Dulwich Hamlet v Barking – 8 January 2019

Dulwich Hamlet have averaged crowds over 3,000 at Champion Hill since they returned to the hallowed turf last month. It may seem strange then to make my first visit to the ground on a Tuesday night for a London Senior Cup tie. The competition despite its fancy name isn’t usually at the top of most sides trophy wishlists. For the past two seasons, it’s been won by step five clubs despite the likes of Dulwich, Leyton Orient and Brentford (B) entering.

Dulwich, of course, were up against one of my local sides, Barking. The Blues had originally been drawn at home, but like me, they were keen to see the Hamlet’s famous home, and benefit from an increased gate. A slightly more inconspicuous occasion – the game failed to register a mention on the groundhopper app or the Isthmian League fixtures – also meant I had a better chance to explore the ground. So off I went to South London for Dulwich Hamlet v Barking in the London Senior Cup Quarter Final.

Score: 3-1
Competition: London Senior Cup Quarter Final
Ground: Champion Hill
Attendance: 436
Ticket: £6
Programme: N/A
Refreshments: £1.50 (tea and Mars bar)
Dogs spotted One

Who are ya, London Senior Cup?

The senior cup has been contested since 1882 by teams in the capital. It’s open to sides from Step five and above. Premier League and Football League clubs are also invited to enter although they rarely do. Occasionally a ‘B’ side will pop up such as Brentford B who are taking part this year. Arsenal, Brentford, Wimbledon, and Barnet are all past winners.

Upton Park FC were the first winners of the competition as they competed against Old Foresters in all of the first three finals. They won the second as well with Old Foresters gaining revenge at the second attempt in 1885. Balham FC from the Combined Counties League (step five) are the current champions, they defeated the previous year’s winners Cray Valley PM in the final.

Both Barking and Dulwich Hamlet have a good tradition in the London Senior Cup. Dulwich have won it five times while Barking have been triumphant on four occasions. Barking’s last victory was in 1979 and their last appearance in the final was a year later in 1980. Dulwich have been in the final as recently as 2004 when they won their fifth title by defeating local rivals Tooting & Mitcham.

Dulwich have made it into this year’s quarter-final following a 4-2 win over Glebe from the Southern Counties East League and then a penalty shootout victory over Greenwich Borough from the Isthmian South East Division. Barking defeated defending champions Balham in the first round and then knocked out Essex Senior League club Tower Hamlets.

Dulwich Hamlet v Barking
Champion Hill gets a watering

Ground 99: Champion Hill

Champion Hill has become a bit of an iconic ground in non-league circles after Dulwich were forced out of their home by a miserly property development company. Thankfully, following some hardcore campaigning, they were allowed back in December, following nearly a year of groundsharing with Tooting & Mitcham. The hard work then switched from potential legal battles and petitions to preparing the pitch for the football club’s return.

Dulwich first used the ground in 1912 and in its early days, it was one of the largest amateur grounds in England, seeing attendances over 20,000. In 1948 it staged a game between Mexico and South Korea as part of the 1948 Olympics. In the 1980s much of the surrounding land was sold to a national supermarket chain and the stadium itself was rebuilt, opening again in 1992. Corinthian Casuals and Fisher Athletic have groundshared with the Hamlet at Champion Hill over the years.

Champion Hill is a short walk from East Dulwich Station, which can be reached from London Bridge. It’s also a fairly short bus ride from Oval or Vauxhall Tube Stations, as I found out on the way home after the London Bridge trains were delayed – it’s unconfirmed if this way drone-related. There is a very laid back chippy on the walk from station to turnstile. Inside the ground, there is also Caribbean food stand, tea bar, and bottle bar as well as the clubhouse.

Dulwich Hamlet v Barking
Barking try a long throw

Hamlet’s new recruits too strong for Barking

Barking’s visit to Champion Hill coincided with a mid-season reshuffle of the playing staff by their hosts. Several new faces had signed for Dulwich on the day of the game and a handful of players were released the following morning. Barking, on the other hand, were a little more settled. The Blues named a strong side and started the game well, unsettling the Dulwich midfield who wanted time on the ball.

The visitors have found a bit of form recently with 3-0 and 5-1 victories in their last two league matches either side of Christmas. They showed plenty of signs of attacking life in the opening exchanges of this game. Dulwich won their homecoming game, 2-1 over Eastbourne Borough but that is their only win since November. They started nervously and Barking soon took advantage. The dangerous Jordan Peart overlapped down the left. His cross found Jack Edwards who powerfully put the Blues ahead.

Dulwich started each of their three new signings and the home side began to settle after going behind. They grew into the game and were dominant for the last ten minutes of the first half. It took a couple of well-timed challenges from Ryan Cosson an a couple of excellent saves from Tim Brown to maintain Barking’s lead at the break.

The Blues had weathered the storm and there was a feeling at the break that an upset could be on the cards. The home side, however, maintained their pre-halftime dominance and equalised a few minutes into the second half. Akinyemi’s powerful header left Brown with no chance. New signing Sheriff, on loan from Colchester, then took over. He scored two excellent goals. The first a weaving run with a powerful finish, and the second a clever looping header over Brown.

In the end, it was two goals from a player on loan from the Football League that settled the game for Dulwich who improved as the contest went on. Barking showed lots to encourage their intrepid fans who made the journey south. An iffy looking offside call and a missed one-on-one late on could have given the scoreline a very different feel.