Let’s all do the conga

The game: Dulwich Hamlet v. Stonewall FC.
The ground: Champion Hill.
The conditions: look, night rainbows!

As twilight fell over south-east London, the mood soared at Champion Hill; the long-anticipated, high-profile friendly between Dulwich Hamlet and Stonewall FC was about to get underway. With Hamlet fans having campaigned long and hard against discrimination in football, this match represented a real statement of support from club hierarchy and staff (not to mention the matchday sponsors, Unison and Hope Not Hate); the organisation of such a fixture was, and is, a real credit to everyone involved – as recognised by the attendant FA.

Equally, all those connected with Stonewall FC put in massive effort to make this game happen. It was a brave decision for the Stonewall management and players to take on Hamlet, considering that they play their football several tiers below the Pink & Blues; if the match was perhaps a bit daunting for those on the pitch, the Stonewall fans certainly weren’t fazed – gathering at the other end of the pitch to The Rabble, they may well have been the first away fans this season to start off the singing.

For the first fifteen minutes of the game, there was not much between the two teams; as The Rabble drummed, jumped and waved their rainbow banners, as the Stonewall fans pulled some synchronised shapes, the action on the pitch was similarly competitive. Hamlet had plenty of time on the ball – as was to be expected – but the Stonewall players were compact and snappy with their challenges; in the third minute, a good tackle in the middle of the park set the away side off on the counter, before forward Craig Rice fired high from the left side of the box.

A couple of minutes later, and Hamlet got their first chance. Nifty winger Albert Jarrett won a free kick just outside the Stonewall area; the subsequent delivery saw defender Michael Kamara thump a free header inches past the upright. Soon afterward, Hamlet midfielder Kershaney Samuels sent a shot whistling wide. Still, Stonewall were not without ideas; Nasar Nakhli and captain Doug Edward showed glimpses of attacking potential in the twelfth minute, though they were eventually cut out by the home defence.

The first goal came four minutes later, and it was for Hamlet. Jarrett sliced through his markers on the left wing before storming into the area; his cross-come-shot was fumbled by away keeper Mateusz Brzoska, and the rebound was prodded in by striker Dean McDonald. With Stonewall reeling from this, the home side then got another in the nineteenth minute; after Brzoska had saved a cracking strike from Hamlet’s Mu Maan, the same player then had another shot at goal from twenty-five yards; this screamed its way into the back of the net, leaving the Stonewall stopper with no chance.

Refusing to fold, Stonewall stepped up their play. Nakhli was again at the heart of their attack, though their front men couldn’t quite find that ruthless final ball. Brzoska saved a low strike from McDonald in the twenty-fourth minute, but for a while after that the Stonewall defence stifled the opposition; the next home chance was not until ten minutes later, when Hamlet’s Jordan Hibbert tried his luck from twenty yards, only to watch on as Brzoska palmed out his plunging shot.

In the thirty-sixth, a great cross from Craig Rice nearly fell perfectly for the surging Doug Edward to head in; home keeper Oshane Brown punched this away at the very last second. A minute later, and it was Hamlet’s turn to go close; striker Harry Ottaway fired just wide, before Brzoska saved another Hibbert effort, this time a deceptive, bouncing shot. Bar a right-wing run by Dean McDonald which I can only adequately describe as labyrinthine (this set up a wayward Ottaway header), there were no more incidents before the break. The half finished two-nil to the home side, but Stonewall had shown real resilience in their response.

With the Stonewall fans singing ‘We’re going to win 3-2!’ and a human conga line dancing its way round the pitch (‘I’m exhausted!’ cried one delirious-looking Hamlet fan), the teams raced back out onto the pitch. The away fans’ ambitious prediction was soon dispelled by another Hamlet goal; after Brzoska had failed to hang on to a sharp Samuels strike, McDonald got his second with an angled shot into the roof of the net. This was then compounded in the fifty-first minute, when Maan completed his brace from close range to make in four-nil. Once again, Stonewall had to rally.

The underdogs’ commitment at this point in the game was commendable, and they defended tenaciously for the next twenty-five minutes; in the sixty-first, substitute John Brookes had their best chance of the match when he struck a looping shot just a little too hard across the home goal. Eventually, however, the Pink & Blues’ superior fitness started to tell. Hamlet substitute Josh Fernandes sent a gorgeous, curling effort toward Brzoska’s net in the seventy-fifth minute; only an excellent full-stretch save kept him out. Unfortunately for the not-yet-recovered Stonewall defence, the ball was recycled back into the box at speed; Daniel Whitman could only head an attempted clearance onto the underside of his own crossbar, and Kameiko Pope-Campbell stooped to nod in Hamlet’s fifth.

The scoring was concluded in the eighty-seventh minute, when Shawn McCoulsky was accidentally felled in the box by a high boot from Stonewall’s Michael Kearney. After Kearney had apologetically helped McCoulsky to his feet, Hamlet’s Osman Proni stroked the penalty home; a few minutes more, and the final whistle went.

Six-nil was a bit harsh on Stonewall, who were difficult to play against for the majority of the game; still, the score didn’t really matter. Both sides were clapped off to choruses of ‘We love you Stonewall, we do!’ before players, management and fans alike all gathered in the bar afterward in a show of sporting spirit; a warm and amicable fixture ended but, for Hamlet and Stonewall FC, a new footballing friendship began.

Result: Dulwich Hamlet 6 Stonewall FC 0.
My MoM: Dean McDonald. Forget the two goals; that first-half run fragmented my mind.
Best fans: everyone’s ticket, raffle and programme money went to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Elton John is the best fan.

Let’s all do the conga

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