Thursday, 14 July 2016

A Dulwich Hamlet photo essay (part two)

Welcome to part two (read part one here) of a collection of photos that I hope will give existing Dulwich Hamlet fans a welcome journey down memory lane, and potential new fans a glimpse into the absolute madness of the past few years celebrating England’s finest non-league football team. Scrap that, England’s finest football team.

In my three seasons of supporting the Hamlet, the experience has changed exponentially. My first experiences of Saturdays at Champion Hill were spent with 400-500 fellow onlookers (already a 25% attendance increase – I don’t pretend that I was part of the very first wave of newcomers). There was ample room all around the pitch for OTT supporter celebrations, for games of keep-ups with stray match balls, for the setting up of outdoor paddling pools in the summer months. You could hear every word of Rob, Michael and G-Man’s hilarious, bizarre, blue, insults directed (playfully) towards opposition goalkeepers. You could swap ends at half-time without queuing in an orderly fashion for 5 minutes before you made any headway. You could sit down if you wanted, hell you could lie down. With a fat suit on. Wrapped in thick cheese.

I was hooked. And the more months that passed, the bigger the crowds grew. The bigger the crowds grew, the more we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. 1,000… 1,500… 2,000… 2,500. They came, and they came, and they came. And the less I wanted to come. The matchday experience at Champion Hill changed. Where once I sat down and laughed at Rob comparing the opposition keeper’s kit to an ironing board cover, I now stood packed in like a sardine surrounded by day-tripping Chelsea and Arsenal fans necking cans of Stella and laughing at Nyren’s slightly overhit cross.

In the final weeks of the 2015-16 season, with the Hamlet team going through a tough period on the pitch, the Rabble sang and sang and sang. It banged advertising boards, it hit (sometimes rhythmically) corrugated iron, it hoisted aloft flags of 30ft x 20ft, it gave its all. I gave my all (Brentwood away, anyone?)

Before I knew it, the Hamlet had made the playoff final. As quickly as it had come around, it had slipped away. 3-0 down after 30 minutes was too big a mountain to climb and East Thurrock grabbed the final promotion place into the Conference South.

I write this opening passage as an insight into why I am writing any of this at all. The end to last season, and the change in the “Dulwich Hamlet Experience”, made me question my commitment to this incredible club. That then made me question what DHFC actually means to the newer supporters – is it something you can walk away from? This would certainly give validity to many critics’ views of us. But you know what, it isn’t. Despite how much it has changed, despite the heartbreak of last season, Dulwich Hamlet is my club. I can’t walk away.

I hope you enjoy viewing these photos, and reading my (often useless) anecdotes. Collating them further confirmed to me that I’ll see all you beautiful bastards behind the goal on the first day of the 2016-17 season.

A huge big up to the photographers whose work over the past few seasons has done so much to help grow crowds and promote the club online. Namely: Mike Urban (Brixton Buzz); Joel Virgo (Joel Virgo Photography); Duncan Palmer (Duncan Palmer Photography); Laraine Bateman and David Bauckham. I have absolutely no doubt that without your hard work and amazing talents, the club wouldn't be where it is today.

As if I wasn’t going to include Erhun Oztumer… Saturday 12th October 2013… It’s the third qualifying round of the FA Cup and Hemel Hempstead goalkeeper Laurie Walker is being Oztumered. After collecting a return pass from Ian Daly of dialectic destroying cobra moprh fame, Erhun assessed the situation and opted for the most luxurious of options – the chip. With poor Laurie caught in no-man’s land like an otter cub adrift in the Atlantic Ocean, Erhun clipped the ball over him and it took a single bounce before resting in the home team’s net. Almost as good as the goal is Nyren Clunis’ reaction in the foreground… total disbelief. See the goal and Ny’s reaction for yourself here. DHFC would eventually lose the tie 3-1 but Erhun had once again shown his outrageous talent (this time in front of the BT Sport cameras).

Photo credit: Joel Virgo

Here the Turkish wizard flies through the air in celebration after drilling home the opening goal away to Hampton and Richmond Borough on Easter Monday, 21st April 2014. With the Hamlet needing all three points to stay in the race for a playoff spot, it was no surprise when, during a tight and tense game, Erhun came up with the goods moments before the break. He had been missed terribly during the weeks before the game as a bad injury kept him on the sidelines. Still not match fit, he made the difference once again as Dulwich left The Beveree with the win. After scoring over 60 goals in two seasons from midfield (including this belter against East Thurrock United), Erhun would leave the club at the end of the season to join Peterborough United.

Photo credit: Joel Virgo

Just for the hell of it, here’s Erhun’s best bits for Peterborough United. He recently left Posh to join fellow ex-DHFC player Simeon Jackson at Walsall.

5pm, Saturday 18th April 2015, Champion Hill, East Dulwich. Having played out numerous memorable matches over the previous few years, somewhat of a friendship began to form between the supporters of Maidstone United and Dulwich Hamlet. Throughout the 2014-15 season, Maidstone had set the pace at the top of the Premier Division and came to third-placed Hamlet needing just a point to secure the title. Regularly attracting over 3,000 fans to their home games, Maidstone brought the biggest away following I’ve seen at Champion Hill – the Hamlet’s home attendance record (for the current stadium) was smashed. 3,000 was the official figure given but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more….

With a gloriously sunny spring day as the backdrop, the two teams played out a relatively nondescript 0-0 draw – giving the visiting side the point they needed. It was to be what followed the final whistle that has stayed in my mind, and the minds of many other DHFC supporters. With hundreds of Maidstone fans sprinting onto the pitch to celebrate with their team, a small number of Dulwich fans decided to vault the pitchside railing and join in. Within a minute, there were hundreds of us on the pitch hugging Maidstone fans and toasting their league triumph.

As cries of “You won the league, at Champion Hill, you won the league at Champion Hill…” rang out across the turf, one Dulwich Hamlet-supporting gentleman came in with a drum solo. Pictured here, Michael Shaw resembles a character taken straight from Jim Henson’s The Muppets. If he appeared in an episode of the show, I genuinely would not bat an eyelid. Michael is a divisive character, prone to blunt insults and misinformed accusations. I could not stand the man for a good season and a half. Now, as we approach the 2016-17 season, I consider him a friend, a gentleman and an absolute liability on away days. I’d hope he’d say the same of me. Part of the original group of ‘nouveaux’ fans who descended on the Hamlet, his presence is crucial to the Rabble. Admit it, it wouldn’t be the same without him.

Check out Brixton Buzz’s photo match report of the game.

Photo credit: Mike Urban / Brixton Buzz

Saturday 11th July 2015. Following a chance meeting between Dulwich Hamlet fan Mishi Morath and Altona 93 fan Jan Stover a few years previous, a friendly between the two clubs is about to get underway. After Mishi bumped into Jan at Altona’s Adolf-J├Ąger-Kampfbahn while on a German ground-hopping trip, it transpired that the two clubs had played each other way back in 1925 during the Hamlet’s Easter tour of Europe.

From this point on a friendship was formed and Jan would regularly make the trip over to South London, with Mishi heading out to Hamburg at least once a year. More and more fans from both clubs would get involved until in 2015, someone (sorry, I forget who – I think it could be Mishi) proposed a pre-season friendly between the two. Manager Gavin Rose accepted the proposal and this photo is from that incredible day.

The game attracted huge attention, with both Mishi and myself being interviewed by Eli of Copa 90 during their coverage of the game. I’ve also been lucky enough to head over to Hamburg four times in the past three years and have made a number of close friends. A true football friendship.

For more on this, check out this article on the Hamlet’s website. We also spoke to Jan during a visit to Hamburg later in 2015, listen here or search for 'Forward The Hamlet' in iTunes or any other podcast platform.

Photo credit: Joel Virgo

Saturday 10th October 2015, Cherrywood Road, Farnborough. Dulwich Hamlet skipper Danny Waldren has just thumped a 28th-minute header past Farnborough’s Joe Tupper to give DHFC a 2-0 lead over the Hampshire club. Signed from Bromley in the summer after leading them to the Conference South title, Danny formed a formidable early season centre-midfield partnership with Ashley Carew and The Hamlet would go on to win 4-1 here, both players on the scoresheet.

The passion of Danny in this shot is indicative of his attitude, both on and off the pitch. We interviewed him for the podcast just after his arrival at the club and a quote of his sticks in my mind: “If we’re 1-0 down away from home and it’s going against us, I will lead this team. If we’re struggling and we need to dig in, I will lead this team.” There were several occasions when Danny put his money where his mouth was but unfortunately he never got the chance to fully shine in the pink and blue. Subsequently, in June 2016 he joined Welling United just a year after arriving at Champion Hill.

Photo credit: Duncan Palmer

Saturday 21st November 2015, Nyewood Lane, Bognor Regis. Dulwich Hamlet, top of the league, made the trip down to second-placed Bognor without having won on the south coast in their previous TWELVE attempts. All of this was to change on this famous winter’s evening. With recent signing Ryan Moss supported by Nyren Clunis, Rhys Murrell-Willamson and Dan Sweeney, the Hamlet’s attacking flair was too much for bogey-team-Bognor.

After going a goal down 32 minutes in, Dulwich equalised through Nyren six minutes later – the winger getting on the end of a whipped cross from RM-W. Four minutes after the break and Moss had poked home DHFC’s second, the keeper just failing to keep the whole ball from crossing the line. This snap was taken in the 67th minute as Nyren returned the favour to RM-W, tearing down the right and cutting the ball back across the six-yard box where Rhys was waiting to sweep home Dulwich’s third goal at the back post.

I can never get enough of this photo. Rhys in the background, wheeling away in celebration in front of the jubilant Rabble. Nyren in the foreground, arms outstretched as he heads off to join in. The Bognor player and goalkeeper, distraught in the goalmouth. The pink and blue flag billowing in the harsh November wind. There’s a fleet of foot about the shot that captures perfectly the performance of both Nyren and Rhys in the first few months of the 2015-16 season. They tore teams to shreds. A Bognor fan claimed that we were the best attacking side he’d seen at Nyewood Lane in years. I think we probably were. A fine photo and an amazing away trip.

Photo credit: Duncan Palmer

Thursday 28th April 2016, Nyewood Lane, Bognor Regis. The Isthmian League Premier Division Playoff Semi-Final. Six months after breaking the Bognor hoodoo, the Hamlet are once again celebrating a famous win on the south coast. A 93rd-minute Ashley Carew free-kick sent the travelling Rabble absolutely fucking bonkers and kick-started a party that lasted long after the final whistle that blew moments after the ball nestled in the net.

This photo is of former Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust board member Jack Bagnall and myself. Perhaps slightly self-indulgent, rest assured I would’ve included this shot if it had been two total strangers. As mentioned in the introduction to this piece, the Rabble put their all into the final weeks of the season. At every game there was an increased sense of siege mentality… it became tribal. Twice during this period we sang without (literally) a second’s pause for the entire second half (Brentwood and Wingate and Finchley*) – this photo captures the moment it all became worth it.

*Ben Caldecourt – “HO HEY… HEY HO!”

Photo credit: Mike Urban, Brixton Buzz

I think that’s pretty much it… I could have included at least another 15 photos from the past few years but I work 9-5 and it’s sunny outside so this is all you’re getting… for now. As I said, I hope these photos have given DHFC fans an enjoyable trip down (recent) memory lane, and might tempt potential new fans to come down and watch a game. Just don’t turn up with a crate of beer and take the piss out of our players, yeah?

See you all behind the goal in Sudbury on Saturday 13th August!


Ps - Hugo Greenhalgh, the other half of Forward The Hamlet over the past few years, is to leave the country to explore California. Sad face :(

I'm @vicar_of_sibley on Twitter - let me know if you enjoyed the photos.

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