Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Annus Horribilis

Thus far, it has not been a great season for Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. Successes on the field have been few and far between, giving supporters precious little to cheer about.

But it has been off the field where things have gone from bad to worse. Today we learned of the very sad loss of centurion Bill Kirby. Bill, another great friend of the Hamlet Historian, had been faithfully supporting Dulwich Hamlet since the 1930s, and even got to drink champagne from the FA Amateur Cup in 1937 as a seventeen year old.

We send our sincere condolences to Bill's family and friends.
You may remember that Bill (seen in the picture with London Mayor Sadiq Khan) recently celebrated his one hundredth birthday. Fate, however, had it that his 'big day' should coincide with the untimely death of Mishi Morath. That was another bitter blow for the club. Mishi is without doubt one of the most influential and inspirational people in the history of Dulwich Hamlet.

In September Ralph Morris one of our old players from the 1950s passed away just as plans were being made for him to visit Champion Hill as the matchday mascot.

Only last week Ralph Hopkins was laid to rest aged 86. Another lovely chap who spent many hours over decades volunteering his services for the club.

And we must not forget Farouk Menia, coach to the Dulwich Hamlet's Women's team was a victim to cancer in November, and supporter Ben Miller soon after.

It almost seems that every match the team plays at Champion Hill is preceded by a minute's silence or minute's applause. Let's trust that there will be no more notable deaths this season, and that the applause might rather be due to a pick up in the on-field fortunes of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Another Champion Hill stalwart passes.Ralph Hopkins Rest in Peace

We were sad to hear of the passing of Ralph Hopkins aged 86. Ralph had been ill for some time and attended only a handful of matches in the past decade. Ralph was a real gentleman and a very interesting person to talk to. He was a voluntary DJ on a hospital radio for many years as the picture below shows. 
On matchdays at Champion Hill Ralph always arrived early to collate the programme alongside John Lawrence and Bill Kirby. He also contributed regular articles to the Hamlet Historian magazine, from which the following is taken.

A Babe In
Armed Combat

by Ralph Hopkins
Hamlet supporter since ...way back!

I had quite a shock when reading my own finished article in the first issue of the Hamlet Historian. Especially when I saw the introductory heading “A Hamlet supporter since the thirties” staring up at me in bold cold print. ...Boy, am I that old!?
            I guess the bit about coming to the ground when still a babe in arms could have had a ring of truth about it, but on reflection I think that most of the memories that I wrote about in issues one and two must actually have happened much later than the thirties. Maybe almost a decade later!
            As my arrival on this planet coincided with another Hamlet glory period it is very much likely that I would have been dressed up in a pink and blue romper suit plus matching nappy in club colours. No doubt I was proudly paraded around the terraces thus making my Champion Hill debut.
            Round about this time the Hamlet were once again the proud holders of the Amateur Cup (Winners three times in six years - 1932, 1934 & 1937). Well, at least I can say that they won it in my lifetime. Unfortunately I was far too young to appreciate it, and sadly it is a feat that will never ever be achieved again in my lifetime. That particular piece of silverware and competition are long since defunct so the hopes of winning it in the future are definitely nil. Still, we live in the hope that we will all enjoy a Wembley beano one of these days, and I can fulfill an ambition in stepping onto the lush turf of Wembley ... with the rest of the Rabble.
            Getting back to my story. Maybe the reason for my memory clock being somewhat out of sync is because for very many years time stood still at the club. The club was enjoying successful times but it was beginning to drift into the start of a very lengthy period of years when it tended to rest on its past glories. The golden age of football was still in its heyday, the crowds were still rolling up at every match, so why change anything?
            Mostly through old traditions and a strict code of conduct to the true amateur spirit, the club became firmly entrenched in a time capsule that remained totally closed over the next couple of decades. The intervention of World War Two no doubt played some part in this age when time - and even normal every day history - stood still somewhat.
            At the start of the 1939-40 season an uninvited but more serious and deadly opponent entered the sports arena and threatened to wreck the British workman’s weekly ration of the beautiful game. The season had barely kicked off when a rather officious looking Ref, complete with tash and dodgy haircut, named A. Hitler from Germany blew the final whistle on it. The league programme was abandoned until further notice. (At this point I would hasten to add that I had to delve back into the history books myself to check this bit of the script. I am not actually old enough to remember anything that far back!) It would appear that the ban on entertainments and sporting activities where large crowds of spectators would gather was short lived.
            The early days from the outbreak of hostilities became known as ‘the phoney war’. Very little happened in the way of hostile action in either direction, so after a brief period of anxiety the general public being British gradually returned to some form of normality.
            Saturday afternoons without football was totally unacceptable to all concerned, so slowly but surely it was not too long before the ball was rolling again. Informal kickabouts soon developed into full scale games. At first it was just friendlies but after a while a number of short term competitive matches were arranged to spice things up a bit. Sometimes these had the added attraction of being played to raise funds - with proceeds going towards the war effort.
            Although Isthmian League football did not return until after the war, at some stage it was decided to form a league competition comprising of some of the clubs in South London and the fringe areas of Kent and Surrey. I don’t know if this came about in the first season of the war, but if my cobweb memory serves me correctly this was operative in the later wartime seasons. I believe it was known as the South Eastern Combination League. I’m pretty certain that both Dulwich Hamlet and Bromley played in it, as well as the London Fire Services, who at the time, shared our headquarters at Champion Hill.
            I recall visiting the ground for matches at various stages during the wartime years but unfortunately cannot remember very much about the League itself. Due to wartime restrictions we were not encouraged to record any written details of matches, so sadly that part of my Hamlet memories remain blank. If there are are any elder and more senior Dulwich stalwarts that have any results or information on that period of the club’s history I would very dearly love to hear from you. I’m sure there must be somebody out there with some info tucked away among your old treasures. If so please, please contact me.
            Who knows, there may even be some old programmes laying in your attics and lofts that can throw some light on the situation. There was paper rationing at the time of course, but I’m fairly sure that a single sheet proggy was issued even in them days.
            Getting back to the plot. I have an idea that the new wartime league actually got underway in 1941. Strangely enough the early blitz was then at its height so there was the real threat of matches being interrupted at any time that the Luftwaffe decided to visit our airspace. But by this time the British Public had become acclimatised and readjusted their lives into some form of normal everyday routine.
            Although most of the bombing air raids took place during nighttime hours the days were not entirely free from enemy action. Indeed some of the fiercest ‘dog fights’ and air battles took place over Kent and South London during daytime hours round about this time.
            At the outset of the war the normal procedure was to head for the air raid shelter as soon as the warning siren sounded, and stay put until the "All Clear". These regulations had now become more relaxed and it was left to the individual to decide for themself what precautions to take.
            So that everyday life could continue as near to normal as possible it became the norm that you took cover only if there was immediate danger in the near vicinity. For crowds attending such things as sporting occasions this was only considered a definite option if enemy aircraft were overhead. In any case, if there was an exciting game in progress and the siren sounded spectators were in no mood to remove themselves from the terraces unless it was absolutely necessary.
            The nearest public air-raid shelter was situated well away from the actual playing arena. The brick built affair was roughly about 150 yards away down on the main appraoach pathway leading to the ground. Built on the edge of the rugby pitch on what was then the Kings College Sports Ground, the shelter was just off the main road and located very near to the old main entrance. It was only capable of holding about 40 or 50 people at a sqeeze, so there was little chance of accommodating the crowds of several thousand that we attracted even in those dark wartime days. If any danger did occur there was very little chance of making it to this so called safe haven. It made more sense to stay put and just lay low if things got bad.
            I doubt if too many matches suffered the fate of being rudely interrupted by the German air force. Football being a world game I was naive enough to assume that the enemy would not waste their Saturday afternoons on bombing raids over London. Surely they would indulge in a game themselves - wartime or not! I can't recall any such major incidents myself although no doubt there were times when it was a matter of ‘Raid stopped play’.
            I wonder if the Germans had reckoned with the good old British bulldog spirit. Just imagine what would have happened if the Hun had dared to show his face during one of our Saturday afternoon recreation periods. I'm pretty certain he would have soon been shown the red card, indignantly and firmly told, “Oi. Naff off Jerry. Can’t you see we are right in the middle of a very important cup tie!” Then swiftly sent on his way, perhaps with a few two fingered victory signs to bid him Auf Wiedersehen. There is a ring of truth in the title of that old Noel Coward song “Mad Dogs And Englishmen Go Out In The Mid-day Sun”.
            Yes, I am fairly certain it would have taken a bit more than the might of a few enemy aircraft buzzing around to drive these locals into taking cover. Well, I’m going to dive for cover now so that I can raid my archives for some more of my Hamlet memoirs to include in the next edition of the Hamlet Historian. Now, where’s me tin hat and gas-mask?

This article first appeared in Hamlet Historian No.5 Winter 1999/2000

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Trip of a Lifetime

One of the projects Mishi Morath was looking into before his untimely death was a tour of the battlefields of the Western Front where a number of Dulwich Hamlet players and clubmen gave their lives in the First World War. Of whom, Frank Hagger, Tom Rose and 'Pop' Popple are pictured below.

With the Hamlet’s war expert Steve Hunnisett preliminary plans were being put into place to arrange a trip for Dulwich fans to visit the renowned battlefields and memorials in northern France and Belgium. Thiepval Memorial and the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, sites dedicated to the tens of thousands of ‘missing’ soldiers with no known graves, will be visited.

Clive Harris of the highly respected Battle Honour Tours was approached to lead the tour. A programme of events was being set up when Mishi sadly passed away and plans were put on hold.
In the last few weeks, however, Steve has been working hard to finalise details of the tour which it is hoped will take place following the 2020/21 football season – possibly May or June 2021.

Steve says:
“As it stands, we have two options for this - firstly (my own preferred) is a 3 nights/4 days visit. This would cost approximately £600 per person and includes the cost of all coach travel, ferry/tunnel crossing and hotel (B&B) based on twin room sharing (about £130 single room supplement) and of course our guide, who is basically donating his time to us. This would enable us to visit pretty much all of the DHFC players from the Great War and use their stories as the ‘golden thread’ which would tell the wider story of the war as a whole.

Obviously, Clive (our guide) and I would work out a proper itinerary that we would advise nearer the time but this would entail visiting, Arras, the Thiepval Memorial and Ypres amongst others - and we would also get the chance to take part in the wreath laying ceremony at the Menin Gate, which is a huge honour. The cheaper option would be to do a 2 night/3 day trip, which would be roughly £150 cheaper but which would of course, be more rushed and would mean that we would not be able to visit as many places and possibly not take part in the Menin Gate ceremony. We need a minimum of 25 people to make this viable and would have to limit it to 40 people.

Once we have the commitment, we can start planning in earnest and finding a suitable date, although I would anticipate this being in late May, or June of 2021. A firm and final price would be available around 12 months ahead of our departure. The tour would be organised by Battle Honours Limited Tours, who are market leaders in this area and who are ATOL protected, so all legit and above board.”

If you are interested in this adventure email steve@blitzwalkers.co.uk as soon as possible so Steve can get an idea of numbers.

Steve Hunnisett (pictured) is the author of For Freedom –Dulwich Hamlet: Second World War Roll of Honour, a book published by the Hamlet Historian in 2017. He also leads walks around London telling stories of the Blitz.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Before the Hamlet

Before the Hamlet: Football in Dulwich from the 1870s to the 1890s
Before the Hamlet: Football in Dulwich from the 1870s to the 1890s by Roger Deason is the latest instalment from the Hamlet Historian. It goes on sale in February on match days at Champion Hill, the home of Dulwich Hamlet FC. Copies of this limited edition will be available for £5 with all profits going to the club's Twelfth Man Scheme. 

The Victorian era was a momentous time for the development of football in the UK. The amateurs in the south created the laws, the codes and organised the competitions. Advancement was made by the schools and churches promoting muscular Christianity, whilst half-day Saturdays saw the rise of factory teams and association football as a spectator sport.

The game soon became a profession with the advent of the Football League dominated by the giant northern clubs.

London Caledonians 1891

Roger explores how the game developed in the Dulwich area before Dulwich Hamlet came into being, and during the club’s early years, as it gained more and more popularity, progressing from junior football to being a top senior side. 

The clubs covered include the Bohemians, the Vampires,  the Rangers, the Mosquitoes, Champion Hill and Dulwich St Peter’s.

This is the second of Roger’s books published by the Hamlet Historian. The first, When Shall Their Glory Fade? tells the story of the Hamlet’s 22 World War One fallen. He has also published a history of Dulwich Hamlet during the same era: QuiteWrong To Do So being a summary of the club’s activities on and off the pitch during World War One.
The Townley Park ground (with horse pulling roller)

Roger has dedicated Before the Hamlet to the late Mishi Morath, who sadly passed away in December 2019. It was Mishi who originally put together the Hamlet Historian as an occasional magazine back in the 1990s. The HH has since developed into the current website as well as a Facebook page. In recent years we have produced a number of small books relating to the rich history of Dulwich Hamlet.

Jack McInroy, January 2020.