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!