Saturday, 16 April 2016

“So near, so far.”

By Mishi D. Morath 
(From the Hamlet Historian magazine No.29)

It’s many, many years now since I last produced a Dulwich Hamlet fanzine, so the only way I get to spout a few of my opinions in print is my little ‘self indulgence’ on any Supporters’ Coach than Shaun Dooley runs to one of our farther flung Isthmian League away games, with my small ‘exclusive’ on-board newsletter All Aboard The Skylark.

This season I have produced two editions, and the one I distributed on the way down to Bognor Regis Town included my mainly off-field memories of the FA Trophy run to the quarter-finals, back in 1979/80. The reason for this was it was the week before we played at home to Guiseley, as it was a few years since we’d had such a high-profile match in this competition.

We’ve never bettered that run to the quarters, over thirty-five years ago …but at the time I was only thirteen, so have only vague memories of the matches, though I can still recall each tie round-by-round and the scores. It is still the closest we have got to reaching Wembley Stadium, since the demise of the FA Amateur Cup.

Now here is the tale of that great Trophy run …on the pitch. A few weeks after we lost to Guiseley there was a former players’ reunion, organised by Kimm Connett, who was part of that side. Among a number of great club stalwarts at Champion Hill was the legendary Ossie Bayram. Imagine my delight, and honour, when Ossie got out the scrapbooks from his playing career that had been compiled by his wife with page upon page upon page of press cutting from his career. Included in them were the newspaper reports from that Trophy run in ‘79/80.

Kim Connett with Ron Eastland and Roy Wooton in 2015 
(Photo by Mishi Morath)

Ossie bravely & kindly entrusted me to take his scrapbooks home, so I could arrange to make photocopies of them, and it is from his own personal archives that I cobble together the tale of that Trophy run.

We were exempt until the third and final qualifying round, and we were drawn away to Boreham Wood. One thing for sure, it wasn’t going to be as easy as one of our matches against them the previous season. In the league encounter at Champion Hill their keeper got injured in the first few minutes & we ran out winners by nine goals to two! In that match Ossie Bayram scored a hat-trick, as did George Borg.  But this was at their place, & while it wasn’t such a rout we still won at a canter, winning by four goals to nil, only one goal for our Wizard of Os!

The report was quite brief, so rather than précis it, here it is in full:

“Defender Mark Denton scored his first goal for Dulwich as they notched their biggest away win this term.
But it was a two-goal burst within a minute which sent Boreham Wood crashing as Dulwich won a place in the FA Trophy first round proper.
Tony James paved the way for the first goal after seven minutes with an overhead kick which stretched the Wood back four. Kimm Connett challenged and the ball fell loose for Chris Lewington to score.
Martin Lewis intercepted to send Ossie Bayram on a run. The ball was perfectly placed for Connett to nod home.
From the kick-off Danny Godwin pierced the Boreham defence with a fine through ball. Denton overlapped and beat the keeper.
Six minutes after the break Peter Kingston crossed from the right and Bayram got the vital touch.”

In the first round proper we were on our travels again, this time to non-Isthmian opposition. We were drawn away to Southern Leaguers Aylesbury United. This was generally expected to be a much tougher game, but we turned on the style with a repeat of the score from the previous round.

Bayram bagged a brace as well as the headline: OSSIE IN TROPHY DELIGHT

His goals helped The Hamlet reach the second round proper of the Trophy for, what was back then, the first time in our history. If ever a win deserved to be described as emphatic then this was one of them. Instead it was reported that we won in “stunning style”. And the Ducks were no mugs. With the formation of the Alliance Premier League (now called the National League, commonly referred to as The Conference) no less than thirteen clubs left to join the new division that was established above. So the remaining Southern League clubs were split into two equal Midland & Southern divisions. Aylesbury finished runners-up in the Southern division, just one point behind the champions Dorchester Town.

We were certainly on fire going into the match, having scored 15 goals in our previous four games, conceding only two.  For ourselves Steve Bowtell returned in goal after a month out, & we were tested several times in the first half.  It was only an Aylesbury cock-up that let in Ossie Bayram for the first goal. An awful back pass from Dave Parratt allowed him to get the ball and dribble round their keeper Vince Mazurek, to slot home for the first of his two in the 17th minute. The game was, in effect, sealed nine minutes after the break when a Danny Godwin corner was controlled by Ossie, beating two challenges in the process, as he shot past Mazurek for his second.

Four minutes later it really was all over when Kimm Connett scored what was described as a “superb goal”.  A cross from Terry Eames on the left was met perfectly as he hit a left-foot volley which flew into the back of the net. He made the headline in the Mercury – Kimm’s cracker. After his goal they said that “Dulwich turned on the style and cruised through the rest of the match.”
It wasn’t totally one way traffic, Danny Godwin had to clear one off the line, when Bowtell was beaten, but the scoring was wrapped up in the 77th minute when Ossie was brought down in the area and Martin Lewis sent the keeper the wrong way.

And so there we were, waiting for the draw …the second round proper, where the tournament goes national. There were many of the non-league big guns waiting in the hat. And long journeys to be had. How did the remaining Isthmians fare? Woking had to travel all the way up to the north-east, but came home victorious, winning at Ashington. Barking had a similar trek to the same neck of the woods, but went down three nil at Blyth Spartans.  Wycombe Wanderers lost at Burton Albion, now both at different grounds and Football League sides, of course. Leatherhead, finalists in 1978, lost at home to Weymouth. Dagenham, who would go on to win the competition, becoming the first Isthmian League side to do so, hit five for no reply at Stalybridge Celtic; whilst our old rivals Tooting & Mitcham United lost to a lone goal at home to Boston United. I was actually at that game, as our match was postponed, and Boston, nicknamed The Pilgrims, had their support boosted not just by me, but by a coachload of Plymouth Argyle fans, also The Pilgrims, whose coach ‘diverted’ to the game after their Football League match at nearby Plough Lane, home of Wimbledon, long before they ever thought of moving to Milton Keynes, suffered a late postponement.

So which glamour tie did we get? Unfortunately we got what was probably the most unglamorous tie possible, but certainly one of the most winnable. We were drawn at home to lower division Isthmian Leaguers Hertford Town. And despite victory, unglamorous was exactly what it turned out to be! Hamlet scrape through, said one headline. As The Mercury informed its readers: “If luck is a necessity for teams on the Wembley trail, Dulwich are halfway there.”

It took an Ossie Bayram goal in injury time to put ourselves into the last sixteen of the competition. In a midweek game, after being called off on the Saturday, Dulwich looked set to cruise to victory after Tony James scored from a Godwin corner, after 23 minutes. It should all have been wrapped up in the first half, but Mark Halsey, in goal for Hertford, pulled off some fine saves, in particular two good efforts from Chris Lewington & Nigel Blazey. You may recognise the name, for after retiring from football Halsey took up the whistle, and went on to referee in the top flight, at Premiership level.

With nothing to lose, Hertford adopted what was described as ‘do-or-die tactics’, which looked to have paid off when Paul Darling became their darling with the equaliser. From then on, belying their Division One mid table position, it was pure end-to-end stuff, reported as “not for the faint hearted”, with a replay looking on the cards until Bayram’s late blast.  Another paper told us that “good football and well worked build-ups from midfield were impossible in the atrocious conditions”, so there were many relieved Hamlet fans when the final whistle blew after a lengthy eight minutes of stoppage time.

A huge game at Alliance Premier Leaguers Bath City beckoned, as the draw had been made before our delayed tie, and you would have thought that celebrations beckoned after such a battle. Regarding Ossie’s late winner it was reported that ‘Bubbly Bayram produced the goods’ …but that was all the bubbly there was …for at the final whistle chairman Alf Bretton sent bottles of champagne into the home dressing room, but manager Alan Smith tipped it onto the floor! That wasn’t reported at the time, but did happen, by all accounts. But he was quoted as saying: “The lads didn’t deserve it on that performance”, and it says the champers was banned from the changing room.

Now it was down to the West Country, very much unknown territory, as it was the first time we would play a team from the newly formed national Alliance Premier League. Bath City weren’t one of the strongest sides in that league, but it was certainly a step up, and we would have been the ‘underdogs’, but not by a huge margin. What nobody expected was the emphatic 3-1 victory, with one headline telling the story:  IT’S SO EASY FOR DULWICH

We moved into the last eight with one of our best performances of the season. Indeed, I’ve been supporting The Hamlet for over forty years now, man and boy, and this match will undoubtedly be in my all-time top ten Dulwich games seen. We took the lead just after the half-hour mark, Terry Eames scoring only his fourth goal of the season, before Ossie Bayram pounced on ‘a defensive mistake’ to score his 22nd of the campaign, a minute before half time.  I seem to remember Ossie getting the ball and going on a bit of a mazy run, before scoring, but that’s probably my mind playing tricks on me! Tony James hit the bottom of the post in the second half, and we went further ahead when a Danny Godwin cross was heading in by Kimm Connett on 63 minutes, with the hosts left to claim a mere consolation with five minutes left on the clock. Indeed if we had been even more ruthless than we were, we could easily have doubled our goal tally. Alan Smith said afterwards: “I was disappointed we didn't score more from our better moves. If we had been more clinical in our finishing we would have had quite a few more goals.”

A local report from West Country began: “Bath City’s Wembley dream became a nightmare when they were outwitted, outplayed and outfought by a professionally prepared Dulwich Hamlet”, which said it all.  We were informed that our pre-match planning included having them watched no less than four times, and even filming one of their games. Their gaffer Bob Boyd tried to put on a brave face, stating: “I thought Dulwich were just a hard-working side. They didn’t play as well as I thought they would.” To which the local correspondent concluded: In that case it was just as well.
The attendance was listed as 1,643.

And so it was on to the heady heights of the quarter-finals, for a long journey-by our standards – up north to Lincolnshire, to take on Boston United …a much stronger Alliance outfit, who would finish in fourth spot in the inaugural year of that competition, behind the top three of Altrincham, Weymouth & Worcester City. The other quarter-finalists were Dagenham, who beat Nuneaton Borough, also an Alliance side, by the odd goal in five at Victoria Road. Fellow Isthmians Woking were also drawn at home, winning 3-1 at home to top flight Barrow. The only tie not to include anyone from the Alliance was Northern Premier League Mossley, who drew 1-1 at home to Northern League Blyth Spartans, before winning the replay two nil.
At this stage of the competition the Trophy started making ripples in the national press. There could be an Ossie at Wembley ran one headline. It’s worth typing up the whole report here verbatim:

The cry of “Ossie for Wembley” has been stilled at White Hart Lane. But at Dulwich, they still have high hopes for their Ossie. Ossie Bayram, that is. His world is light years away from that of Tottenham’s Ardiles, the high-priced World Cup superstar imported from South America.
Bayram, 28, a painter and decorator, lives with his wife and four daughters in East Dulwich, around the corner from Dulwich Hamlet’s ground, and satisfies his voracious appetite for goals by scoring prolifically for Hamlet in his part-time football career. But Bayram can boast one definite advantage over his Spurs namesake. Just now he has a real chance of getting to Wembley in May. He spearheads the attack for Berger Isthmian League Hamlet when they travel to Lincolnshire on Saturday to face Boston in the last eight of the FA Trophy.
If Bayram, 23 goals this season, can keep up his record of scoring in every round of the current Trophy campaign, he will push Hamlet that little bit nearer the final on May 17.
But the striker admits with engaging honesty: “I’ve never been to Wembley-not even as a spectator. I never seem to get time because of my other football commitments. But that just makes me all the more eager to get to the final. The team needs little or no motivation now, because we got a taste for success after winning at Bath in the last round.”

Bayram, who broke the club scoring record with 33 goals the season before last, is a leading figure in the Hamlet success story engineered by manager Alan Smith. Their 1-0 victory over Carshalton on Tuesday meant that they had only suffered one defeat in 19 games.

Ossie Bayram and Alan Smith in 2015 (photo by Mishi Morath)

Sadly, as we all know that Wembley dream was to go unfulfilled for Ossie. A creditable no score draw up north took Boston United back to South London, but we were second best in the replay, as they won two nil.

Up at their impressive York Street home, in front a very partisan crowd of 2,928; Steve Bowtell had probably his best ever game between the posts, and at the time was talked of as the best Hamlet keeper since Alec Freeman, who was our custodian just after the Second World War. It was ourselves who actually started brighter, with Tony James coming closest in the first half, when he headed a cross from Terry Eames against the underside of the bar, then hitting the rebound wide.

The second half saw ourselves under pressure for a lot of the half, with Bowtell performing real heroics. We were reduced to one or two breakaways, and we could have taken the lead when Kimm Connett found himself free, but shot wide. There was another chance where Chris Lewington went for goal, with many Dulwich fans present that day feeling he should have squared the ball to Ossie instead …such is the fickle fate of football.

The dream died back at Champion Hill three days later, on a cold, wet miserable night. Glen Noble, in the South London Press described the huge gulf between the two teams that night: “The young Dulwich side were never a match for an experienced Boston outfit who looked like seasoned heavyweights pitched against enthusiastic flyweights.”

Dulwich looked sharper early on, but it was the telling experience of Boston, who included no less than six ex-Football League professionals in their line-up, that did us in.

Those of us who were there say our luck ran out after two minutes! Chris Lewington’s floated free-kick was met at the far post by a powerful header from Kimm Connett, but the effort was disallowed for a foul on keeper Gerry Stewart. Afterwards their player-manager Albert Phelan said of Kimm: “Connett is one of the best headers of the ball I’ve seen and could have given us problems. We were surprised he took all the throw-ins because he would have been more dangerous in the box. If the side can be kept together I can see Dulwich being one of the teams of the future.” Well that never happened either, but as for the ‘present’ of this match Boston took the lead just before half-time and twelve minutes after the break struck the killer blow, to go two up,  from which we never came back.

Alan Smith said of our exit: “On the night we were well beaten. We wanted to win it, but to be honest, Boston were in a different class. It was boys against men. Boston are run more like a League side and exposed the limitations at Dulwich. I just hope we’ve learnt something from this, otherwise it would have been a waste of time.”

A disappointing way to end such a marvelous FA Trophy journey. I still look back on this, and think we could and should have nicked it in the first game, you don’t usually get the proverbial ‘second bite of the cherry’ against such quality opposition, and so it proved.

Despite the heartbreak of getting so close to Wembley, the closest we’ve ever been in the Trophy, I take great comfort in the fact that, even as a young teenager, I was lucky to see every single game in this Trophy run.

Original article from HH29 Spring 2016
Copyright © Mishi D. Morath

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