Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Pa Wilson, Liberality and the Pink and Blue Bed!

The Dulwich Hamlet Football Club plays its sport at Champion Hill, on land owned by King’s College. The Club has but a few years left on the lease. as I am sure you are only too aware. The general feeling among Hamlet followers is that when that fateful day arrives King’s College may well decide against their existing tenants in favour of letting out the land for far greater economic purposes. Why renew a lease to a Club in decline, with spiralling costs and a constant anxiety about where the money is going to come from, when a property developer would be willing to pay millions for the site?

How Dulwich changed fortunes following the Second World War is a mystery. You will discover by some of the articles and letters that appear in the Hamlet Historian that Dulwich Hamlet Football Club were once an amateur football club of great stature in the South of England, indeed in the United Kingdom. Between the two world wars the club probably did more for the game and how it should be played than many of its professional counterparts in the Football League. And yet come the sixties and fortunes had floundered. Forty years after winning the FA Amateur Cup for the fourth and final time, Dulwich were relegated from the top flight of the Isthmian League. By then crowds had dwindled, the trophy cabinet was bare and the great expansive edifice of Champion Hill stadium was beginning to crumble through neglect. One can’t help wondering what Pa Wilson, the founder of Dulwich Hamlet FC, would have felt if he could see how things had changed.

Remaining faithful to its amateur roots, laid down and nurtured by the great Pa Wlson, the name of Dulwich Hamlet was a byword for fairness and honesty, and pluck and dash, often associated with close rivals the Casuals and the Corinthians. Wilson enhanced the Corinthian ideal of ‘How we played the game’, to, ‘How we can improve the game’. He took into great consideration all that entered Champion Hill. Whether as player, spectator, official or visitor, you knew you were being looked after when you came to Dulwich. Wilson always sought the comfort of the spectator. He built stands to keep them dry and terraces to give them a better view. He used his ground during the First World War to entertain the troops on leave and those waiting to be called into active duty. He published a club magazine for his Hamlet boys stationed on the continent to help keep their spirits up. He drummed into his staff ideals that bore fruit, bringing great success to the club. He used the fiscal rewards that arose from ‘on the field’ success to build better facilities for players and fans. He demanded that his footballers have a better playing surface and a bigger stage, and set in motion the scheme that eventually built the great old Champion Hill ground that many of us have fond memories of.

When 22 of his young staff were killed on the Western Front during the First World War, Wilson made sure that a fitting memorial be made to them. A brass plaque was commissioned and placed above the players’ tunnel of the main stand at Champion Hill. It still exists today in the foyer of the present clubhouse. Following the Hamlet‘s Victory season, in which it won four of the major trophies on offer, the club decided to become involved in the work of a nearby hospital. In May 1921, and as a gesture to its War dead Dulwich Hamlet Football Club began to sponsor a bed at the Kings College Hospital in Denmark Hill. From 1927 until 1947 the bed was located in Lonsdale Ward, and was Bed No.12. Maintained at a cost of £60.00 per year, this bed was in use right up until 1947. A brass tablet above the bed was inscribed:

The Pink and Blue Bed
"This bed is maintained by the members of the Dulwich Hamlet Football Club to perpetuate the honoured memory of 22 of their comrades who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-18."

What actually happened to the brass tablet is anybody’s guess.

Following Lorraine ‘Pa’ Wilson's death in 1924, devotees at Dulwich Hamlet decided to commemorate Wilson himself – setting up various Lorraine Wilson Memorials, such as a scholarship to Dulwich College, and a match or two with Middlesex Wanderers. It is well recorded that Wilson often dipped into his own pocket to keep the club afloat or help that person in need. Benevolence was never far from his mind. But his greatest gift, surely, was the way he dealt with people, and the effect he had on those around him. His influence continued through to the next generation, many years after his death, when the club was still being run on his firm foundations. However, with the demise of the amateur status and the advent of the semi-professional footballer in the early seventies, one tends to wonder whether we will ever see the like of Pa Wilson again. Benefactors, these days, arrive in the shape of the multi-millionaire run club or the giant corporation name emblazoned everywhere, (in some cases even into the club’s name). But it wasn’t always so. That is perhaps why the great traditional clubs like Dulwich Hamlet endear themselves to us. And why we endeavour to keep the names of those great men of this great club alive.

Original article from HH8 Summer 2001.
Copyright © Jack McInroy 2011

Hamlet Historian Check List: The First 12 Issues

Issue One Spring 1998
Cover: Dave Darvill (1950s keeper)
1949 FA Cup match v Bognor Regis. Stand collapsed.
1906 The Amateur Split
1940s Memories by Ralph Hopkins
1956 FA Amateur Cup, Tommy Jover cartoon
1893 The actual date of DHFCs foundation by Roger Deason
1969 FA Amateur Cup v Emley
Clubs played in FA Amateur Cup
Obituary of Leslie Morrish, anecdote of 1935 England match in Chester by Jack McInroy
1903 The death of James Kelly; the result of injuries in a DHFC match. Fellow Hamlet player Jimmy Murphy kicked him in stomach by Roger Deason
1974 FA Trophy match v Margate

Issue Two Summer 1998
Cover: Kim Connett and Ron Bexley 1978
1938-39 London Senior Cup by Roger Deason
1964 FA Cup match v Harlow
1940s Memories by Ralph Hopkins
1977-78 Surrey Centenary Cup, Team photo
1921 Cartoon
1908-12 Charles Tyson by Jack McInroy
1991 Champion Hill old ground to be demolished from Team Talk
1931 Last match on the 1912-31 Champion Hill ground. Boundary of adjoining plot of land.
1893-1915 Portrait of Canon Daniell, first DHFC President

Issue Three Winter 1998
Cover: Steve Bowtell
1981 Steve Bowtell’s injuries
1932 Marine v DHFC. Book review by Mishi Morath
1911-14 Hussein Hegazi by Jack McInroy
1949 Nigerian XI v DHFC
1892-1912 DHFC, Freeman’s Ground, Edgar Kail by Jack McInroy taken from Beasley’s East Dulwich book
1930s Players autographs
1930s Memories by Graham Prette Johns and A. Apicella
1998 FA Cup 1st round match v Southport

Issue Four Autumn 1999
Cover: Edgar Kail cartoon
1973-74 FA Amateur Cup by Liam Hickey
1920s Cartoons of players
1930s Photos of players Goodliffe, Toser, Murry, Kail
1888-1938 Nunhead FC
DHFC and other Dulwich district teams in the FA Cup
1937 DHFC record victory, 13-0 v Walton on Thames

Issue Five Winter 1999/2000
Cover: 1975 Surrey Senior Cup Programme
1940s Memories by Ralph Hopkins
1975 Surrey Senior Cup by Mishi Morath
1920s Pre war DHFC badge
1892-1912 DHFC, Freeman’s Ground, Edgar Kail by Jack McInroy original copy later used in Beasley’s East Dulwich book. Repeated from Issue Three.
1974 Players autographs on programme
1958 Match v Tooting & Mitcham
Dorothy Kail interview by Jack McInroy, cartoon and photo of Edgar Kail
1940s Memories by Bryan O’Connell
1979 Photographs of Champion Hill Stadium

Issue Six Winter 2000
[Pages printed in incorrect order]
Cover: 1929 Cartoon
1925, 1929 Matches v Aldershot Traction Company
1940s Memories by Ralph Hopkins
1950-51 Handbook of Amateur Football by Norman Ackland, four photos
1970 Financial problems, planning proposals
1937 FA Cup match v Aldershot
1950 Match v Wycombe Wanderers
1924 Match abandoned due to sudden death of referee (No DHFC content)

Issue Seven Spring 2001
Cover: Hussein Hegazi
1907 DHFC pull out of Surrey Senior Cup competition
1907 Channel Islands tour
Hussein Hegazi Street in Cairo by Jack McInroy
Hussein Hegazi by a near kinsman, photo and map collage
1924 South Africa FC tour of UK. Photos of Hodgson, Corinthians, Dulwich Hamlet team photo 1925 by Jack McInroy
1932 Programme v Oxford City, Notes on Amateur Cup Final previous week
1932 Report of above match
1937 Match v Ilford
1903 Dulwich St Barnabas
1926 Cartoon
Obituary of Reg Mitchell by Ralph Hopkins
1912 Portrait of Stan Hann
Some copies included portraits of Thompson and Knight on inside back cover

Issue Eight Summer 2001
Cover: Ernie Toser
1950s Hamlet tour photo
1960 Match v Tooting & Mitcham, Cartoon
1958 Oxford City FC book, games v DHFC
1921 The Pink and Blue Bed in Kings College Hospital by Jack McInroy
1937 Ernie Toser by Jack McInroy
1935 Ernie Toser from South London Schools Sports Magazine
Interview with Ernie Toser, 1934 & 1937 Amateur Cup Final team photos
1960s Memories by Peter Norman, photos Merritt and Skipper
1960 Hamlet lottery scheme opposed by Free churches
1960 DHFC Supporters Team match reports, photo of present team
1977 Relegation from Isthmian Premier Division
1925 Edgar Kail portrait

Issue Nine Autumn 2001
Cover: Dick Jonas
History of the Northern Football League book review
1922 DHFC 8 St Albans City 7. Wilfred Minter scores 7 for St Albans
Dick Jonas by Jack McInroy. Four photos, photo of London FA XI in 1913.
Portraits of JR Williamson and TW Kirk
1981 Dulwich Hamlet Junior FC
1952 Match v Kingstonian by Mishi Morath
1952 DHFC’s number one fan by Mishi Morath
1968 Team photo in away strip
1923 Team photo with Surrey Senior Cup and London Charity Cup

Issue Ten January 2003
Cover: Action photo of Doug Waymouth from 1937 Cup Final
1923-24 Handbook
1947 Match v Sing Tao Sports Club by Jack McInroy. Photos, programme from tour
Ernie Toser obituary by Jack McInroy. Photo of elderly Toser
1893-1924 Pa Wilson The Father of DHFC. Photos of Pa Wilson and George Wheeler
1930-31 Team photo
1937 Newspaper clipping (same source as cover)
1924 Programme marking death of Pa Wilson
1937-38 Islington Corinthians World Tour by John Blackmore. Team photo
1940s Newsreel and television footage of Dulwich Hamlet by Jack McInroy
Portraits of Ernie Toser and Tommy Jover

Issue Eleven Winter 2003
Cover: Edgar Kail 1925
1929 Edgar Kail’s three full England caps by Jack McInroy. Two photos
1933 Taffy Hamer’s Welsh cap
1949 DHFC v Nigerian FA signed programme, photo of Les Green and Don Chantry with Nigerian players
1950 Programme notes
Lead footballing figure for sale
1940s Memories by Ralph Hopkins
1893 Club rules and early results
1956 Portrait of Brazilian player Didi training at Champion Hill
England Their England by Nick Harris book review
Unveiling of Edgar Kail’s Blue Plaque by Mishi Morath. Photos of the event

Issue Twelve Spring 2004
Cover: Leslie Green 1945
1946-49 Leslie Green Part One by Jack McInroy, Photo, cuttings, programme (v w Wimbledon) league table
1934 Photo of Ernie Toser’s FA Amateur Cup medal
1950s Photo of Dick Longdon, Press Secretary
1968 Article from Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly. Team photo.
1914 Programme excerpt from London Charity Cup Semi Final
1937 Photo of players arriving in Swindon for FA Cup tie
1950s C.E. Rengger
Brief programme excerpts from 1919, 1920, 1931, 1938, 1940 and 1943.
1978 My First Time by Richard Watts
1974 Thirty years as programme editor by John Lawrence
1949–1955 Televised matches at Champion Hill by Leslie Green
1950 Team photo with London Senior Cup
1949 Cartoon of Dulwich players

Ajax 1 Dulwich Hamlet 4

Dulwich Hamlet’s 1912/13 season is really quite an unremarkable one with regards to honours achieved. Yet before the season’s commencement, the club had ploughed a lot of money into the construction of a brand new ground adjacent to the old Freeman’s Ground. They even had players to mount a good campaign against the likes of Ilford, Nunhead and the London Caledonians. But it was a forlorn hope, the team took so long getting started that the season was over before it had really begun. The Hamlet did not gain a single victory until their ninth match, and six of those were defeats. When results did start to go the Hamlet’s way, it was mainly due to the effectiveness of the right wing partnership of George Shipway and Hussein Hegazi. But before long they were out of all competitions and the players were probably longing for the end of the season, or at least a break. A welcome interlude to this disastrous season eventually came in March.

At the start of the Easter holiday weekend of 1913, the Dulwich Hamlet football team set off for a short continental tour. This was nothing new, in fact it had become customary over the previous five seasons – four tours to the Netherlands and one to Germany – with Dulwich being very successful and gaining a good reputation in the process.

Dulwich Hamlet in Holland a year earlier in 1912

The party of 22 included the bulk of the first team players and some reserves, as well as a few officers and friends of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. The holiday arrangements had been exceedingly well planned, but nobody could have realised how well things would go. On Thursday 20th March the group embarked from Holborn to Liverpool Street Station, where they boarded another train to Harwich. From there they enjoyed a smooth passage across the Channel to the Hook of Holland. At dawn a further forty mile train journey to Amsterdam was undertaken. They finally reached their destination at 8.30am on Good Friday morning.

The opening match against Ajax, had been arranged for the afternoon, and it was expected that the players make the most of the morning, and possibly enjoy a couple of hours sleep before lunch. After lunch the players made their way from the hotel to meet the Dutch opponents. On arrival at the Ajax ground (pictured above in 1914), the skies opened up and a terrific storm took place putting the game under threat. The match was now expected to be called off, the deluge causing the pitch to resemble a swamp. It would have been a shame to come all that way and not play the match, so it was decided to delay the kick-off until the weather cleared up somewhat.

When the match eventually got underway, Dulwich were first to master the difficulties, coping well with the extremely atrocious conditions. The Hamlet’s Egyptian inside right, Hussein Hegazi, displayed footwork that was a treat to behold, and scored the opening goal in the second half. Ajax equalised and then Hegazi put Dulwich back in front. The defence held up well, with George Popple eminent among the half backs. Two more goals were added by Carson at centre forward, making the final score Ajax 1 Dulwich Hamlet 4.

The following day, Saturday, was purely social. A trip was made to the Zuyder Zee, Volendam and the Island of Marken. The last named being a tourist attraction, where the local people still wore the traditional Dutch costumes. On Sunday the party travelled to Rotterdam, where Dulwich Hamlet met the reigning champions of Holland, Sparta FC. Two days earlier Sparta had entertained and beaten the London Caledonians who were also on tour. The Calies were, at the time, worthy champions of our own Isthmian League and were soon to retain that honour. It is apparent that the English FA had a good relationship with its counterpart in the Netherlands. Everyone seemed to be on tour there; the England Amateur International side, which included George Shipway, the Dulwich Hamlet winger, were due to take on the Dutch at The Hague, in a few days time. Indeed, Sparta themselves, were without two or three of their first team players, who were also selected for their own national side. Holland won the game against England by 2 goals to 1.

Dulwich led Sparta 2-1 at half time, through Popple and Hegazi, in a game that was noted for fine football by both sides. The home team showed a very good knowledge of the game that surprised some of the tourists. The standard of football displayed by the Dutch compared favourably to that of the best English amateur teams. Sparta equalised soon after the interval, but Carson and Hegazi put the matter beyond doubt, Dulwich finishing the match 4-2 winners.

It was the third time the two clubs had met and Sparta were yet to win a game. In the evening a dinner was held for the players and officials, and afterwards speeches were made by Sparta representatives praising the footballing expertise of the team from South London.

On Easter Monday the party travelled to Nijmegen, a few miles from the German border, reaching the town at lunchtime. Again the opposition were no walkovers, the final match of the tour being against Be Quick FC. The conditions for the match were now much better than they were on arrival in Amsterdam on Friday, both teams displaying their skills on a dry ground. The Dulwich forwards played some exceptional combination football, and Hegazi deserved to score on several occasion, but it was Carson and Clarkson who netted the Hamlet goals in the 2-0 win. Complete success had been achieved on the field in the three matches, Dulwich Hamlet being a credit to English football.

A long train journey across Holland, and another smooth passage from Flushing brought the party home to native shores. It was no doubt, a holiday that would be remembered for years to come. The immediate effect was the boost it gave to the team when they returned to their remaining Isthmian League fixtures. Dulwich finished fifth in the table.

The Dulwich Hamlet players used on the tour:- Coleman, Clegg, Wight, Popple, Carson, Hegazi, Clarkson and Green played in all three matches. Knight, Smart, Barker and Lawrence played in two. Hagger played in one.

This article was first published in 1996 in Issue 42 of the Champion Hill Street Blues, under the alias Gravely Roberts. It was later revised for HH13. Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2011

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A Tribute to Ernie Toser

Note: this article is from 2003

It was with much sadness that we learned of the recent passing of Ernie Toser, aged 89. He was highly respected, dearly loved and will be greatly missed. I met Ernie on two occasions last summer and we exchanged letters throughout the year. It was a fruitful encounter and, in the light of his death seven months later, rather a fortuitous one. I can hardly say I knew him, but I found it a great pleasure being in his company and reminiscing about the days when Dulwich Hamlet was the cream of amateur football.

The triumphant Amateur Cup side from 1937. Ernie Toser standing far left.

I first contacted Ernie Toser in the spring of last year. I wrote asking if he’d mind if I visited him at his home in Hastings to conduct an interview. He replied very promptly but was rather reluctant to grant my wish – he had not been very well recently. Then I hit on Plan B. Plan B involved posting him a list of questions that he could answer via correspondence. He did so and we published the ‘interview’ in the next Hamlet Historian.

By a happy coincidence I had already booked a family holiday in Hastings during the summer. Whilst we were there I wrote once again to Ernie requesting a get together. This time he agreed, and chose to meet me in Mr Bean’s Coffee House in the town centre, a bus ride from his home on Friday 17th August.

An educated guess told me the elderly, gaunt, skeletal figure in the corner was Ernie, and after obtaining a beverage and some cookies I introduced myself. When he stood up I was surprised to discover how tall Ernie was. The ravages of time had shortened him by a couple of inches, yet although slightly hunched he was over six foot. His shock of white hair was in the same combed-back style as in the famous Hamlet team photographs of the thirties. He was having trouble trying to shake off the “confounded chest complaint” contracted in the new year, still suffering with a tightness which prevented him carrying out everyday tasks. It generally took him the best part of the morning before he felt well enough to do anything.

And what a gracious, good-natured gentleman Ernest Toser turned out to be. We spoke for over an hour about his life and times; about Hamlet history, about former players and officers, about Mr Edgar Kail, Mr Eddie Rengger, even Mr and Mrs Beckham and Manchester United, and surprisingly, about his beloved Tottenham Hotspur! He was actually with Spurs in his youth before joining Dulwich Hamlet. However, the north London club sent him to a nursery side, which Ernie was none too pleased about, and two friends at work persuaded him to join the Hamlet. He always looked out for the Dulwich result and seemed to be fairly knowledgeable on what was going on at Champion Hill these days.

I further informed him of the current state of affairs at the Club and the possible short move to Greendale. Ironically, Mr Bean’s Coffee House, where we were seated, was until a few years ago part of Priory Meadow, the local cricket ground. Now it was a large shopping complex with all the top names. (You can bet that caused a storm of protest!) To compensate the locals, a marvellous bronze statue “The Spirit of Cricket” was erected in the central square of the shopping centre. The bronze figure, unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen in 1997, depicts a batsman at the crease swivelling on his left leg with bat held aloft. His hooked shot has off-balanced him causing him to brush the bails from the wicket. Follow the batsman’s eye and you will find the bronze cricket ball embedded in the wall about six metres above a jewellers shop.

One particular character I was hoping to find out a bit more about was Dick Jonas. I had already decided to put together a piece on the Dulwich Hamlet supremo of the inter-war years and I just needed the odd anecdote to embellish the article. Ernie filled me in on the role that Jonas played in the affairs of the Club, and how he ensured that all the staff recognised that the Club was far more important than any individual member. The first time the teenaged Toser asked Dick Jonas for a couple of tickets for family members, Jonas sternly replied, “What do you want tickets for? They are not coming to see you are they?” But Ernie soon warmed to Jonas, and he told me that Dick Jonas was, in fact, the main reason Dulwich had such a wonderful set of players in the nineteen thirties.

Winning his schoolboy international cap for England alongside a future legend of the north east - Middlesborough’s Raich Carter – Ernie Toser joined Eton Manor FC. It was whilst playing for them that Ernie Haley, of the Hamlet’s Junior Section, spotted the youngster. Eton Manor was miles from home, and although it took him half an hour to get there Ernie made the journey almost daily. He wasn’t just in the football team either; he was into boxing, cricket and other things as well. He was such an exciting prospect that he was signed up for Tottenham Hotspur, but when they stuck him in a nursery side, he thought, “I'm not having this. They were in a lower league than Dulwich!” He also played a match for Redhill, and when asked for his expenses, he told them it was £1.00. However, he was given fifty bob in his pay packet, over twice as much. There were dodgy dealings going on even in the early 1930s, and Ernie thought, rather than get into something illegal he would play for a different club. Unlike a number of top so-called amateur sides the Dulwich Hamlet players did not receive any boot money at all. It was a principle; you were playing for the name of the Club. “We used to get quite annoyed when people in the crowd shouted out “How much are they paying you?” when in actual fact, we didn’t get a penny at Dulwich.”

In his first season at Dulwich, Ernie Toser played alongside the legendary Edgar Kail. The young man, with his whole career ahead of him, and the veteran coming to the end of his career. Kail had achieved virtually every honour the game could offer, but the two didn’t get on. Ernie disliked Kail’s constant calls to “Come here. Go over there. Move across.” and so on. All Toser wanted to do was play his own game. He did agree, however, that Edgar Kail was a wonderful footballer.

And what of Ernie Toser’s other team-mates from the Hamlet’s glory days of the 1930s. His best pal was George Goodliffe, the Hamlet’s tall centre forward (he was over 6 feet 4 inches). They kept in contact right up until Goodliffe’s death six or seven years ago. The striker came in for a lot of criticism during the 1930s – he wasted a lot of opportunities in front of goal. Edgar Kail championed his cause and urged the Hamlet rabble to give him a chance but they never really took to him. However, Goodliffe took it all in his stride, the criticism never bothered him.

Another ‘great’ was the brilliant A.H. Hamer, known to all as ‘Taffy’. One evening during a training session at Champion Hill Ernie was practising his sprinting. In fact he had just laced up a pair of spikes when a football came towards him. He instinctively controlled it and was about to kick it back when Taffy Hamer, the Hamlet captain, playfully came in to tackle him. Unfortunately the Welshman ended up with Toser’s spikes gashing all down his shin making several deep wounds. Ernie was very apologetic, but Taffy Hamer said “No. It was my own fault. The pair developed a great partnership trio with Cecil Murray. As an attacking left half, Ernie Toser could score goals as well as defend - Hamer would drop back to allow Toser to carry the ball forward. Toser had actually started life as a centre half, but on arrival at Dulwich it was soon obvious that no one was going to remove Taffy Hamer from the position he had made his own, so Ernie adapted his game to play on the left.

Towards the end of our chat Ernie introduced me to Wyn, his lady love of twenty years. She had been quietly taking in our conversation from the next table. His two earlier marriages (to sisters) had both sadly ended in widowhood. But I wasn’t really there to talk about his private life, so I didn’t pry.

I mentioned to Ernie that the DHFC Supporters Club was in the process of getting a reproduction of the classic 1937 Hamlet shirt made for fans to wear. We wanted the colours, the material and the design to match the original, but we were working from old black and white photographs. I brought with me a Crown colour chart to see if Ernie could pinpoint the exact shade of pink used in the fabric. How amazed I was when he told me that he still had his original shirt from the Amateur Cup Final. “The Club” he said, “presented them to the team at the end of the season.” “Can I see it?” I asked, and then quickly arranged another date at Mr Bean’s a few days later. I couldn’t wait.

The hairs stood up on the back of my neck when Ernie Toser produced from his bag the actual Dulwich Hamlet shirt he wore in the 1937 Amateur Cup Final. I felt very privileged to be handling this relic from a golden age. The shirt, Ernie informed me, had been worn by him throughout the season, and washed dozens of times. It looked slightly battered, its pink and navy colours fading after sixty odd years, but on inspection it was in remarkable condition. A bit tight perhaps (38” chest) but well made by Jack Hobbs, the sports goods manufacturer, set up by the famous Surrey cricketer. I was even more honoured when the artefact was kindly loaned to me by its owner, and I took the utmost care of it throughout the rest of my vacation and beyond.

At the first opportunity I displayed the shirt at Champion Hill to some of the members of the Supporters Club. With Ernie’s permission we went through the process of having the quantity of replicas produced by TOFFS, a company in Gateshead, that manufactures old-fashioned football shirts. We now have these replicas that remind us of the rich history of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club.

Having taken the customary photo I left Ernie and Wyn at the bus stop and headed off to a deckchair to scribble down some notes. On my way I popped into a charity shop and picked up a second hand book for a few pence - Millwall: A Complete Record 1885-1991. This was incredible. There was Ernie Toser’s name just where it should be. He played a handful of games for Charlie Hewitt’s Mllwall side in their championship-winning season (Division Three South, 1937-38) before being struck by injury. He didn’t actually sign professional forms for Millwall but continued in his office job at a printing company. He was popular with the manager of the firm, and was allowed the odd afternoon off when there was a game on. He played a further twenty games for the Lions during wartime.

When war began Ernie Toser signed up for the Royal Air Force and naturally made it into one of the RAF sides. The best known player in the RAF team was Bernard Joy, the last Amateur footballer to gain an England cap. The two men were often chosen as a partnership in representative matches and struck up a relationship on and off the field. One evening whilst training at Blackpool, a brilliant winger was practising his dribbling skills. “Who’s that? I asked. Stanley Matthews, they said. Well, no wonder.” Ernie Toser introduced himself and the two men became friends.

After the war, and following a brief spell with Notts County, Ernie Toser returned to Champion Hill where he had made his name as a player. Having retired from playing when he was 33, - “Most players” he said, “were felt to be past it when they reached thirty.” - he embarked on a new role as First Team Coach and what he described as “general dogs-body”. Training sessions often took place in the dark, and consisted of some football practice, vaulting over an exercise horse and discussing tactics. Fleet-footed left winger Tommy Jover was in Hamlet teams either side of the war. Ernie recalled Jover’s “…quicksilver pace. He was not a natural ball player but he had lightning pace on the wing. His large goal tally was because he was so elusive.” The two men kept in touch up until Toser’s death.

On Good Friday this year I received news from Ernie’s son that his father had died a few days earlier on Monday 25th March. I spoke to David Toser on the phone, and he informed me that the funeral would be held on Friday 5th April. On March 30th, we remembered Ernie Toser’s contribution to Hamlet lore with a minute’s silence before the game. He was one of the last links with the great teams of the 1930s. The following week it was back to Hastings for the cremation. I arrived early and passed Mr Bean’s Coffee Shop. I stopped for a few moments and thought about Ernie Toser.

I was a bit disappointed to see so few folk at the funeral, especially representing Dulwich Hamlet. Maybe word didn’t get round quick enough; maybe the fact that the funeral was on a Friday afternoon at the coast made it difficult; maybe people couldn’t get the time off work. But one simply assumes that these former servants of our Club will get a decent send off. Especially as Ernie Toser’s time at Dulwich spanned four decades – midfield maestro in the 1930s, returning in the late 40s and 50s as coach before finally retiring in the early 1960s. He must have made many many acquaintances among the playing staff in that time, and yet only Leslie Green (and current vice chairman Brian Shears) bothered to turn up.

As part of the service, Ernie Toser’s son David gave a brief account of his father’s life. He recounted his father’s upbringing, his sporting life at school, for club and for country, and a number of personal details. It was a fitting tribute. He then read a heartfelt letter of condolence he had received from Tommy Jover, the President of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. It was another testimony to a charming gentleman.

After the service we stood around for a while and exchanged anecdotes about our departed friend. David Toser and other members of Ernie’s family were very excited about the new TOFFS replica shirts. I explained that some were even calling this Dulwich Hamlet item the ‘Ernie Toser Shirt’ in his honour. They were delighted with that. And I'm sure Ernie would have been too.

April 2002

This article originally appeared in Issue 5 of the Four Goals With His 'Ead fanzine and was reproduced in issue No.10 of the Hamlet Historian.
Copyright © Jack McInroy 2003