Dulwich 5 – 2 VCD Athletic

1,961 people were in attendance today, to see almost as many goals scored, in our ‘pay what you want’ game vs VCD Athletic.

The ground feels a bit cramped with that many people, and getting a decent view of the pitch can be difficult. There’s also an inverse correlation between crowd size and atmosphere, when the vocal supporters can’t all group together.

Oh yeah, and the gold laces on my diamond shoes are too tight. Despite these moans, it was great seeing so many there supporting the club.

Such vast legions may have unsettled our guests from the outback (or “the green team,” as someone near me kept calling them). They must have felt like Judean Christians, brought to the Colosseum for sacrifice. Vickers played like a team of vicars, and the Hamlet were in no mood for namby-pamby notions of mercy and goodwill.

No team can expect to walk into the National League, and we’ve had some difficulties in recent weeks, losing at Burgess Hill, and twice scraping our way back to earn that strange 3-3 draw against Hampton & Richmond. The game at Whitehawk also demonstrated what lies in wait for promoted clubs. Even our win at Met Police was seen as more reflective of the home side’s turgidity, than our own efforts.

But today was a day to cast off any doubts, and bask in the glory of a good old transpontine bear baiting.

Jacob Erskine’s 3rd minute goal set the tone, and after that, we were quite simply mauling VCD at times. Erskine’s second, and Mitchell Nelson’s goal were just rewards for the convincing domination of the first half, which was nevertheless perhaps best encapsulated by Jordan Hibbert’s impromptu keepy-uppy practice on the right wing.

Getting some beers from the bar at half time was an arduous task. My wife handled it with aplomb, while I relaxed outside, reading the programme.

My official job was to find us a spot with a good view of proceedings for the second half. It has to be said, there were a few people who seemed uninterested in the game itself. I’ve no problem with them being there personally, but just wish they’d move away from the railings, so others could see the match more clearly.

We continued to dominate in the second half, and one player who embodied that was Rhys Murrell-Williamson. He tore into VCD’s defence repeatedly. It’s great watching his tenacious but silky football. Sure enough, in the 74th minute, he found a sweet spot in front of goal, and teed up an absolute piledriver. Callum Thomas, if he’d had time to register what was coming, would have thought “No, ta,” and fled the ball’s flight path without apology.

Josh Fernandes has looked a good player each time I’ve seen him. He replaced Danny Waldren, and his neat ball control certainly added to our attacking play. Watching him is a bit like watching Land of the Giants, too. Added value. It will be a shame when we lose him later in the season, while he takes time out to study for his Eleven Plus.

Damian Scannell did well to set up the fifth goal, and it was nice to see Josh get his first for the club.

It capped an imperious display, one that was then unceremoniously blemished by VCD upstart, Aaron Wickham, forgetting his place, and scoring at the other end. It was a goal of mighty implications, which shook Champion Hill, although to be honest, we didn’t realise it had gone in. We thought Nathan Koranteng’s 90th minute goal was VCD’s only consolation, until the final score was announced.

It mattered not, as we’d smashed ’em, as they say.

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Dulwich 3 – 3 Hampton & Richmond

Yesterday morning, on the way to work, I got caught in a torrential downpour. You know when you’re wearing drenched jeans and your feet are swimming in your socks, with a long day ahead, it’s one of those moments when all you can do is think, Bollocks, and wish you could go back to bed. A bad start to the day.
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Later on, we made our way to the game via Denmark Hill. Having never enjoyed the delights of The Phoenix before, an immediate pint after exiting the station sounded like a good idea. If we’d known what a charmless bastion of ponce the place is, a quick snifter of Pritt Stick would have seemed preferable.
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If you licked the barmaid, your tongue would have stuck to her.
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My bank manager called me up after I bought two pints.
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And various other failed witticisms.
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Anyway, the theme of disappointment had been cast from the start, and the Hamlet didn’t disappoint by failing to disappoint.
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See, I’m just trying to confuse you now, to give you a sense of how I felt, a few minutes before the final whistle – when I realised we weren’t winning 3-2.
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We’d missed the start of the second half, and Hampton’s third goal.
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I didn’t hear any mention of us being behind again, and thought Callum Willock’s goal was the winner. The realisation we were losing 3-3 dawned on me like Piers Morgan must have dawned on his parents, when he learned to speak.
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For much of the first half, Hampton were the better side. They were breezing through our midfield at times, which isn’t the first time a team has enjoyed that liberty this season. They seemed to put some quality passes through for the forwards, and it was obvious they’d test Phil Wilson.
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Before long they were ahead, and while we huffed and puffed, we didn’t ever get in our stride. It was like watching Frank Bruno trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube.
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I kept looking out for Rhys Murrell-Williamson, thinking he might produce some magic. I had to squint though because he was over on the left wing, and we were standing near the managers’ dugouts. As a weird, flashing drone hovered eerily over the pitch, I watched the Hayes man wander the barren plains of the left wing, forlorn.
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“He should be on the right wing,” I moaned, sagely. When he started playing on the right, however, he still looked frustrated, searching for opportunities. Was it him that put in the cross for Damian Scannell’s goal? Possibly. Whoever it was, the goal was unexpected to say the least.
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A sudden injection of vigour saw us pouring forward, and Scannell was instrumental again, passing to Kevin James who made it 2-1. Excitement grew as it seemed we were about to release the swagger.
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Shortly before half time, Hampton put a stop to all that, when they forced a save, and ended up winning a penalty. For handball, I believe.
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Their man slotted it home and the teams went in level at 2-2. A disappointing end to the half, which had nevertheless provided plenty of action, and left me musing on Callum Willock’s ability to win every header going in a five mile radius, and Osei Sankofa’s captain-like qualities, as he never stops shouting instructions, telling players to regain focus instead of moaning at the ref, etc.
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Hey, we were pony for most of the half – I had to take some positives.
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As I said, we missed the early stages of the second half, and Hampton’s goal. So we were feeling cheerier than others might have been, watching the rest of the match. The game continued to be difficult although we were a better match for Hampton in the second period. They did have a goal ruled out, mind, so we were riding our luck given the real score.
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Ashley Carew provided for Willock’s equaliser and I was pleased for the number 9, as I’d been impressed with him throughout much of the game. And there weren’t many other players I could have said that for.
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Conceding three goals in each of the last two games is harsh. Wilson has looked a quality stopper most times I’ve seen him play, and the Drage/Pinnock partnership has been impressive also.
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When it rains, it pours, I guess.

Dulwich 1 – 0 Leatherhead

I love a midweek game, under the lights.

Which is handy, since they’re the only games I can make at the moment.

Ah, Leatherhead! How long we’ve waited to exact our revenge, for that ignominious defeat you tricked us into, two weeks ago at Fetcham Grove.

Our mercurial brilliance was blunted that night by your secret weapon: the town of Leatherhead itself, which bores teams into submission. But last night, on the hallowed Champion Hill turf, and in the eyes of the transpontine republic, dandies swaggered, wingers ran rampant, Ronnie O’Sullivan slayed Stephen O’Hendry.

The universe demanded that balance be restored, and the Hamlet answered its call.

Well, alright, we won 1-0.

But it should have been more. The match took a little bit of warming up, with both teams struggling to carve out any clear-cut chances. I thought we were putting more pressure on them overall, but a number of times we needed someone to take command in the attacking midfield area, so that our wingers’ efforts wouldn’t come to nought. It was width, however, that was to prove crucial in changing the nature of the game.

The right wing in particular was soon to open up. Matty D. Rage kept bombing up there, and gave us a lot of drive down that side. Being a newb, I’d only really taken note of Drage’s defensive game so far, and I was quite impressed by his willingness to keep running deep into the attacking half with the ball at his feet.

Drage’s efforts were matched by another player, whose sheer brilliance was about to be revealed.

Rhys Murrell-Williamson is a Hayes and Yeading United player. Without knowing the circumstances under which he was allowed by that club to go out on loan, I’ll assume they are either mad, or they have just signed Gareth Bale.

RMW was a joy to watch, constantly running at the opposition, putting in crosses that deserved to be converted into goals, and, most significantly of all, dancing through defenders with ease and scoring his second goal in his second game. He was a constant threat, and Leatherhead’s manager, Richard Brady, made changes at half time to nullify his pace. There didn’t seem to be much difference to his game in the second half, though. If anything, things got worse for Leatherhead, as Nyren Clunis grew into the game and made more of an impact after the interval.

Clunis has been my favourite player so far watching Dulwich, burning down the wing and putting crosses in for fun. Last night, in the first half, he seemed to spend more time running ahead of the game, anticipating the pass, rather than pulling the game forward with the ball at his feet. A couple of times it nearly came off, although he perhaps needs to watch his positioning a bit more, when looking to receive the ball, and make sure he doesn’t get caught offside. You can’t have too much of a moan about that, as it’s often the hallmark of a player with the hunger that bags goals. He’s obviously a different kind of player entirely, but watching him last night reminded me a bit of Jermaine Defoe. Well, not quite. Defoe gets tent pegs and a cold can of baked beans out whenever he’s offside.

In the second half Clunis was all over them, and he was really unlucky to hit the crossbar. He’s been the creative force behind a number of Hamlet goals already this season, and he’s clearly eager to start getting his own name on the scoresheet. He deserved that one to go in last night. We seemed to be edging closer and closer in the second half to another goal, but it never came.

Leatherhead were awful. I mean, truly shit.

Nah, not really, they were alright. They’ve looked a utilitarian side both times I’ve watched them play, and last night they didn’t force enough out of Phil Wilson. They were a tough team to play still, and I’d expect them to come out of the little rut they’re in soon and start picking up results. They were quite good at obstinately ploughing their way through our midfield at times, which arguably could be read as “our midfield was pushed around a bit too easily”, I’m not sure. But once they’d got to that point, they didn’t do enough to deserve a point from the game.

In my burgeoning familiarity with the Hamlet team, I thought Charlie Penny again really put himself about a lot. He’s a lively player who seems to leap his own body height for the ball, and run with boundless energy. He’s obviously at a disadvantage in aerial duels though, and he couldn’t get on the end of any crosses to ping it into the net. It looked to my layman’s eye like he was sufficiently irritating for Leatherhead’s defence, without ever really making the kind of impact he’d be looking for.

There were other half-baked observations, forming in my Dissident-soaked brain, but who knows whether they were legitimate conclusions? Probably not.

Probably none of the above was, either. I do know that it was handy having the Cherry Tree open again, for a quick pint after getting the train down from London Bridge, and that the bloke who recently renamed his chippie “Dulwich Hamlet Fish Bar” is a bit of a laugh. Also, when the Rabble sang “We hate Tooting and Mitcham, we hate Leatherhead too. LEICESTER!” a bunch of chaps were quite confused, thinking that Hamlet fans consider Leicester a hated rival.

Well, I do. Walkers crisp knobs.

Dulwich 1 – 0 Billericay Town

I once met a group of rappers from Billericay. They lovingly referred to the place as “da Billtown”, exhibiting a regional pride you might not expect from the average Billericite. I’m sure they wisely chose to take the mugshots for their album sleeve in front of a Basildon tower block instead of a Billtown bungalow, though.

There’s a video on Youtube of Hamlet fans away at the Blues, singing Gavin Rose’s Pink and Blue Army for 720 minutes non-stop, staging a post-match pitch invasion, and having a right tear up with the stewards.

What else about Billericay?
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Oh yeah, it’s where Gavin and Stacey live as well.
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So there we have it, Billericay: a name synonymous with hip-hop culture, nawty antics, and Matthew Horne looking despondently resigned while James Corden squeels PAMLAA incessantly in the background.
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Billericay resident, looking forward to the game earlier
Anyway, before this game, Billericay had lost three, drawn three, and won one. That kind of scintillating form had seen them climb to eighteenth in the league table. They’d conceded six goals in their previous two matches.
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So you knew we’d struggle to score against them.
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Many people watching the game felt we were dominant throughout much of the 90 minutes, but we perhaps rode our luck towards the end of the match, with Phil Wilson showing his class yet again. In truth you’d have expected Billericay to have had a better start to the season than they have, and it was always likely to be a hard-fought game.
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Now, the 12th Man scheme is downright amazing, and one of the many examples of why supporting Hamlet is the most sensible thing you can do on a Saturday afternoon.
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Having funded Rhys Murrell-Williamson’s arrival at the club, he only went and put the ball in the net, on his debut, in the 90th minute!
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The Billericay fans were shocked
Cor Blimey!

The 12th Man blog states that fans who contribute to the scheme “see the very real difference their contributions [are] making.” Well that was certainly true today.

Sadly, diminutive Dean Lodge has left the club due to work commitments, and through 12th Man funds, Murrell-Williamson was brought in on loan from Hayes and Yeading United. I saw their fans talking about how good he is on Twitter earlier today, and then he made a dream start. Hopefully I’ll get to see him in action on Tuesday night against Leatherhead.

The crowd was a very healthy 1547 today, and you have to wonder whether the recent article in the Observer had an impact. They say no publicity is bad publicity, after all. It would have been a great day for anyone visiting Champion Hill for the first time, seeing a win in front of a large crowd, and with the excellent Calais collection, organised by fans of the club, producing a huge number of donations at the turnstile.

It’s so refreshing to see such positivity from football crowds. It looks like absolutely loads of donations were made today, and Hamlet fans also displayed a large “Refugees Welcome” banner.

A moral victory, indeed.

Kingstonian 0 – 3 Dulwich

I was excited about this one. A South London derby against a side that had scored fourteen goals in six games. A bank holiday Monday game. Plus, on a personal note, I used to live in Kingston, over a decade ago, and I haven’t been back to visit for at least five years now. The last time I did was to watch my mate’s band play. He’s from Manchester, and fancies himself as a real Liam Gallagher once he’s had a few pints. After the gig that night, we left him at the pub with his bandmates. It was a mistake, because he got his head kicked in by some of the locals who were less than impressed by his lairy Mancunian charm. I was hoping I wouldn’t bring the spirit of that night with me as we got the train down from Waterloo to Kingston and had a browse around the town centre earlier this afternoon. To my joy, Banquet Records was open, despite the bank holiday. It’s one of the finer record shops I know of in London, and I whiled away many a happy hour in there, years ago, searching for obscure UK hip hop albums to spend my student loan on.

With a bit of retail therapy taken care of and a swift beer knocked back, we jumped on the 131 to Kingsmeadow. I remember having to walk back from Asda in the town centre, past the Cambridge Estate, and past the football ground, to the room I rented on Beresford Road. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I’d  attract the attention of the local gang of kids from the estate, who seemed to model themselves on the Runts from City of God. Oh what fun, in days gone by…

It took ten – fifteen minutes to get to the ground by bus and later on, when we walked back to the town centre after the game, it took about the same time, so I wouldn’t bother getting a bus down to the ground again unless one was due in a couple of minutes.

We got to the club bar with ten minutes to go and so had a pint, watching some Premier League highlights on the big screen. There seemed to be a fairly decent crowd, judging by the number of people in and around the bar area. We later learned the  attendance was an apt 442. You can’t take your beer out into the terraces at Kingsmeadow. I never went there back when we lived in the area, and I don’t know if it’s changed much since Wimbledon took ownership of the stadium, but it’s a good ground for this level. There were sheltered terraces all around the pitch. The end behind the goal Dulwich were attacking in the first half was closed for some reason, so we stood along the length of the pitch and had a good view of proceedings. The Hamlet fans were in good voice today, and during the first half, the Ks fans did their bit to contribute to a lively atmosphere. The home fans also had a big “Refugees Welcome” banner, like those seen at several Bundesliga stadiums this weekend. Fair play to the Kingstonian fans for that.

As we entered the ground, walking past the Ks fans, they had a lot to say about Dulwich. Most notable was the question: “Where were you when you were shit?” The pedant in me couldn’t help but observe that nouveaus such as myself have hardly started attending Isthmian League games for the glory. Smiff’s response was different, more fitting: a flamboyantly camp twist of the hips and flopping of the hand, accompanying the quip, “Where are the rest of you now?”

The first half didn’t actually look that good from our point of view. We barely had a touch of the ball at times, and I thought Kingstonian were looking much better than us. Against the run of play, Nyren Clunis made a quality run down the right flank and crossed the ball in for Jacob Erskine to score. That helped us get into the game more and before half time, we had the ball in the net again. Clunis delivered another cross that was prodded home by Charlie Penny. Smiff and I were still busy celebrating when we realised the Kingstonian fans were celebrating as well. “Bollocks,” I said. Off side. I was trying to get to grips with some of the players a bit better and focused for a while on the defenders. Osei Sankofa played at right back and put in a couple of good tackles. At first I thought Ethan Pinnock, at centre back, was playing right back – which may have been because Sankofa was pushing far up the wing – but the number 6 did get back and defend well a couple of times. Pinnock and Drage at centre half both looked quite commanding and I can remember some impressive challenges in the penalty area that were timed perfectly. Unfortunately, Sankofa went off injured, and he was replaced by Charlie Penny. Penny looked a real livewire, and although he didn’t get his goal, I thought he caused Ks some real headaches. Their fans seemed to agree with me later in the game, when they started chanting “Charlie Penny, is a wanker, is a wanker.” Always a good sign.

In the second half we saw some sexy football. “Kingston are attacking more, but whenever we get forward, we look like scoring,” observed Smiff, astutely. Clunis again produced a great run down the right flank, crossing in a perfect ball which Erskine was able to poke into the net. Clunis should have been puffing on a Bolivar as he made that cross; it was a thing of beauty. Ks looked shellshocked and about a minute or two later, we scored again, this time from a corner. Clunis had a shot blocked, resulting in a corner. Drage headed that goalwards but it was Ethan Pinnock who got the third goal.

We looked capable of a fourth goal but it never came, although we did have the ball in the net a fifth time but to no avail. Aside from that, notable was that the imperious Phil Wilson picked up an injury as he fought for the ball at Ks number 9, Ricky Sappleton’s feet. Sappleton is a man mountain who looks like he could play Rugby League if he fancies it. Kingston’s number 11, I didn’t catch his name, also caught my eye. A tricky player with some pace who got the better of his man a number of times. As for our own players, another I remember forming an impression of was Callum Willock. He came off the bench in the second half and looked strong and composed, a good holder of the ball. I don’t know how many goals you’d expect him to get, as he looks like he’s better holding the ball up for someone like Penny, Erskine, or Clunis to run into the box. He seems a useful player, anyway.

A 3-0 away win, you can’t ask for more than that, can you? The Dulwich fans were as rampant as their team, singing long after the match had finished. Smiff and I made our way back into the town centre for a shawarma and a couple of pints in the Kings Tun, the Kingston Weatherspoons. It’s an egregious example of the kind of sticky, gloomy, uninspiring drinking hole that Weatherspoons halls often are. But it was an old haunt in my student days, and I spent my very first morning in Kingston, thirteen years ago, drinking away a hangover with a jug of Long Island Iced Tea. Happy days. I also once met a pensioner in there who swore he was an old associate of the Krays, and then showed me a wad of (pension) cash, saying he’d just robbed it from a post office. Well, there was no robbery today, just a dominant and exciting win which no doubt re-energised the team as much as it did the supporters.

Dulwich 1 – 1 Grays Athletic

I wasn’t at the game on Saturday, and so I won’t say much about it. However, from Brighton I kept checking Twitter for updates throughout the match, and a few helpful commentators present at the game kept me informed.

Dulwich went in a goal to the good at half time, and people seemed confident we might press on and collect our first league win since Merstham away. Various injustices were visited upon us by a nefarious and/or incompetent referee, however, and Grays scored a completely undeserved equaliser in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Twitter was ablaze with expletives, and not for the first time this season, Dulwich seem to have struggled at Champion Hill against a cynical side that knew how to make it a difficult day for the home team.

Later today we go to Kingstonian, a match I’ll be in attendance for. Let’s hope we can get a much needed win. Ks have had a couple of real belters already this season, not least putting seven goals past Met Police, so this will be a challenging game.

Leatherhead 1 – 0 Dulwich

Smiff and I met at lunch for a couple of pints, in eager anticipation of the the trip to Leatherhead that evening. The pouring rain didn’t inspire confidence, but we decided we’d press ahead anyway. Fortunately, by the time we left work, Southwark was bathing in glorious sunlight. We walked to Waterloo and began our quest to see Dulwich play football.

A charming seat and tins combo meant the train journey was pleasant enough, and we mused on the recent history between the two clubs, as we rolled through Battersea and beyond, into the wilds of south western Transpontania.

Once in Leatherhead, we walked around bemused at the apparent lack of kinkiness. It’s quite a bold name for such an innocuous town. We found the town centre quickly enough but everything seemed to be conveniently closed. Lord knows what Leatherheadians do for their post-7pm consumerist urges. We happened upon an exceedingly poncy looking pub called Penny Black, and walked on, almost devoid of all hope. A few minutes further down the road, though, help was at hand. We approached a pub called the Running Horse, which looked promising, and then we saw a load of Dulwich fans loitering outside the front. Twenty minutes remained until kick-off, so we ducked inside for some local ale.

The journey from there to the ground was fairly short, taking us a bit further along the road before cutting off into an alley that overlooks a stream and is surrounded by trees. It was all rather pleasant. At the gates, the old dear selling tickets took my money and then forgot that she’d done so, asking to be paid again as she handed over the tickets. “Ooh, have I dear?” she asked, when I told her she’d already taken our dosh. The quaintness of non-league is endearing.

Leatherhead FC ask that you don’t take your pints around the ground. Instead there is a small caged area outside the club bar from which you can imbibe and view proceedings. We spent the first half there. From our slightly compromised vantage point, it seemed like the two teams were evenly matched but had different styles of play. We looked the side more capable of a bit of flair, an incisive pass through the middle of the attacking third into the path of an incoming wide man. It was pretty clear we lacked the quality in front of goal to take advantage of this though. For all that we looked dangerous in the build up play, we didn’t trouble their keeper enough.

Leatherhead looked a bit more utilitarian. I thought essentially it was a battle between our Ronnie O’Sullivan to their Steven Hendry. We had a clear penalty appeal turned down by the referee which was frustrating, at that point in the match it still felt like we had a goal in us. Leatherhead’s patient, stolid play served them well and they scored. When we had gone a goal down it did feel like the wheels were turning against us, as the flashes of creativity started to look all the more predictable and toothless. The second half was more of the same, really. The longer things went on, the more unlikely a Dulwich goal looked. As I’m so new to the club, I’m still familiarising myself with the players. The one who stood out for me tonight was the keeper, Phil Wilson. He made a couple of decent quality saves and the Rabble love him.

So the match itself was disappointing in the end, but from the perspective of a newcomer to non-league football, I have to say it was a fun experience. The journey from Waterloo to Leatherhead retained the feel of an away day but on a different scale. You get to visit a new town, a new ground, new pubs, but it’s easy enough to get back home, and you don’t have to take a day off from work to accommodate a midweek away game. It’s football on a human scale. I’m guessing a lot of Dulwich fans don’t like Leatherhead’s ground, but we thought it was pretty good. The club bar could do with installing a card machine, as we were counting the shrapnel in the end for another pint, and there are no ATMs anywhere near the ground. The main stand, mostly used by home fans, was quite large, and at the two ends they’ve got a decent space for those who like to stand behind the goal and make some atmosphere.