Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Semi detached Suburban ...Mr Smith

Semi detached 
Suburban … Mr Smith

"You collect Dulwich Hamlet stuff, don’t you.” asks Jamie Wyatt at a Bognor Regis Town tea bar. “Some things.” I say.  After a few more enquiries he dropped into my hand a jiffy bag containing a 1906/07 Southern Suburban Football League winner’s medal. Over a century ago it had been awarded to a Dulwich Hamlet player. The reverse of the medal reads “WINNERS – DIV.1 WEST – 1906-7.” These were ancient days when Hamlet players were better known by their nicknames, ‘Doddy’, ‘Badger’, ‘Wozzle’, and ‘Tyke’. Jamie purchased the medal via Ebay and wanted it to stay with the club. Good man.

A closer study revealed that a part of the medal is missing. The crest of the Southern Suburban League should sit in the centre, but the piece has been lost along the way. Still, it is a nice artefact of Hamlet history.

Further study also reveals that the Dulwich Hamlet Reserves competed in that division at the time. The league dated back to 1897 and ran for about forty years. In the early days, and prior to joining the Isthmian League – where the club remains to this day – the Hamlet’s First XI, Reserves and ‘A’ teams all partook in the competition at different times and in different divisions. This all adds to the confusion.

The influence of Mr Lorraine ‘Pa’ Wilson, (pictured below) the founder of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club, spread far and wide. Even today one of the scholarships at Dulwich College is named in his honour. He was a leader in a number of other South London sporting societies and organisations, one of these being the Southern Suburban Football League.

Among its members in the early years were some of the best amateur sides in the south east: Wimbledon Old Centrals, Charlton Athletic, Sutton United, Croydon, Bromley, Tooting Town, Old Kingstonians, Carshalton Athletic, Nunhead, Metrogas, West Norwood, Cray Wanderers and Dulwich Hamlet.

On its foundation Pa Wilson was nominated as the Honorary Secretary, a position he held for the first three years. The league enjoyed a very successful start. The first season comprised of 19 clubs, and this was extended to 28 the following year, when a nicely compiled handbook was produced. Originally, member clubs had to be within a ten mile radius of Crystal Palace, but the criteria was soon changed to allow Redhill FC entrance.

But during the third year things began to take a decided turn for the worst. Problems seem to have stemmed mainly with the top division. This consisted of just five clubs – Bromley, Foots Cray, Old Askeans, West Croydon and the 3rd Kent Vol. Artillery.  West Croydon and Foots Cray soon resigned and Bromley were suspended, which led to the competition being abandoned and many fixtures unfulfilled. After such embarrassment, the officials were actually about to call it a day and disband the league altogether.

In stepped the extraordinarily gifted Sydney Smith, who devoted himself to getting things back on track. Smith, along with Pa Wilson, entirely reformed the League by amalgamating with the recently defunct Camberwell & Brixton League (another of Pa Wilson’s creations), and the South London League. Smith and Wilson were clearly soul brothers – each one a guiding light, philosopher and friend. Countless junior footballers in South London owed these two men a huge debt of gratitude.

The league also had its own representative side. (See picture below: copies of which can be obtained from AW Durrell Photographers, 157 Norwood Road, SE. Priced two shillings and sixpence.) Hamlet men who represented the Southern Suburban League include Jack Thompson, Arthur Newman, Percy Morris, CW Jones, David ‘Doddy’ Wight and Arthur ‘Badger’ Knight

By 1904, with Pa Wilson now the league’s President, it was reputed that the management and organisation of the Southern Suburban League was unrivalled in England. “Aiming at being something more than a mere collection of clubs banded together to play one another for points and trophies, the management takes a very lively interest, not only in the fortunes of the clubs competing, but also in the well-being of individual players of the various teams.” (South London Press, 2 November 1904) This was typical of Wilson, whose tireless work as the founder, secretary and president was acknow-ledged when he was awarded a gold medal and an illuminated address from the league.

In the very first season, 1897/98, Dulwich Hamlet finished top of Division 2. Eight teams competed in this division, and of the fourteen Dulwich games they secured twelve wins, with one draw and one defeat.

The Dulwich Hamlet first team were champions of the Southern Suburban League Senior Division in 1901/02 and 1903/04 (Oliver Isaacs Shield). In the season between they finished level on points with West Norwood.  A play-off between the two teams took place at Herne Hill Track where the home side were victorious.

Towards the end of the 1905/06 season Dulwich Hamlet withdrew from the Southern Suburban League. They had been ordered to play their final 4 games in the next 4 days. An impossible task: Two of those days were already given over to the replay of the London Senior Cup Final and the second replay of the Surrey Senior Cup Final. The club felt it would be unfair to the teams they had already played if they were to field the Reserves in some of the remaining games. And besides, the Reserves were competing in their own section of the League anyway – which they won, and with it the Dewar Shield. The 1906/07 season saw the Reserves win the Division 1 West section of the Southern Suburban League …which, you may remember, is where we came in.

South London Press, 24 April 1897

Football – The New League

At a meeting of senior South London clubs held in London, on Tuesday, it was resolved to form a Southern Suburban League, consisting of three divisions, of eight clubs in each division embracing an area of 10 miles from the Crystal Palace, the chief advantage of the League being as follows:
1.    To promote friendly rivalry among senior and junior South London clubs.
2.    To enable the supporters of the competing clubs to follow their respective teams in ‘away’ league matches at a minimum cost.

The following 8 clubs are expected to join the First Division: Annerley, Bromley, Deptford Town, West Croydon, Wandsworth, Vampires, West Norwood, Old Wilsonians or 3rd Grenadier Guards.
Mr Lorraine Wilson of Lynton Lodge, Dulwich, was appointed Secretary (pro. tem.) and after framing the rules the meeting was adjourned until May 3, at 6.30pm, in order to select clubs for the respective divisions, as well as to appoint office bearers. Strong clubs desirous of competing are invited to communicate with Mr L. Wilson from whom copies of the rules and other details are obtainable. Such clubs are invited to attend the meeting on May 3, and can obtain admission cards on application.

South London Press, 1 May 1897
The Southern Suburban League delegates meet on Monday evening to discuss the final preparations for the floatation of the League. It is to be hoped the venture will meet with every success, Mr W.O. Mackley may perhaps accept the secretaryship – a good man too.

Original article from HH27 Spring 2015
Copyright © Jack McInroy,

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