Dulwich 2 – 1 Staines

It was an interesting game last night, as the Dulwich team contained a few youngsters I’d not seen much, or any, of previously.

Oshane Brown, Jordan Brown, Saido Khan, Diallang Jaiyesimi, and Jamie Mascoll were all brought into the first XI alongside more established players.

Of those, I knew I’d seen Mascoll make a couple of late sub appearances, and Diallang Jaiyesimi started the game against Thamesmead Town, back in August. Oshane Brown hadn’t played any minutes until last night. I’m not sure whether Saido Khan had played at all, before last night’s game. Jordan Brown started against VCD at the weekend, although I’d not seen him play before then.

It was great to see Josh Fernandes starting the game also. He continued to impress.

Staines apparently played a youthful team as well. The quality of the game wasn’t impaired by alterations to either team; it was an enjoyable match played out in front of a crowd of 224.

Watching the first half, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Staines would catch us on the break with what might prove to be the crucial goal. It was competitive, characterised by some promising build up play from the Hamlet, and quick, incisive forays into the final third by Staines.

They had players with some pace behind them, who knew how to turn their man. The wet conditions played a part in that regard, and there were a couple of occasions where we let them snip through our midfield too easily. Danny Waldren saw a notable example, where the oily surface underfoot contributed to his letting a Staines man waltz past him to put pressure on the defence.

On that note, however, it’s only fair to say Waldren had a good game last night. He put some quality tackles in, and looked like a captain. There have been some questions over him thus far, but not so last night, in my opinion. Once or twice, watching him defend doggedly reminded me of watching Michael Dawson. He has a similar heart.

Staines’ goal in the 22nd minute happened in slow motion. You could see it all unraveling, seconds before it actually did. A searching pass found the Staines number 9, Prince M’bengui, and he took the ball past Matt Drage before, as memory serves, poking it towards goal as he began to fall to the ground. Oshane Brown should have done better, the ball rolling teasingly past him like a one night stand who laughs as she leaves your flat in the morning, nicking your last bagel on her way out, depriving you of any breakfast.

Sitting in the Tommy Jover, avoiding the drizzle, we were well placed to observe the exploits of Khan and Jaiyesimi on the right wing. They were a lively pair who looked promising. It looked like they could produce a bit of magic, and we were 1-0 down. So I went off to the gents, and Dulwich duly responded, Jaiyesimi finding Mascoll with a neat pass, who then carved his way through the Staines defence and produced a fine goal. Or so I heard, as I settled back into my seat.

I thought we were by far the better team in the second half. Not to subtract too heavily from Staines’ efforts, as I thought they were a decent team, but our play seemed to go up a notch after the interval.

Josh Fernandes stood out for me again, with his composed ball handling and tricky little turns. I shouldn’t get carried away with the comparisons to ex-Spurs players but dammit, he’s clearly the second coming of Luka Modric.

Matt Drage continued demonstrating his attacking instincts, even back playing centre half, alongside Mitchell Nelson. At one point he made a run all the way through midfield and only desisted when he was cruelly robbed by a Staines defender.

Ash Carew and Callum Willock came on later in the half, replacing Khan and Erskine. Among the several youthful imps on the pitch, they looked like giants. We were chasing the winner we deserved, hoping to avoid penalties, which would have happened immediately in the event of a draw at 90 minutes.

The introduction of Carew and Willock proved vital, as with stoppage time running out, Willock received the ball in front of goal and was brought crashing to earth by a Staines defender. The ref pointed to the spot, and up stepped Carew.

“To the left, to the right”, came the chants from behind Harry Churchill (or something like that anyway), and sure enough, he launched himself to the right as Carew coolly slotted the ball past him in the other direction.

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Dulwich 2 – 0 Thamesmead

Roughly five years ago, I dragged my loyal wife off to Champion Hill on a cold midwinter night. In anticipation of watching the Hamlet for the first time, I read several match reports of past games on the club website. I can’t remember what the site looked like, back then, but I remember the match reports were erudite and had a certain eloquence. They were vastly more entertaining than the average blokey tabloid report.

When we arrived at the ground, we were informed the game had been called off, due to inclement weather. I was slightly crestfallen as we headed to the nearest pub. Every cloud.

For some reason, I didn’t follow up on that first attempt to watch Dulwich. I continued supporting Tottenham and put Dulwich to the back of my mind, thinking that, some day, I’d head over to Champion Hill again.

A quick perusal of my flat will confirm I’m a man of half-arsed good intentions. True to form, it’s taken five years for me to get round to making a second short journey to the greatest football stadium in SE22. I’m not sure why the stars have finally alligned. Perhaps it was the decision to stop paying through the nose for rapaciously priced tickets at White Hart Lane that I can ill afford. Perhaps it was fact that Dulwich seem to have been riding a wave of media attention over the last year or so, due to a rapidly expanding fanbase. This has meant the club has been a lot harder to forget about than before. Maybe I just heard about them selling Beatnik on tap at the club bar. In any case, I knew a few weeks ago that this was to be the season I gave non-league a try.

Most Saturday afternoons, I find myself otherwise engaged, and therefore unable to get to the football. I scanned the fixture list on the Hamlet website, looking for midweek fixtures I could get to. Merstham away looked promising, but I didn’t want my first experience of Dulwich to be an away game. Then I saw it, my first game: Tuesday 18 August, a league cup game against fellow South East London club, Thamesmead Town.

Beers on the train from London Bridge to East Dulwich, followed by a couple of pints in the Tavern, then we were off to the stadium. The sedate pre-match experience of a clear and quiet walk to the ground, and a couple of pints in the club bar, getting served straight away and paying less than seven quid for two pints, was in sharp contrast to the rambunctious proceedings in the Brickies on Tottenham High Road. I knew what to expect from the non-league experience, but didn’t know whether I’d like it. It’s obviously a far cry from the crowded pubs stuffed to bursting point with drunken fans, singing loudly and releasing hazardous levels of junk food breath into a closed environment. There was no wall of noise from thousands defiantly singing “we are Tottenham” as we got to our seats. But then, there were other charms to enjoy. Away fans stood chatting in the club bar, under no threat of assault by shouty lager monsters. We could buy a decent quality pint quickly from the cheerful barlady, then look out over the pitch from the comfort of the bar, or take our pints with us as we found a seat outside. Other people sitting near us engaged us in friendly chat, at one point, asking me whether I knew if number 8 was Danny Waldren. I said I didn’t know, then squinted for a bit, then said, “Yeah, I think it is.” Then the knowledgable chaps behind us who have been supporting Hamlet for forty years shouted “Well done, Jack,” when number 8 neatly kept possession and played a nice pass.

The game itself got interesting early on, when Callum Willock scored within five minutes. In the nineteenth, he’d made it 2-0. Dulwich were dominant for the rest of the half, and I thought we’d see another goal in the second. To be fair to Thamesmead I thought they made more of the second half, and although the disparity in quality between the sides was clear, they held their own and should probably have scored when their energetic forward got into a one-on-one with Phil Wilson. He put it wide though. Earlier on Thamesmead had come even closer to scoring when Ethan Pinnock had to head the ball off the goal line. But the Mead didn’t ever look like they could escape defeat and Hamlet saw the game through without producing much quality themselves in the second half.

After the game, we took a short walk down Dog Kennell Hill, and picked up some bland junk food, to soak up some of the beer. A short ride on the Overground from Camberwell to Deptford compared very favourably with the eternal walk from White Hart Lane to Seven Sisters, followed by a tube journey back to South London.

Did I enjoy myself? Yes, definitely. I’ve already pencilled in the next games I can get to, starting with next Wednesday’s visit to detestable Leatherhead. I can’t wait.