Photo: Orlando Gili / Huffington Post
Next month marks another centenary. Bill Kirby, Dulwich Hamlet’s oldest supporter will celebrate his ONE HUNDREDTH BIRTHDAY.
Since he was a boy of twelve Bill has faithfully followed the Hamlet through thick and thin. He is one of the few remaining people who witnessed the silky skills of the legendary Edgar Kail, the Hamlet’s most famous son.
In his youth Dulwich Hamlet was regarded as the finest amateur football club in the country. The glory days of the 1930s saw the Hamlet win the FA Amateur Cup three times in six years. Bill once told me the very first time he ever got drunk was as an underage youth – he was not yet eighteen – drinking shandy from the Amateur Cup after the 1937 victory over Leyton. It sounds like everyone associated with the Hamlet, players, officers and supporters managed to handle the famous trophy that evening in the Crown & Greyhound in Dulwich Village. That same trophy was brought to the pre-season match between Marine and Dulwich this summer (2019), but two men from the Football Association wearing white cotton gloves saw to it that no-one (except overzealous club president Jack Payne) got their greasy hands on it.
Along with a tremendous group of players there was also a stadium to match. Champion Hill boasted better facilities than many Football League grounds. Had the war not intervened there is no telling what greater things Dulwich Hamlet may have achieved.
During the Blitz when enemy planes were intent on reducing the capital to rubble, Gunner Bill Kirby operated an anti-aircraft gun on Hampstead Heath and Clapham Common.
Although Dulwich Hamlet was relatively successful in the late 1940s and 50s, by the mid-60s a decline had well and truly set in. On two occasions the club had to seek re-election to remain in the Isthmian League! However, things did improve. For the next four decades Bill saw his beloved team enjoy some great highs. But there were also some very lows including a handful of relegations. Bill continued to attend games both home and away, and could always be found in the boardroom collating, folding and stapling the matchday programmes with a small group of volunteers.
I remember some years ago I attended the Remembrance Day service at the Dulwich Hamlet War Memorial at Champion Hill. On that day Bill gave a very moving speech, calling to mind the great pre-war pairing of Reg Anderson and Bill Parr who lost their lives in the war. Bill, holding back the tears, pointed out that so many of his fellow Hamlet supporters and friends also paid the ultimate sacrifice in the war against Germany, and many others were killed in the Blitz, whilst he has lived to a good old age.
We do hope Bill, that along with your telegram from the Queen you may also see Dulwich progress beyond the first round of the FA Cup.