CAN DICK JONAS STAKE A CLAIM AS THE MOST IMPORTANT FIGURE IN THE HISTORY OF THE DULWICH HAMLET FOOTBALL CLUB?
“I have often wondered why Dick Jonas – one of the greatest centre half backs to play amateur soccer - never gained international honours.”
Norman Ackland Football Writer, 1950.
One of the key figures in the grand history of the Dulwich Hamlet Football Club is Richard H. Jonas. During the inter-war period he captained Dulwich Hamlet for six years in the1920s and was Honorary Secretary from 1924 to 1939. This put him at the helm in the most successful period of the Club’s history.
Heads We Win !
When the Isthmian League side Shepherd’s Bush FC found that it was unable to continue after the First World War, their Loftus Road ground was sold to Queen’s Park Rangers and their former players looked for other clubs. The captain of the West London club before the war had been Richard Henry Jonas, known to all and sundry as ‘Dick’. On his return from national duties, and now residing south of the Thames, Dick Jonas tossed a coin to decide which of three Isthmian sides based in South London he would join - Nunhead, West Norwood or Dulwich Hamlet. On the second spin Fate smiled on the Hamlet. And they were eternally grateful.
If the coin had favoured one of the other two clubs, maybe West Norwood would have filled a higher placing than second from bottom in 1919-20, or Nunhead’s goal average might possibly have bettered that of Dulwich making them champions instead in that first full season after the war. It’s all hypothetical in the end. But what we can say is that it was with Jonas in the pivotal role of centre half that Dulwich’s ‘Victory’ team completed an incredible season that they have yet to surpass. Club captain Jack Guilliard may have held the trophies aloft - the FA Amateur Cup, Surrey Senior Cup and London Charity Cup as well as the [trophyless] Isthmian League Championship - but one can be sure that his job was made easier by further great leadership qualities coming from Dick Jonas at the heart of the defence. It made Jonas the obvious successor when Guilliard left Dulwich at the end of the season.
Born in west London in 1887, Dick Jonas, was spotted at an early age. Captain of his school team, he was soon making a name for himself as skipper of the very successful West Kensington FC, a team so prominent they won all the Junior cups in West London in one season. From junior football he jumped straight into the Shepherd’s Bush first team, and eventually went on to become one of the foremost players of his day.
One of his most memorable matches was in 1912, when as a member of a Shepherd’s Bush touring party, Jonas played in a match against a Spanish national eleven. The occasion marked the opening of a new football ground in Spain, officially opened by King Alfonso, who met the teams before the match. Those were the days when an English club side abroad (amateur or professional) was almost certain of victory whoever they played.
At this time Jonas was at the top of his form and certainly a player in demand. He was called upon to play for the first ever Isthmian League Select XI. This representative match against the Spartan League, at Aylesbury in 1912, was in aid of the fund started for the relief of the survivors of the Titanic disaster. Jonas gained other honours with Middlesex, and obtained his London Cap and Badge in 1913-14. Some years later in 1922 Jonas graced the Middlesex Wanderers team that toured the Netherlands.
Just before the First World War Jonas joined professional side Brentford as an amateur. His stay only lasted a few months, he said he missed the social relationship, later pointing out that, “The professional footballer takes the game as a job of work and immediately afterwards has no further interest in the club or its doings, merely hanging up his towel and going home. Members of amateur clubs, on the other hand, do not necessarily consider the actual game the best part of it, but take great joy in the social side connected with it.”
The Dulwich Hamlet team in March 1922 (wrongly captioned on the Getty Images website)
Tower of Strength
A great club player with the best interests of his team at heart, it was no surprise when, at the start of 1920-21 season, (his second full season with the Hamlet) Jonas was made the Club Captain. He was the ideal choice: a wholehearted footballer with a marvelous personality: a tower of strength setting high standards for himself and his colleagues. However, the following season he was demoted to vice-captain and goalkeeper E.H. ‘Tim’ Coleman, was chosen as skipper. This move acknowledged the fact that Coleman had recently earned the highest accolade – an international cap for the full England team!
In November 1922 Jonas regained the captaincy from the Hamlet’s custodian who was laid aside by an accident of some sort. The matchday programme for December 2nd recorded, “The Club’s congratulations to Mr Dick Jonas who was elected skipper to the first team at a players meeting last Wednesday. We know the value of his generalship on the field and hope he may lead his team in continued success.” He held the position for the next five years, believing that a game could be won in the dressing room, something he proved many times with his stirring team talks. On the field, as well as seeking to balance his own side, he was quick to sense the frailties in the opposition. “Don’t be put off by the stars in the other team,” he’d say, “concentrate on the opponents’ weaker units.”
Jonas led Dulwich Hamlet against Clapton in the Final of the London Charity Cup in 1924. The match resulted in a draw after extra time had been played. As there was only one cup and one set of medals the LFA decided they should toss for it, the winners to have the choice of holding the Cup for the first six months. Jonas won the toss, there was a deep silence, and then he decided to have the medals and let Clapton have the cup. The rest of the Dulwich eleven gave a cheer more of relief than anything else. They thought their captain would choose the cup, but they did not want to wait six months for their medals. Jonas said afterwards he knew the boys wanted the medals and anyway, they had held the ‘pot’ before.
The old photographs appear to show Dick Jonas as a rather dour character. This was true in part but it wasn’t the whole story. When Ernie Toser, who had signed for the Hamlet as a teenager in 1932, asked Dick Jonas for a couple of tickets for family members, the Hamlet Secretary sternly asked. “What do you want tickets for? They are not coming to see you are they?” Jonas was putting the youngster in his place, reminding him that the team was far more important than any individual member. Toser’s initial impression was that Jonas was quite an austere character. “But when you got to know him better he was a nice chap underneath.” said Ernie Toser, seventy years later. “When I left Dulwich Hamlet to join Millwall in 1937, he gave me a glowing testimony. He didn’t try to stop me in any way.”
Jonas was also noted for his infectious laugh. A genuine enthusiasm shone through all he did, and he was an encouragement to everyone. Like many great sportsmen he could also turn his hand to other sports and be just as good with a racquet or a bat. And apparently, he wasn’t a bad singer either.
During a wonderful playing career at Champion Hill, Dick Jonas picked up a complete set of medals, as Dulwich won every amateur competition for which it entered. Having joined the Hamlet during the 1918-19 season, he was a record of consistency. In fact, for a number of years he hardly missed a game. His first serious injury in his long playing career did not occur until the twilight of his playing days, when he was sidelined for a month during the 1924-25 season.
An Officer and a Player
Dick Jonas clearly loved a challenge, and when, in 1924, the Hamlet’s Tom Smith found it necessary to give up his Secretarial duties, Jonas volunteered to fill the breach. The Secretarial work of the Club was enormous, and the large and difficult problems that had recently arisen proved to be a strain on Smith’s health. Smith, himself a former Hamlet player, had only taken the job on following George Wheeler’s untimely death a couple of years before. However, such was Dick Jonas’s dexterity that for two years he was able to combine the roles of both Club Captain and Club Secretary, and continue his job as a civil servant as well.
The London Amateur Football Journal once said of him: “Jonas was one of those great centre half players who was a thorn in the flesh of most amateur centre forwards of his day. He was never afraid to tackle and besides being a player who believed in assisting his forwards to the best of his ability, was always in the thick of the fray in defence when necessity arose. He did not believe in being a pivot acting solely as a policeman to stop thrusting centre forwards, but played the best form of amateur football whether the club was winning or losing.”
A short appreciation of the Hamlet’s likeable captain appeared in the DHFC Handbook for 1924-25. One paragraph read: “The qualifications which go to make up the complete skipper are eminently his: and no one can fail to be keenly alive to his abilities as a player, to the resourcefulness and good judgment of his generalship, to the excellence of his energetic example on the field, and to his integrity and singleness of purpose at the council table.”
Such a testimony, typical of the style of praise heaped upon the esteemed Hamlet gentlemen in those days, spurred Jonas on to even further heights. The London Senior Cup was won at last. This trophy had eluded Dulwich for years, and so it must have been a great joy for him – after beating Clapton 2-0 at The Den – to be the first ever Hamlet skipper to hold it aloft.
The Final itself was no easy tie but the result was a real triumph over adversity. Opponents Clapton were having a great season, whilst Dulwich found it hard raising a side for the game due to one infirmity or other. A catalogue of injured players included Yorkshireman Geoge Hobson, called from his sick bed, Tom Goodliffe sporting a large carbuncle on his neck causing him agony whenever he turned his head, and Dick Jonas playing with both his feet in bandages and hardly able to bear the pain of kicking the ball. With two reserves also drafted into the forward line the task seemed impossible. Yet despite these setbacks Jonas led his team out bubbling with confidence. This was the famous match in which Edgar Kail (playing at centre forward) was denied his hat-trick when the referee blew for full time a split second before the ball entered the net!
In just nine years Dick Jonas picked up sixteen winners medals and two Isthmian League championships with Dulwich Hamlet. Eleven of those were as captain, an exceptional haul by anybody’s standards. What made it more incredible was the fact that this was all achieved in his thirties! He was now forty years old, a veteran of the amateur game, and he decided to call it a day.
On his retirement from the playing field in May 1927 Jonas took his seat permanently at the council table, devoting his time and dynamic energies to the duties of Honorary Secretary. He sat on the four subcommittees: i) Finance ii) Ground iii) Entertainments and iv) “Pa” Wilson Memorial. The wealth of knowledge that he had picked up over the years, from his predecessors and his peers, put him in good stead in amateur football circles. His vast experience and personality proved him to be the perfect candidate to head the management team to lead Dulwich Hamlet into a new era of even greater success.
Wilson Planted, Wheeler Watered, But Jonas saw the Increase.
Jonas was a man after Pa Wilson’s own heart, following in the great man’s footsteps, bringing to fruition the dream that the Hamlet’s founding father had begun. When Lorraine ‘Pa’ Wilson died in 1924, and was buried on the morning of the final game of the season, Dick Jonas was one of the pallbearers. He was extremely proud to carry Pa’s body to its last resting place in West Norwood Cemetery. With George Wheeler and Pa Wilson dead, and Tom Smith in a state of depression, Jonas showed he was a man of exceptional quality when he stepped into the breach. Rallying the troops he held the Club together at a time when things could so easily have fallen apart.
Behind the scenes Jonas put in a great deal of work in connection with the building of a new bigger Champion Hill ground. Naturally reticent about his own input, he deflected the praise onto others, astonished at the wonderful way in which so many individuals loaned the Dulwich Hamlet Football Club the money to construct arguably the best amateur ground in the country. In some cases these were surprisingly large sums, for which the lenders received absolutely no security, trusting implicitly on the good name of the Club to pay them back.
Dick Jonas was appointed one of the Club’s Trustees before the new ground was opened in October 1931. FA Secretary Sir Frederick Wall performed the opening ceremony before a packed house of over 16,000. (Unofficial reports claim 20,000.) Champion Hill was now surely the best amateur football ground in the whole country. But could the team match their illustrious surroundings and produce the best Amateur team. They could, and within a few short months they had the trophy to prove it.
Dulwich Hamlet’s three FA Amateur Cup victories in the thirties - 1932, 1934 and 1937 – are well documented. It was during that era that the name of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club became firmly cemented in the minds of football fans up and down the country.
The Next Generation
Almost engrained in the very fabric at Dulwich Hamlet was the philosophy that the Club was the principal thing. Dick Jonas instilled the same policies and ideals into his staff, traditions that Dulwich Hamlet had been founded on and steeped in since 1893. The right outlook and appropriate attitude was of the utmost importance and all were urged to keep their feet on the ground. Not that Jonas was averse to the players enjoying themselves, or taking a chunk of the credit when they continued to amass the trophies in the 1930s. He had been a player himself, a very successful one, but when he hung up his boots he took a back seat when it came to celebrations. It was the turn of a younger generation, so Jonas kept out of the limelight. What’s more, he rarely joined in the post match meal and socializing with the players and officials at the Club’s headquarters, a local public house.
Dick Jonas had many contacts in the amateur game, enabling him to bring a particular type of man, let alone player, to commit himself to the work in hand. Ernie Toser described many of his colleagues from the thirties side as “Well to do. I was the odd one out.” Men who were businesslike on and off the pitch; men like the Goodliffe brothers, whose family businesses New Century Cleaning and Office Cleaning Services are still today widely acclaimed as two of the most successful companies in their field.
Ernie Toser believed the collection of players that went on to win the Amateur Cup three times in six years was largely down to Dick Jonas. “Dulwich have never had a team like that. It was a wonderful set of players.” What brought the most pleasure was the fact that a number of that great side came through the Junior Section, schooled in the Hamlet’s very own academy.
Taffy Hamer, who captained Dulwich Hamlet to two Amateur Cups in three years, attributed his own success in the centre half position directly to the fact that he studied the game under the tuition of Dick Jonas.
Ernie Toser remembered how Dick Jonas could sometimes be quite canny when he needed to be. His Hamlet side was having a tough time away in the Cup; they had been easily outplayed yet the scores were level after ninety minutes. Jonas quickly ushered his team from the field into the dressing room. “Quick, get your togs off.” he said, “And get straight in the bath.” The referee came in after a few minutes ordering the players that extra time had to be played. “We can’t go back out now.” Jonas replied. Besides, it was now getting dark as well. Amazingly the referee agreed, allowing a tired Dulwich team to fight another day. They won the replay in London.
On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 Dick Jonas was evacuated to Blackpool. Wartime football continued at Champion Hill under the leadership of Eddie Rengger, a former team-mate of Jonas and an official at Dulwich. The new occupant remained in the post throughout the war period and beyond. With the combination of the six year break and the retirement of Jonas, the rhythm had been upset. Things were never going to be the same again.
The general opinion appears to be that Rengger was not the ideal man for the top job, lacking what it takes to manage a big club. Some even suggest that he was the ruination of Dulwich Hamlet. But despite these criticisms the Hamlet picked up a clutch of trophies during his reign. He retired in 1959.
In July 1957 Dick Jonas was unanimously elected a Life Member of the Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. This was long overdue, but still a nice tribute to the man who reaped the greater rewards after Pa Wilson and George Wheeler had completed the groundwork. A more fitting honour, would have been to make Richard H. Jonas the Dulwich Hamlet Club President, but this role had already been given to Len Bawcutt, another great servant of the Club, only the year before. Strangely, the position of President had been vacant since Pa Wilson’s death in 1924, over thirty years earlier.
Dick Jonas eventually moved away from South London and retired to the Sussex coast. He died ten years later aged 80 on 23rd May 1967 at Southlands Hospital Shoreham-on-Sea, a few miles from his home in Worthing.
During the inter war years Dulwich were one of the most successful amateur clubs in the country. At the start of that fruitful period Dick Jonas was a mainstay of the side. His honours included: FA Amateur Cup, Isthmian League twice, London Senior Cup, Surrey Senior Cup three times, London Charity Cup five times (*1 joint), Kings College Hospital Cup four times (*3 joint), Bromley Hospital Cup
RH Jonas Club Honours
Year Captain (Hon Secretary) Honours
1918-19 Guilliard (Wheeler) South London Charity Cup
1919-20 Guilliard (Wheeler) FA Amateur Cup, London Charity Cup, Surrey Senior Cup, Isthmian League
1920-21 Jonas (Wheeler) London Charity Cup
1921-22 Coleman (Wheeler/Smith) * Kings College Hospital Cup, Bromley Hospital Cup
1922-23 Coleman/Jonas (Smith) London Charity Cup, Surrey Senior Cup
1923-24 Jonas (Smith) * London Charity Cup, * Kings College Hospital Cup
1924-25 Jonas (Smith/Jonas) London Senior Cup, Surrey Senior Cup, Kings College Hospital Cup
1925-26 Jonas (Jonas) Isthmian League, London Charity Cup
1926-27 Jonas (Jonas to 1938-39 * Kings College Hospital Cup
Original article from HH9. Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2001