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

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