Friday, 22 July 2011

Ian Wright RIP

It's a sad fact of life, being a Dulwich Hamlet fan, that somebody you know will have passed away in the summer. One of the 'occupational hazards' so to speak, when you are part of an historic Club with a relatively old & loyal support base.
It doesn't make it any easier if someone is past their 'three score years and ten', but it is a heck of a lot harder when a person who is nowhere near that age goes 'before their time'.
As one of the founder members of the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters' Team it came as a huge shock to hear the news that one of our own, Ian Wright, had died, after collapsing at work, at the tender age of only 53.
The one thing you find when someone goes so suddenly is how little you really knew them, & how much you wished you should have got to know them better. I, personally, only knew Ian through football. He had been a part of the team for over fifteen years, I'm not entirely sure, we never really kept records. Without a doubt one of the naturally talented players we have ever had appear for us. He only started playing for 'The Rabblers' for fun, when he hung up his 'serious Saturday boots', after a long amateur career, where he was a stalwart for clubs such as Cobham & Colliers Wood United. He also turned out for Camberwell Evangelical Church, for he he laced up on a Saturday, & took a pew at on Sundays. Once the season is underway the Supporters' Team will take on the Church side in a friendly game at Belair Park, in Ian's memory, so we can pay our respects to him doing what he loved most...playing football!
Some might say Ian moaned too much on the pitch, but if you analysed that it was not malicious, but more borne out of frustration, having played at a much higher level than the rest of us. If you listened carefully he always encouraged, no matter how limited in ability you may have been, compared to him. And no mater if he never knew you, he always made a point of talking to new players to the Supporters' Team & putting them at ease.
For sure everyone who has played alongside him over the years will be sure to have a story or two about him, & he will be sadly missed. It was a privilege to have been at his recent funeral service along with a number of the Supporters' Team, & wonderfully uplifting for such a sad occasion to be almost a happy one too, as his life was celebrated.
As well as being a Dulwich Hamlet fan, his first visit to the old Champion Hill was in the sixties, & he could recall amateur internationals being played here, Ian was also a staunch Crystal Palace supporter, so it is truly fitting that he is remembered here this evening with the Eagles as our opposition, & we thank them for agreeing to respect his memory.
No doubt he will be looking down from the 'great football ground in the sky', while chewing the fat with the likes of Hamlet legends Edgar Kail & Tommy Jover, telling them how they should have played!
Among the floral tributes at his funeral were ones from Dulwich Hamlet Football Club & the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters' Team; with the Football club itself being represented by Club Chairman, Mr. Jack Payne.
Rest In Peace, Wrightie.

Mishi D. Morath, team secretary, Dulwich Hamlet Supporters' FC.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Belgian connection

There was a welcome visitor to Champion Hill recently, for the Erith Town pre-season match. Not that he will remember too much about for. For the person in question was Arthur Lucas, who was exactly eight months old that day!

He was brought to the game by his parents Nicolas & Danuta, who hail from the town of Namur, in Belgium; which is almost two hundred & seventy miles away, over the other side of the English Channel!

The question you may well be asking is how on earth did a Belgian family become fans of Dulwich Hamlet? Unsurprisingly it's a bit of a strange story...Which begins not too far from Namur, on the outskirts of Liege, back in May 2005.

Andy Tucker & Lawrence Marsh, who were running the Supporters' Team at the time, received an invite to compete in a tournament organised by the fans of RFC Liege, who are one of the oldest clubs in Belgium, & who history claims one of their early playing members was a Dulwich Hamlet man, whose name is sadly lost in the mists of time, if true. They consider our Club their 'founding cousins', & through the internet saw that we had a fans side, & we happily accepted their request. One of the other teams in the competition was a group of Anderlecht followers. Guesting for them was...Nicolas Lucas. Inbetween games he got into a conversation with Myles Quinn, the long time Hamlet fan, who had been going to Champion Hill since the early sixties. Probably the best thing Myles ever did! He doesn't watch the Hamlet nowadays, living down on the Kent coast, not returning in case he's chased up for money owed to quite a few Dulwich people before he left London. ( No doubt there will one or two reading this thinking he only owed them money!)

Anyway, it turned out that Nicolas is one the biggest Anglophiles the other side of Dover, & he regularly travels over to watch English football. His first love though is Paris Saint Germain, & for many years he has run their Belgian Supporters Club...the only branch they have outside of France. A few months after we met him he brought his PSG branch over to London, for a Supporters' game at Belair Park, followed by an afternoon at Champion Hill, where we were unfortunately well beaten by Tonbridge Angels.

Since then the anglo-Belgian link has gone from strength to strength. Which is probably a slight understatement. We played the Belgian PSG in Paris, the venue slightly more upmarket than what we could offer them at Belair. For we were honoured to run out at their actual training complex, with their bemused reserve teamers looking over from the next pitch! much beer, & coca cola for the non-drinkers, followed, then we saw the 'big boys' at Le Parc des Princes in the evening.

We finally made it to their home town of Namur in May 2006, when we entered two sides in a six a side competition ran by Nicolas & his PSG branch. After that, in 2007, PSG Belgium won a three team international tournament held at Champion Hill, ably run by Andy & Larry, where we sportingly came last, with the runners-up being JK Jalgpallihaigla, the supporters side of the Estonian national side, who we have visited twice.

In 2008 we returned to Namur, when we took on the fans of the town side, UR Namur, who Nicolas also takes an interest in, & turns out for their supporters side. They have since visited london & played us, as well as watching a match at Champion Hill. Dulwich fans have also 'guested' for Namur supporters when they played Oxford United supporters, who Nico also has a good friendship with.

Nicolas & Danuta, now with young Arthur too, try to watch a couple of Hamlet games, at least, a season. Such is the bond of friendship two Hamlet fans were both honoured & proud to become godparents to little Arthur, namely Lawrence Marsh & Mishi Morath. The Lucas family are, at least, 'luckier' with their support of The Hamlet than Mishi is, of UR Namur. For he has seen them no less than six times, & is yet to see a victory!

Everyone at Dulwich Hamlet look forward to welcoming our 'Belgian Branch' back in the not too distant future. Who knows, maybe one day their dream will come true & the Dulwich Hamlet First Team will play a friendly on their doorstep in Belgium!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

All change in the Garden of England

Mishi Morath offers his two penn'orth on the new league being formed in Kent (his own personal opinions, and not those of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club)

Some Dulwich Hamlet fans could be forgiven for knowing little to nothing about some of our Kent League pre-season opponents, such as Holmesdale or Erith Town; nor much at all about the level of football they compete in, despite only being one rung below us in the non-league pyramid. After all there is nothing more important in life than our boys in Pink 'n' Blue, with the rest fading into insignifcance.

And back in the pre-professional days of the Isthmian League there were relatively few Kent sides we would encounter, as the Kent League tended to be openly proessional, rather than the majority 'Shamateur' Isthmians. Kent League sides, not being amateurs, tended to join the Southern League if they progressed upwards. That 'gateway' continued, with the official scrapping of amateur status in 1974, & over the next decade, as the Isthmian League expanded into four divisions on a non-geographic basis, there became a serious anomaly in the non-league pyramid. As Kent League champions an ambitious outfit could jump into the Southern League Premier Division, one below the Conference back then as that only consisted of one division, after only one promotion; whereas a Combined Counties side who started on the upward curve would have to go through three Isthmian promotions to achieve the same level.

Eventually divisions were 'equalised' & our Isthmian League now has two divisions of equal status, in Division One North, & south, which we compete in. Now the Kent League champions are promoted, & visit Champion Hill, rather than having to battle through two more divisions to do so.

The Kent League is understrength,numerically. For a number of reasons. As ground gradings kicked in over the last twenty years, with clubs needing floodlights & stands, teams dropped out, some well established, others newer members. Some off the top of my head, Snowdown Colliery Welfare; Metropolitan Police (Area Four); Darenth Heathside; Danson; Kent Police & Crockenhill....I'm sure there are more who have either fallen by the wayside or dropped down to lower leagues.

Then there was the problem of clubs moving upward, without the equivalent going the other way. Think of the Sussex County League. Some of their sides have gone back down, such as Horsham YMCA & Crowborough Athletic, but the Kent Leaguers have progressed onwards & upwards, think Maidstone United & Cray Wanderers; or gain a foothold in Ryman One South, like Whitstable Town; Faversham Town & Ramsgate.

Further to all this there is no relegation from the Kent League, as there was no 'step six' league to 'buffer' the huge gap between the county league & the much lower level Kent County League.

Unitil now! Mooted for many years, talked about over many a fuggy boardroom as chairmen chewed on cigars & knocked back tumblers of whiskey, for many moons. Under the 'gentle pressuring' of the Football Association, the new campaign will see the birth of the Kent Invicta League, to bridge the chasm between basic roped off 'parks' grounds to lit up stadia that can host FA Vase & Cup football in the Kent League.

The make-up of the new league is a strange one. Eminently sensible if you're a blazer from the County FA I'm sure, but how they came to the constitution of the sixteen team division is anyone's guess! You would expect the majority to have been lifted from the Premier Division of the KCL. Nine of them have. Our near neighbours Lewisham Borough are included, who play at the floodlit Ladywell Arena, despite not initially being included! They only got their invite after Cray Valley Papers Mills, who were in it, were parachuted over it (hmmm....can you actually be parachuted over something? I though parachutes floated down, but I digress!) & into the Kent League itself. The other Premier sides from the County League with them are Bearsted; Bly Spartans; Bridon Ropes; Hollands & Blair; Phoenix Sports; Rusthall; Sutton Athletic & Woodstock Park.

The others are a strange mix! Previous status has been ignored, & it's been a bit of a 'free for all' as clubs further down the County League divisions & even brand new senior clubs are accepted. I am guessing anyone who has expressed any sort of ambition to move upwards & establish themselves at Step Six could apply, regardless of how low down the pyramid they were.

Below the Premier Division the Kent County League had been split north & west in their divisions one & two. From the First former Kent Leaguers Crockenhill, who I mentioned earlier, are in. As are their near neighbours Orpington. The numbers are then made up from the two Second Divisions, with Lydd Town; Meridian; and Seven Acre & Sidcup. The latter will be based at the old Cray Wanderers ground in Sidcup, at Oxford Road. A former Kent league venue, which the Wands left as they were unable to get lights there. So what chance have this outfit got of erecting some?

The last two sides are new outfits. One will be huge favourites for the title, playing at a stadium well known to Hamlet followers. Ashford United, based at Homelands, are the club that has finally arisen out of the ashes of Ashford Town, who folded prior to the start of last season. The other will be groundsharing at VCD Athletic, which is in Crayford. But their name is Erith & Dartford Town. Not playing in either, & both really seperate places in their own right, despite the Football Club being called 'Town',as in singular!

Most will be happy to establish themselves at this new level in the pyramid. A few others will be wanting to use this to 'test the water' & push on for Kent League status. Ashford United will clearly see this as their first step to consecutive promotions 'back' to the Isthmian League. the new side Erith & Dartford Town are expected to be the only ones to really challenge them, as they have a wealthy backer. It reamains to be seen if he will be in it for the long hual, or get bored 'boom & bust' style a year or two down the line. Of the others I would expect Bly Spartans; Hollands & Blair; Lewisham Borough & Phoenix Sports, at least, to have Kent League aspirations.

Where does this new league leave the 'old' Kent County? Well it's still going strong, despite losing a division. A brand new sponsor, Haart estate agents, the very same that we proudly wear on OUR shirts! And the 'Dulwich' connection doesn't end there! New, in Division Two West, is an outfit called Dulwich Village FC, based at Dulwich Sports Club in Turney Road. I know nothing about them, but believe they have grown from a junior organisation called Dulwich Magic FC. New kid on the block? Could they be our local rivals one day, if ever the current Hamlet go the same way as Ashford Town? I'm sure the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust wouldn't complain, as they sit on their '100 Club' 'war chest', for such a scenario, instead of helping the Club today!

So how will this new level pan out? Only time will tell, I am no 'Mystic Mishi'! Other Isthmian feeders have had a Step Six for many years, as in the Sussex County League & Combined Counties Leagues first divisions. With the formation of the Invicta League the only part of the country now without a step six is the gap below the Essex Senior League. Hopefully this new level will make the jump up more manageable & easier, for clubs who want to progress slowly but surely, without breaking the bank. This can only be good news to 'kick start' & rejuvenate Kent grass roots football. Who knows, I hope not from our point of view, but it may not be too long before Lewisham Borough make the short journey on the 185 bus to Champion Hill for an Isthmian League match!