Admittedly I work in a library, but despite one of the stereotypes, I don't spend all day with my nose in a book. I do, however, like to read, & am quite a collector of football related books, among other things. A number are individual club histories, a number of which include The Hamlet as opposition down the generations. You can also get a Dulwich namecheck from biographies of former wearers of our famous Pink 'n' blue shirts who have gone onwards & upwards to the full professional ranks.
But for the purposes of this article, possibly the first of a series, I'm not going down that road.
You can find Dulwich Hamlet in the most unexpected places…
Where our Club pops out of a page and hits you when you least expect it. I don’t have too many to offer of these, and would be most interested if others have discovered Dulwich Hamlet mentioned in either fiction or non-fiction titles that you may have read.
The few I bring to you are certainly would not form a definitive list, nor an attempt to be one. But the idea to loosely knit a few bits and bobs together for a piece for the ‘Hamlet Historian’ hit when I was reading a biography of Hattie Jacques recently! The actress, most famed for her parts as Matron in the 'Carry On!' series of bwady (for that era) films of the sixties & seventies. I kid you not, she does have a tenuous Hamlet link. For her father, Robin Jaques (she added the ‘c’ for theatrical reasons) was a keen amateur footballer. Born in 1897, he received an army commission on leaving school, & served in the Army Education Corps in Germany . On returning to Great Britain he left the army & enlisted for the Royal Air Force. He played for forces teams, and also – here comes the Dulwich Hamlet connection- West Norwood , who were one of our local rivals ninety to a hundred years ago.
The book states: “In the early 1920s, RR Jacques played for West Norwood in the Isthmian League and there are various accounts (as well as various versions of his surname) recording his prowess as a centre forward. Under the headline ‘Victory of West Norwood’ on 14 November 1921, there is a report in ‘The Times’ by ‘Our special correspondent’ which enthused, ‘West Norwood beat Dulwich Hamlet in a match in the Isthmian League at Herne Hill on Saturday by two goals to one…West Norwood never quite settled down to any combined work …but R Jacques at centre forward played well. After the interval the attack improved and R Jacques with a clever single handed effort went through several opponents and scored his side’s first goal with a low shot.’ He also played four times as an amateur for Clapton Orient in the Second Division, & signed for Fulham, from the same division as the O’s, in July 1923. Sadly he was killed in a training accident while flying on 8th August that same year.
Moving on to a football book that was published in 1999 & called "London Fields", subtitled 'a journey through Football's Metroland'. Written by South London born Charlie Connelly, who now resides over the Irish Sea, in Dublin. It is a dip into all aspects of football in the capital at the time, not just your Arsenals & your Chelseas; but various chapters cutting right through the layers of the game. From the likes of Clapton, Grays Athletic, Hendon, & our old rivals Tooting & Mitcham United, in the non league echelons. Moving through the professional ranks with pieces about Leyton Orient, Wimbledon & Arsenal. As well as the FA Cup final between the Uniteds of Manchester & Newcastle, that made a once quiet country suburb called Wembley famous all over the world. Articles are in there too on some of the 'movers & shakers' in our metropolis, such as the London Football Association; referee David Elleray & the players' union rep from the PFA, Gary Nelson.
There are numerous Hamlet related mentions, though you'd have to be a serious Dulwich devotee to spot some of them. Take the Leyton Pennant chapter. In the potted history of them, to give you a flavour of their past glories, it mentions their glory years, as Leyton FC, with their halcyon periods of the 1920's onwards & then the fifties, but we get no specific namecheck for our two Amateur Cup victories over them. The game featured is at Wadham Lodge, after they had left Lea Bridge Road, & merged with Walthamstow Pennant. It is in an FA Cup tie against wembley FC, on the road to Wembley. Charlie picks up on a wonderful observation in the matchday programme which looks ahead to the game with the realisation that 'we are only 1,080 minutes away from the Wembley final'. The closest the Hamlet have ever got to the former twin towers was the 1956 amateur Cup semi, when we lost to Corinthian-Casuals, in front of over 27,000 at Stamford Bridge. Though we did play at Wembley in 1979 & '80, for the Berger Isthmian League five-a-side competition, staged at the adjacent Wembley Arena. The genuine Hamlet connection for his visit was the man between the sticks for Leyton,namely Clark Wells. He made two First Team appearances for Dulwich, in 1996/97. One of which was a 2-1 home defeat against none other than Leyton Pennant, in the London Challenge Cup; the other being a 1-1 draw at Heybridge Swifts. He went on to make around fifty Isthmian League appearances, not just for Leyton Pennant, but also Clapton, Aveley & Hertford Town.
Next up to be featured was one of those outfits, Clapton: "If visiting Leyton Pennant is like calling on an energetic nephew, then a trip to the Old Spotted Dog ground in Forest Gate, home of Clapton Footbal Club,is like visiting an elderly aunt who has let herself go a little. Whilst not actually smelling of wee, the club has a ramshackle atmosphere,and the ground, where The Tons have played since 1879,give no hint that Clapton were one of the great pioneers of amateur & indeed, international football." They were the first English club to venture over to the continent, playing A belgian Select XI in Antwerp, in 1890.
Anyone who has ever been to that ground can surely relate to that. He then compares the place to the great amateur grounds of yesteryear, including our own old Champion Hill: "At some of the fine old amateur clubs (Hendon and Bromley, for example) you can tell that large crowds once gathered.Dulwich Hamlet's old ground, a stone's throw away from the current modern stadium, was the best example-a cavernous ground capable of accomodating many thousands of spectators. By the late eighties Hamlet were struggling on crowds of around 200 in a stadium once capable of 30,000. The club did the sensible thing and sold the ground to a supermarket, who,as part of the deal, constructed them a new, smaller stadium a free-kick away from the old site."
Sadly, whilst amost true, factually incorrect, which-once in print-is taken as 'gospel' & the untruth spreads. We did NOT own our ground. We had sold it in the early seventies to Office Cleaning Services, who were then family run by the Goodliffe family, who played in some of our Amateur Cup winning sides. That company in turn offloaded it to Kings College London, who then sold it to the supermarket chain. We simply signed away the remainder of our lease, & in return our current ground was built, to lease back from them. The truth is if we had not done some the old ground was in such a state of disrepair the ground would soon have been condemned & there simply would not be a Dulwich Hamlet today.
Welling United versus Whyteleafe, in an FA Cup tie, was covered. It mentions the humble beginnings of Welling: "Welling United, were formed in 1963, by the Hobbins brothers Barrie & Graham." So far, so good. But more errors about grounds crept in when he stated that they shared facilities at Park View Road with the now defunct Bexley United & after switching from Sunday football, have movedfrom the Eltham & District League under 15s to Conference National. I don't know what their original league was, but they certainly never groundshared with Bexley United, but taking advantage of their demise in 1976 to secure the tenure of Park View Road then. Back to the current, at least the 'current' of the book. In goal for the Wings was Glenn Knight, known to Hamlet fans who recall him as 'Knight-mare', after two halves in our colours, both pre-season matches, where he conceded three goals in each half, at home to Sittingbourne & away to Whyteleafe. Unsurprisingly we never signed him. Perhaps more suprprisingly to our followers he went on to have a long non-league career, turning out against us for Welling, Boreham Wood & Cray Wanderers, to name but three. Also in the Welling line up was Tony Dolby, who is related to Harry dolby, who currently appears in Ian Neal's Kent Youth League North Division side. Tony also started out with the Junior Section of Dulwich Hamlet, before being signed by Millwall.
Connelly also featured the most successful womens' team in English footballing history, & again there is a tenuous Hamlet connection. For their long serving manager at the time was Vic Akers, whose son Lee was a such a great stalwart for our club, albeit in five spells! Interestingly he informs us that the Gooner girls were started by Vic in 1987, when Aylesbury Ladies were brought under the Highbury umbrella. So it wasn't just the men who are a 'franchise' outfit!
Hendon versus Notts County was also covered. This was a few weeks after the Hamlet played there in a league match & part of the pitch perimeter wall collapsed at our end. Luckily nobody was hurt, apart from slight shock.
The author mentions that Hendon one of the great names of amateur football & then notes that their fanzine is called 'The Sleeping Giant'. The editor of this, through the late nineties, had a vindictive bee in his bonnet about his perceived thuggishness of the Hamlet team under Dave Garland, and took every possible opportunity to use his rag to continue his vendetta, while not having bottle to sign his articles. Nowadays I'm sure he's a happy 'keyboard warrior' hiding behind his computer screen somewhere! We played at Claremont Road one midweek night & spent a fair amount of half time, & the beginning of the second half happily ripping up all of their copies, old & new, that were on sale. the bloke behind the jump asked me what on earth I was up to, & in no uncertain terms I explained it was a protest against their cowardly fanzine editor. I don't know if he was responsible or not, but he let me carry on!
Charlie bemoaned the media concentrating on part-time players occupations, which is also a bugbear of mine, where they are described as "postmen,lorry drivers & teachers... a motley crew or ragtag assortment of a milkman or postman to deliver the goods, a teacher to chalk up the goals, or a window cleaner doing the rounds of the opposition defence". He used the comparision to mention his brief 'flirt with fame' at an un-named Isthmian reserve side, but reading between the lines my guess would be Bromley-"as a nimble 18-year old I turned out a couple of times for the reserve side of a club in what is now the Ryman Premier Division.Now I would never make any claims to possess football ability, but I was way out of my depth. The speed of reaction, the pace of the game and the level of technique was far beyond that of even a good-standard Sunday team,and this was regarded as one of the poorest reserve teams the club had produced in many years(which, coupled with an injury crisis and a number of internal ructions at the club was the reason I found myself pulling on a shirt for a couple of weeks)The standard was deemed so poor that the manager of the first team rarely allowed his players to turn out for the 'stiffs' Yet it was miles abve anything I had ever experienced in my admittedly limited & brief football career." Oh how I could relate to that! Not the actual playing-I'm happy just to lace up my boots for a few minutes for the Supporters' side! But in that if I could have a pound for every time I've stood next to someone in a pub & they've told me, pint glass in one hand, cigarette in the other, that they 'once played for Dulwich', on recognising my shirt, but on my gntle probing it turned out that they had a trial for the Reserves in the dim & distant past, but were clearly not good enough, in their eyes 'not given a fair chance' not realising the high standard of even senior non-league reserve sides. Trust me, if ever you want a laugh go along to watch any pre-season open trial training session organised by the Club..it is difficult to keep a straight face at the incompetence on show!
One man in the Hendon side in that Cup tie was given a cheeky occupation check,as might printed by one of the nationals: "It was 'banker Paul Whitmarsh' who therefore posed the biggest threat to Notts County's cup hope on this Sunday afternoon; & hopes to 'open his account' in the competition proper." He indignantly continued: "What he does when not turning out for the Ryman Premier side at the weekend is of no concern.He is a Hendon footballer & today that's all we need to know. Are we told, for example, that he is up against the 'golfers, video game enthusiasts, card players & nightclubbers' of Notts County?"
Whitmarsh himself was the mainstay of the Hamlet forward line during the exciting times under Frank Murphy in the mid nineties. Whits made 155 appreances for The Hamlet between 1994 & '97; finding the back of the net 74 times. He went on to play for Sutton United & Welling United, before marrying an Irish woman, & emigrated over there, where he played for a number of clubs, including his 'first one' at Cobh Ramblers where apparently he walked out in a strop after a match in which he was an unused sub and didn't even bother to collect his kitbag from the dressing room! He later played for Belgrove and UCD.
Another chapter was about the Supporters Club during the rise of Charlton Athletic, in discussion with Pete Varney, who was the Chief Executive in at the Valley.
Varney helped oversee the rise of Charlton athletic from (in old money) second division also rans to the heights of the Premiership in 6 years, which was an amazing achievement, considering over the previous decade they were homeless, with the fans leading them in a massive campaign to get back to The Valley Varney didn't want all the hard work to be undone, so he talked of planning ahead, for promotion having a business plan and a long term stategy to turn the club around. He explained the need for a businesss plan,so that the late run, then winning at Wembley didn't catch them by surprise.
To prove how prepared & determined they were, he recalled the club offloading a forward, against most fans opinions: "In February we sold Carl Leaburn, to Wimbledon. As a result of this I went round all the branch meetings getting savaged because we were selling a forward, which meant we wouldn't go up ,had no ambition, that sort of thing,. I couldn't tell them what was actually going to happen, so I just defended the club's position, telling them I was still confident that we'd reach the play offs & they shouldn't write us off yet. At the end of the season, when we'd beaten Sunderland & gone up, I was invited to what was decribed as an 'evening of wine & humble pie' , which was basically the supporters saying okay, you got it completely right and we'll keep our mouths shut from now on." his comments there illustrate exactly why those in a boardroom treat lifelong fans with contempt, always believing those in the boardroom know best...
But that's not the flimsy Dulwich link here, well not the main one! that comes from the mention of Carl Leaburn, who also played for the Junior Section of Dulwich Hamlet, back in their Southwark Sports days. His brother Glen turned out for The Hamlet in the years 1992 to '94, scoring nine goals in 48 appearances; having previously played for Catford Wanderers, Dorking & Croydon.
Varney mentioned that Wembley play-off battle with Sunderland & how it was just the start: "Having reached the promised land, however, the real hard work began. No sooner had Sasa Ilic smothered Michael Gray's spot kick then the world was already damning Charlton's prospects in the top flight." And you know waht? They were right, as immediate relegation followed! Perhaps supporters' are a bit more knowledgable than the man give us all credit for! Charlton Athletic currently languish in Football League One, which is the third division in 'old money'. The hero of that play-off shoot-out Sasa Ilic played against the Hamlet in a foggy 2-1 FA Trophy defeat on the Sussex coast, down at Hastings, against the now defunct St. Leonards Stamcroft. This denied us a trip to north Wales, as the winners were drawn away to Colwyn Bay. This defeat led to the end of manager Frank Murphy's reign at Champion Hill, as he was denied money to strengthen the side by the powers that be. Ilic had joined them not long before from the (then) Yugoslavian side FC Radnicki Nis, now languishing in the Serbian third division. Not long after he appeared against us he was signed by Charlton.
As a footnote, remembering those in power know better than mere fans,perhaps it's just as well that the stadium plan that barmy Varney dreamed of in the book never quite came to fruition: "I look around The Valley and think that if it held 40,000 people we could fill it."
The last professional port of call for Connelly on his cockney crawl was the Crazy Gang of the old Wimbledon FC, then at Plough Lane, now at faraway Milton Keynes. He mentions an oddity of their programme, with regard to featured player profile of the day: "A curious aspect is the fact that when the editor sends the players their profile forms, he actually reproduces them, handwriting and all. Today, Carl Cort's random mixture of upper- and lower-case letters revealed he would spend his last tenner on KFC." Presumably he meant the finger lickin' good chicken, rather than investing in Kingstonian Football Club. Whichwould have been a bit ironic if he had, as more than a decade later when the moral high grounders of the fans club AFC Wimbledon started up at Kingstonian, they DID invest in Kingstonian. Well, their asset stripping owner anyway. Who pocketed a high six figure profit, by not just selling Kingsmeadow to the new Dons, but also loaning them the money to do so, acting as an 'unofficial' loan shark for them! So much for morals, as long as you benefit eh? But that's another story! Back to player profiles...just to say I do miss them in programmes, they are fascinating social snapshots both of your own players and of the period generally. i think it's a shame that they no longer appear in our programmes. Cort isn't asked if there any Dulwich Hamlet connections, but he does have two, again like many mentioned in this article, his siblings. One brother Leon started out in our Youth Team, managed by our current First Team manager Gavin Rose, in his first spell in charge of our youngsters, in 1997/98. he moved on to Millwall, but didn't make any first team appearances there, instead making his professional debut at his next club Southend United, where he played 137 times. he has now reached well over three hundred Football League appearances, at Hull City, Crystal Palace, Stoke City & Burnley. He is currently on loan to Preston North End, whose supporters presented one of his shirts to our Club on the pitch at half time, during our recent 6-0 massacre of Fleet town; after they had beaten our Supporters' Team 9-4 at Belair Park in the quarter finals of the IFA British (supporters) Cup. One of their other brothers, Wayne, also played for Dulwich Hamlet. He appeared briefly in the 2002 pre-seasons, disappearing after it was announced in the local press that he had signed for us! Three campaigns later he did play around half a season for us, before leaving once more, for more money elsewhere.
Going back to that hand-written player profile one thing spotted by Charlie tickled me.He pondered that under the 'boyhood footballing hero' ? he had written 'never really had one'. And noted: "However the 'never' had cleary been written heavily over the name 'Ian'. Which Ian was this? Surely not Wallace? Botham, maybe? Lavender, from Dad's Army? What made him change his mind?" We shall never know!
There was also a chapter on Tooting & Mitcham United toward the end. And a large chunk was in discussion with their chairman John Buffoni, who was overseeing their last moments at Sandy Lane, before their move to their current Imperial Fields home.
It starts off by a descriptive of the inner sanctum of the place: "The Tooting & Mitcham boardroom is as grand as any you'll find at Ryman League second division level. Sandy Lane is like an elderly comatose patient on a life support system." not a bad description, but 'rumour' has it that their boardroom was once much grander, & that during the promotional season of 2001/02 when we groundshared there in exile, a number of their artifacts went missing from those boardroom walls by pilfering, cheeky Hamlet followers. As I say, only 'rumours'!
For the benefit of younger Hamlet fans, back then there was four divisions in the Isthmian League. Premier, One, Two & Three. With the latter two being lower than the current division One south, clubs in those two entering the lower standard FA Vase, for minor non-league outfits; as Tooting did. Dulwich Hamlet have NEVER fallen low enough to play in that competition.
In this chapter Connelly repeats his mistakes with regard to selling Champion Hill to Sainsburys, & also alludes to poor management of the Club, in terms of us still struggling: "The realisation that football is now big business has taken a little longer to filter down through the semi-professional leagues. Many clubs are still run by committees of former players & enthusiasts. Many committee members are purely there for the kudos they perceive they earn. A number of big old clubs Kingstonian, Dulwich Hamlet & so on have tried to move with the times, with varying degrees of success. Whilst Ks are in the Conference & scooped the FAT at Wembley in 1999, Dulwich are struggling on & off the field despite having had the foresight to sell their vast Champion Hill stadium to Sainsbury's & have them build a new stadium a stones throw away as part of the deal. Champion Hill was another famous old ground left to decay by blinkered administration as crowds plummetted from the early '60s. By the late '80s the ground was decrepit, even if it did have an imposing bearing. The club crest was set in marble at the main entrance, and the walls were covered with reminders of the great Dulwich teams of the past. Now they occupy a compact if characterless stadium, but are still struggling to make ends meet."
In actual fact the club crest wasn't set in marble at all. It was a very good quality marble linoleum impression of marble with the badge printied onto it, but it looked the part! This was 'discovered' when the old ground was being demolished at atrempts were made to 'save' the marble! As for the reminders of great Dulwich teams of the past, well like the current ground, they were all hidden away in the boardroom, so 'ordinary' fans will never get to see them. Some things never change...
I hope you haven't been too bored by this slightly strange article. Let me know if you have, otherwise you will have to suffer more of the same in the next issue of the 'Hamlet Historian'!