill game, as stalwart defender Rodney Brookes made his 56th appearance of the season, to become the first Dulwich Hamlet player to be ever present, since Reg Merritt, way back in 1959/60!
Over thirty years since that relegation season second generation Hamlet fan Liam Hickey, whose young son Joe has followed in his footsteps in the finest family tradition of supporting Dulwich, recalled: "On paper we should have been in the top five with the players we had at our disposal, but football isn't played on paper! We really should have been a shoe-in for one of the top spots. But in lots of the games I'm sure we dominated, but just didn't score, losing to late goals. There was one player we had, I can't recall his name off the top of my head all these years later. He was a long haired elegant midfielder, I think signed from a professional club. Probably far too classy for us, but he wasn't prepared to roll up his sleeves and get dirty in a relegation dogfight team. One silly thing that sticks in my mind about Jim Langley was at an away game at Hendon. I had got there early enough to listen to him ranting outside the changing rooms shocked at how small they were! He was sayig they weren't even big enough for a five-a-side team. Many years later, helping the Club with the kit, I found out exactly what he meant! The old Claremont Road must have had the smallest changing rooms anywhere! With regard to Langley himself I am pretty sure that if he had been appointed three or four weks earlier we would have stayed up."
Another lifelong Dulwich fan, Malcolm Meredith, who regularly travels to home games nowadays from Harlow, in Essex, & has been a Hamlet follower since the early sixties, tries to remember:
"It's all a bit in the dim and distant past now, but we often appeared to lose in the last five minutes after dominating for the previous 85! We seemed to lack a bit of fitness too. My own abiding memory of the run in when we nearly beat the drop was the home game against Croydon. Fred Pudney I will never forget scored with a flying header, for only his second goal of the season. I was so surprised that I actually slipped & fell down the terraces I was laughing so much! Even going into the last game, despite it being Wycombe, I was totally convinced we were going to stay up. There was a great atmosphere, in front of a big crowd, and we must have had several hundred fans there. But the slope at Wycombe is always worth a goal or two for them, and that was too much for us. If it would have been on a flat pitch it would have been a draw."
Just one week after the final Redhill game the 'South London Press' headline read:
DULWICH AXE LANGLEY.
Would he have wanted to stay? Who knows? He certainly wasn't that old, being 48 when our manager, but never returned to the hot seat anywhere. Was he disillusioned by the 'axe'? We will never know. We can only go on this press report which told us the following:
"The decision not to re-engage Langley was taken at a Committee meeting on Thursday night. "Jim was only appointed for the rest of the season in March", said Club official John Lawrence. "And although he did a good job with the team he does live in West Drayton which is a long haul from Dulwich. He would have found it difficult to training and matches and we decided it was not really on. We are now looking for a track suit manager who will also do the coaching. "
One of the favourites for the job was Ted Murphy, who had previously coached at Champion Hill under Jimmy Rose. But the post went later in the close season to an unknown young man from Wimbledon FC called Alan Smith... but his reign in charge is for another day in the 'Hamlet Historian'!