Happiness is a game at Hamlet

When London hosted the summer Olympics in 1948, the football tournament was spread around the capital with a few detours down to the south coast. At the time the amateur game had never been so popular, coming after the war when football-starved Londoners had been denied their regulars fix of the beautiful games, so the decision to use some of the classic old-school grounds was very popular with the public. Games were played at Lynn Road, Ilford, Green Pond Road in Walthamstow and Champion Hill in Dulwich.

dulwich 4The first two grounds no longer exist, their history buried beneath supermarkets and executive-style apartments. But football is still played every week at Champion Hill although the ground has gone through a number of changes over the past 65 years. Home of Dulwich Hamlet, and their tenants, Fisher Athletic, crowds are a modest few hundred rather than the thousands that flocked here in the old amateur days in the innocent age of football including that gloriously typical English summer’s day in August 1948 in driving rain when South Korea beat Mexico.

Dulwich Hamlet are one of the oldest clubs still knocking around the London Non Leagues. The club was formed in 1893, by Lorraine ‘Pa’ Wilson when Dulwich was an affluent village-like suburb of London, hence their rural name. Their greatest ever player was Edgar Kail, who scored over 400 goals for the club as an amateur who went on to win three caps for England in 1929, and turned down moves to professional clubs to stay playing for Dulwich, loving life at this level. Despite winning the Isthmian League just after the war, it’s been a story of near-misses characterised by the last few years which has seen play off defeats to Leatherhead and Bognor Regis Town in the past two seasons for a spot in the Ryman Premier League. Continue reading

The magic of the Alan Boon Cup

Deep down any football fan of a lower level team (and by lower level I mean anyone apart from Man City, Man Utd or Chelsea) wants to see their team play in a cup final – yes Arsenal and Liverpool fans I am also talking about you.  We all say “who really wants to win the Carling Cup/Johnstone Paint Trophy/FA Trophy” when we are knocked out of the competition to a lower level team, but if our team ever gets to a final we all know the fans will come out in force.

It is amazing to think that clubs were average attendances sometimes barely break 2,000 can muster ten or twenty times that when there is a cup final in the offing.  Take the example of last season’s FA Trophy Final.  Darlington played local rivals Mansfield Town at Wembley Stadium.  The attendance?  24,668 which was less than in previous years.  Nearly 15,000 had come down the M1 from Nottinghamshire for their first appearance at Wembley Stadium.  Yet in the fixtures between the two sides earlier in the season the crowds had been 2,234 and 1,614 respectively.

Or who can forget the site of Luton Town legend Mick (friend of The Ball is Round) Harford holding aloft the Johnstone Paints Trophy at Wembley Stadium in April 2009?  The Hatters were about to be demoted from the Football League thanks to the ridiculous 30 point penalty levied on them by the authorities yet nearly 40,000 fans had made the short hop down from Bedfordshire for the game.  40,000 is quite a difference to the average 6,019 who attended games at Kenilworth Road during the season.

The magic of the cup eh! Continue reading

Get down, Crawley Down

Crawley is a swear word in Non League terms.  The funny thing is that this is a relatively recent situation.  In fact only three years ago when I last visited the Broadfield Stadium the “old” Crawley, the one that had risen from the ashes of administration, were poised to go top of the Blue Square Bet Premier for the first time in years if they could beat fellow high-flying Kettering Town.

They won that game 1-0 in front of nearly 1,000 fans.  In fact that season, and the one after that they averaged just over eleven.  And then the game changed.  Money came into the club, Steve Evans arrived as manager and the rest is history.

Last season on their way to winning the league they averaged just over 2,500 at home.  Quite how 9,000 then went to Old Trafford for the FA Cup 5th round tie is a mystery, especially as very few have ever been back.

But will it surprise you to learn there are two other teams in Crawley? Three Bridges are stalwarts of the Sussex League, as too were Crawley Down until the end of last season where they clinched the county league for the first time and moved up the ladder into the Ryman League South for the first time.  Perhaps those missing 6,500 people from Old Trafford call The Haven, home of Crawley Down FC home? Er no. Continue reading