Monday, 25 April 2011

Crushing the Casuals

I am sat down at home cobbling together this article a few hours after a lone Gary Drewitt goal has put The Hamlet within touching distance of the end of season promotional play-offs. A win in our last match would ensure our participation in them at the start of May. A late surge has seen fans look at points that have been 'needlessly' thrown away, games that should have seen enough points in the bag to make the last match at Walton & Hersham academic.

Having lost fifteen Ryman League Division One South encounters over the 2010/11 campaign there are enough to choose from. One that sticks out like a sore thumb for me was a particularly woeful performance over at Tolworth back in November, when-despite dominating much of the match possession wise-ended up losing by three goals to one by perennial strugglers Corinthian-Casuals. A defeat that left a number of Hamlet followers bemonaing the fact that we 'always seem to struggle' against them.

A statement not borne out by the facts. In the sixteen league clashes between the two of us this century Dulwich have won eleven of them, drawing a further two, with 'only' five ending in defeats, only this 3-1 scoreline being by more than a single goal margin; though they did beat us by the same score,also at their ground, in 2004/05.

While still being a little down by our loss in November, by complete coincidence while looking for something else, I found the perfect Casuals 'pick-me-up' in the local newspaper archives a few days later. A comprehensive thrashing of not the boys from Tolworth, but Kennington Oval. For back in 1959 Corinthian-Casuals were using the home of Surrey County Cricket Club as their headquarters. The actual season was '59/60, & back then the Isthmian League only had one division, consisting of sixteen clubs. We were to finish in seventh spot, three points & two places behind the Casuals. So the Boxing Day game should have been a tight affair, but the scoreline of Corinthian-Casuals 1, Dulwich Hamlet 5 told us differently.

It was a weakened Hamlet side that took the field on a miserable day weather wise. One report told us that 'Dulwich Hamlet supporters who braved the elements on Boxing Day had full value for their money at the Oval'; whilst another informed us that 'the game had everything, including weather conditions that should have made football impossible.'

Football at The Oval was before I was born, so I have no idea how open to the elements followers were, but one person in attendance that day who I am sure was well wrapped up in the best seats in the house was the man who refereed at the first ever match at the old Champion Hill, back on 10th October 1931 against our local rivals Nunhead, none other than the then secretary of the Football Association, who went on to be the President of FIFA from 1961 until 1974, Sir Stanley Rous. (EDIT NOTE: NOT 100% OF THE REF v. NUNHEAD BIT, SO PLEASE EDIT THAT BIT OUT, IF INCORRECT, but from memory I am almost certain he was)

Jim Skipper & Kent were unavailable, due to ther commitments over the holiday period, so Frank Beard stepped up & played right-back & reportedly did a good job in holding off the Casuals Cambridge Blue & England Amateur International P. Neill; while Parsons made his senior debut for the club at centre-half, playing 'like a veteran'. Dicky Smallman was at right-half, so it was virtually a 'second string' defence, but one that didn't look out of place on the day. They did their job, feeding our hungry forwards with pass after pass, & Casuals could 'thank centre-half Reg Vowels that the score did not reach double figures'. Which, if they had would have smashed our record 8-1 consecutive victories against them, in the 1919/20 & '20/21 seasons.

Four decades after those 'Barnstoneworth' scores The Hamlet started off brightly, sweeping forward immediately, an early corner resulting in a Les Brown header being tipped over by their Danish goalkeeper Ahm. Our first goal came after only five minutes, also a header. Ron Crisp sent the ball over Ahm's head from a Norman Field cross., after he had taken the ball round the Casuals Martin Ries.

Five minutes later & it was two, this time the goal starting from a Corinthian-Casuals corner at the other end of the field! Crisp picked up the ball in the box from their failed corner & brought it right up the pitch, crossed it to Vail, whose centre was blocked by Ahm. But he could only patially clear it, the ball falling to Brown. He sent a through pass to Mike Clay, who went round the Casuals Vowels, 'escaping his shadow' a journalist noted, drawing Ahm out of position, before rounding him & pushing the ball into an empty net.

Following this two goal cushion The Hamlet continued to press for more. A Brown shot went just wide of the post, while another flew off the boot of Terry Vail was saved. Clay's attempt was punched away by Ahm; while another from Brown deflected off a defender for a corner.

Dulwich hit the inevitable third on eighteen minutes, thanks to a keeper's blunder, when Purser's successful effort went through Ahm's hand, & into the net. As one scribe put it,giving the impression that this was the moment any pluck the Casuals had was knocked out of them: "Everything could have been so different but for the huge blunder of Casuals' Danish-born goalkeeper Paul Ahm, in the 18th minute, which gave the Hamlet their third goal. He went down on one knee with Geoff Purser's shot well covered but it slipped between his hands and legs."

Just before the half-hour mark the Casuals had their brief spell. Following a free-kick with Darvill out of position, Reg Merritt was well placed on the goal-line to clear; but two minutes on Merritt slipped on the muddy surface to allow Trimble in to beat Dave Darvill.

Despite that it was the Hamlet who were the more confident & dominant, as was noted by reporter Peter Smith, in the 'South London Press'- "There was no doubt about it, Dulwich were always the better side, being that much quicker on the ball and having more ideas in front of goal than Casuals ever dreamed of. That was the mian difference between the teams. Hamlet were much stronger at inside-forward than Casuals and they had somebody who could lay on accurate passesto unmarked players to all parts of the pitch. When a Dulwich forward moved up with the ball he knew there were four other forwards up with him and more often than not, a half-back waiting to pounce on a poor clearance from Casuals defenders. With Casuals it was completely different. When a forward attacked he usually had to do it alone and this was virtually impossible with the rock-like Dulwich defence."

Three minutes prior to the break Dulwich had the chance to really put the game out of reach. Awarded a penalty when right-back Robertson handled a Vail header on the line, not even having the decency to admit his guilt, protesting that he had headed the ball! But Merritt hit weakly. Ahm guessed correctly, as he flung himself at the ball, knocked it down & then fell on it, as Merritt raced in for the rebound. It seems that the famous 'Corinthian spirit' was long dead, even over half a century ago!

After the interval the Casuals came out with more purpose, testing the Dulwich defence more, but we stood firm, soaking up their efforts. Our only chance of note during this flourish from the hosts was a crisp shot from Crisp, though Ahm nearly let this one slip in too. But tide was to turn, & Dulwich became more dominant, getting into their stride once more. Crisp had a powerful drive saved, & a header blocked. While Brown's header was low, but wide of the post.

The Hamlet faithful who had made the short trek along Camberwell New Road had to wait until the 79th minute for the fourth. A strike from Clay was headed round the post by a Casuals defender for a corner. The Vail in-swinger found the head of Crisp who nodded home.

The final goal came with five minutes left on the clock. A bit of a goalmouth scramble found the ball at the feet of Les Brown, who tapped a short pass to Mike Clay, who sent the ball into the empty net,leaving Ahm floundering in the heavy Oval mud. And while Ahm struggled in the conditions our own Dave Darvill at the other end earned the plaudits- "Darvill was superb in the air handling the greasy ball as if he had a magnet in his hand".

There was one victory for the Casuals though. their reserves beat our much weakened second string by four goals to nil at Champion Hill. A letdown for our 'A' side though, who found their game with Westminster College cancelled owing to a waterlogged pitch. Reported as a great disappointment to veterans Tommy Jover and John Hall, who had hoped to have a run out in this game.

Elsewhere there was a shock appearance in the south west London Isthmian League derby between Tooting & Mitcham United and Wimbledon. The Terrors, who went on to win the League, beat the Dons four one, despite going a goal behind to Eddie Reynolds, & starting with only ten men! This was due to the non-arrival of reserve inside-right Dave Grady. And a fromer player, now a committee member, by the name of Les Walters, stepped into the breach! The reason given allows us an insight as to how amateur football used to conduct itself, & how players were selected in the olden days:

Thousands of spectators who flocked to Sandy Lane must have wondered how Tooting & Mitcham United began their game against neighbours and rivals Wimbledon with only 10 men and had to be helped out by an official who last played for the club three seasons ago. It was a player crisis quite unprecidented for this annual derby clash, but the explanation is quite simple. The team selection cards posted to the players got delayed in the Christmas rush. Inside-right Dave Grady, who had been selected to deputise for Welsh international Dave Roberts, did not receive his card, and assumed he had not been picked. But the regular first team players, although in a similar predicament, turned up as usual, realising of course that something had gone wrong. But the emergency produced its hero-former centre-half & club captain Les Walters, a member of Tooting's selection committee, who answered the last-minute SOS for the eleventh player. Les had been playing for Streatham Old Grammarians in the morning.

We can only wonder if this has ever happened to The Hamlet too? If anyone knows please let the 'Hamlet Historian' know.

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