The Good, The Bad & The Ugly – Dulwich Hamlet (A)

As I and most of my away day crew members hail from proper South London, Dulwich away is our local game, and as such was just about the first date I looked for when the Ryman League’s trusty fixtures computer (also known as Dave, from the Three Crowns pub) finally finished its seemingly Herculean task, and released the fixtures this Summer. As it was scheduled for a standard Saturday 3pm game, there looked to be a grand day out on the calendar for November, and plans were made. We were even due to have an exciting guest appearance from James’ mate Jacopo, a big fan of lower league football in his native Italy, to provide some exoticism to the Kingstonian behind the goal support. It was fortunate, then, that Not Police knocked Hamlet out of the Trophy in the previous round, otherwise this would have been a blank Saturday after all. So here goes, the only time I’ll ever write this: three cheers for Not Police!

The day was meant to start at 11:30am in the Bishop pub, East Dulwich, but I – and almost all of the rest of the group – were running late. The almost unanimous excuse for this tardiness was being hungover – in my case, rather unexpectedly violently hungover and feeling extremely hard done-by as a result, considering I’d only had a quiet Friday night in the pub – and so the decision was taken to move immediately to the Flying Pig, which apparently served great food. The Flying Pig is a spectacularly Dulwich establishment: distressed walls, craft beers, pulled pork and bearded men in checked shirts. It was predictably excellent, and all of us had a superb couple of hours talking K’s and football in general.

As the travelling fans in the bar grew in number, and the pints of local ale started slipping down a little bit more easily, and the tables nearby starting tutting and shushing us more regularly, the feelings of pessimism about the game gradually dissipated, to be replaced by that most dangerous of emotions, hope:
“We always play better against the better teams”
“We held them at home, don’t forget”
“We’ve got a good record at this ground”
“We’re better away than at home”

By the time we left the pub, three points seemed pretty much assured. That decided, the only other thing left to sort out before arriving at Champion Hill was a couple of drinks for the game. I’m always one to buy drinks at the other club’s bar, in the hope that other fans do the same at Kingsmeadow in the spirit of non-league solidarity, but since a lot of the Dulwich fans don’t even buy drinks from their own bar, let alone ours, I figured I’d smuggle a couple of drinks in with me.

After the obligatory indecisiveness in the offie, I actually managed to miss kick off by a couple of minutes, although I didn’t miss any action. Not only because nothing had happened, but also because nobody down the K’s end would have had any idea if it had, such was the angle of the low sun. I couldn’t see a thing for the first twenty minutes or so, and as such concentrated on baiting the Dulwich keeper, who not only used to play for Sutton, but also was a bit on the porky side and not having the best afternoon. I also bought a 50/50 ticket, simply because the bloke selling them abused the Wombles while offering them to our behind the goal support. Good sales technique, sir. At some point during the first half K’s scored, an Alan Inns effort from close range, and all of a sudden the pre-match hope didn’t seem quite so stupid. Josh Casey, in particular, was having a terrific game in midfield, pulling the strings after finally put back in a position where he could do so.

Some of the other lads hadn’t had the foresight to bring drinks into the ground, and baulking at the bar queue, I took one for the team and headed out to the offie with Dan to get them some refreshments at half time. This trip was a bit of a reminder of the other side of the local area, given what was going on inside the off licence. There was a customer in there, a bloke in his 20s with a staffie, off his face, arguing with the owner:
Staffie-man: “What you looking at you c**t?”
Shop owner: “Err…I’m trying to serve you, sir”
Staffie-man: “I SAID…what re you f**king looking at mate?”
Shop owner: “Please calm down sir, I’m serving you”
Staffie-man: “Do you wanna get cut? Do you? F**k it, I’m gone”

Charming. Back to the much more chilled-out surroundings of Champion Hill for the second half, where K’s started as they’d left off, largely comfortable in the lead. Meanwhile, things behind the goal were getting more and more boisterous: the chanting was increasing in volume (although with no roof, only us behind the goal would know that!) and the Dulwich keeper was getting more and more distracted. He even played rock, paper, scissors with one of us at one point, something that had all of us in stitches.

The game grew more intense, as challenges started flying in and other players started objecting to them. Then, the two crucial moments, in quick succession. First, Pico Gomez made a good run across his marker from a powerful right-wing cross and headed just over from 8 yards; then, Josh Casey got onto a through ball (of sorts) before the Hamlet keeper, but could only steer his effort narrowly wide of the far post. I’ve watched enough football games to know what was coming, particularly as Dulwich then brought on their best player, Harry Beautyman. “We’ll lose this, I absolutely guarantee it,” I said to the other lads.

And of course we did lose it 2-1, the winning goal sending the Hamlet fans behind the other goal wild, and prompting some distinctly unfriendly football-league style gestures from the four Dads with prams standing along the side of the pitch nearer us, who of course all denied any such behaviour after the game.

We headed to the most local pub – the Cherry Tree – to drown our sorrows and have a laugh. London away days are always good fun, but this one was more fun than most.

The day after, though, I was left reflecting on an afternoon of mixed emotions. Unfortunately, apparently the behaviour of a handful of K’s fans was very poor after the final whistle, which is a real shame – but not something I can really commentate on, as I had no idea it had happened until reading about it on the forum on Sunday. All involved are committed K’s fans, and really add to the atmosphere home and away, but this doesn’t sound good: reading about Dulwich fans with kids feeling intimidated did leave a sour taste in the mouth, hence the mixed emotions about the day.

The Good? A good, raucous travelling support, something that used to be a standard at every K’s away game but is now sadly rarer and rarer; a really, really fun day out, and a promise to come to more K’s games this season from a couple of the more sporadic attendees in the group; a much improved K’s performance, combing a higher work rate with a greater attacking threat.
The Bad? The result, particularly as it wasn’t deserved.
And The Ugly? Some of the stuff which went on after the final whistle…

Player Ratings, sponsored by A Head In The Hat Ales’ “Tommy”: Tolfrey TFA*; Goode TFA Drage TFA Inns TFA Blake TFA; Henry 7 Laidler 7 Pigden 7 Casey 9; Gomez 6 (4 first half, 8 second half), Hammond 6

*Too Far Away