Monday, 6 September 2010
No Tragedy For Hamlet At Dulwich
Unless you’ve been living in a cave or driving through a really long tunnel recently, you’ll know that Saturday, what with the international break, saw the brilliant Non-League Day concept come to fruition. And after the steady stream of publicity over the last few weeks, it appears to have been a success. Gates were up, anecdotally at least, and instead of watching millionaires kicking each other and falling over theatrically for 90 minutes, we got to see life at the wider wedge of football’s pyramid.
As mentioned last week, our choice was the grandly monikered Champion Hill Stadium, home of Dulwich Hamlet FC. Small yes, but attractive nonetheless. Even more attractive when it was a mere £6 admission and when, a la enormous gigs and rowdy pubs, you could take your pint outside if you were prepared to drink it from a plastic cup. Dulwich is also a club at that great size where the toilets are still those of a bar, rather than a football ground – by which I mean you don’t all line up, piss against a wall and stare furiously at the same brick, such is the proximity of your neighbour.
There was a proper-looking warm-up underway when we arrived; lots of cones and energetic keep-ball and keepers plucking crosses out of the air. Reassuringly though, this did descend into most of the squad, having knocked the balls around for a bit between themselves, lining up to take ‘free kicks’. I have to use this term in the loosest sense, because most either drifted over both goal and wall (surrounding the ground, not of defenders), or went in the goal having not left the ground.
I must stress at this point that I am not writing to poke fun – far from it. Dulwich’s application and effort was excellent, as was that of the visitors and league leaders, Burgess Hill. But there are a couple of non-league spotters badge moments I have to share. Firstly, a free kick clearing both walls and the goal to be followed seconds later by a wailing car alarm from somewhere outside. Secondly, Dulwich’s monster centre-back clearing the ball into the back of a falling team-mate’s head and watching it cannon back past him for an opposition throw-in. Thirdly, and perhaps best of all, Burgess Hill’s covering defender clearing a through ball on the volley out of the ground and over TWO HOUSES. TWO WHOLE HOUSES. The only other thing I’ve ever seen go that high is an aeroplane.
As football matches go though, this wasn’t a bad one at all. The general feeling was that Dulwich weren’t going to come out of the game with much once they went behind, having spent the early part of the season surrendering advantages, rather than mounting assaults on those of other teams. They consequently made it even more difficult for themselves by a second extremely soft goal – the first had been from a fairly harmless cross, but the second was even worse, coming as it did directly from an even more harmless corner, which somehow beat the keeper at his near post.
It had been a fairly even game for the most part. Burgess Hill may have fashioned slightly better chances, but Dulwich missed a couple of good opportunities themselves and had a goal disallowed. But a wonder goal from Nyren Clunis got them back into it and sparked an otherwise passive crowd into a fairly lively last 10 minutes. Ultimately though, a lack of incisiveness in the final third did for Dulwich in a game of relatively few chances.
But what a great afternoon out. I don’t know if it was the neutrality or the general good-natured feel to the place, but for a change watching the football was fun, free from the usual tribal, alpha male chest-beating abuse of and from other fans. In itself that was refreshing, but I know, when I go and watch Macc away at Wycombe on Saturday, I’ll be just as pleased that it’s a game I can really get involved in. I suppose that highlights Non-League Day’s raison d’etre. It never pretended to be a charity appeal, or a corporate drive to get you to snap up season tickets to your local team.
Credit to James Doe for the way the whole campaign has been (and will continue to be) conducted. It encapsulated everything that’s good about lower league football. There wasn’t any pressure to go, the idea just was what it was, much like all the clubs, managers and players at this level of football. If you wanted to go, great. If you didn’t, rest assured that the 22 on the pitch would be combining hoofing, commitment and occasional brilliance regardless. For this reason, they and the cause deserve continued support when the next opportunity like this arises.