Wednesday, 23 November 2011

It began as a needle in a haystack...

A needle I have yet to prick my finger on, but I did manage to get under the skin, at least, of the 1934/35 season as a result. Let me explain...

I do enjoy participating in a good messageboard, & the main forum I use, after the unofficial Dulwich Hamlet one, is the 'Non League Matters' one; established by the late Tony Kempster many years ago. One of the sections on there is entitled 'History' & back in mid-August of this year somebody called 'waparesult' posted the following:

"Chelgrove FC.. Dulwich Amateur League?

All, first post so please be gentle :-) I am researching my Grandad, George Gambrell, and trying to find out some more history about him and wonder if the good people on here can help? He played for Chelgrove FC in the Dulwich Amatuer League from 1930 - 1934 winning the league on 4 straight occasions and gaining promotion each year. I am trying to find some stats, figuresabout him but cannot find anything on the net. can you help please? "

He also clearly posted pictures of the engraved league medals & two team photos. Now if there's one thing I'm sad enough to enjoy, it's spending hour upon hour trawling through the microfiches of local papers, so I headed off to the Southwark Local History Library, on Borough High Street, to see what I could unturn.

As it happens...not a lot, next to nothing about Chelgrove at all! In fact there was no mention of them in the divisions of the Dulwich League, when they were reported, so the medals are a bit of a mystery to me at the moment. I'm not sure who won the Dulwich League in those years yet, as my reseaerch is very much a slow work in progress.

I did enquire as to whether he knew if his grandfather had ever stood on the terraces at Champion Hill. Understandably very little anecdotal tales were handed down. The minimal info he had was that: "The History is my Grandad lived in Ansdell Road SE15, until he passed away in 1954, he worked for the gas board and was a very keen football fan.. he used to play for Chelgrove had trials at Crystal Palace and Millwall and allegedly ( I am trying to find out) played for Millwall, from what my mum said he was a regular at Dulwich and used to take my uncle along who was more interested in fishing than football :-) My nan remained in Ansdell Road until 1972 when she moved to WGC, my parents moved out in 1965 to Aylesbury and then to Plymouth where I have lived for the last 40 odd years. "

Of the three seasons mentioned I decided to start at the last one, 1934/35, as that was when Chelgrove were supposedly in the top division, from which I hoped they would have had more copy in the local press. All I managed to discover was the make up of the Dulwich League, & that season the Premier Division appears to have consisted of: Dulwich St John's; Sparks; Oxford & Bermondsey O.B.; First Surrey Rifles; Heathens Athletic; Southwark Greyfriars; Norwood; St. Barnabus Institute; Old Hollingtonians; St George's Cathedral; Waverley; Streatham Manor; and Alaska Sports.

The name Chelgrove did later appear in a single small match report, from their match against Dolcis; more delving into the archives further along will tell me that these two sides competed in the Brockley & District League Division One, & that this organisation had a Premier Division above it. In the nineteen thirties there were many local leagues, some I have been aware of, others not. Two of them not ringing a bell being the Central London League, and the South London Oddfellows League.

I suppose I'm waffling on a bit now, it should be clear that this has very little, if any, Dulwich Hamlet connection, and a total wild goose chase! But at the same time my eye was being caught by all the Dulwich Hamlet news of the day, & decided to include some of it in an article for the 'Hamlet Historian', which I hope you will find interesting. Those of you you who know me will realise that I'm not really a 'facts & figures' man, but that I am more for the quirky & 'socially observational', so please accept my lame apologies in advance, if I veer off course away from Champion Hill now & again!

1934 was, without doubt, a great time to be a Hamlet fan. We had just lifted the Amateur Cup for the third time, having beaten Leyton by the odd goal in three at Upton Park, in front of a crowd of over 33,000; in which a depleted Hamlet side suffered injury after injury & finished the match with only seven fit men! And had a held over Surrey Senior Cup final from the previous campaign to come. It's well recorded that the '34/35 season was very much a 'nearly' one, battling on to not one, not two...but THREE semi finals, then losing them all! This, probably the first article of a few on this period will not tell you who wond, drew & lost to every week ; although some of that will be covered. I hope to re-aquaint you with the snippets surrounding the statistics, and for that to begin it's time to turn the clock back to September 1934...

One of the first things I spotted was a passage from the Dulwich Amateur Football League handbook of that year, that caught the eye of the sportsdesk of the 'South London Press', & mine over three quarters of a centre later, so much so that I included in the first Dulwich Hamlet Supporters' Team programme earlier this season: " A sportsman is a man who does not boast; nor quit; nor make excuses when he fails. He is a cheerful loser and a quiet winner. He plays fair and as well as he can. He enjoys the pleasure of risk. He gives his opponent the benefit of the doubt,and he values the game itself more highly than the result". Good to know we adhere to some of that ethos in the twenty first centry, having quietly won our divisional 'Fair Play' award last season, as opposed to teams who loadly preach it, but don't put it into practice, if you take Corinthian-Casuals as your benchmark this season!
Our own Club handbook was praised, with the comment that we were " believed to be the only amateur football club to produce their own handbook" & that it was "...73 pages for extremely good bargain...the Amateur Cup prominently on the cover, printed, of course, in pink and blue, the club colours".
Back in those days the football season did not start until into September, as there was no real overlap between the cricket & football ones. Leather ball in winter, wooden bat in summer! There wasn't any pre-season programme. Not like today, where sometimes clubs send out two 'equal' XIs to two different away games at the same time! And a dozen warm up games or more, from as early as the first week in July, sometimes! Up until the early 1960s pre-season matches were not even sanctioned by the FA, & the general annual warm-up was a game between the players in an internal match, under the guise of 'Possibles v. Probables' or 'Blues v. Whites'.
Our pre-season match at Champion Hill in 1934 was 'Whites v. Colours' & our first football headline of the new season told us: 'BIG CROWD AT THE HAMLET TRIAL Good Football Seen at Champion Hill'. Rather than pick out a titbit from the report I shall copy it word for word, as-certainly for me-it seems so strange to see what would nowadays be seen as a training session having such standing over three quarters of a century ago:
"Nearly 3,000 turned out to watch Dulwich Hamlet's trial game at Champion Hill on Saturday. They were not disappoited for an excellent match took place, resulting in a win for the Whites by two goals to one. Although seven first team men appeared in the Colours' side, matters were balanced by the good selection of players chosen for Whites. Nearly all players appeared very fit, and it was good football from start to finish. Court (a first team man) scored for Colours within 20 minutes with a long shot after picking up a pass from Tanner at centre. Just before half-time a good move among the inside-forwards was finished off by Ball, the score being 1-1 at the interval. Ten minutes before the end there was a good piece of work by Ball during which he beat two men and passed to Spearman. Spearman (centre-forward) then scored with a splendid shot. Club officials seemed quite pleased with the trial.
The teams were:-
Colours: Cox, Waymouth, Robbins, Clark, Hamer, Toser, Morrish, Miller, Tanner, Murray (T.), Court.
Whites: Cooper, Standaloft, Osmond, Aitken, Sollitt, Barnes, Ingleton, Rudd, Spearman, Ball, Jones.
In similar matches there were over 8,000 at The Den, as Millwall's Blues beat the Reds 6-2; while over at Plough Lane the match must have given the Wimbledon selectors much food for thought as the Possibled beat the Probables two nil.
Nowadays The Hamlet are earning quite a reputation for producing their own talent, under the excellent eye & guidance of First Team supremo Gavin Rose, being nurtured through his ASPIRE Academy. This is not a modern thing really, as in our pre-War heyday we were famous for developing our own junior talent, with the crop of the South London schoolboys at our disposal, and having them come through the ranks via our junior sides and the reserves. As you can see from this headline: ' Hamlet FC's Reserve strength '- "Like the Arsenal, Dulwich Hamlet have long been famed for the strength of their reseve talent. Last season they had an Irish international, P.J. Roche, playing in their reserve team. This year it appears that another player who has gained representative honours may have to be content with a place in the second eleven. He is P. Neale, an inside right, who has just joined Dulwich from Ilford. While with the Essex club he played for Essex and the Isthmian League. "

Someone else also got a name check in the paper that day: 'From Forward to Goalkeeper'- "Another Dulwich Hamlet player who is far above his present class is Cyril Cox, who is at present keeping goal for the juniors and the "A" team. Originally he was a forward, and then a half-back. A bad knee injury caused him to turn his attention to goalkeeping, and he played so well he decided to stay there. Now he is providing the Hamlet selectors with a problem. Cox is the second Hamlet player in recent years who has changed from the front line of attack to the last line of defence. Alfred Solly, who later joined Newport as a professional and is now with Aldershot, was the first."
The season opener was at home to a name long forgotten. Optimism was clearly high, judging from the previews in the press: 'STRONG SIDE TO MEET TUFNELL PARK Murray the Only Cup Finalist Out of the Game' It was reported that "all the amateurs have hard matches-Wimbledon are at Leytonstone and Nunhead at Oxford. Even Dulwich Hamlet will have to strain every nerve to beat Tufnell Park on their own ground." But the game should not really have been that troublesome, as the scribe went on to tell us: (we) "...are fielding ten of the men who won the Amateur Cup, the only absentee being Murray, who, I understand, is still on holiday. His place will be filled by a very capable deputy in Aitken, so there is nothing to worry about in the way of a weakened half-back line. Miller did sufficient in last Saturday's trial to show that not only has he completely recovered from his Amateur Cup final accident, but has also used the interval since he last played to think out a variety of bewildering new tricks. Four of tomorrow's team- Cummings, Hugo, Benka and Court-did not play in last week's trial, and Aitken was in the reserves' side. It was pity, I think, not to have included Aitken with Hamer and Toser, for the three men's experience in working together would have stood them in good strad tomorrow. But unless the visitors have imported several dangerous forwards during the close season, they will probably not present a very strong attack-defence is their forte-so all should be well. "
The result? A nil nil draw! And the local journalist was not a happy chap! "If Dulwich Hamlet are to sweep all before them this season, as, of course, they confidently anticipate doing, they will have to take their matches a little more seriously....Until the middle of the second half they dillied and dallied while the 7,000 spectators were on edge lest Tufs should snatch that all-important goal...With only 20 minutes left they seemed to realise it was time the game was livened up and made attack after attack only to be repulsed. The game ended on a goalless draw, but the Hamlet have only themselves to blame for not notching at least four. Maybe it was the hot sun and that beginning of the season feeling,but they seemed to be playing with a "plenty of time to score yet" attitude..." The scribe concluded with a comment that modern day Hamlet fans can still relate to: "The forwards must remember that good, hard shooting is of much more benefit than footling about trying to beat six men in front of goal".
One of the early season matches was away to Wycombe Wanderers, at their old Loakes Park ground, which had a really nasty slope on it. Indeed when I first saw The Hamlet play at the old Yeovil Town ground, Huish Park, in their first Isthmian spell in the mid eighties I thought their famed slope was not as bad as the Wycombe one! Back in 1934 we were informed that: " Wycombe's ground is notoriously difficult for visitors. The peculiar lay of the pitch is worth at least two goals to the home team, though it is one of the marvels of the game that South London clubs do quite well there. This is a phenomenon of football that nobody has yet been able to explain, so I'm not going to try it!" Clearly our luck deserted us, as we went down by the odd goal in five!
An unusual match that caught my fancy was not an Isthmian League fixture, but a charity match at the home of London Leaguers Streatham Town FC, against a "Tom Barling's XI", on Wednesday 18th September. Barling was a Surrey cricketer & was bringing a side to their ground in Hassocks Road, Streatham Vale to raise money for the Tom Walls' Cancer Fund, & a 'good crowd was anticipated'. The Hamlet connection was the make up of the Barling XI: "Barling's team includes four of Dulwich Hamlet's Amateur Cup winning side, in Morrish, Goodliffe, Benka, and Hugo, another Surrey cricker in F. Gamble, while Barling himself will play at inside-right." The match was to be refereed by the famous ex-Chelsea player Alex Jackson,whose most succesful spell was at Huddersfield Town from 1925 -30. He was one of the so-called 'Wembley Wizards' when Scotland beat England 5-1 in the Home Championships in 1928, scoring a hat-trick himself. the main raffle prize was a cricket bat autographed by the England and Australian teams, as well as five county sides. I wonder what that would fetch on Ebay nowadays?

The match itself was won by two goals to nil, by the hosts, "In the first half there was some pretty exhibition football,but no score, The Town throughout the game had the advantage, being obviously more used to playing together, but Barling's team put up a remarkably good show." Unsurprisingly Barling was reportedly the "outstanding man in his own team", but our own Hugo was called one the most outstanding defenders on the field, the other being Aylwin the Streatham centre-half. Who '"bottled up Goodliffe, the opposing centre, very successfully"; so not such a good evening for another Hamlet man! But a happy night all round for the Aylwin clan, as a Mr. G. Aylwin, of Western Road, Mitcham won the bat!

In the FA Cup we were exempt until the First Round Proper, by virtue of being Amateur Cup winners, but it is worth noting how some other local teams did at the start. Our 2011 conquerers Sutton United had a "deserved victory" at Tooting & Mitcham, while Streatham Town drew one apiece at home to Hounslow Town, with a tale of more injury woes than our aforementioned Amateur Cup final! They could not put out their strongest side as Earl had put out his knee in training & Harvey was "indisposed with a poisoned arm." During the game, one of the replacements, Fear, was injured & had to be carried off the field; Rimmer reappeared after a weeks absence through a pulled muscle, but was a "passenger" after only ten minutes, when his leg gave out again. Don't forget there were no substitutes back in those days. Even the keeper got hurt! Speckman was fouled while making a save and was carried off "badly shaken up"! I don't know about you but I'd have been more than happy with the draw. And they won the replay!

But to put those injuries in perspective, think of an Isthmian League game around the same time, when Nunhead travelled to St Albans City & played out a nil nil draw. The game was played on a very slippery surface, following a heavy thunderstorm pre-match. During which one of the spectators was struck by lightening & killed. One of the bandsman was also struck, but he was not badly injured.

The same afternoon, on the pitch, The Hamlet had a 'minor disaster' of their own, throwing away a three goal lead at Clapton, to share the points in a 3-3 draw. 'Hamlet Caught Napping' as the headline said! In front of a "disappointingly small crowd" (presumably down to the same poor weather) Curtis & Benka put Dulwich two up at the break, with the latter adding a third soon after half time, with the scribe writing then that "it was all Lombard street to a china orange that the visitors would get the easiest of victories". The Tons forward Jarvis being their saviour, completing his hat-trick just beofre the end. It was a "pathetically surprised Dulwich that trooped off the field at the close. For more than half a game they had been the only side in it, but as so often happens, easing up proved fatal." Perhaps not the best choice of words after what occured at Clarence Park!

The Hamlet Reserves were also across the water, at Ilford, where the previously mentioned PJ Neale starred against his old club. As the report told us: "Neale has often delighted the Ilford crowd, but although his play on Saturday earned him rounds of applause, the audience must have viewed his success with mixed feelings. Neale led his old colleagues a fine dance,and in addition to scoring two goals he had a large share in the other two,both of which were scored by HJ Ball. The Hamlet first team do not always fare particularly well at Ilford, but the Reserves certainly showed how easy it is to score on the pretty Essex ground. Straight for goal they went every time. Ilford made a few spasmodic attacks, but these were few and far between, and the home forwards rarely looked like scoring".

One of the most important men in the early history of Dulwich Hamlet, while also being a modest one, was reported as being in ill-health. Word for word: "It will come as bad news to every follower of South London amateur football that Mr. H.W. ("Bert") Hardy, the very popular secertary of Dulwich Hamlet's Reserve team, is in hospital for a serious internal operation. Mr. Hardy is probably the oldest official of the club,and except for one short interval, has been secretary of the reserve team for nearly thirty years. Football is more than his hobby. The members of his team he regards as his own children,and more than one amateur international today has to thank Mr. Hardy for the care and attentionbestowed on his football childhood and upbringing. Schoolboys too, have a lot for which to thank him,for he has been their guide, philosopher,and friend for many years. I personally feel a sense of loss, which although only temporary-he expects to be away about a month-will be very deep while it lasts.I spoke to him just before lunchtime on Monday,when,as always, he told me with great enthusiam of the latest exploits of his "children." A few hours later he went into hospital. Unless I am greatly mistaken he will be back at the secretarial part of the work as soon as he can sit up in bed, but his coaching activities will have to be suspended for a little. In the summer, Mr. Hardy's chief hobbies, apart from thinking football, are bowls (he is a member of Temple BC) and cricket. President of the Dulwich Hamlet cricket club,he also arranges the famous annual fixture between the Isthmian League cricketers and Oxford City. "

The same paper that week told us that the AFA side Old Westminster Citizens, were moving from their ground in Dulwich, to Tamwood Lane, Mitcham; where they still paly to this day, Thier opening match there was against an AFA representative side, though we are not told at which sports ground in Dulwich was their previous base.

Another Hamlet first team game worthy of a mention was the comfortable 4-1 victory at home to Leytonstone, with the report headlines catching my attention: 'Hamlet Now the Isthmian Leaders' then ' Court's amazing goal against Leytonstone', followed by: 'Keeper knocked out by shot, Le May also a "Heavy Ball" Casualty'. So what happened? As the scribe tells us: "The Leytonstone game was featured by a remarkable goal by Court halfway through the second half. The winger broke through and a terrific left-foot drive struck the Leytonstone keeper, Barlow, on the head,knocking him senseless. As he collapsed on the ground, Court regathered the ball and placed it into the net over the goalkeeper's body. Barlow was not seriously injured but it was several minutes beofre he was able to resume. Later a second Leytonstone man was knocked out by the heavy ball. Le May, the left half, received the full force of it and was off for nearly half-an-hour, returning just before the final whistle." It was actually Leytonstone who took the lead, through Garnett (perhaps a relative of the fabled and famous Alf!) before The Hamlet hit back, first through Court, then Goodliffe gave the Hamlet the lead, just after the interval. After that Robbins failed to score from the spot, his penalty hitting the post, before the Court lob over the prone keeper; with Benka "capping a fine game" with the fourth.

Meanwhile a humourous sideline from another sport. Do you remember all the furore a couple of years ago when the South African 800M runner Caster Semenya was forced to take a gender test to prove she was a not a man? Back in 1934 a local champion bowler wwas proud to admit she was male! After the South London Press bowls finals, Mr. Berry, chairman of the Balham BC, remarked that it was strange that the ladies champion should be a Male (Mrs. Male). To which she responded that even before she was a Male she was a Champion. (As that was her maiden name!)

Going back to local football, if you thought that Court's 'shot' on goal against Leytonstone was a bit 'unusual' what about this 'one' in a one minor match?- "Eleven shots in a match between the 30th Camberwell Scouts and Christ Church on Saturday found their way into the net. A twelfth shot "scored" an unusual goal. Whether it was intended to pass between the posts or merely to right across the goalmouth is a moot point. All that is known is that the ball, travelling at great speed, went out of play somewhere near the corner flag-and knocked over a passing cyclist!" Now that's something I've NEVER seen at a game before. And in case you're wondering, the Scouts won 10-1.

Back once more to all things Dulwich. The Hamlet went down by the odd goal in five, to Wimbledon, at Plough Lane, where they played all their home games of course, before the club moved out for pastures new, first across South London to Selhurst Park, then further afield to Milton Keynes. But there were no Isthmian points at stake, for this was a first round London Charity Cup tie, & the first of two games against them, as the following week would see the delayed Surrey Senior Cup final from 1933/34, or to be more precise the replay, as this was way before the days of penalty shoot-outs deciding cup ties, following a no score draw at Champion Hill, the previous May. So perhaps-if we had to lose one of them- it was the right one! But this Cup clash, despite being lost, wasn't bad by all accounts, for 'R.S.', in the 'SLoP' began: "If next week's Surrey Senior Cup final replay is only half as fast and exciting as was this game, all of London will want to see the match. I cannot call to mind a match between amateur clubs which was played at such a breath-taking pace throughout,or which had so many heart-throbbing moments. Hamlet supporters may truthfully aver their team's traditional and much-exaggerated cup luck temporarily deserted them, for it must be said that the Dons were extremely lucky to get away with it" What a word! 'Aver'. Not the meaning, but it's just like a modern Hamlet report by Griff, on the official Club website nowadays, where you need a dictionary in one hand to understand it!

It was the Charity Cup, & The Hamlet were somewhat charitable 'early doors', with the Dons hitting the post in the first minute, & they then took the lead a mere three minutes later. They then doubled their lead less than ten minutes later. But the fightback, albeit ultimately in vain, began. Ten minutes later Morrish crossed, for Benka to "breast into the net". From the centre Wimbledon pushed forward immediately, but Dowden headed against the bar, Waymouth hit the rebound up to our forwards, for some sustained pressure, but no goal. Not long after, Dowden for the Dons, shot hopefully wide from 35 yards, with the resulting goal kick being hoofed up the park, where Bridge & Irish dithered as to who would clear the ball, leaving Miller, for the Hamlet, to nip in and sent the ball across the goal. From this he somewhat fortunately scored as "whether he meant his kick as a shot or merely a pass is difficult to say, but the ball, which appeared to be travelling wide, suddenly changed its direction and went into the net." Two apiece! End to end chances followed, but Murray had to leave the field for over ten minutes after twisiting a groin muscle, but being a man down inspired Dulwich & we tried even harder! But our keeper Cummings then injured himself, after a scramble when he came of worst, bottom of the pile, after a challenge & his little finger on his left hand was put out of joint. Ouch! With only five minutes left on the clock Murray had a good chance, but Irish, for the Dons, beat him to the ball, only because of the earlier injury that was hampering him. Only two minutes to go, and some of the crowd were on their way, believing it was to be a draw. But Zenthon picked up the ball in the middle, beat Miller, went past Hugo; & having drawn the defence passed to an unmarked Dowden. Panicking as Waymouth & Cummings were in a direct line to him, he managed to push the ball to Batchelor, who then had an open goal, for the cruel, late winner.
That Cummings injury got it's own note in the paper. Under the heading "Where was Norman?" we read that: 'The inevitable wag who is always to be found at big football matches gave me a hearty laugh at the Dulwich Hamlet-Wimbledon encounter on Saturday. Norman Cummings, the Hamlet goalkeeper, put a finger out of joint turning a hot shot for a corner, and ran off to get someone on the line to pull it straight. Apparently the referee didn't notice him, for he was just about to blow his whistle for the corner kick when my wag raised a howl of delight by crying "Where's George?" Shortly after Cummings again dislocated the same finger-and this time the referee did notice it." As to why the cry of the name 'George', we are not told. But at the time there WAS a Scottish international called George Cummings, who was playing for Partick Thistle, known as the 'granite-hard full-back' who moved south of the border to sign for Aston Villa the following year. Perhaps the 'nickname' George came from this player?
No doubt The Hamlet men went skulking off home, to lick their wounds. Unlike the Streatham Town team, who had a night out on the town at the Streatham Hill Theatre, in their feature 'In Town Tonight'. The team were introduced to the audience by the theatre owner, from the stage, and they received a fine reception from them; with their captain them addressing them. Probably not worth a mwntion in itself, except for the tenuous link that the proprietor was a Mr. Jack Payne, which just so happens to be the name of the current Chairman of Dulwich Hamlet! He must be a little older than we all thought! ;-)
So next up was the immediate re-match with the Dons, back at Plough Lane, for the replayed final of the 1933/34 Surrey Senior Cup competition. The records books tell you that the Hamlet lifted the cup for the ninth time in our illustrious history. But if you want to know how the game went...I'm afraid you will have to wait for 'part two' of the 1934/35 season, in the next edition of the 'Hamlet Historian'! With the benefit of hindsight we shall find out the Final was never in doubt, from our perspective. But did the players know that? Perhaps in the nervous week before one or two of our boys popped over to Nunhead for some pastoral guidance from 'The Sporting Vicar of Nunhead', that man being the Reverend Browning, of St. Silas. He moved to Nunhead seven years previous from a parish in Southwark, & became a keen fan of our then local rivals Nunhead FC, where he was very popular with the players. He even began holding a number of "Sportsmen's Services" which were not just a hit with the Nuns' players, but many other local sportsmen. We are not told if any Hamlet players themselves attended some of his services, but it would be very surprising if some did not, as I am sure he was always there to listen to footballers from all over, & not just his own parish. And on that note you can 'praise be' that this somewhat lengthier look than I expected is now at a close for this issue!