Draw and order

The game: Dulwich Hamlet v. Metropolitan Police.
The ground: Champion Hill.
The conditions: sunny and temperate; even more like Tuscany than usual.

I awoke, and the day had finally arrived. This was the day of my pilgrimage, my philosophical journey, my spiritual awakening. This was the day that I voyaged to The Vale, to the home of Wealdstone Football Club, to the temple of the man who brought the joy of non-league football to so many. Indeed, this was the day I walked the same hallowed terraces as that very man. This was the day I encountered the Wealdstone Raider.

Or that’s what I thought, at least. As I rattled down the Metropolitan Line, I just so happened to check my ageing smartphone for match updates; there, on my clunking Twitter app, was some information that panicked me to the core – the match at The Vale was postponed! The referee had declared a lack of bounce in the pitch, apparently. Digging the end of his pogo stick out of the damp earth, he had then called the game off.

Leaping out of the train doors at Finchley Road station, I did the only thing I could do; I jogged over to the Jubilee Line platform and, one tube ride and an overground jaunt later, I arrived at East Dulwich. It was the first time I had seen Champion Hill by daylight, and it looked quite resplendent in the sun. With free entry for LGBT fans and an itinerant group of Clapton Ultras also in attendance, I certainly wasn’t the only one enjoying the unseasonal weather in south-east London; an eventual crowd of 1,459 inspired a (strictly independent, anti-corporate) festival vibe.

After a few adverse results for both, this was a league fixture that neither Hamlet nor the visiting Met Police could afford to lose; despite the thirteen-point gap in third-placed Hamlet’s favour, the Met had four games in hand on the Pink & Blues. It was no surprise that the start of the match was a little cagey, then; though the away side were quite obliging in terms of possession, the opening twenty minutes were unusually disjointed from the home side; no tangible chances were created by either team.

In the twenty-third minute, the visitors carved out the first opportunity. From a free kick on the left, the Met’s Charlie Collins sent a gorgeous, curving delivery into the box; forward Joe Turner got his head to this, but nodded just wide of the post. Three minutes later, another Met free kick was allowed to bobble around in the area, only to be cleared wildly at the last moment; the away side clearly fancied themselves from the set piece, while Hamlet needed to improve at defending the aerial ball.

In the thirtieth minute, great running from Luke Wanadio gave Pink & Blues’ striker Tom Derry a chance; receiving the ball in the Met box with his back to goal, he pivoted and smashed a shot over the crossbar. Then, in the thirty-third, Hamlet won a free kick of their own. Twenty-five yards from goal, this was sized up by Ashley Carew; he struck his shot well, but it was saved and held by stand-in away keeper Craig King.

The Met soon had a couple more set-piece opportunities, defender Steve Sutherland and attacker Elliot Taylor heading narrowly over in quick succession. In the meantime, Hamlet gradually began to take control of open play; Wanadio and overlapping full back Michael Abnett terrorised the right wing on several occasions, not least in the forty-first minute when the former set up Jack Dixon to lash a strike toward the left side of the net – this was kept out by King at full stretch.

After a couple of half chances for Wanadio and Hamlet midfielder Jordan Hibbert, the first half came to a close at nil-nil. Hamlet had found their rhythm somewhat but, with the Met a perpetual threat from dead ball situations, the game was still very much in the balance; fifteen minutes and one trip to the Champion Hill burger stand sped by, then it was time to see whether either team could tip the scales in their favour.

Wanadio started the second half by straightaway tormenting the opposition; in the fifty-first minute, an agile run on the right and a couple of mesmeric step overs saw him come close to assisting Harry Ottaway, only for the final ball to be cut out. In addition to his attacking flair, the Pink & Blues’ number seven pinched the ball back from the Met’s midfield at every given opportunity. He was certainly giving it everything.

All the same, a patchy period of play ensued. Clearly looking to up his side’s tempo, Hamlet manager Gavin Rose completely changed his front line; Xavier Vidal, Dean McDonald and Albert Jarrett came on, while Ottaway, Derry and Wanadio went off. If I was disappointed to see the last of those leave the field, I certainly wasn’t let down by his replacement. Jarrett’s first act was to scamper away on the left before teeing up Vidal just outside the box; though the latter’s shot was saved by Craig King, Rose’s substitutions were already paying attacking dividends.

In the seventy-third minute, a cross from Charlie Collins was nearly turned into the home goal; Hamlet keeper Phil Wilson did well to save this low to his left. After this, the Pink & Blues went all out. Ten minutes of possession and half chances saw the pressure build on the Met. Then, in the eighty-fifth minute, Jarrett won a central free kick in an ideal position twenty yards out. Once more, Ashley Carew sized the ball up. Once more, he failed to score; this time his fizzing strike went just wide.

Three minutes later, Carew found himself in space on the left. Slashing the ball across the area, he found Vidal at the back post; the striker’s point-blank header was stopped by a reflex save from King, who then frenziedly scrabbled the ball out to safety. A flurry of corners ensued, several of which went equally close to winning it for the home side. In the end, however, none of them found the back of the Met net.

Hamlet had probably played the better football, but the visitors were good for the draw; nobody seemed too displeased with the result. Personally, I was just happy to watch a game. On a suitably bouncy pitch, of course.

Result: Dulwich Hamlet 0 Metropolitan Police 0.
My MoM: Luke Wanadio. Stick a step over in your pipe and smoke it, Ryman League!
Best fans: Hamlet (and Clapton) fans. Turned up in numbers. Brought rainbow flags. Chanted at the police. A few Welsh miners and it could have been the final scene of Pride.

Draw and order

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