Dulwich Hamlet: A club on the up

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Dulwich Hamlet 3-1 Hastings United

The Emirates FA Cup – First round qualifying match: The Hamlet leave it late in front of a boisterous crowd at Champion Hill

“Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, we’re going to Wembley!” Dulwich Hamlet, a family club labelled as the ‘most hipster club in London’, are safely into the second qualifying round of The Emirates FA Cup.

Thanks to a 15-minute hat-trick from substitute, Nana Boakye-Yiado, Dulwich Hamlet sealed a 3-1 victory over Hastings United at Champion Hill. A bumper crowd of 1,288 was in full voice.

Trailing 1-0 at half-time, a dominant second half saw The Hamlet complete their turnaround with three late goals in the last 11 minutes of normal time. The disparity between the teams, who are a league apart, ultimately became evident in the closing stages.

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Early into the match, Billy Medlock looked lively for the visitors. Playing as a lone striker – so often a thankless task when playing away from home for the inferior side – the number nine caused the hosts a range of problems in the first half. In fact, in the opening minutes of the match, Medlock was brought down by Rickie Hayles when seemingly through on goal. The referee saw no infringement.

The Hamlet dominated possession, but not in dangerous areas, and the final ball was too often left wanting. The hosts were punished for being wasteful in possession, a sucker-punch from Hastings mere seconds before half-time. Ollie Rowe scrambled home after the ball bounced back off the upright, leaving Dulwich shell-shocked going into the break.

Early into the second half, a young supporter loudly exclaimed, “Daddy, why is everybody swearing?” Quote of the day. I suppose something similar will be uttered in almost every stadium in the country each weekend. Either way, that’s not to say the atmosphere at Champion Hill isn’t family-oriented, this is very much an inclusive and passionate football club. Heading into the closing stages though, a small section of the home fans became audibly frustrated.

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In the 79th minute, Nana Boakye-Yiado followed in the rebound from a Muhammadu Faal effort. The striker then bagged his hat-trick with two clinical finishes after 90 minutes were on the clock. They did enough in the end, but it was a flattering score line for the hosts. They’ll have to improve for the away fixture at Slough Town, who are next up in the FA Cup.

In an article in The Guardian in 2015, Dulwich Hamlet was described as being about ‘fighting fascism and homophobia while eating bratwurst and knocking back craft beer’. Following this team is a ‘philosophical pursuit’, apparently – it’s a pleasant club with an inspirational mantra: ‘Nobody knows us, we don’t care’. It appears to be a club of opposites – old-fashioned but also modern, serene and idyllic but also bustling and rough around the edges. At only £11 a ticket, it’s a true gem in the capital.

Like most teams, they have their fierce rivals – fans gallantly voiced their distaste for Tooting & Mitcham FC, the local enemy and last season’s Isthmian League South Division champions. On Saturday, Tooting also qualified for the next round of the FA Cup. Aside from chants about their rivals, the chants are unique and irreverent. The fans gleefully shouted “Tuscany! Tuscany!” – I’m told by several ardent fans that this is a reference to a local resident who opposed the move into their current stadium, claiming the area, from his window, ‘looks like Tuscany’. To this day, The Hamlet fans ironically reference it in their chants, some even waving the red and white flag of the Italian region.

Amid the cacophony of support from the home fans, upon the official making a poor decision, you can hear “The referee’s a lizard!” A sticker in the gents’ toilets sums the feeling up quite neatly, ‘Against modern banter’.

Last season, Dulwich Hamlet suffered a heart-breaking end to their 2016/17 campaign. Having finished third in the league, they narrowly lost 2-1 in the play-off final against Bognor Regis Town. This season though, there’s a palpable sense of optimism and gusto around Champion Hill. This is a club very much on the up.

Chris Henderson

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