September started in the same way that August did with a trip south of the river to see Dulwich Hamlet play in the National League South. This time they were at ‘home’. The inverted commas, of course, are because Dulwich currently don’t have a home. They’re still fighting to get Champion Hill back from the developers who seem content to fence it off and let it fall into disrepair. As the battle continues off the pitch Dulwich are calling Imperial Fields, a.k.a. The KNK Stadium home of Tooting & Mitcham, their temporary residence.
The visitors for the day were local rivals Hampton & Richmond Borough. Perhaps more local rivals of Tooting & Mitcham than Dulwich, but you know what I mean. It would be something of a reunion. Back in May, Dulwich defeated Hendon in the Isthmian Premier League promotion play-off on a hot and historic day at Imperial Fields. Following the defeat, on penalties, Hendon’s long-serving manager Gary McCann left to fill the vacancy at Hampton & Richmond. He was followed by, on my count, seven members of the Hendon squad that played in the final. So, me, Dulwich, and the Hendon old boys all headed back to Mitcham.
Competition: National League South
Dogs spotted: 3
State of play
Spirits were high amongst the Dulwich Hamlet fans after they recorded their second league win of the season on Bank Holiday Monday against Slough Town. This meant they had two wins, a draw and four defeats from their first seven games of step two football. Prior to kick-off, they were only four points behind Hampton & Richmond. The Beavers, great nickname by the way. Hopefully, I’ll get to the return fixture so that I can get into the detail behind that name. Anyway, the Beavers had won three, drawn two and lost two of their first seven games.
McCann’s side were showing signs of hitting some early season form. Both of their losses came in their first three games and they’d defeated the highly fancied Torquay (away), and Chippenham at home over the Bank Holiday weekend. Dulwich, on the other hand, had shown some more patchy form with most of their games being decided by the odd goal. The win against Slough had been preceded by a 1-0 loss at home to Gloucester and a 2-1 away loss at Bath City.
Deja view at Dulwich Hamlet
The future of Dulwich’s real home seems to currently be in the hands of Southwark Council, who are exploring the possibilities of a compulsory purchase. As someone who has worked, and still works, for Local Authorities for a number of years I know that this will probably be a lengthy process. For the time being, however, Dulwich have a pretty great bolthole down in Mitcham. As new football grounds go it’s been very well designed with two raised terraces at each end, a large seating area and one open side. Thus there are a variety of different views depending on whether you want to stand with the ‘Rabble’, look down on the players or right into their eyes. I opted for the open side and the chance to get up close and personal with the game.
During the week I’d spent some time reading about Clapton CFC and the incredible sales of their ‘left-wing’ shirts. Social Media and message boards were naturally very keen to ‘discuss’ (there are those inverted commas again) the political element of football. I noticed Dulwich come up in several comments. There were several examples of people who’d felt uncomfortable at the apparent free and easy banding about of the word fascism and the prevalence of petitions. This is now the fifth time I’ve seen Dulwich play and they are one of the most welcoming and relaxed groups I’ve witnessed. I’ve also never felt under any pressure to conform to certain beliefs or been pestered to sign petitions. All I’ve witnessed is lots of men, women, kids, and dogs having a good time. A slight aside I know, but something I wanted to get off my chest. I really should stay off those message boards.
Back to Imperial Fields. The design of the stadium and the wall put in behind the open side seems to have created a unique acoustic phenomenon. I could hear so much of what the players were saying to each other. Even more than normal when standing pitchside. A lot of it, particularly from the Dulwich players, seemed to be debates about positioning. The depth of the defensive line was the most discussed topic and was causing somewhat of a headache. These exchanges were intermittently disrupted my Hampton & Richmond’s former Dulwich forward Craig Dundas. He’s a big guy, but man his voice can travel. It echoed across the pitch to such an extent it seemed like the whole ground had emptied and he was addressing me personally.
Joining Dundas, and completing the reunion, was Chris Dickson. The former Football League player had scored a lot of goals for Dulwich back in 2006-07 before he went on to make two international appearances for Ghana. I can now also had him to my list of Ghana internationals I’ve seen playing non-league. Number two; Chris Dickson. Number one was Derek Asamoah at Haringey Borough by the way. Dickson was cheered on by a healthy number of Beavers fans who cheerfully spread themselves around the ground with the majority heading for the terraces. They seemed particularly at home at the ‘Bog end’. Beavers?… Bogs?… No? Dam, I thought that would work!
Beavers enjoy a day out by the Wandle
Dulwich started the game well, just as they had when I saw them at Welling a month earlier. They took the interesting approach of playing with three ball playing midfielders across the middle. This meant they were adept at keeping possession but when transitioning into attacking areas they were laboured. The best attacking moments came down the left in the first half as Ming got into some dangerous areas. Dulwich thought they had the lead early on as the ball was bundled over the line. The ref then blew for a foul on the goalkeeper even though it looked as though the ball had already crossed the line once before any contact was made with the Hampton stopper.
The visitors began to get a foothold in the game as they found they were able to expose the Dulwich defence easily when they won the ball in midfield. Dickson looked lively up front. Eventually, a cross from Murrell-Williamson found Uchechi in the box, and he, in turn, found Dundas. The former Dulwich played calmly finished to give the visitors the lead. The Beavers followed up the goal with a few more chances but couldn’t extend their lead. Dulwich had some brighter moments towards the end of the half as Clunis finally got into the game.
The visitors doubled their lead in the second half before Dulwich could get any momentum. Dickson ran into the box and drew a challenge from Taylor. From my angle, it looked as though he may have got a slight touch on the ball, but the general consensus was that it was a fair penalty. The striker then despatched the spot kick to give Hampton control of the game. Gavin Rose rang the changes for the home side after the goal, but they still struggled to get the ball moving quickly in the final third. The Beavers strolled to what was eventually a fairly comfortable win.
Dulwich now sit one place above the relegation zone in the National League South. Their ability to pass the ball around and keep possession is useful but perhaps better deployed following some quicker attacks and once they are ahead in the game. There is still a long way to go, however, and a few other teams in the league are already showing signs of tanking, so I’d be confident the South Londoners can finish further up the table. A good afternoon at a great ground albeit with a disappointing result. Oh yeah, and my other four clubs also lost.
Star player: Chris Dickson.