Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Unsaintlike Behaviour

Unsaintlike Behaviour

So the reader can get his bearings, the Champion Hill stadium that we have today was built directly on the previous ground that stood here from 1931 to 1991. The Hamlet’s ground before that, the one in this feature, was the neighbouring site, now the Astroturf pitch behind the goal at the Greendales end of the present ground.

We often hear about the famous cup tie that took place at Champion Hill in November 1922 between Dulwich Hamlet and St Albans City. The match, an FA Cup replay after a 1-1 draw, went to extra time and finished 8-7 to the home team, but Wilfred Minter gained the distinction of scoring all seven goals yet finishing on the losing side! The result put Dulwich into the first round proper to meet Clapton, and surely paved the way for St Albans to be elected into the Isthmian League six months later. The latter proved to be an inspired move, and they won the competition at the first attempt in 1923/24. Thus began regular league encounters between two giants of the amateur game that continued for decades.

Minter’s fêted match, was in fact the fourth time the two teams had met in ten months. The earlier contests took place in February of the previous season when they were drawn together in the FA Amateur Cup. And the astonishing thing is that the replay of the 3rd Round fixture at Champion Hill was not without incident either – off the pitch as much as on it.

The first match at Clarence Park was drawn 2-2. Butcher scored both goals for City, and Bill Davis and Sid Nicol for the Hamlet. No further scoring took place in an additional thirty minutes, and so the Athenian League champions had to do it all again a week later at fortress Champion Hill, where Dulwich were unbeaten all season. St Albans could go one better; they had not lost a single match against an Amateur club in over a year – since January 1921.

Both the Hertfordshire side and the south Londoners were each placed in second spot in their respective leagues. Notwithstanding, no one could have predicted the enormity of the crowd that was going to turn up for the replay. Some time before kick off it became increasingly apparent that the facilities would not be able to contain such a huge amount of people. Every seat in the stand was taken and the terraces were quickly filling up to overflowing. So much so, that within a quarter of an hour of the start of the match a decision was taken to close the entrance gates leaving multitudes locked outside.

And then just a few hundred yards away, now arriving at East Dulwich Station were the ‘Football Specials’ cram-full of St Albans supporters. Thousands of them, some bedecked in their yellow and blue scarves and hats, come to cheer their all-conquering Saints, unbeaten for so long. They were totally unaware that over ten thousand souls were already in the stadium, and there was no room for this new influx.

One can easily understand the frustration there must have been. All the hopes and anticipation leading up to the match; the journey into London; the thrills and spills of the first game pondered over on the train; all blotted out in a moment on reaching the Dulwich Hamlet ground.

With the hindsight of the Hillsborough and Heysel disasters, today’s supporter is likely to be a bit more patient and hope that a happy conclusion is swiftly reached. But this was February 1922, and health and safety had not yet been invented. Crowd control was personified a year later at Wembley Stadium by a lone policeman on a white horse.

Desperate to see the match, the masses rushed the gates and forced their way in through the turnstiles. Sections of the timber fencing surrounding the Champion Hill ground were then shaken and pulled and pushed, until after much force entry was gained through the gaps. About three thousand entered the enclosure illegally, and unwittingly made the conditions inside more perilous. It was later reckoned that about a thousand spectators, using broken fencing, clambered onto the roof of the ‘long’ stand to watch the game from there. That seems to be a bit of an over estimate, but whatever the real figure, it certainly went into hundreds. What the people below must have been thinking while all the clatter was going on above their heads is anyone’s guess. Others lodged in trees and on the roof of a pavilion in an adjacent field.

To avoid the crush elsewhere in the ground, many standing repositioned themselves onto the grass along the touchline in front of the railings until every available space surrounding the pitch was filled. And still they came. In one surge the vast numbers filling the terracing behind one of the goals were suddenly swept downwards and many found themselves tangled up in the goal net. In another incident while the match was in progress, a section of the perimeter timber fence collapsed under the pressure of the crowd. According to the press no injuries were reported, but again that might be too difficult to believe.

I would doubt if there were many policemen at the ground, if any at all. There was a faithful team of stewards at Dulwich, but they would have been completely overwhelmed with this record gate. However, the referee, we are told, controlled the affair quite admirably, especially in such unusual circumstances. At one point he was even seen massaging an injured player in a break in the play! Before long the huge crowd gradually settled down, and the compact mass of bodies enjoyed the game.

Edgar Kail slots past the advancing St Albans keeper, W. Tennant.

What took place in the match itself is almost secondary. St Albans began with a ferocious pace and took the lead, Pierce heading in a corner. The legendary Edgar Kail then leveled before the break. In the second half the away side looked drained and Dulwich, now kicking down the slope, took advantage. Davis and Nicol completed the scoring – making it a goal apiece for, the preeminent inside forward trio in the amateur game.

Tennant in goal for the Saints was daring throughout the encounter, and far busier than Coleman, the Hamlet’s international keeper. In the end ‘home’ pressure was too much for the visitors. Centre half Dick Jonas, the captain and one of the most important and influential figures in the history of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club, had an outstanding game – described in one report as “a prince of halves.” Even at one nil down Captain Jonas rallied his troops to reverse the slide and inflict upon St Albans a first defeat in thirteen months.
    Edgar Kail rises above the St Albans defence 

Under the heading: ‘Gallant Losers – St Albans’ flag lowered by Dulwich Hamlet’ one newspaper wrote, “A big slice of the Dulwich Hamlet share of their £354 gate on Saturday will have to go in paying for the breakages caused by some 3,000 spectators rushing the gates and turnstiles just before the start. Saturday’s receipts, plus £222 taken at St Albans, constitutes a record amount for a match in the competition prior to the semi finals.”    

Although the official attendance was a staggering 10,800, it was estimated that over 14,000 actually witnessed the match – more than double the usual gate. The amount of people that gained entry free of charge meant a great loss of revenue to the two clubs. In today’s money we are probably talking in the region of fifteen thousand pounds. Unless, of course the gatecrashers were asked to cough up at the next match and some of the vast sum was later retrieved.

More importantly, it was incredibly fortunate that a major catastrophe did not occur that day. In the years that followed, a scheme was drawn up by the club to improve the match day experience at Champion Hill. Within ten years Dulwich Hamlet had built an immense new stadium with far superior facilities than many clubs in the Football League. A towering edifice, with a capacity of more than 20,000, and still fondly remembered by older Hamlet supporters,

Dulwich went on to reach the semi-final of the Amateur Cup, losing 3-0 to holders Bishop Auckland, at Darlington after a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage. It was payback time: Dulwich had destroyed the Bishops 5-1 on their way to winning the cup for the first time in 1920. This time the northerners retained the trophy after beating South Bank in the final.

Teams for 18 February 1922
Dulwich Hamlet: E. H. Coleman. A. T. Brooker. G. F. Goodliffe. J. A. Guillard, R. H. Jonas. A. F. Evans. E. J. Gooch. E. Kail, W. J. Davis. S. Nicol. A. E. Hunt.
St. Albans City: W. J. Tennent. F. Holland. T. W. Field, H. Figg. P. Bird. Meagher. P. Pierce,  B. Butcher, W. Minter, H.E. Miller, R. Miller

Original article from HH 26 Winter 2014. Copyright © Jack McInroy    

Monday, 22 December 2014

Arise, Sir Les.

Sir Leslie Bowker KCVO OBE MC

Among the dramatis personae that has graced the Champion Hill stage, surely the most honoured Hamlet character must be the little remembered Leslie Cecil Blackmore Bowker.

Once described as “a vigorous full back of the Corinthian type, using his broad shoulders to knock opponents off the ball.” Leslie Bowker played for Dulwich Hamlet for but a single season, appearing in thirty three matches including some thrilling cup ties. One of those was against the mighty Bishop Auckland, in which Bowker proved he was more than just ‘brute force’ by stepping up and converting a penalty.

He could not have chosen a better time to grace the pink and blue; starring in the 1919/20 ‘Victory’ side, where Dulwich proved to be the best Amateur team, not only in the south, but in the whole country, by winning the Isthmian League, the Surrey Senior Cup, the London Charity Bowl and the FA Amateur Cup. In the final, versus Tufnell Park at Millwall’s The Den, Bowker, playing at left back, drove the ball into the net directly from a freekick. However, after a deal of hand shaking and hearty congratulations the Hamlet players returned to their own half for the restart only to find that the referee had awarded a goal kick. Someone had forgotten to tell poor Les that it was an indirect freekick and no one else had touched the ball on its way into the net!

If Bowker had remained at Champion Hill to see out his career (he was still only 32) he could have become a household name locally, instead he decided to restart his old club West London Old Boys FC, which he was the founder of before the Great War. This was clearly where his first love lay, and he was hoping to rekindle efforts there. It was quite noble if you think about it: shunning one club now commencing on a path that would turn them into, arguably, the greatest amateur club side between the wars, for a lesser outfit that required his much-needed assistance.

Before he left East Dulwich for West London Bowker made sure he was present for the 1920 Dulwich Hamlet club photograph. He is standing to the right of the goalkeepers (see centre page). Around this time, Bowker, who possessed a profound legal knowledge, joined the administrative staff of the London Football Association. Originally elected onto Division 1 of the LFA Council, he was elected onto the Senior Teams Committee the following year. Bowker’s association with the London FA went back to his youth, when in 1906 he played for Division 1 in the inter-Divisional matches. In November 1911 he represented the London team in a senior match against Surrey County.

In those early days, West London Old Boys had the privilege of playing some of their home matches at Craven Cottage, and occasionally the young Leslie turned out for Fulham. He also toured the continent with the English Wanderers, a side composed mainly of internationals, and had the honour of captaining the London League team that defeated the Paris League in France in February 1912. During the First World War, Bowker held the rank of Captain in the London Scottish Regiment, and for his troubles was awarded a Military Cross (MC).

On his return to West London, the Old Boys joined the Athenian League for the 1920/21 season, but things did not work out according to plan and ended rather disappointingly. A wretched season was completed with the team finishing bottom with just one win out of twenty two games. They did not seek re-election the following year. What happened to them after that I’m not entirely sure, but their ‘sketchy’ history shows they had previously finished bottom out of seven in the London League Division 2 in 1911/12. They finished fifth the following year (1912/13) and became champions of Division 2 in 1913/14. They were on the rise, but like so many clubs of that era the war knocked the stuffing out of them and so what might have been never was.

But it was outside the field of play where Leslie Bowker really made his mark, rising to great heights in the game’s governing bodies. Aside from the LFA, he was also involved with the Middlesex FA at top level. At the outbreak of the Second World War he formed the Special War Emergency Committee in the capital with HJ Huband, AT Ralston and other worthies. He eventually became President(s) of the London Football League, the London FA and the London Minor FA. Furthermore, he was made President of the Fulham Football Club in the 1950s and became Vice Chairman and Vice President of the Football Association. Quite some curriculum vitae.

Apart from bringing his wise judgement to the table in countless appeal cases and decades of committee work, it also appears that he was ahead of his time regarding the rules of play: At one FA meeting he voiced his opinion, “that when the ball is passed back by a member of the defending side from outside the penalty area, the goalkeeper shall not be allowed to use his hands. If he does so, the decision is to be an indirect free kick.”

Although Bowker passed away over forty years ago, just recently a number of his most treasured possessions turned up on an online auction house and were up for grabs. Items included invitations and letters addressed to him regarding State funerals, Coronations, Royal weddings and other affairs of State. Also included were an appointment to receive a Knighthood and other honours. (In some instances these were actually signed by British kings and queens!)

I stumbled upon this ‘Royal’ collection on Ebay purely by accident whilst I was searching for something totally unrelated. I saw the name Leslie Bowker and alarm bells began to ring in my memory and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Was this the Dulwich player of the same name? It was. Within a couple of days I was on the telephone to the seller in Scotland to see if he had obtained any of Bowker’s football related artefacts. Unfortunately for us he had offloaded the box of football memorabilia back in October 2006. The only items that remained were three or four Corporation of London team photographs mounted in a photograph album. The seller, David McFarlane of Ashbank Collectables kindly made copies of the pictures for me. The very nice portrait of LCB Bowker in woollen jersey that adorns the cover of this issue of the Hamlet Historian is one of them.

The entire lot was obtained from an elderly lady (now in her eighties) who, with her husband, cared for Sir Leslie Bowker in his old age and got to know him very well. Sir Leslie remained unmarried and apparently had no family, but he spent his days as a bit of a socialite mingling with the rich and famous. His diaries, I was told, contained a daily record of all the money he spent on entertaining, which included thirty pounds a week on ‘booze’ – and this was the early 1960s!

Over the next few days I began to trawl through my own Dulwich Hamlet paraphernalia and scan internet search engines for tidbits, and make a few enquiries to find out as much as I could about Sir Leslie Bowker. In researching the history of our great club, pleasant surprises are thrown up on every avenue, and doors are opened to reveal fascinating long hidden tales. Hence our little trip through the British royal court of the twentieth century and the corridors of power at Lancaster Gate.

A few biographical notes turned up in the pages of a Dulwich Hamlet matchday programme from 24 Jan 1948: - “Leslie Bowker, OBE, MC (Military Cross) who had the honour of a knighthood conferred upon him recently. Sir Leslie was in our 1919-20 team … He is an honorary member of the club – this also for services rendered both on and off the field … Upon retirement from football he very soon became a barrister and shortly afterwards was appointed the much coveted post of Remembrancer of the City of London, which position he still retains. We take great pride in his advancements, for he is still an esteemed colleague and is ever ready to advise, and help, not only our club, but amateur football generally. He is on the Council of the FA, Chairman of the London League, and is also a member of the Surrey County Cricket Club Committee. A man of many parts – a grand speaker with a pretty wit and a real champion of the ‘lesser lights’ amongst football clubs and withal a good companion, we wish him many years of happiness to carry on the good work.”
In 1925 he was appointed Chief Clerk to the Law Officers of the Crown, and was granted the dignity of an OBE by King George the Fifth in 1928. In 1932 he was promoted to the highest office of Legal Secretary to the Crown, and for the next twenty years (until his retirement) was stationed at the Guildhall performing the role of City Remembrancer for the Corporation of London.
As well as protecting the interests of the City of London in the House of Lords, Bowker also presided over a number of important and illustrious State occasions: such as the proclamation of the King’s Coronation, the proclamation of the Kings Death, and the proclamation of the new Queen: proclamations which required his signature.
The mysterious office of City Remembrancer dated back five centuries and entitled the bearer to ancient privileges, and to engage in and oversee the dozens of customs and ceremonies that are acted out by the Lord Mayor’s office and on State occasions. Indeed, he was the City's Ceremonial Officer and Chief of Protocol. Bowker made the arrangements and ensured that all things were carried out correctly and in order according to custom and tradition. It was his job to ‘bring to remembrance’ these matters.

His Knighthood, for his role as City Remembrancer, was announced in the 1948 New Year’s Honours list. Cue an invitation to Sir Lesley to pop down in an official capacity to Champion Hill. On 29 March 1948 England Amateurs played host to Holland in an International Triangular Tournament at Dulwich. Despite the fact that there were no Hamlet men in the England line-up, among the list of FA dignitaries (that included Stanley Rous and AT Ralston) was the City Remembrancer and recently appointed Knight of the Realm, Sir Leslie Bowker himself. He was, of course, an honorary member of the club anyway; a post he had held since 1925.

1953 saw yet another decoration, this time he was appointed Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) in recognition of his “personal services to King George VI and other members of the Royal Family.” This special honour was bestowed upon him by our present Queen in the first year of her monarchy and suggests a genuine closeness with one she could trust.

Since his birth in 1888 Sir Leslie Bowker had seen a succession of kings and queens beginning with Victoria, in whose Order he now was. What a privileged position he found himself in during the middle part of the twentieth century, seeing at first hand the fascinating inner workings of the royal family: the constitutional crisis that revolved around Edward and Mrs Simpson, the legal wranglings and the abdication that followed, never mind the couple’s leanings toward fascism with a trip to Germany to meet Hitler and to visit a concentration camp; the painfully shy George VI with his speech impediment, who was thrust onto the throne and who died of lung cancer in 1952; and the youthful Queen Elizabeth whom he had met many times at royal luncheon, garden party and ball.

Her Majesty’s Coronation took place six months later in June 1953. It turned out to be one of Sir Leslie Bowker’s final official engagements before his retirement at 65. He took his seat in Westminster Abbey amidst scarlet robed royalty, aristocracy, nobility, dignitary, clergy … and the odd television camera. The Coronation was a major television event and was watched by millions. The fact that he was designated ticket number 005 shows how far up the ladder he actually was; quite literally one of the ‘big wigs’ as our picture shows. It would be interesting to find out who the first four tickets were allocated to!

Sir Leslie Bowker died in Brighton, rather fittingly, on St George’s Day, 23 April 1965 aged 77: Knight of the Realm; City Remembrancer; Association Football President; and most important of all Amateur Cup winner with Dulwich Hamlet Football Club.

Rest in peace, Sir Leslie Bowker KCVO OBE MC DHFC.

If you visit the British Pathe website you can download at least two short clips of Sir Leslie Bowker showing both sides of his public life. In his robes and wig at the State Opening of Parliament; and presenting England captain Billy Wright with a silver salver at an FA dinner. No film exists of his playing days.

Acknowledgements: David Fowkes of the London Football Association, David McFarlane of Ashbank-Collectables, Alex White – Historian to Fulham FC.
Sources: eBay listings, various DHFC programmes and handbook notes, Fulham FC Club Handbook 1951-52, Daily Sketch December 2, 1933.

Original article from HH 18 Spring 2007. Copyright © Jack McInroy

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Happy Birthday, Bill.

Today is the 95th birthday of Dulwich Hamlet’s most elderly supporter Bill Kirby who celebrated by making his usual trip to Champion Hill.

The team he has faithfully supported for eighty three years beat Witham Town 1-0 through a tremendous strike by Xavier Vidal, keeping the team third in the table.

Bill, who still lives locally in Herne Hill, first started watching the Hamlet in the early 1930s during the days of the legendary Edgar Kail. He must surely be one of the last remaining people who actually saw King Edgar play (and could he play).

So, our hearty congratulations to Bill on his birthday, and we trust he may have many more.

20 December 2014

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Editorial for the Hamlet Historian No.26

The new issue of the magazine is due out on 20th December 2014 and contains articles by Jan Stover, Mishi D. Morath and the memoirs of the late Johnny Gornall.


In July 2015 Champion Hill will stage the return match between Dulwich Hamlet FC and German club Altona 93. It is quite a rarity for the Hamlet to be taking on foreign opposition in the modern era, so it will be well worth noting the date in your diary when more details appear. And if you were perplexed as to when the original friendly fixture took place and how it was you came to miss it, don’t fret …it was played in Hamburg 89 years ago!

The game will cement further ties between the two clubs, founded in 1893. Already the Dulwich Hamlet away kit is modelled on the Altona home kit. And many will be familiar with the Altona 93 / DHFC banner draped behind the goal.


A dream come true for terrace legend Mishi Morath and his counterpart at Altona, Jan Stover of the All To Nah fanzine. The pair had an amazing chance meeting a few years ago.  Mishi was visiting Hamburg and wandering round the Altona stadium when he was approached by Jan. The two got talking and Mishi came away with some of Jan’s fanzines. He then sent his German friend a copy of every back issue of the Hamlet Historian and some other fanzines, all of which Jan lapped up. It was only later that it was realised that their two clubs had actually played each other in a friendly many years earlier.

Unlike today’s senior team, the DHFC Supporters Team is quite accustomed to touring Europe, having done so many times. So, taking an opportunity to travel to Germany, acquaintance was renewed between the two clubs, and a match between the two sets of fans was played out at Altona’s Adolf Jäger stadium. When it was time for the Hamlet to return the favour towards the end of the 2012/13 season, a coachload of Altona fans visited Edgar Kail Way, Champion Hill and enjoyed a wonderful time of football and frolics. It was a grand occasion.

For this issue of the Hamlet Historian Jan Stover has kindly produced a fine piece about the encounter in 1925, in which the aforementioned club legends Edgar Kail and Adolf Jäger featured. Sadly, Jäger’s life was cut short in 1944, when he was killed attempting to defuse an Allied bomb in Altona while working as a volunteer in a bomb squad. Within weeks of his death the stadium was renamed in his honour.

As we are all so very much aware, 2014 marks the centenary of the First World War. There have been many fitting memorials, including the revamping of the Imperial War Museum in Southwark and the remarkable spectacle of the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. The Club itself also took part in Football Remembers Week, in which footballers from all walks of life, young and old, amateur and professional, were photographed a hundred years on from the Christmas truce of 1914. This is in tribute to the impromptu football match played out between German and Allied troops. That famous lull amidst the carnage was also recently touchingly recreated for Sainsbury’s seasonal advertising campaign.

Before the Second World War Dulwich Hamlet made a number of tours to Germany. The last one was in 1930 when Cologne and Aachen were visited. Earlier trips went back as far as 1911. However, the one that took place in 1914 (Menderich Duisberg, Eberfield, Munich Gladbach) just three and a half months before the start of the First World War is perhaps the most poignant.

It is hard to imagine how opponents who were happily kicking a ball about, attacking each other’s goals on a football pitch would soon be attacking each other with bullets, bombs and bayonets in the trenches of the Western Front.  And, lest we forget, twenty two Hamlet clubmen (four more in WWII) made the supreme sacrifice, as did some men from Altona 93. May our friendship ever continue.

Jack McInroy 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Hamlet Historian 26

If all goes according to plan, a new issue of the Hamlet Historian will be available at the Dulwich Hamlet versus Witham Town match on Saturday 20th December.

The cover features Altona 93 player Adolf Jäger and the cost is £2.