Thursday, 25 June 2015

Crossing the Borderline

In recent years the game that has left the bitterest taste in the mouth of all Dulwich Hamlet fans is the Leatherhead debacle in our Ryman Division One South championship winning season.

With minutes remaining and Dulwich two goals up the referee decided to abandon the match. A perimeter wall collapsed whilst Hamlet fans were celebrating the second goal sending a dozen or so people onto a pile of rubble. It was fortunate no-one was seriously hurt. Only moments earlier Danny Carr was on the other side of the wall hugging the fans. I dread to think what injuries he would have incurred had he been under that lot. Two broken legs at least.

Photo: Neil Hood

Within minutes the rubble was cleared from pitch-side by Hamlet fans alone, with no help from the stewards or home supporters. Not that any of it was on or even close to the pitch. However, a few of the Leatherhead players persisted that the game be abandoned for health and safety reasons. And to everyone’s amazement they were successful in their petition. The referee brought the game to a sudden conclusion without, it seemed, giving a second thought. Instead of taking the players off for 15 minutes whilst any imaginary objects could be removed, the match was over!

It was a totally unjust decision by the referee, and Hamlet supporters and players were right to feel aggrieved.  What irked the Hamlet fans even more was when one of the Leatherhead players later tweeted that he was “Buzzing. Feels like a win.” Really!? And to make matters worse it was even suggested that the collapse of the wall was the fault of the away supporters! Really!?

Despite written appeals to the Ryman League secretary the game was ordered to be replayed. Needless to say Dulwich lost the rematch, and though a dent was put into their championship hopes, the title was secured on a nervy last day of the season at Champion Hill.

Now rewind a century or so, and spare a thought for the staff and supporters from 1905/06.

Holders of the Surrey Senior Cup, Dulwich Hamlet began the season with a bit of a team shake up. This was mainly due to the Brothers Buck joining the Champion Hill side. They were a welcome addition and brought with them much experience. Things went extremely well and three cup finals were eventually reached.

On the way to the Surrey Final Dulwich disposed of Weybridge, the Guards Depot, and Guildford in the semi-final replay after the original tie was drawn. They now had to face Croydon in the final. Now defunct, this club is no relation to the Croydon FC of today. Croydon’s home ground was in Brigstock Road, Thornton Heath. The clubs had already faced each other as they competed in the same division of the Southern Suburban League.

The final took place on Easter Monday, on the Hamlet’s return from the club’s tour to the Kent seaside. Over the weekend Margate and Ramsgate St George were played on successive days, and this was now the third game of the Bank Holiday. A crowd of 3,500 came to the County Town of Guildford to see the final played out on a neutral ground.  The game ended goalless.

A fourth game in 5 days took place the following evening when the Hamlet took on Guildford in the final of the Surrey Charity Shield. This time Croydon’s pitch was used, and the Hamlet easily overcame their opponents 5-0. The first piece of silverware was secured.

As well as reaching the final of the Surrey Senior Cup, Dulwich, along with New Crusaders, were also finalists of the London Senior Cup.  This had been contested a couple of weeks earlier, but again a draw had taken place, Harry Buck scoring both Dulwich goals at the Herne Hill Track (today’s Velodrome).  The crowd was an enormous 11,000, one of the largest gates the capital’s senior amateur competition had registered. Never had so much money been taken – a whopping £271. The replay eventually took place at Herne Hill on Saturday 28 April with New Crusaders triumphing 3-1.
The Surrey Cup replay was scheduled for the Crystal Palace stadium in Sydenham as a postscript to the FA Cup Final. One can see the thinking behind this: the opportunity to get the largest crowd imaginable and therefore bigger gate receipts; the close proximity to both finalists and their sets of supporters. But there were some detractors who complained that, as the Surrey Football Association derived its support from Surrey clubs, it was only in fairness to fans from all over the county that the replayed final should have been more central, regardless to who the finalists were.

But in reality, if a football supporter is expected to come up to London from Tyneside or Merseyside, as was the case that year, to see their team in the FA Cup Final, what is the big deal in getting from Farnham or Haslemere to Sydenham?


Crystal Palace, back then was a place of continuous entertainment. I suppose today we would describe it as a Theme Park. As well as the multitude of exhibitions and wonders within and without, the beautiful grounds and amazing views, one could also witness the ascent of a hot air balloon or check out the racist-tinged ‘objects of curiosity for the amusement of all’ that were the ‘Pygmies from the darkest forests of Central Africa.’ All the way from the Congo came four men and two women, only three feet or so in height, to be gazed upon by all. “Everyone should see these little people before they leave England.” ran the advertisement.  And in just over two years about a million did.

In the grounds stood the equally famous stadium, which for some years had been used for the FA Cup Final. The present season had also begun with a brand new football team to English football – Crystal Palace FC, the glaziers, who now played their home matches there.

75,000 turned up to watch the FA Cup Final between Newcastle United and Everton. The rail companies laid on a hundred and fifty special trains for the occasion. The numbers were down on the previous year, and it was the usual damp squib, neither team enjoying their best form. One goal decided the encounter and Everton lifted the cup. The goalscorer Sandy Young, was regarded as one of the great forwards of the day. But he was mentally unstable and some years later shot dead his own brother while he was milking a cow! He then made a botched attempt on his own life before serving time in prison for manslaughter.

At the conclusion the vast hordes made their way back to Euston for the north, or stopped off for further celebrations in central London.

The remainder stayed at the Crystal Palace, relocating just a stone’s throw, to the Cycle Track next door (see picture), where in the shadow of the old glass edifice, a crowd of 18,000 witnessed the two amateur teams battle it out for the Surrey Senior Cup. By the time of the 5:30pm kick off the ground was filled to overflowing. A human barrier formed right up to the touchline, and it was inevitable that some enthusiasts would encroach onto the field of play during the match.

Both Croydon and Dulwich Hamlet fielded unchanged teams. The Hamlet lined up thus:

Smith    Knight     Murphy    Wight    Beales
Rose    Buck    Buck    Buck    Russell

Six of the Dulwich players were from the previous year’s final.

For Croydon:
Smith    Dalton   Edgington   Clements   Davis
Hudd   Thornton   Colpus   Porter   Clegg

The two teams could not have been more contrasted. Croydon played a kick and rush game whilst Dulwich excelled in keeping the ball down. The Bucks were on good form. Fred Buck scored the first – an assist from young Albert Russell. Sid Buck then dashed onto Tom Rose’s through ball for the second. Harry Buck got the third. With the trophy as good as won, Dulwich then decided to slow down the pace, with an eye, perhaps, on the following week’s London Senior Cup Final Replay.  
And so the Surrey trophy was retained, which the club would be presented with at an awards ceremony at the season’s close. Things were looking good. The players would have been especially pleased when they were given (or more likely purchased) the team photographs, quickly printed off into postcards. Tom Rose wrote a brief message on the reverse of one, affixed a stamp and addressed it to a friend in Peterborough. He popped it into a pillar box in Walworth. It read: “Glad to say we won at the Palace on Sat’y. Tom.”

The cycle track at Crystal Palace c1895

Immediately after the final whistle the Croydon officials began to make a petty exhibition of themselves, and let it be known to Pa Wilson and George Wheeler (Dulwich Hamlet), and the dignitaries from the County Association that they would be making a formal complaint to the Surrey FA about the conditions during the match. Admittedly, the crowds were far too close to the pitch, but it was the same for both teams. Most people could see that these were highly unusual circumstances. Few, if any of the twenty two players, had entertained such numbers before. And besides, the sole adjudicator, the referee, had seen fit to allow play to continue for the ninety minutes. One feels that had Dulwich lost in the same manner they would have accepted defeat.

Four days later a council meeting of the Surrey County Football Association took place at the Surrey County Cricket Club headquarters at Kennington Oval. Their chief business was to discuss Croydon’s complaint at Dulwich Hamlet. “During the progress of the match the crowd encroached upon the field of play.” Amazingly the protest was sustained, and the final was ordered to be replayed yet again on the last day of the season, Monday 30 April 1906, at Herne Hill. For everybody connected with Dulwich Hamlet Football Club the decision left a nasty taste in the mouth.

So infuriated was Mr Wheeler when his club was informed the following morning, that he decided not to express publicly what he really thought of the decision. He denounced the ordering of another match, and could not agree with the opinion of the Surrey FA and never would. The relationship was well and truly soured. To show their great indignation the club returned the 80 tickets they were allocated for the post-match Smoking Concert at a plush Holborn hotel, where the presentation of the Cup and medals was to take place in a few days time.

What began as a bad day for the club got progressively worse as they then had to withdraw from their remaining fixtures with the Southern Suburban League. Some of the blame must be laid at Dulwich’s door in allowing the fixtures to pile up in the first place. The first team had partaken in nine friendlies during the actual season! Pa Wilson’s vested interest in both the club he founded and the league they played in – in which he was founder and President – probably influenced the decision. It was a matter of honour.  Had it been another member club in the same situation maybe the season would have been extended for them.

The whole unraveling debacle was so frustrating. Pa Wilson even complained in a daily newspaper, but his protestations were to no avail. When it came to the replay of the London Senior Cup Final at Herne Hill on the Saturday the stuffing was already knocked out of the Hamlet team. The New Crusaders, taking advantage of the Hamlet’s wrong frame of mind, won the match 3-1. There was now just one more chance to win a trophy to keep the Surrey Charity Shield company. A determination to do better on Monday, and show these people, was now in the forefront of everyone’s mind. 
Herne Hill Velodrome in 2010

On the very last day of the season the Dulwich side was back at Herne Hill for the second time in three days. I have no record of the line-up for the second replay for the Surrey Senior Cup. Dulwich won the final tie 2-1. Come the final whistle "a remarkable demonstration took place in front of the pavilion. Doddy Wight, the Hamlet captain made a rousing speech before the dignitaries, some of whom had previously received much hostile criticism when attending the London Final two days earlier at the same venue. Wight's address was followed by another from George Wheeler the club secretary. Mr Glanville of the Surrey Association then made a futile response which was greeted by wagging fingers, shaking heads and a few choice words.

Having boycotted the awards banquet we can only assume they had their own end of season celebrations at the Grove Tavern or another local hotel.

However, Pa Wilson had a change of mind, and as the lone representative from the Dulwich Hamlet Football Club, he attended the annual smoking concert /awards ceremony in Holborn. 


The chairman rose and made his speech, in the which he congratulated Dulwich on their very brilliant success. It also gave him great pleasure to see Mr Lorraine Wilson sitting among them to receive the trophies so very deservedly earned. Wilson accepted the Senior Cup and the winners’ medals on behalf of the players. He then remarked that he was sorry his men were not present as was the usual custom. He had “no desire to make a breach of the peace”, but those present “could not understand the amount of indignation there was amongst the people of Dulwich. I do not want to accentuate the feeling that there is in this matter, but I do want you to understand a little of the injustice that we feel has been done to us.”

On reaching a semi-final a club might rightly think two more games to go before we can win the trophy. Dulwich Hamlet had won the cup, but in order to do so they had to play five games from the semi-final stage! On two of those occasions Guildford had been the antagonists, and there seemed to be a certain amount of snobbery from the County Town club. One of Pa Wilson’s sayings was, “Down with snobs.” This year was now the fourth time the Cup had gone to what some Surrey people called a border club. This riled Pa Wilson. It suggested clubs like Dulwich were only just acceptable, neither one thing nor the other. He “hoped they would blot those words out of their hearts. Might I ask the Council to consider it. Nothing in South London gives more offence than the words ‘border club.’ The Dulwich Hamlet team consists of seven youths who were born in Surrey while the others lived close to the ground. If ours is not a Surrey club I want to know what is!” He concluded, “Our having won this Cup does not wipe out the injustice we feel.”

Pa Wilson had said what he felt he had to say. He had got it all off his chest, and it wasn’t to everybody’s liking. During his speech there was a mixture of cheers and hissing. As the din died down after he took his seat the chairman declared that this was not the place to make a reply. It was meant to be an evening of enjoyment, not football politics.

The Croydon players then came up to the stage to pick up their runners-up medals. But a Dulwich Hamlet player was not to be found. Not even Sidney Buck who was to receive his Surrey badge. Instead Pa Wilson collected the Surrey Senior Cup, the Surrey Charity Shield and the players’ medals on behalf of his beloved club.

One contemporary reporter wrote, “The action of the County Association is to be deplored. Although one likes to be loyal to the County Association, it does seem as though Dulwich Hamlet have a real grievance against Surrey FA in regard to their replay with Croydon. On collateral form the Hamlet are a very long way ahead of the Croydon club and everyone will rejoice that they have bagged the Senior Cup.” He went on, “The protest of the Hamlet players in absenting themselves from the Surrey Smoker on Monday evening was a dignified and striking one, and its effect will not be lost upon the Association executive. It was a regrettable feature in an otherwise pleasant evening, and it can only be hoped that the bad feeling engendered by the Association’s action will quickly disappear and that the Hamlet club, which has done so much, not only for Surrey football, but charity in the county, will receive more generous treatment another season.”

As spokesman for Dulwich Hamlet Pa Wilson had taken the opportunity to air the club’s grievances before the audience of several hundred. Perhaps few could have done so with such dignity. But having made the protest it was now time to look forward and seek to regain some mutual respect. In time Dulwich Hamlet became one of Surrey County’s flagship clubs. The club, in turn, took great pride in its historic link, and incorporated the Surrey coat of arms into the Dulwich Hamlet crest. For many years the Hamlet was one of the greatest amateur clubs in the land. Indeed, the Hamlet went on to win the Surrey Senior Cup a record sixteen times – and they haven’t played in the competition for years.

Original article from HH27 Spring 2015
Copyright © Jack McInroy

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