Is the title for a long running series of booklets, published by Dave Twydell, of Yore Publications, which looks back at past grounds & old histories of venues long lost. One of which was Champion Hill, which featured a number of years ago now. As someone who unashamedly like to visit grounds I haven't been to before, but being a Hamlet fan you don't always get the opportunity to, cup draws & pre-season matches are a great opportunity to 'tick' a venue that you may not have visited before.
Sadly, from this perspective, our pre-seasons, aren't the most exciting, & whilst I can't speak for my fellow supporters, I'd say it's a fair bet that a number of us would prefer a trip away to a coastal side that we don't usually have the opportunity to play, rather than local venues like Thamesmead Town or Erith Town, that hardly inspire. (Though having said that, we hadn't played at Erith Town before, I just so happened to have been a match there last season, when we had a postponement & I saw out tenants Fisher lose there 4-2).
Sods law the FA Cup draw this season is tantalisingly teasing, which is most annoying, as-if I were the hand clasping type-I'd be praying for a Tunbridge Wells victory. Strange really, as I've been there on a number of occasions, the most recent being just over a fortnight ago, on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, when they lost by the odd goal in three to Kent County League neighbours Rusthall, in the local newspaper sponsored charity George Piper Courier Cup. The other 'either/or' potential opposition for us is Mile Oak, who have just been relegated to the Sussex County League second division, & who are the 'underdogs' for the extra-preliminary round clash. Now usually I would want them to come out on top, as I have not been there, & even though it is my Saturday 'on' at work ( I work alternate Saturdays, which is why you don't always spot me behind the goal) & I took the 'gamble' of booking that day off out of my annual leave allocation, but that was then scuppered by receiving an invite to wedding of exiled Dulwich supporter Alex Bushell, now based in Canada! No, I'm not going to the actual wedding, which is on Saturday 21st, over the pond; but the following week am one of the guests at the 'blessing' at St. Stephens, West Dulwich, followed by the reception for all his English family & friends who could not cross the Atlantic. So, somewhat selfishly, if I can't 'tick off' Mile Oak as a 'new ground' I don't want anyone else to!
Nowadays pre-seasons, as I've already mentioned, aren't as exciting as they could be. And they also start earlier & earlier, with a lot less meaning & commitment to them. By that I mean some have turned into glorified training sessions with so many substitutions & triallists thatbyou don't really know who, or wha, you are watching, even though you recognise the Pink 'n' Blue shirts. Fortunately this season there has been a bit of stability player wise, under Gavin Rose. And also, in the games I've seen so far, there has been none of this 'game of three halves nonsense', though I have seen entire teams changed at half time, & the multiple substitutions toward the end, which make games peter out, but are a 'neccessary evil' of pre-seasons, as managers can afford the luxury of various permutations, without worrying about the loss of valuable league points or impending cup glory. most of the matches I've seen thus far, & tonight against Fulham will be my sixteenth match of the current campaign, have been watchable enough, the only 'dross' was a Sunday match at Winchester City, versus Kingstonian, in the sun, but made worthwhile chatting to old K's fans I know, & an excellent club shop.
Winchester is one of a-by my standards-extremely prolific pre-season, for squeezing in grounds I've not been to before. Now for my own clarifcation I take the start of the season to be the old UEFA benchmark of the first of July as accepted date for the commencing of a campaign. For 2010/11 I moved that back, to Sunday 20th July, when I was fortunate enough, thanks to the 'detective work' of our Belgian supporter Nicolas Lucas, who unearthed a match at Belgian fourth division level side KFC Katelijne, who were hosting their local top flight neighbours KV Mechelen, from that nearby city.
One thing countries like Belgium are good at, neighbouring ones like Germany, are their footballing 'social responsibility' to smaller non-league clubs, who are still the lifeblood of football in any country. And while I'm obviously pleased that we are hosting both Fulham & Crystal Palace XI's this summer, they are a rarity, rather than the a common occurance. There are enough professional Football League & Premiership organisations in the capital, that no local lower level side should be without a prestige visit from one or two of them each July or August.
The game itself had a healthy crowd, of around eight hundred or so, at my 'guestimate', the majority of them from the visitors, with a noticable absence from the Mechelen fans who were at the UR Namur fans tournament where the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters' Team have competed in & played against them, the previous day. A good day out, but marred a little by also being a bit of a 'hooligan fest/love in' with a fight before it had all even got underway, with Mechelen, ably supported by Antwerp, ensuring that the FC Bruges fans' left a bit sharpish & took no part! Certainly the strangest 'supporters tournament' I've ever been at! Though that was clear as soon as we arrived with the amount of Stone Island & Burberry on display. I did like, and buy one of the 'moody' Stone Island Namur Elite scarves mind.
Back in England,as well as the aforementioned Winchester, I've been to two grounds which are due to disappear, in the not too distant future, hence my raison d'etre for visiting. Bavk on the 20th of last month I had the day off work, sadly to attend the funeral of a decent old Hamlet fan Bill Andrews. Which put a smile on my face, as I don't think I've come out of a service happier than that lunchtime. The choice of tune to'play him out' was 'Football Crazy'...with lyrics about a 'terrible football club'! Can't think of which one hi family were thinking of! Though to be fair to tonights opponents it could have been their lot from Craven Cottage, as one of his family sometimes took him there for games, though it was a poor imitation of a 'football fix' for his visits to Champion Hill!
In the evening I took the opportunity of being off work to visit Cambridge City, who were at home to a Luton Town squad side.
The other new venue I went to on Saturday just gone, was a long distance trip for me, as I saw Evesham United 'host' Worcester City, where they groundshare, while their own new stadium is being built. St. Georges Lane is a wonderful old fashioned venue, wooden stand down one side, & plenty of terracing. In the not too distant future to be flattened for housing. Progress they call it.
At least I've recorded it for posterity. And it will soon be featuring on my grounds photoblog at http://www.hoppysnaps.blogspot.com/ I would like to tell you more about these soon to be gone grounds, but time prevents me, as I'm way past my deadline for our 'pre-season' editor Griff!
Maybe one day he'll do a feature on some of the grounds he goes to on his foreign soujourns...though he does prefer to watch them on the telly in his hotel room! Not for me...I can't go anywhere without getting to a match of some sort!
Mishi D. Morath