Thursday, 15 May 2014

The first game of my life… by Mishi D. Morath

Mishi D. Morath takes us back to the year of his birth and a search through the archives to find that very first Hamlet win of his life. 

The first game of my life… 
by Mishi D. Morath

One question I am often asked, as a long-standing Hamlet fan, of forty years now, is ‘Why do you hate Tooting so much?’ To which I have no real answer. They are our local rivals, and I can respond in the only way that is honest…”I don’t know, I was just brought up to hate them as a kid!”
For this edition our esteemed editor asked me to knock up and article or two, which I always say I will, but put on the proverbial ‘back burner’.  I have an idea, but am a lazy sod at heart. He wanted ‘around eight pages’, so I had few thoughts for one or two page ‘space-fillers’. I saw my first Hamlet game at the tender age of seven, after my older brother Ferenc finally gave in to my nagging to take me to a game. We grew up on the Champion Hill Estate behind the ground. From our balcony you could watch the players training, on the old Top Pitch. So I thought to myself, rather than ‘my first match’ which I have covered before, I wondered what the first Hamlet game of my life was?
I was born on Monday October 24th 1966, north of the river, but destined to move south of the Thames when I was about four. It must have been then because the only primary school I went to was St. Anthony’s, up at Dulwich Plough.  Not any old part of South London, but as fate would have it, Champion Hill itself. I wasn’t supposed to be born then, in fact I was a complete surprise. I am the youngest of four, and not planned. I was a ‘stomach ache’ and born three months premature, weighing in at 2lbs 4 oz; a little more than a bag of sugar & was given the last rites on the day I came into this earth. From vague memory, I think I was told that I wasn’t even brought home until January the following year.
So how simple would it be for me to check what the first Hamlet game of my life was? Well that was the easy part …unfortunately I decided to carry on ‘a game or two’ to include the first Dulwich win of my life too. What I never factored in was that the 1966/67 season was the worst in the entire history of Dulwich Hamlet, when we came rock bottom of the Isthmian League, and unbeknown to me we were not to win another match that season, after I was born! So this has ended up more of a ‘War & Peace’ style article rather than a two page spread in ’Hello!’ magazine!
It is strange how, without having checked results, Tooting can annoy me, even before I had my first breath. For just two days before my birth, on the 22nd October, we lost 4-1 at their old Sandy Lane. Throughout this piece there will be lots of quoting from the archives of the ‘South London Press’, and these will all be in italics. It was a portent of things to come when I read ‘Tooting had this Isthmian League result safely sewn up by half-time’ The headline mentioned their new right-winger Michael Andrews, but was not so complimentary of one of our men: ‘Alas the same cannot be said for Hamlet’s newcomer Barry Hopkins, who was a little overawed by the firepower of the home attack.’ Nevertheless the 19-year-old from Windsor & Eton recovered sufficiently to keep his goal intact in the second half.  It was after the interval that we ‘showed a little more fight’, with Mike Woollard the pick of our defence.  He ‘suddenly found time to venture upfield’ where he set up Ron Parnell, but his attempt went into the side-netting.  We did close the gap with a shot from Eddie Harris that ‘flashed into the net well out of Guy’s reach.’ That’s the same Dickie Guy who moved on to Southern Leaguers Wimbledon, and saved a Peter Lorimer penalty against the then at the peak of their powers Leeds United in an FA Cup tie at Elland Road the following decade. So there you have it, subconsciously such a terrible defeat caused my mum, who neither knew she was pregnant, nor heard of Dulwich Hamlet, to go into labour as a result!
So that was a close escape. The first game of my life was actually when I was in intensive care, oblivious to the world in my incubator, and it was at what was to become my ‘second home’, Champion Hill. Sadly, another heavy defeat, as we crashed at home to Ilford 3-0. This was in a long since defunct competition called the London Charity Cup.  Ilford triumphed due to ‘their ability to overcome the heavy conditions…consistent use of long ball tactics that reaped dividends….Little fault could be found with an overworked Hamlet defence with Mike Woollard working tirelessly but their attack still leaves much to be desired.’.
Just for the record the team against Ilford, for the first game of my life was as follows: Hopkins, Woollard, Hammond, King, Cassell, Smith, Abbott, Modesto, Cane, Walker & Mears. And so these two matches set the tone for the rest of my research, with me naively deciding to continue ‘a few more games’ until the first win of my life…oh dear!
And so began my long, seemingly elusive search for that first victory. A one nil loss at home to Ilford, this time in the Isthmian League, followed, and then a trip to Oxford City. Ray Willis would be making only his second appearance for the club, he was formerly with Middlesex League outfit Ditton. Terry Seeds retuned, after three weeks out with an ankle injury. But we lost five one, described as ‘jaded and ragged chasing this match at the White Horse ground….in character with a team already fighting again to escape the re-election zone.’ There were also problems off the pitch as the headline read: ‘Dulwich hit by four quitting’; three of whom had played in the first team earlier in the season, namely Dave Clark, John Mears and Colin Phillips. The fourth, Ray Ranson, was a reserve & ‘A’ team player. Committee member Cecil Murray said: “They’ve gone because neither of them were able to keep a first team place. Centre-back Clark was the only full Hamlet member, the committee elected him last season. But Clark has recently married and now lives in Chingford. He told the club he was tired of getting home late at night following the journey after training sessions.” Inside-forward Mears went back to his former club, Cray Wanderers. Half-back Phillips joined Maidstone United; while full-back Ranson, who left Bromley because he was unable to hold down a first team place, returned to Hayes Lane, where his father Tom was manager.
Another Champion Hill defeat, with the ‘old enemy’ from Tooting winning two nil in the return game, so the first of many defeats against them in my lifetime, even though this century we have more than held the upper hand! We ‘crashed to a losing double’ which ‘could have been worse if Tooting had not squandered 4 made-to-measure chances.’
The next match was against Wembley, in the London Senior Cup. The previous time we had met each other was a decade previous, where we led two at half time, before they knocked us out 4-2.  The pre-match optimism told us that ‘Hamlet hope for better fortune when they again visit Wembley’…but it was not to be.  I wonder how many Hamlet fans suffered over at Vale Farm, with the attraction of the England versus Netherlands amateur international being staged at Champion Hill? It was a future Hamlet player, who joined us when Jimmy Rose became manager in the early Seventies, who was responsible for our downfall, as the headline told us:  ‘Hamlet hammered by live-wire Pudney’. A one nil defeat- ‘A magnificent goal by ex-Hendon star Fred Pudney gave the Athenian League side a shock, but deserved victory’.  Such was our poor showing that we only ‘troubled (their) keeper for the first time just before half-time, Terry Pearton with a snap-shot from long range. Wembley’s diligent defence always proved just too good for a moderate Dulwich forward line.’ Pudney was clearly the best player on the pitch, by a long chalk, and it got to our players. His ‘persistent worrying the Dulwich defence caused tempers to rise and after a clash with Frank Abbott both were cautioned.  And then Pudney struck. Taking up the running on the right-wing, he moved inside with the ball and from an acute angle let fly with a fierce shot from 25-yards which left Ray Willis helpless in the 71st minute’. One would assume that in the modern era when yellow cards are handed out like confetti, both players would certainly be red-carded.
The next match was in a competition long forgotten to all but the most ardent statto-type of a Hamlet fan. But this match was extremely unusual, as it was the second leg of a South of The Thames Cup tie against Bromley, and the first leg was from two seasons before!  The headline said it all: ‘Second leg-19 months later!’  Before we even kicked off we were two goals for the worse, as way back on April 26th 1965 we had been beaten three one. That was a game where John King broke his leg, forcing a long lay-off, but he was fit for the return! No mean feat…if you didn’t know the dates of the two ties! The ‘excuse’ given for the long delays was ‘inclement weather forced a heavy backlog of fixtures last season and neither club could find the time to complete the match’. After a huge delay we were hammered 7-2, thus going down 10-3 on aggregate.  To be fair, if you are looking for an ‘excuse’ we had one, as our keeper went off injured. But the report never saw it that way: ‘Oh Dulwich! Even though you lost goalkeeper Ray Willis early in the second half this was such a disappointing display.’ We were already four down when a kick to his head forced us to put Tony Dew between the posts, but out of the seven conceded ‘four of the Bromley goals were handed to them on a plate.’ Ours were two in the last ten minutes, from substitute Albert Modesto, and Danish debutant Jan Kilderman, from a free-kick. It was also reported midfielder Frank Abbott had resigned from the club.
We then lost by the odd goal in five, away to Hitchin Town, where we ‘fought back pluckily after being three goals in arrears’ and only a combination of ‘bad luck and bad shooting prevented earning a much needed point’.  The result meant we swapped places with Hitchin, who had been the only side below us in the table.
A midweek defeat came next, at Sutton United, this time 3-1, but it was closer than the scoreline suggested as the heading told us: ‘Hamlet crack in the last 10 minutes’; with our ‘marked defending’ nearly taking an unexpected point from the title contenders. ‘Hamlet crowded their goal so successfully the result was still in the balance until the last ten minutes’. Sutton’s 38th minute opener was cancelled out five minutes after the break when Ron Cane sent in a corner which was headed in by Jan Kilderman.
But on the Saturday, despite that plucky loss, it was business as usual, as we were knocked out of the Surrey Senior Cup, three nil at home to Leatherhead. ‘Lamentable Dulwich crash again’ was the headline. The report commenced ‘Down-in-the-dumps Dulwich made an early exit when they gave another lamentable display…This was a game that Dulwich would have taken in their stride. Not so nowadays.’ Cutting comments indeed, from the local press. A vein that was, sadly to continue all season.
At the start of the season we had appointed our first ever paid coach, or in modern parlance, manager.  His name was Frank Reed, and although this article was clearly ‘spin’ from him, before ‘spin’ was invented, it’s interesting to look back at… “I’m not going to quit – says Reed”. The Hamlet were given a ‘verbal shot-in-the-arm’ from him when he stated he ‘would like his contract renewed when it expires later this season’.  The paper went on:  ‘The reason for coach Reed’s one-man-morale-booster is to quash ugly rumours that have flowed again, following the resignation of another Dulwich player – Eddie Harris, this week.’ Reed, the 33-year-old former ex-Charlton Athletic goalkeeper said: “I’ve been to many clubs during my years in football, but Dulwich Hamlet is the best I’ve ever been associated with. And as for any internal trouble, well that’s ridiculous. No matter what your club is you’ll always get unsettled players, who naturally move on if things are not going their way. Admittedly we have had our fair share at Dulwich, but don’t forget there are players applying to join us each week who don’t get any mention.” He said that the recent muddy grounds was one of the reasons for our spate of defeats- “Our present team are on the small side and believe in ball playing more than physical contact, and this, I believe, is why we have been struggling”, he explained. “Just wait until the hard grounds, we’ll come again.” Reed had taken over as our first paid coach in July, and believed we had the nucleus of a half-decent side: “All I need are one or two experienced players to harness the obvious skill we undoubtedly have, and then I honestly believe that Dulwich will be where it belongs – at the top.” Before joining Dulwich, Reed had been at Erith & Belvedere, & he was reportedly on a six month contract, that was due to expire at Christmas.  This report was from early December.  The paper went on to say that Sunderland-born Reed had openly expressed to the Dulwich committee that he would like to continue as coach-if they wanted him.  He also said: “My stay at Dulwich has not only been a challenge, but it has been very enjoyable, and although naturally I would not like to say much about it at the present moment, I would definitely like to carry on.” The piece finished by informing us that ‘under Reed’s guidance, Dulwich enjoyed one of their most successful starts to the season for many years, but now sit humbly at the bottom of the table.’
The next game against Bromley was rained off, but when it was played the following week it was a case of ‘same old, same old’, despite Reed’s positive talk. But the headline was, sort of, optimistic, despite the three nil defeat at Hayes Lane: ‘Hamlet hit by late burst’; with three Bromley goals in the last seven minutes sending us to defeat.  Our first seasonal game was at home to our ground-sharing tenants Corinthian Casuals, and there were changes before the game, with the heading: ‘Goalkeeper Willis axed – Hamlet call on Edwards’. Willis was dropped for reserve team custodian Tony Edwards, who had ‘impressed recently with some good displays’.  And up front there was also a change, as the Danish student Jan Kilderman was returning home for the Christmas period, the reserve striker Harry Richardson being his replacement. But the change of custodian between the sticks made no difference as we lost two nil: ‘Casuals hold out to win thriller’, which suggested a rare decent match to watch, confirmed by the opening lines: ‘Easily the best game at Champion Hill this season. That was the universal opinion about this rip-roaring game on Christmas Eve.’ Heavy rain almost led to a postponement, but after late inspections of the ‘waterlogged surface’ the referee gave the go ahead.  End to end stuff by all accounts. ‘What a battle it proved to be with first one side then the other gaining the upper hand, with the eventual result hanging in the balance until Casuals snatched their second goal twenty minutes from the end’.
With the chopping and changing of playing personnel, there was bad news in the papers with the heading: ‘Merritt out for season’. We were told that the club stalwart Reg Merritt was unlikely to play again this season because of a chest injury…after a specialist informed him it would be dangerous for him to continue playing. The 37-year-old, a former Surrey & London FA representative player, was injured in Dulwich’s game at Hendon, on October 8th, when he was taken to hospital, but allowed home before the end of the match. Severe bruising of the ribs was diagnosed, but since then consistent pain had forced him to seek further medical advice.  Merritt, who lived in Farnborough, in Kent, had been with the club 16 years, and was the skipper for six of them. At his own request, at the start of this season he asked that a younger player take over the role.
Our Dane finished his break – ‘Kilderman’s vacation return aids Hamlet’ the paper telling us he was back from his eight day spell in Denmark, and would be ‘plunged straight back in at home to Oxford City’, a snippet also informing us that ‘his English is restricted to just a few words’. I bet he wished he was still in Scandinavia, as it was more poor headlines: ‘Biggest defeat of season for Hamlet’.  We lost six one at home, the report stating: ‘The New Year brought no change in the fortunes of Dulwich Hamlet’.  One goal more than our earlier 5-1 loss up there, we ‘handed Oxford three soft goals’. It was our Dane who got a good mention: Jan Kilderman, curiously starved by Dulwich throughout the first half, got off the mark well immediately after the interval, and grazed the bar with a swerving shot.’  But our goal came from Harry Richardson, who netted with a ‘glorious header’ from a Terry Lyons corner.
After that match manager Peter Reed was against pleading his case in the press: ‘Reed wants to stay until end of the season’. We were told that ‘the future of Dulwich Hamlet’s first paid coach hangs in the balance until the struggling club hold their annual meeting next month’. The report went on: ‘Reed shocked the club last Saturday with the news that he will not be able to continue as their coach after this season, because of business commitments.’ He told the paper: “I’ve just taken a new post as a sports organiser with a London bank, and although I’ve tried to work round it, I just will not be able to spare the time to coach Dulwich. I would love to continue at Dulwich until the end of the season, but the final decision rests with the club. Until I hear to the contrary I intend to carry on and do my utmost for the club. My days at Dulwich have been the best in my footballing life, and if they do terminate my contract then I should always like to be connected with the club in some way.’ A spokesman for the club said that Reed’s resignation, and his offer to complete the season have been accepted, but he added nothing more will be decided until the Annual Meeting in February.
The next match was a break from league football, an FA Amateur Cup tie away to Grays Athletic, the last time we had met in this competition was way back in 1946/47, when we drew 3-3, losing the replay one nil.  History was to repeat itself, just different scorelines. The first match was drawn: ‘Penalty-saver from Kilderman’.  Netted in the closing stages, it gave The Hamlet a ‘lucky reprieve’, the spot kick from Jan Kilderman coming in the 80th minute, when we were losing two one, after: Dick Clarke slipped past the full-back but as he went round centre-half Stockley the home skipper brought him down just inside the area.’ The first half had been goalless, Grays going ahead on 51 minutes. Seven minutes later we hit back with an ‘untidy goal’ from Terry Lyons. ‘Grays failed to clear a high cross from Sumpter and Lyons shot to fire home through a ruck of players.’ The joy was short lived though, as Grays restored their lead within thirty seconds and no Dulwich player touching the ball. We were told that ‘Grays were the better all-round side and unlucky not to win. Two goals disallowed and twice Peter Smith headed off the line’. 
There was more player news, when we read about our third Scandinavian player of the season: ‘Hagen in Hamlet’s reserves’. And from a third country: ‘Norwegian international Erik Hagen makes his debut for Dulwich Hamlet in their reserve side on the Top Pitch tomorrow at 2:30. The 25-year-old had his first training session with the club last night and plays against Woking reserves. Dulwich would have liked to plunge him straight into the first team, but league rules state any player joining a new club must have at least one outing in the reserves before a senior outing. A native of Oslo, Hagen has been capped eleven times for Norway, a versatile right-back for first division club Friwg-whose ground is called Bislet, equivalent to the White City Stadium in London. Hagen is in Britain until March to further his studies in chartered shipping.’ The reserve match was drawn one apiece, but not such a good result in the Amateur Cup on the main pitch: ‘Hamlet slump out of Cup’.  The beginning of the report said it all as we lost two nil in very wet conditions: ‘Goodbye Dulwich, you’re out of the Amateur Cup. Without a win in three months they paddled out of this first round replay. Paddle they definitely did. Referee Burns spent 45 minutes deciding to play or postpone. Puddles turned into clogging mud and that alone was enough to snuff out the lightweight Hamlet attack. They made the fatal mistake of attempting to play through ploughing down the muddy middle. Grays didn’t and for that alone they deserved their victory. Tactically they were always a step ahead of their Isthmian League opponents.’
After his reserve appearance our latest overseas player was in the frame: ‘Dulwich call up new recruit Hagen’.  Our Norwegian international Erik Hagen stepped into the first team for his debut away to Maidstone United. He was replacing the ‘off form’ Bob Meadows, and would ‘play a deep lying link-man role’.  Of his single reserve team appearance we were informed that: ‘Although he tired towards the end and then limped off with a bruised tendon in the dying minutes, Hagen showed that with a little more training he can be a great asset.’ But he could do nothing about the result, as we went down 6-1, not helped by an injury: ‘Luckless Hamlet see Woollard injured’.  And the Stones were at the top of their game too- ‘Struggling Dulwich Hamlet were unfortunate to find Maidstone in their most convincing form of the season. The Kent side have been in trouble themselves for most of the season, and had not won a game for months. But they made the most of their all-round superiority to leave Dulwich a completely wretched side long before the end.’ Mike Woollard went off injured after 35 minutes, after a collision, when we were only one down. After he had left the field we suffered a double blow in a minute. First they scored with a penalty when Barry Bryan handled on the line and then Erik Hagen turned a seemingly harmless cross into our own net.
As if the football wasn’t bad enough, the pitch at Champion Hill was just as awful. And this was highlighted by the local press: ‘Pitch problem top of the agenda’.  You have to remember that unlike the game today matches were not called off at the drop of the hat when there is a puddle of rain, or ice and snow. Unless the conditions were really horrendous the game went on. But …‘Champion Hill came under more criticism when the Casuals v Tooting and Mitcham fixture was cancelled because of a waterlogged pitch. This is the third time this season the ground has been unplayable. And Hamlet officials are getting worried. Last year a “considerable amount of money” was spent on having the playing surface raised four inches so that additional clinker could be laid in an effort to help drainage. Bingley’s, the famous turf researchers, suggested this method to Dulwich but it failed to solve the problem. The Dulwich committee have been in touch with the company for another assessment of the situation. The trouble seems to stem from a thick layer of clay that lays just beneath the pitch which allows the drainage to soak up the rain, but does not let it disperse. The only way around this is to dig the clay away, but this would prove very costly. The Dulwich committee are anxious for a solution as no game means no gate, and no gate means no money.’
Continuing with more ‘off-field’ activity came the news that: ‘Dulwich to advertise for new paid coach’.  We were informed that ‘Dulwich will advertise immediately in top soccer magazines’ after gaffer Peter Reed had said he was moving on, and that ‘Reed has pencilled in a couple of names to replace him, and will arrange for them to meet the Dulwich committee shortly.’ After enjoying a good early start, the season got worse, as you have seen through this article! We are informed that: ‘Unfortunately Reed’s methods –he believes more in the skill side of soccer than the mad dash and crunch – have become bogged down in muddy pitches’. Which brings us back to the Champion Hill surface:  ‘Nature is the only thing left in their other problem child – the pitch. “Everything that has been within our financial limit has been tried in an effort to stop the playing surface becoming waterlogged at this time of season”, explained Dulwich official Cecil Murray. “We have bought a new spiker and 50 tons of sand to try and disperse the water that forms on the pitch at this time of year, but these methods are giving us only a brief respite. It would cost far too much to have the playing surface dug up again like last year, so our biggest ally now is nature. Immediately after a new playing surface was laid it was time for the new season to begin, so the new grass did not have enough time to root. It normally takes a few seasons anyway for new grass to settle, so we will just have to wait and hope.” he added. The piece went on: ‘The notorious heavy playing surface has been causing headaches to the Dulwich committee since the late fifties water just flowed off the playing surface and regularly flooded the tea and groundsman’s rooms.  After consulting a top ground company a couple of seasons ago …work was completed during the close season last year at a cost of £2,500. The pitch problem seemed solved until the heavy rain and snow over the Christmas period again flooded the pitch’. The club have been told that ‘nothing, apart from a massive overhaul of the playing surface could be done until the grass has been given a chance to root and sit firm’.
Still on ‘off-the pitch’ matters, came the heading ‘South London Boys banned’.  Nothing to do with over-exuberant lads on matchdays! For many, many years, especially in the great pre-War era, The Hamlet had an almost exclusive monopoly on the young talent passing through the representative side of South London Schools. Many of their matches were played at our home, both on the main ground and the Top Pitch. But not any longer: ‘Dulwich Hamlet have severed a 75-year association with South London Boys.  “From the end of this season the boys will no longer play at Champion Hill”, said Hamlet official Cecil Murray. Boys from the South London teams have not been graduating to Dulwich in recent years, and now that Corinthian Casuals also use the ground we have been forced to take this decision. It is very much regretted.” Arthur Barnes, the secretary of the Boys side responded: “I have yet to be informed officially, but if we had played more often at Dulwich I am sure the boys would have been far more Dulwich minded”.
Now for some more Isthmian football! ‘Three-goal burst rattles Dulwich’, we were told, after losing 4-1 away to Ilford.  It was always going to be a struggle as ‘Defence-conscious Hamlet were shattered by a three goal burst in a ten minute spell early in the first half at Newbury Park.’  Not that we gave up.  John Hammond and Erik Hagen tried throughout the game to spark some method into the visitors attack, but they fell too early into the offside trap or were repelled by the well-marshalled defence’.  Four down at the time, we pulled one back just before the hour mark, Ron Parnell heading in from a Jan Kilderman  cross. Shortly afterwards Vic Welch hit the post but ‘that was the last time the home goal was in danger’.
A break from league action, maybe we could re-group, under no pressure for points, in a friendly away to Hounslow Town. But it was more of the same as we: ‘seldom appeared likely to win this friendly, and in fact, must have felt grateful to confine Hounslow’s winning margin to 4-2’.  It must have been pretty dire for the Hamlet fans, who no doubt, had a miserable journey home on the 37 bus, as ‘play never reached a high standard’.
Back in league action, at home to Sutton United with ‘Isthmian defeat No. 23 for Hamlet’, after we conceded four for no reply, where we ‘put up little more than token resistance.’ Back on our travels, over to east London in midweek, where we lost to Leytonstone, another first half bashing: ‘Dulwich beaten in first half-hour’.  Going down 3-1, they appeared to drop to our level! ‘By the time Leytonstone had scored their third goal the Dulwich defence had virtually disintegrated. Their frequent wild and desperate “clearances” certainly worried Ray Rispoli’ (in our goal).  We were ‘quite unable to cope’ and the scribe suggested that we were heading for our biggest defeat of the season, but… ‘Then for no apparent reason Leytonstone collapsed and just as they had found the game easy they suddenly found it difficult to do anything right! The remainder of the game was a dour struggle between two unimaginative teams, with both sides reluctant to venture goalwards.’  But we did score, to ‘win’ the second half at least:  ‘Dulwich’s consolation goal came from Terry Lyons, having a miserable match, when his hard, low shot left Mackie floundering in the mud. The goal brought renewed zeal into Dulwich’s play, but effort alone can’t win matches’.
There was another friendly on the Saturday, away to New Romney, the match preceded by a report with a French headline about our Norwegian! ‘Au revoir says Hamlet’s Hagen’; for Erik Hagen was returning to his native Oslo the following week, as the Norwegian football season was starting at the beginning of April, and he had been told by his club Friwg to report back for training.  He had played six senior games for us, New Romney being the seventh. Official Tommy Jover told the press: “Naturally we knew all along that Erik would have to return home in March, but it’s a great pity”
The New Romney match, against such lowly opposition would, I was certain, ‘break my duck’, in terms of the point of this article. How I swore when I read we only managed a one all draw! ‘Thorne nets both goals’. We were ‘well on top for the greater portion of the first half and should have established a winning lead by the interval. Prominent in many moves was Erik Hagen, and he was undoubtedly the game’s outstanding player.’ We took the lead with 15 minutes to go, when Vernon Thorne ventured up front and scored with a header. But a mere five minutes later he was the villain- ‘… a bad misunderstanding between goalkeeper Mike Edwards and Thorne saw him divert the ball into his own net’.
So my search for that so far elusive ‘first win of my life’ goes on.  We then lost three nil at home to Walthamstow Avenue. But the next game must have almost been the cue for fans dancing around Goose Green on their return home, but not quite, as: ‘‘Hamlet’s first point in five months’ was earned away to Clapton. It appears to have been dire: ‘A goalless draw was an obvious and fitting result to this fumbling, wind-swept fiasco of a basement bore at the Spotted Dog’. Only Hamlet coach Frank Reed seemed to derive any pleasure from this negative struggle. He cheerfully said afterwards “Of course we are satisfied.’ Who was he trying to kid? ‘This was a very welcome point, and it’s our first since October.”
Almost that tantalising first win! Next, going down by the odd goal in five to Hendon, well if you read on, Hendon ‘reserves’ really, which puts a bit more perspective on it.  The heading told us: ‘Dulwich collapse in last minutes’ after we were a goal ahead with five minutes left to play! We looked to be heading for only our fourth league win of the campaign but ‘FA Amateur Cup semi-finalists Hendon, fielding nine reserves, had other ideas, and in those last five minutes scored both the equaliser and the winner with shots from way outside the penalty area’. Then came mention of YET ANOTHER overseas name, when we were informed: ‘Dulwich got away to a flying start when Sigurter Jacobssen, in his opening first team outing of the season, gave them a ninth minute lead.’ Hendon equalised, a tad controversially on 25 minutes, as the linesman’s flag was up, but ‘despite Dulwich protests the referee signalled a goal’. Four minutes after that we took the lead ‘a fine through ball from skipper Mike Woollard put Jan Kilderman through and he made no mistake with his neat lob-shot’.
After being so close, normal service was resumed. ‘26th defeat for Hamlet’, a five two reversal at home to Kingstonian, where we ‘dismally slumped’, despite taking the lead through a ‘glorious’ 25-yard free-kick struck by Jan Kilderman‘Hamlet’s limitations were cruelly exposed by the physically big K’s side’, our lead lasting a mere six minutes, before they equalised.
On Easter Monday, despite it being only a friendly match, comes what reads to me as a prime example of what an embarrassment our once proud club had become at this time. We were at home to Athenian Leaguers Finchley, losing six nil, with the headline telling you all you need to know: ‘Player shortage sinks embarrassing Hamlet’. Coach Peter Reed tried to explain: “What can you expect when only 11 players out of 52 are available”. The report continued- ‘Reed was not offering excuses either. Injuries galore, and a large number of players touring with their Sunday clubs forced Hamlet to field six inexperienced third-team teenagers. Two of them, promising Vic Wren and second half replacement Norman White, pitched in when they had merely turned up to watch, while late telephone calls summoned together the rest of Dulwich’s men.’
For your comparison, the team against Kingstonian, in the League on Easter Saturday, was: Edwards, Barnes, Homewood, Hammond, Hills, Seeds, Modesto, (White, N.) Woollard, Wise, Kilderman, Parnell. Whilst the team that ‘competed’ against Finchley was: McKenzie, Hammond, Homewood, Hanifam, (White, N.) Gaydon, Barnes, Wren, Woollard, Seeds, (Parnell) White,B., Davenport.
The next game saw more juggling of the team, this time up front, as ‘Pearton gets Hamlet recall’. Forward Terry Pearton would play his first senior game since Christmas, at home to Wycombe. Up until then he was a regular, until a ‘spate of poor performances’. But now ‘He’s back, and comes in to displace Bermondsey docker Ron Parnell as leader of a sagging forward line.  Icelandic international Sigurter Jacobsson had recovered from a knock that kept him out of the last two games, and was due to return at left-back.’  But the changes were to no avail, as we slipped to a 3-0 loss, but at least gave it a go: ‘Fiery Dulwich chisel out chances’. The report opening: ‘Dulwich showered Wycombe with first half shots, and gave their high-riding opponents a much closer game than the scoreline suggests. But Dulwich’s threatened goal storm blew over, and it was Wycombe who shone with second half goals to completely change the picture.’
More injury woe as it was reported that Albert Modesto would be out for the rest of the season, after taking a knock against Kingstonian the previous week.  He had actually fractured his ankle, in the first five minutes of the game. At first he thought the injury was a bad sprain. However constant pain and heavy swelling made him seek professional advice over the weekend, which confirmed the fracture.
Plans were already in hand for the next season as the next Hamlet man in charge from the dugout was announced: ‘Gleeson likes a challenge’.  Reed’s replacement would be the Kingstonian manager, Peter Gleeson.  Apparently [he is] ‘…to amateur football what Cliff Holton is the professional game.  Both thrive on a challenge. Holton is nicknamed “The Doctor” because of his rescue acts at Watford, Crystal Palace, Charlton and now Leyton Orient. For Gleeson, 45, nothing as illustrious as the have-boots-will-travel career of Holton. But none will deny his great Richmond Road rescue act. When Gleeson, a representative for a steel company, took over Kingstonian eleven years ago their plight did not differ much from that of Dulwich Hamlet today. They were second from bottom of the table. It took him two years to get things working, and on his third season with the club he steered them to the Amateur Cup final for the first time in fourteen years. “Dulwich is a challenge, and I love a challenge. That’s my reason for joining them. Dulwich is a club that just cannot stay down – not with all the facilities they have to offer. I felt like a change.  I’m leaving Kingstonian on the best of terms, and everyone there has wished me luck.” Gleeson, who lives in Surbiton, will not take over officially until next season. Present coach Frank Reed has to work out his contract, and Gleeson is still under obligation at Kingstonian. “Kingstonian have been very good about this. If they fill my vacancy before the end of the season I will be free to go to Dulwich.” Gleeson started his career with Luton Amateurs, before spells with Guildford, Dartford and Brentford.’
The next match was actually away to Kingstonian, another defeat: ‘Both sides had little to gain by collecting two Isthmian League points on Saturday. And unfortunately they played like it’; though it was the K’s who took the points in a 3-0 victory. The losses continued, with a ‘milestone’ of unwanted sorts in the next one. As the headline stated: ‘Dulwich concede 100th Isthmian League goal’. This was in a 5-2 home defeat to Barking, which was our last home league match of the season. Our goals came in a brief flurry after the break: ‘Dulwich scored twice within a minute midway through the second half to draw level, but it was the only time Barking creaked and the visitors ran out easy winners.’ With the season drawing to a close there were a serious of unusual matches to fulfil. The first was a Surrey Invitation Cup tie, at home to Croydon Amateurs. We lost 3-1, after extra time, the headline went to our keeper, who in modern parlance, ‘had a mare’; while the reporter was none too impressed with the referee: ‘Hamlet haunted by Rispoli’s boob’. Croydon took the lead and we equalised immediately after half-time. ‘Dulwich should have gone on to win but a boob by keeper Ray Rispoli during the early part of extra-time destroyed their chances. But if Rispoli allowed an intended cross to sail over his head for the second goal, it was weak referee Gern who turned out to be the night’s biggest sinner. In the 36th minute indignant Croydon players were annoyed when home pivot Dick Clarke brought down Sheehan, but it was only after much consultation that they were able to convert the penalty. Minutes earlier a run by Hamlet’s Bobby Homewood ended with left-back Scott clearly handling but without having to pay the penalty. There was no action from Gern after Scott back-heeled into Peter Smith and then hacked down Vic Wren. And ten minutes from time Ron Cane and Lloyd were involved in another nasty incident which also went un-penalised. Enough was enough when Hamlet’s best forward was penalised a number of times for legitimately agitating keeper Brown as Dulwich strove to get on with it.’
So to the last Ieague match of the season. Bottom for the first time in our history – ‘Poor Dulwich give Wren the day off’, as we went north of the river: ‘Dulwich end their Isthmian League programme at Wealdstone with the knowledge that not even a miracle could lift them off the bottom of the table. Four seasons after the slide began, when with only 16 teams in the league, they finished on the second to last rung. In the 1963-64 season the league increased its division to twenty clubs, but this only made the Champion Hill side’s results seem even worse, when they strolled into 19th place.  Dulwich, 4 times Isthmian League champions, 7 times league runners-up, 4  FA Amateur Cup wins, 3 London Senior Cup wins, nine London Charity Cup wins, 14 Surrey Senior Cup wins and four times South of the Thames Cup winners, are bottom of the table.’ With regard to the mention of Vic Wren, he had been given permission to play for his firm, so David Wise came into the side.
But the change made no difference, of course.  ‘Now it’s 33 Isthmian defeats for Hamlet’ as we lost 4-0 to the Stones. Sometimes it can get a bit tiresome hearing fans older than myself putting me in my place after I might moan about a lean spell, as they tell me about ‘the right lot’ we had in the Sixties …but having spent hour upon hour ploughing through these old match reports, I can see where they were coming from. For those following The Hamlet back then the suffering wasn’t over, as there were still a few end of season matches to play, which fell by the wayside in the last few decades. One such competition was the ‘Micky Mayes Memorial Cup’, that teams were invited to compete in, against the instigating club Carshalton Athletic. I believe it still exists to this day, but don’t think it is played for very often, pretty certain not every year. It’s one we have taken part in several times, and this season it was over two legs, the first being at Champion Hill, but still not a win. ‘Smart Carshalton take first leg’, with ‘a combination of bad luck and wretched finishing saw Dulwich lose their final home match of the season’ as we lost one nil.
Before the return was played there was an interesting game at Champion Hill, which we won … but I can’t count it as it was an ‘inter-Club’ friendly, with the current Dulwich Hamlet team taking on a Past XI! It would be interesting to know who wore Pink & Blue? The Past side was publicised as having a squad of fourteen, & outgoing manager Frank Reed agreed to go in goal for the latter stages. Out of those 14, eight were said to be Club officials. The paper the day before the match listed the probable line-ups:
Present: McKenzie, Hammond, Homewood, Woollard, Hills, Cane, Wren, Wise, Pearton, Smith & Kilderman.
Past (from):  Dave Darvill or Frank Reed, Bert Clarkson, Doug Munday, John Hall, Wally Thrussle, Pat Connett, Harry Gornall, Tom Jover, Harry Brown, George May, George Price and John Everitt.
All great fun, no doubt, with the boss himself making the headlines: ‘Reed stops the rout’. There was only a brief report, unfortunately, but it told us that: ‘At half time the present Dulwich Hamlet team led the past by five goals to one and looked good for more goals. But then resigning coach Frank Reed took over in goal to produce a great display…Only a crisp, close-in Peter Smith shot got past him to make it 6-1 at the finish.’ The other Present team scorers were a hat-trick from Terry Pearton, and one each by Bobby Homewood and Vic Wren. The Past side’s lone goal was bagged by John Everitt.
After that kickabout it was back to more serious stuff, the second leg of the Mayes Memorial Cup. We came close, but not close enough, a 2-2 draw not enough after the Champion Hill defeat: ‘Dulwich pipped at post’, which was the result of a ‘vigorous fightback’. The Robins took the lead in the 4th minute, before Tony Dew equalised seven minutes before the break, where he ‘fastened on to the ball just inside the penalty area and banged it past three bewildered Carshalton defenders’.  With 20 minutes left on the clock Dave Wise gave us the lead with a ‘goalmouth scramble’, but only four minutes from the end the Carshalton centre-forward Dave Clark kept the cup with his club, hitting a ‘low, scorching 30-yard drive.’
There was another chance of silverware, for our final game of the season. We had been invited by Erith & Belvedere, to go and play them for the Woolwich Hospital Cup.  Sadly it ended in an extra time loss, as a ‘Late penalty thwarts sad Hamlet’, which meant we were beaten by the odd goal in seven. We were told that ‘Erith deserved their win if only because they played nearly all of the second half and extra time with only eight fit players’. Two were taken to hospital, rather ‘fitting’ given the name of the cup! Whilst another was just ‘a limping passenger’.
There was one other game at Champion Hill, involving our tenants. The Corinthian Casuals side from the 1956 FA Amateur Cup final beat their Bishop Auckland counterparts four one, a reversal of the actual game score, over a decade before. I mention this because it was in 1956 that we reached our last ever Amateur Cup semi, when we lost to the Casuals, at Stamford Bridge, with no less than FIFTY coachloads of fans making the trip from Champion Hill! The crowd that day at Chelsea was over 27,000.
Sadness at the close of our season, as it was mentioned that one of our great club stalwarts Dick Jonas had passed away. You can read more of him in back issues of the ‘Hamlet Historian’.
During the summer there was a bit of cheer in early June, as we won the Old Wilsonians 6-a-sides, for the third successive year. We defeated Greater London League outfit Beckenham Town 2-1 in the final.
Now it was time for a little break until the new season, under a new manager, with pre-season training due to commence on Tuesday 11th July.  We were informed that: ‘In an effort to be really fit for the start of the season, Dulwich’s new coach Peter Gleeson, has called for three training nights instead of the usual two’. And there were tentative high hopes for the pitch too, as it had been completely re-seeded.  As the training commenced official Tommy Jover was quoted: ‘We have received many applications for new players, some of them top class. We are always interested in new faces.’
Things were certainly being taken seriously: ‘Gleeson fixes new-look start of season’. For the first time in our history we would leading into one by playing professional opponents. This might surprise younger fans, but until fairly recently pre-season matches didn’t commence until August, and this was still the case, the first being on the 5th of that month, away to Ashford Town. There would also be home matches against both West Ham United and Fulham XI’s; as well as a home game with Sussex County leaguers Lancing. The Ashford game came as a result of an FA Cup defeat against them two years earlier, when we lost two nil. The Nuts & Bolts enjoyed their visit and their manager Peter Sillett, the former Charlton Athletic full-back, asked to play a friendly return fixture. The Football League opposition was through contacts of the new boss Gleeson. A strong work-out indeed, but still none won. Not that I could have ‘included’ them, as our Club do not recognise pre-season matches in official records.
Rather than bore you with the details of how the new 1967/68 season went, as this has really become a piece on our worst ever season, minus the ‘good bit’ at the beginning,  I shall fast forward to Saturday 2nd September 1967. Having lost our opening Isthmian games, we were at home to Ilford. Without our goalkeeper to boot…not a good omen: Butler aced by tennis tourney’. It seems our first choice man between the sticks would be participating in another sport! ‘The trouble with Bob Butler, Dulwich Hamlet’s promising young goalkeeper, is that he is too good a sportsman. He proves this part by missing Dulwich’s game tomorrow. He will be teaming up with his uncle in the final of the doubles in the Basingstoke open tennis tournament. “He only entered to keep fit during the close season, and was more than surprised to find himself in the finals”, said club official Tommy Bedford.’
Sadly, the following edition did not inform us how he fared…but-finally, after a long trawl! – I can now share with you the FIRST Dulwich Hamlet victory of my life! ‘At last-a league win for Dulwich’.  It was 2-1 in our favour, and I wonder how many weary Hamlet fans missed the glory, as we were one down with only ten minutes to go … I am sure a number would have been thinking ‘same old rubbish’ and left early. It was a late leveller, then a winner only two minutes from time. Both scored by Tony Williams. He may have been the hero of the hour, but the whole team were no doubt lauded as the final whistle was blown. The victorious team being: Mackenzie, Langford, Smith, Lovett, Hills, Cane, Wren, Woollard Searle, Williams and Deadman. To cap a great day for the club the Reserves won by the same score at Hendon, with goals from Eddie Lowe and Chris Cosgrove; whilst the ‘A’ team made it a glorious treble by beating Kingstonian ‘A’ on the Top Pitch. I bet people were ‘more than merry’ that night!  As the report stated-‘Happy days are here again-that could well be the slogan gracing the entrance gates of Champion Hill, after Hamlet’s game against Ilford on Saturday, at long last, after many trials and tribulations, the Hamlet had succeeded in winning an Isthmian League game, the first success since as long ago as October 24th last’. [sic]
In actual fact our last victory was ten days earlier, on October 14th 1966. But somehow it seemed fitting that their typo would be at the finish of my search for my first ever Hamlet victory, with my date of birth being October 24th 1966.

This article was published in HH25 Spring 2014

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