Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Hamlet Historian Magazine

For its contributors the Hamlet Historian has always been a labour of love. No money is really made from it. All profits have been ploughed back into other ventures such as the brass plaque for Pa Wilson, the founder of Dulwich Hamlet, that is situated at Champion Hill. The next project ... a new headstone on Pa Wilson's grave.

The magazine was brought into being in the late 1990s by Mishi Morath, as an offshoot from his Champion Hill Street Blues fanzine. I took over the reins of the HH a few years back. There have been 22 issues in all.

My own interest in the history of Dulwich Hamlet FC goes back a little bit further, and in 1996 I wrote a little book about the Hamlet's 'Victory Season' of 1920. These are very difficult to find now.

When Glasgow Welcomed An Englishman

For their final Isthmian League game of the 1931-32 season, the Dulwich Hamlet team had to travel to Oxford City without their usual inside right the legendary Edgar Kail. Their star player had a satisfactory excuse; he was on a train to Scotland having been given the great privilege of assisting the famous amateur side Queen’s Park in a charity cup match with Glasgow Rangers. Not that it mattered much, Dulwich had already relinquished any hope of the title; an all too often result of cup success.

A few days earlier a caption in the Wednesday 4th May 1932 edition of the Glasgow Evening Times read:

“Edgar Kail the Dulwich Hamlet and English international forward
comes north of the border to assist Queen’s Park in their
Charity tie with Rangers on Saturday.”

Queen's Park are unique in Scottish football. On two occasions in Victorian times they actually finished runners-up in the FA Cup. And, despite the vast sums of money that permeate football on both sides of the border, Queens Park remain an amateur club until this very day.

Kail's invitation was a sequel to the amateur international match at Hampden Park two months before, when Scottish critics were greatly impressed with his capabilities. He had also shined three weeks earlier in the FA Amateur Cup Final at Upton Park where Marine were hammered 7-1 by the mighty Dulwich, in what was arguably Kail’s greatest ever game.

The maestro duly offered his services to Queen’s Park at the semi-final stage when two players, Bob Gillespie – whom Kail described as “the greatest third back the game had ever known” – and Jimmy Crawford were in Paris with the Scottish national team taking on the French.

Kail thus achieved a unique honour in the football world, becoming the first Englishman* to appear in the black and white hoops of Scotland’s oldest club, for although one other English amateur – the celebrated Vivian J. Woodward – was invited to play for Queens Park many years earlier, he was unable to accept the offer. In his old age Edgar Kail recollected that this distinction was one of the proudest moments of his illustrious career.

The opposition could also boast its own English man, albeit English in name only – centre forward Sam English. This youngster from Ulster had been a sensation in his first season with Rangers scoring a phenomenal amount of league goals in a single season. Remarkably, his Rangers record of 44 strikes remains intact seventy odd years later. Sadly, the same season in which English became a folk hero, he was involved in the death of a player during a match. In the ‘old firm’ derby in September 1931, Celtic’s goalkeeper John Thomson bravely dived headlong at the feet of English, resulting in a terrible collision and the tragic death of the keeper.

The semi final of the Merchants’ Charity Cup paired the finalists from the previous year. Fourteen thousand turned up for the match at Ibrox Park, which was played in odd conditions, the weather changing alternately between spring rain and bright sunshine. A shower of sleet was thrown in for good measure. Kail’s presence at Ibrox aroused a great deal of interest on the terraces and it was expected that he would add guile to the Queen's attack. Maybe that was asking too much.

The bulk of the Scottish Amateurs was always culled from the Hampden Park side, and Kail was very familiar with most of his new team mates, He had often pitted his wits against the auld enemy on England duty, now he was playing alongside them. However, he didn't really fit into the unaccustomed forward line, and though he tried hard, perhaps too hard on occasions, he only came into the game sporadically. When he did receive the ball in the first half he showed some delightful touches and clever close control, sending the ball to Bremner on the wing or low and accurately through the centre. One reporter noted, “Kail has that deft touch so typically English when the ball is in the air. Everyone present was, I am certain, pleased to see a player of Kail's stamp wearing Queen’s Park colours.”

Although Queen’s Park took the lead after nine minutes, the rest of the game was all Rangers. After the break the home side practically took up permanent residence in the Queen's half. The amateurs didn't get their first corner until an hour's football had been played. They eventually lost the match 3-1, (Doc Marshall bagging a hat-trick including two penalties) and were it not for T.G. Smith's performance between the posts the margin would have been a lot greater. Across the Clyde at Parkhead, Celtic were beaten by Third Lanark in the other semi-final. Rangers won the final tie 6-1, the following Saturday at Hampden Park.

Kail returned to East Dulwich having received not a penny for his services (except expenses, perhaps.) Queen’s Park and Dulwich Hamlet were of one accord, dyed-in-the-wool Amateurs. Dulwich were members of the trophyless Isthmian League with its ‘Honor Sufficit’ motto, whilst ‘Ludere causa Ludendi’ was the maxim of the Glasgow club, who played the game for the sake of playing. That appealed immensely to Edgar Kail, who even as a teenager once remarked with some repulsion, “Money for playing football!”

Kail rekindled his acquaintance with his friendly adversaries the following March when England entertained the Scots at Champion Hill in what turned out to be his swansong. He was certainly worthy of double honour, and in his farewell international he had the twofold privilege of performing on his home turf and being given the captaincy of his country. As he led the team out of the tunnel he probably received the most rapturous reception of his entire life.

Postscript: It must also be pointed out that Edgar Kail was a representative for a Scottish distillery company, spending three decades on the road until his retirement on New Year’s Eve (Hogmanay) 1965. His love of Scotland was such that soon afterwards he migrated north of the border with his son Colin, settling in Glasgow, where he died from a stroke in 1976.

* Some reports say Kail was the first Englishmen resident in England.

Edgar Kail in action (white shirt, left).
Not sure of the teams or venue, but the referee is Sir Stanley Rous

Original article from HH21. Copyright Jack McInroy ©

Gentlemen's Outfit

When it comes to 20th Century Design Classics a certain Dulwich Hamlet shirt of yesteryear sits comfortably alongside the Mini, the Routemaster bus, the telephone box, the Spitfire and the tube map. With instantly recognisable visual markings that once cried out “the most famous amateur football club in the country”, the celebrated pink and navy shirts remained virtually unchanged in five successive decades.

First sported at the start of the 1927/28 season, the design was continuously employed by the Dulwich Hamlet players for the next forty years. In this famous shirt the club experienced the dizzying heights and gaping depths of amateur football. The pinnacles of its success were the three FA Amateur Cups won in a six year period in the mid-nineteen thirties, 1932, 1934 and 1937 (below). By stark contrast the mid-nineteen sixties witnessed the embarrassment of applying for re-election to the Isthmian League (1966 and 1967) where they had been based since 1907.

The Hamlet shirt worn throughout the period consisted of one bold navy blue stripe between pink sides and navy sleeves. The pattern was repeated on the back – numberless until live television at Champion Hill eventually made this a necessity. A buttoned collar and large club crest sewn onto a black patch completed the trimmings

The Pink Link
The advancement of modern football began to take great strides during Queen Victoria’s reign. Until then, and for centuries before, there was little order: codes and rules were rather haphazard, and in some areas non-existent. The organised game began to take shape on the fields of a handful of public schools across Britain. Westminster School, for instance, in the heart of the capital, played a large part in the development of the code of football that would eventually lead to the foundation of the Football Association in 1863. By the time of the origin of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club thirty years later, ‘soccer’ was well grounded and rapidly becoming the national sport.

In all likelihood, the first formal meeting between a group of boys from Dulwich Hamlet School and Lorraine ‘Pa’ Wilson asking for his help to start a football team, took place at the end of January 1893. If that wasn’t the first occasion they met, it was without doubt the most important one. Certainly, before the First World War this date was celebrated annually as the anniversary of the foundation of the Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. Among those present at the meeting were William Porter and H. Polly, who were duly named club captain and vice captain respectively.

At that inaugural gathering in the village, it was agreed that the Club’s colours would be dark blue and red, with a “playing costume of a white sweater and dark knickers”. The colours were probably decided upon because of availability more than anything – even the most abject could cobble together an old white shirt of some description and a pair of cut down trousers. The fact that there was less than two shillings in the coffers meant matching costumes was still out of the question.

Another of the original Hamlet members, W.T. Lloyd, also happened to be a public schoolboy of the aforementioned Westminster School. He had even turned out for the Old Westminsters – ‘the Pinks’ – and apparently, it is in his honour that the Dulwich Hamlet club colours were soon changed from red and blue to pink and blue. A new kit quickly followed suit, it being quite feasible that Lloyd was able to get his hands on a second hand strip from his old school.

The earliest reference we have found to ‘the pink and blues’ is from a South London Press newspaper of January 1896. The Hamlet’s fetching colours would put Dulwich among an elite group of football clubs that wore pink. This gave Dulwich something special – instant recognition as they took the field. It could be said that it was a marketing stroke of genius.

From Riches to Rags
It is often assumed that changes of team strip every season or two is a modern phenomenon. But the earliest team photographs of the Hamlet we have in our possession prove the opposite. In the eight years between 1903 and 1910 Dulwich Hamlet sported five different first team shirts! They could afford to do so; gate receipts began to grow and grow as the club attracted a huge local following throughout the borough of Camberwell.

These monochrome images show pink and blue hoops, pink and blue stripes, pink and blue halves, and a blue fronted dress style shirt with pink sleeves that buttoned up the middle of a thin pink stripe. A closer look at our oldest photograph from 1903 reveals that one or two of the players are wearing slightly different shirts to the rest of the team. So, clearly, there was yet another earlier design!

It all leaves one to ponder why the Victorians, not ones to miss a mass marketing opportunity, and the Edwardians did not cotton-on to replica football shirts! It was not until the 1970s and 80s that every kid on the block had his or her own favourite team’s shirt.

We can safely assume that during the difficult war period of 1914-18 less of the already tight budget was spent on new kit for the players. Indeed the club appears to have had no money at all at that time, which made it all the more remarkable that following the war it did so well, completing the extraordinary feat of winning the Amateur Cup, the Isthmian League title, the Surrey Senior Cup and the London Charity Bowl in one season. And yet some of these sporting champions from that ‘victory’ season look like they are kitted out in a pre-war ragbag of assorted shades and designs. Photographs from the 1920 Amateur Cup Final at The Den [see cover of this issue] show a young Edgar Kail out of sync with the rest of the side. He is not only wearing ‘light coloured knickers’ but he also has on what appears to be odd stockings!

Sadly this trend continued off and on for decades culminating in the famous story of the London Senior Cup Final at Highbury in 1950. Brand new socks and shorts were bought for the Dulwich players, but they were told they would have to pay out of their own pockets for any that were used. One by one the players declined the ‘offer’ and put back into the kitbag what they had just grasped for, and took to the field in their usual clobber.

Glory Days
So, after the first quarter of the twentieth century, in which the Hamlet faithful had witnessed the tremendous rise of the club, they had also seen at least nine separate changes of ‘playing costume’. And for a large number of those years Dulwich played in stripes. Then in the mid nineteen twenties the classic design came into being with its bold solid stripe. In a way this can be seen as a statement of intent: Dulwich Hamlet was here to stay – solid, stable, durable.

I don’t know how many of these original shirts (even ones from the mid sixties) survive today, but I would guess very, very few. But we do have one: the one that belonged to the late Ernie Toser, which he wore in the 1937 Amateur Cup Final at Upton Park when Dulwich defeated Leyton by two goals to nil.

Usually these old team strips would be recycled, filtering down through the reserves and to the junior side, and were looked upon as part of the club’s assets. It was quite an unusual step, therefore, at the close of the 1936/37 season, for the club to present the players with their shirts to keep. Shortly before he died we were loaned Ernie Toser’s shirt, and were able to send it to TOFFS (The Old Fashioned Football Shirt manufacturers) to have reproduced in detail. Replicas of Ernie’s shirt are being worn by Hamlet fans today and can be ordered directly from TOFFS.

Dedicated Followers of Fashion

The mid-sixties were dark days for Dulwich Hamlet and things got progressively worse as the decade went on. The club finished in the bottom three of the Isthmian League in each season from 1964 to 1967, and in the last two of those four seasons they had the ignominy of having to seek re-election. It is beyond doubt that the glorious history of Dulwich Hamlet and the enormous Champion Hill stadium played a great part in the Club being spared the drop to a lower league. It would have been very sad if Dulwich Hamlet had become a casualty in those days; days in which a new optimism was sweeping through the nation, culminating in England’s World Cup win on home soil.

Things needed to change at Dulwich, and thankfully they did. As the sixties played out, a marked improvement took place on the field and in the fortune of the club. For the first time in the history of the club a manager, instead of a committee, was appointed to deal with team affairs.

Another most innovative change was in the total revamping of the club shirt – the first new design since the twenties! This time, in what certainly was a bold step, pink took the precedence over blue – just the sleeves and collar remained blue. Geoff Robbins, whose father was the great Horace Robbins, was in the dressing room when the new shirts were unveiled. “Round-neck shirts instead of the age-old buttoned collars, but oh boy – what awful colours …a heavily overdone pink shirt body with royal blue arms and royal blue shorts! Everybody laughed.”

From that point the ‘navy’ blue disappeared altogether to be replaced by lighter hues. This trend – which actually contravened the original club rules – continued for several decades with the team arrayed in delicate blues, none of which were navy or ‘dark’, and a pink plucked from an increasingly pastel palette. When I arrived at Champion Hill in 1981 to watch my first Hamlet game, Dulwich were wearing the ‘Birmingham City’ penguin style shirt – one bold pink strip down the middle. Only it wasn’t pink. It was a sort of mid grey, the colours having run badly throughout a season or two of washing.

In 1968 the blue went from the arms as well. Just a plain pink shirt with blue collar and cuffs. However, this even more drastic move didn’t seem to have lasted too long, and there is the distinct possibility that it was player power that made the switch back to blue dominance. It cannot be all fun to have to suffer “Nancy-boy” chants week in and week out.

A Whiter Shade of Pale
Alan Smith was appointed manager in 1977, and in his first season at the helm he brought Dulwich promotion from the Isthmian League Division One (where they had dropped to the year before) back to the Premier Division. Team photographs from Smith’s time reveal something very strange. In most of the line-ups the Hamlet are wearing white shorts and socks. This could be understood if he had misgivings about the femininity of the colour pink, but the white was replacing blue!

A few years ago the Hamlet Historian acquired a small number of old Hamlet shirts from the Alan Smith period. As one would expect from any materials of the latter portion of the twentieth century, they are composed entirely of man made fibres. One or two are of the ‘Airtex’ type – a fabric that supposedly helped the body to cool more easily in high temperatures. It goes without saying that most of these antiquated items are battered and worn and faded and shrunken.

Shirt Front Revenue
The Amateur game came to an end in 1974 and the Isthmian League received a major sponsorship deal from Rothmans the cigarette giant. This was succeeded by Berger Paints, Servowarm Gas, Vauxhall Opel and the like. Non-league clubs began to get all kinds of backing, and there was nowhere better to stick a corporate logo than to have it emblazoned across a player’s shirt front. It was still several years before the top flight professional game did the same to enormous monetary gain. At Dulwich, sponsors arrived in the shape of small businesses – Brazier Metals, TN Air Conditioning, KD Chemicals, BCA Music Clubs and Gordon’s Garage, and later followed by World Books, the South London Press, Domino’s Pizza – the extra income being most useful.

The seventies gave rise to all sorts of new fangled ideas. Who can forget the Leeds United garters/tassels/sock-tags (whatever they were!) or the same team’s ‘smiley’ badge? Whether it was Crystal Palace ditching their historical Glaziers nickname to become the Eagles or Coventry City sporting a hysterical brown away strip, clubs across the country were re-branding themselves left right and centre. Even the Dulwich Hamlet crest disappeared for quite a few seasons to be replaced with just the club’s name or monogram. Here in small text over the heart. There writ large in an arc down the middle. And then there was the inevitable carelessness – unforgivable typographical errors when the crest made its comeback. One shirt from the late seventies put the club’s origin ten years earlier than it should with the words ‘Founded 1883’!

Ossie Bayram – one of the most popular Hamlet players of his generation.

The New Black

Over two decades quite a number of different shirt styles and designs were chosen and the pink began a loss of favour that it never really recovered from until the mid 1990s. It was always there – but not so prominent: a mere trimming of collar and cuffs, or a chevron, or a stripe from armpits to waist or shoulder to shoulder. When it finally made its comeback it did so with a vengeance. I wrote a piece at the time for the Champion Hill Street Blues about the return of the classic design and raved about the new ‘shocking pink’.

These days, pink has become a favourable colour almost everywhere. At one time you could hardly find a man with a pink shirt in his wardrobe – today it is a necessity. In sport it has turned up in the most unlikely of places. Rugby teams at home and abroad have taken up the colour, the Middlesex County Cricket team adopted pink shirts and blue bottoms that wouldn’t look out of place behind the goal at Champion Hill, and even some football sides now include it as part of their change strip. A couple of seasons ago a visiting goalkeeper at Dulwich sported a jersey with so much pink in it he almost blended in with the Hamlet forwards. Why the referee didn’t ask him to change into something different was beyond me.

So, in our day when we are told that it is quite normal to be ‘in touch with one’s feminine side’, Dulwich Hamlet’s historic colours do not appear to be as unique as they once were. Everybody wants to be seen in pink – even referees in some matches – especially when it is to promote such worthy causes as breast cancer awareness.

The last couple of Hamlet shirts could not have been more of a contrast. The previous one was predominantly pink, the pinkest in forty years, whilst the current incarnation is predominantly navy blue. But one thing we have been able to guarantee these days is that the whole team walk out onto the pitch dressed in matching costume: a marked improvement on some of the greatest of Dulwich Hamlet teams.

The ‘Ernie Toser’ Shirt

Back in 2001 the Hamlet Historian obtained a piece of club memorabilia that became a blessing in more ways than one. We were loaned (and later presented with) a wonderful piece of Hamlet history that belonged to the aging Ernie Toser, a star of the great nineteen thirties side.

At the end of the successful 1936/37 season, and in a break from tradition, the Dulwich players were presented with the shirts they had worn throughout league and cup campaign. For over sixty years the very shirt Ernie had worn in that season’s Amateur Cup Final had more or less lain folded and hidden away in a chest of drawers at his home.

By a remarkable coincidence, we had already begun the process of having replica shirts designed solely from old monochrome photographs. TOFFS (The Old Fashioned Football Shirts company), based in Gateshead, had actually produced for us a prototype – now in the possession of Paul Griffin – with a much softer pink dye and with slight variations in collar style and in the club badge.

The ‘discovery’ of Toser’s shirt enabled us to pinpoint the precise shade of pink the team played in back in those far off days. Despite the fading hues, unpicking a small area of seam revealed the deeper pink of the original, giving supporters the opportunity to have an ‘exact replica’ cotton shirt created for them.

Another pleasure was to find out from the inside collar that it bore the manufacturer’s label of the Jack Hobbs retailers. Jack Hobbs had been one of the outstanding sportsmen of his generation and a local hero playing cricket for England and for Surrey a short tram ride away at the Oval. He first set up his sports shop in Fleet Street in 1926 and moved it to Cambridge five years later just before his retirement from first class cricket.

It was rather providential that I met Ernie Toser when I did, and innocently asked him if he remembered the colour of an old piece of cloth – the Dulwich Hamlet shirt. It had not even occurred to me that he might possess such an item or that he would place it in my hands the next time we met. He died just a few months later, a matter of days before the first batch of replicas was produced. It struck me at the time that this ancient treasure would in all probability have been discarded with the rest of the dead man’s clothing. Somewhat poignantly, at the funeral, I presented Ernie’s family with a replica ‘Ernie Toser’ shirt and his original. They were thrilled to bits. A short time later they handed back the 1937 shirt with the request that we look after it.

Original article from HH22. Copyright: Jack McInroy ©

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Journey to the Centre of the Universe

“You have to understand that the Athletic was at the time, at the height of its glory, and Dulwich was an amateur team playing against [in effect] a professional one. Of this you can be sure, Bilbao has a reputation for self-esteem as never has been seen. We were, are and will be the centre of the world, of the galaxy, of the universe, of whatever." Angel Uriarte

What do the following footballers have in common: Hungarian Ferenc Puskas; Argentineans Mario Kempes and Alfredo di Stefano; Mexico’s Hugo Sanchez; Raul of Spain; Brazilians Ronaldo, Romario and Bebeto; the Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy and Diego Forlan of Uruguay?

Each one of these great players has been the top goalscorer, or the Pichichi, in Spain’s La Liga Primera Division. The award, which dates back to the late1920s, is named in honour of the legendary Basque footballer Rafael Moreno, known to all followers of the game in Spain by his nickname ‘Pichichi’.

At the tender age of eighteen Pichichi began a very successful playing career with Athletic Club de Bilbao, the team he had supported from a boy. He remained at the club for the next eleven years achieving an iconic status like none other. The sports chroniclers of the day viewed Pichichi as the complete player. Those who saw him perform spoke in wonders of his great vision and intelligence, of his deft touch, and of the terror he caused to defences.

On field he was easily distinguished by the white bandana he wore, a ‘gimmick’ that singled him out from among his fellows. In 1915 a charity bullfighting event was arranged in Bilbao and featured various celebrities participating as matadors and toreros. Pichichi was the main attraction. The combination of football player and the national spectator past-time was the brainchild of a local journalist called José Maria Mateos, who is also said to be the one who originally came up with Rafael Moreno’s ‘Pichichi’ moniker. In the public eye, the brilliant Athletic footballer was now put on a level par with the top bullfighters, all of whom had wonderful nicknames.

He was also commemorated in a couple of paintings by influential artists of the day. One picture, by Jose Arrue, depicted the entire Athletic cup winning side lined up in the goalmouth with English coach Mr Barnes in the background. This was often reproduced for many years and can be found today at the click of a button. Most notable, however, is Aurelio Arteta’s Idyll in the Fields of Sport, in which the Basque hero in playing kit relaxes against a perimeter fence, chatting up a young female fan. He was the boy any mother would want her daughter to bring home – a sort of Latin Edgar Kail. The fact that Pichichi later married the woman in the picture added to the mythology and romance. All he had to do next was to die young and leave a good looking corpse and he would achieve immortality.

Two years after the Great War, when a man of experience was required to captain Spain’s very first national football team at the Olympic Games, the selectors chose Pichichi. Throughout the second decade of the twentieth century, Pichichi, more than any other player in Spain was the embodiment of the beautiful game imported from England.
However, the football tournament in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, turned out to be one of pure farce when finalists Czechoslovakia were disqualified after walking off the field at 2-0 down to hosts Belgium. Among other things, they were not entirely happy with the English referee and linesmen (one of whom was the famous amateur international Charles Wreford-Brown), or the intimidating Belgian army surrounding the pitch. The hastily arranged ‘consolation’ competition saw Spain eventually beat the Netherlands 3-1 to win the silver medal. Pichichi, who picked up his five international ‘caps’ at the Games, scored the third goal for the Spaniards. Incidentally, there was even some Dulwich Hamlet interest at the tournament with former marksman Hussein Hegazi starring in the Egyptian side.
~ ~~~~~
For centuries ships have departed from Portsmouth on the south coast of England for the Bay of Biscay, and the west coast of France and north coast of Spain. The mouth of the River Nervion opens into the renowned seaport town of Bilbao, one of the chief gateways to Europe and far flung reaches beyond. Among the passengers on board the ship that set sail in the fourth week of March 1921 was a party of Dulwich Hamlet footballers, some of the best amateur players in England. Two friendly matches were planned over the Easter weekend against Athletic Club de Bilbao and a further match in Paris en route home.

Dulwich Hamlet were spoilt for choice where they could stage their annual tour. They now had a reputation that was second to none following the outstanding 1919/20 season in which the players were celebrated as the ‘Victory Team’, having done the ‘double’, winning both the Amateur Cup and the Isthmian League title.

The annual Easter trip was marked in the fixture list of the Club handbooks the previous August. It was not stated where it would take place, but telephone calls had been made, telegrams and letters sent and travel tickets and hotels booked, matches arranged, and so on; and from what we know about the people that officiated at Dulwich Hamlet, every little thing would have been meticulously planned well in advance. Not a thing was left undone.

The Hamlet’s Dick Jonas had a hand in the choice of location. He was as influential a clubman as there has ever been at Champion Hill. He had only been the team captain for eight months yet within a few years he would be running the club. This was only his second voyage with the side, the first being a visit to the Channel Islands the year before, but he was familiar with Bilbao. Just eight years earlier he had played the very same team at the very same ground where Dulwich were due to participate in two invitation games against the Basque region’s premier side.

The Athletic Club moved into its Cathedral of a stadium that was San Mamés in August 1913, and it was Pichichi who scored the very first goal on the ground. Of the new stadium one wrote, “Only the field of the Chelsea can be compared with this one, no other.” This opinion was shared by members of Shepherd´s Bush FC, who declared they had never seen a field so fine. The Bushmen were more used to the mudbaths of the Isthmian League, but the new surface was perfectly smooth and more like a tennis court. The inaugural matches consisted of a triangular tournament starring hosts, the Athletic Club, Shepherd’s Bush and Racing de Irun (another Basque side now known as Real Union). The King of Spain watched from the royal box as the Londoners won both their matches and captain Jonas (below) lifted the trophy.

Cup triumphs followed for the Rojiblanco (red and white) but it was always Pichichi who grabbed the headlines over the Athletic – which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It still brought the crowds in. One might even argue that without the popularity of Pichichi they would never have been able to build San Mamés in the first place.

Bilbao, is the largest city in the Basque Country of Northern Spain, and in the early part of the twentieth century it was regarded as one of the major ports of mainland Europe. Its iron mines, foundries, steel manufacturing plants and shipbuilding industry forged a proud but arrogant spirit in the Bilbainos. A different breed among men, they wisely made an affinity with Great Britain which is still very evident today. Unlike other Spanish sides who use ‘Atletico’ in their name, the English spelling of ‘Athletic Club’ has always been preferred in Bilbao, as its roots lay in the British workers associated with its origins in the late Victorian period. The first Athletic players had names such as MacLennan, Davies, Evans and Langford.

In the Athletic Club, Bilbao boasts one of the most successful teams in all Spanish football, having won twelve titles and the Copa del Rey (the King’s Cup) on twenty three occasions. More times than Real Madrid and just a couple less than Barcelona.

Athletic featured four internationals in its team – Pichichi, Sabino, Belauste and Chomin – whilst the Hamlet squad contained eight of the side that lifted the Amateur Cup the year before. The official version of the tour from Hamlet records reads: “The club had a delightful tour at Easter, nine days being spent in Bilbao and Paris. Not only was the trip a success socially and financially, but from a playing point of view it was splendid, for the team put up such fine games that the reputation of English football was, if anything, increased after our visit. Three games were played, and all were won, the two matches against Bilbao were won 3-0 and 4-2 and the other game against Stade Français (Paris) resulted in a 3-1 win.” But this is incorrect: the Athletic Club correctly records a 3-2 scoreline for the first match and the goalscorers are listed in their files and can be found in reports of the game.
Expectations in Bilbao were very high. The two matches had been advertised in the Basque newspapers, and fliers had been given out days before to ensure a bumper crowd. The English champions were in town and everyone eagerly awaited an exceptional standard of football. Surely the Englishmen would be even more advanced than they were before the war, and the team representing England – the founders of the modern game – would “outshadow the glories of other teams that had played on the same San Mamés field.” They expected to be enlightened, that the display would serve as a practical example of how the game should be played. As one Spanish pressman put it, “That it would serve as a practice school for our teams to complete their footballistic science. …But nothing of this happened.”

Whether this disappointment was the general feeling of all who attended the matches is difficult to tell. The Athletic had had visits from touring amateur teams like the English Wanderers and the New Crusaders before to great applause, and more recently top European side Sparta Prague had made a huge impression. But the Dulwich performance was not to be compared. “They taught us nothing except for an endless display of dirty tricks.”

One gets the impression that someone, perhaps in the pre match hype, had built the game up thinking that the English Football League champions were coming to town, not the ‘lowly’ Dulwich Hamlet, who, although Amateur Cup holders and Isthmian League champions were no Tottenham Hotspur.

The two press accounts we’ve seen are on the whole, one-sided affairs that lack not a little kindness. One writer was not over-impressed with “the famed goalkeeper Coleman”, who had just six days earlier won a full England cap against Wales. He does point out, however, that there were a couple of occasions where Coleman shined, and was clearly “the best we saw from our guests. But, if these are the English Amateur champions,” he concluded, “then they are rather poor.”

Not much else was worth a mention, he says, apart from some interplay on the right side of the Hamlet defence and the work of the left winger, who we are told was not playing in his usual position. Not having the team line-up we cannot argue with this. The first Dulwich goal translates literally as “boring.” but I suspect the Spanish could also mean ‘a soft goal’. It certainly was – a shot from Sid Nicol which managed to slip through goalkeeper Rivero’s grasp. The equaliser, on the other hand, came from a formidable attack. A great pass by Pichichi resulted in goalmouth action involving shots from Laca and Allende before German finished off.

Dulwich, played a short pass and move game, had good positioning to receive the ball, marked their opponents well, but almost ignored spraying the ball out to the wings. When they did, the outside left showed great skill and intent, but lacked imagination. Dulwich kept good shape going forward but when it counted they wasted a good number of opportunities. But if Dulwich didn’t live up to expectations, Athletic were also having an off-day, despite the presence of the internationals

The second half was barely begun before the Hamlet restored the lead after an “unforgivable lack of concentration in the Athletic defence.” Another equaliser for the Athletic soon arrived in the shape of “a masterly header” by colossal centre half Jose Maria Belauste, before they had a chance to take the lead through Chomin, who was brought down inside the Dulwich box and a penalty awarded. The injured player rose to his feet, placed the ball, and declared himself fit enough to take the spot-kick, but somehow contrived to miss. The injury caused by the challenge was far worse than he first thought and he immediately pulled up and retired hurt from the field of play.

With both sides locked at 2-2, the last fifteen minutes was dominated by Dulwich, who kept possession of the ball and made precious few forays into their opponent’s box. A few minutes before the final whistle when Athletic had more or less given up, the Hamlet scored the winner.

But it is the ‘dirty tricks’ label that seems most strange. “Dulwich are masters in the art of using their fingers.” Such an ambiguous statement could mean anything from shirt-pulling to climbing on an opponent in an aerial battle. Whatever it was, “Arzuaga, the referee, should have spoken to the Dulwich players early on in the game about their tactics. However, he allowed this dirty playing to continue. The patience of the spectators showed towards the end.”

Danubio of the La Gaceta del Norte, Bilbao’s principal daily journal, referred to the Dulwich players as “The Children of John Bull.” With quite a deal of emphasis on the word ‘Bull’ one would hope. And where was the great matador Pichichi in this contest? This was his Arena, his Bullring, yet he hardly gets a mention as the Hamlet bulldozed their way to triumph. It wasn’t pretty, and with boos bellowing all around the ground one could understand if a few of the visiting players had some reservations about returning the following day.

So, let’s have an action replay of that winning goal again. The final paragraph of Danubio’s Sunday column reads: “The Athletic players were confused and the English knowing it took advantage and struck hard, creating constant danger for the Athletic goal defended by its backs and mediums. With only three or four minutes of the match remaining the unmarked outside left, squeezed like an eel at breathtaking speed, ‘saluted’ Rivero with a low strong “zambombazo” [shot like a bomb] that gave Dulwich the victory. Today the match will be repeated. We shall see if it is true what some people say, that the English have kept the best of their repertoire for today. But I doubt it.”

We do not know which players were selected for the Hamlet, or who they kept in their ‘repertoire’, but the squad consisted of about fourteen. Among them were Dick Jonas, George Shipway, Fred Sweeting, Herbert Coleman, Bill Davis, Edgar Kail, Fred Pilkington, Sid Nicol, Tommy Brooker, FB Young, and Ernie Bunce. A photograph of the touring party was taken at the game against Stade Francais just a few days later. The players, ready to take on the Parisians, are surrounded by Dulwich officials and a handful of wives and lady loves, some of whom taught in South London schools. It is unlikely that not a single one of them was able to speak or read Spanish. It must have come as quite a bit of a shock to pick up the Sunday papers from the Bilbao hotel lobby and find accusations of ‘dirty tricksters’ and the suggestion that the game had only been won by cheating.

Undoubtedly, George Wheeler, Tom Smith and Bert Hardy would have had discussions with Dick Jonas and the rest of the players to try and restore the reputation of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. The fact that the Athletic Club had an English manager in Mr William Barnes would also have helped matters. The second match went ahead as planned and Dulwich improved on the previous day’s score, winning by 4 goals to 2. And if the following season’s club handbook is to be believed, Dulwich Hamlet turned things around, and put on such a display which only enhanced the reputation of English football.

As the players left the field just after 5.45pm on Sunday evening, opponents congratulated each other on a good game. The Hamlet men all shook hands with Pichichi, no-one would have known that within a year the legendary Basque footballer would be dead.

It turned out that the Hamlet was one of the last teams that Pichichi faced. Not many weeks later he hung up his boots and retired from the game he loved. He was even seriously considering a new career as a referee, and towards the end of the year he took charge of his first match. It was soon after that he became very ill and passed away in March 1922, a victim of typhus aged just 29. There was nothing unusual about his demise either. Between 1918 and 1922 typhus caused more than 3 million deaths across Europe. But when Rafael Moreno ‘Pichichi’ passed away, a nation mourned.

Tradition dictates that when a visiting club plays at the San Mamés stadium for the first time, they deposit a bunch of flowers at the bronze bust of Pichichi that was commissioned after his death. The greater tribute, however, came when the first national league was set up in 1928, and it was decided that the player with the most goals in La Liga be titled, the Pichichi.

As a postscript, it was at this time that another Englishman, former professional footballer Fred Pentland, who had already coached France in the ill-fated 1920 Olympic Games, arrived on the scene. Later in 1921, Mr Pentland, nicknamed El Bombin because of his custom of wearing a bowler hat, took over the coaching role at the Athletic Club, and totally transformed the Spanish style of play. It was Pentland who masterminded Athletic’s 12-1 victory over Barcelona, Barca’s worst ever defeat. By 1929 he was assisting our journalist friend-cum-national coach José Maria Mateos with the Spain side, who managed to outwit the inventors of the game in the mid-day heat of Madrid by 4 goals to 2. It was the first time England had lost a match on foreign soil. The Hamlet’s Edgar Kail played in the Dixie Dean-less England side with his forehead swathed in a Pichichi like bandage to keep the sweat from his eyes.

Sources: 75th Anniversary 1893/4 – 1967/8 History of DHFC, Spanish newspapers, Creating A National Passion: Football, Nationalism, and Mass Consumerism in Modern Spain by Andrew Michael McFarland.

Acknowledgements: Paul Sanders for supplying the image of the 1921 handbill, Arrate Sustatxa of Athletic Club de Bilbao, Angel Uriarte for research of the Spanish newspapers and translation, Jack McInroy II, Javier Guerrero and Miriam Esther Rodríguez García for being very helpful.

Original article from HH22. Copyright: Jack McInroy ©