The Glory Hunter
It’s not often you see the floodlights being turned on for 3pm kick off in August, but that’s what happened at Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill ground on Saturday. Fork lightning, rolling thunder and heavy rain was the back drop for the opening game of my FA Cup journey. I say my FA Cup journey, as it will undoubtedly be longer than any of the players who had to endure the weather whilst I sat quite comfortably supping a £2.50 pint of lager watching a group of men achieve something that I could only dream of. Instead, I will follow this thread of the FA Cup from the first round preliminaries to the final itself in May.
So here I am, awaiting the arrival of Hythe Town accompanied by a Dulwich Hamlet stalwart known lovingly by his comrades as ‘Big Nose Phil’.
‘We’re just a feeder club now, not at any level either… they come and get ‘em at about 13/14 now. So we’re left with the ones with the attitude or are a bit too fancy Dan. All the good ones go off to the Palace or Charlton academies.’
was his retort to me asking him how he thinks Dulwich are looking for the season ahead. He is aggrieved at the turnaround of playing staff at this level of football. He tells me not many players stay a whole season, but the smile returns to his face as he states quite categorically that ‘We’ll win the league though; they’re all decent enough. Better than this league that’s for sure.’ Whilst I admire the pride in his feelings towards being a ‘feeder club’ I also wonder what else a club surrounded by the relative power houses of Crystal Palace, Millwall and Charlton is supposed to do to hold on to its players for any length of time; much the same way as those aforementioned clubs are at the mercy of the Premier League clubs.
However, this is the FA Cup, and as has been thrown down our throat by the FA, this is ‘where everyone has their day.’ So the players and the fans should be hyped up. This could be their chance to take the limelight away from their neighbours and have their day in the sun. You’d think so, but the awful weather seemed to be only a physical manifestation of Dulwich Manager Gavin Rose’s pre-match sentiments of ‘Neither team are going to win the FA Cup’ and ‘The romance of the cup is not really relevant and goes out the door at this level.’ Well cheers, Gav.
So if the non-league teams don’t care about the cup or the potential of a big name draw in the first round proper or. heaven forbid. we dream of the third round, then who DOES care? Is it really only the 30-something men that dreamed of doing it as a child? If we are to believe the press the big teams certainly don’t give a toss. Is the FA Cup really just ‘doing it for the fans’? I have no idea but I reckon each and every one of those players that played on Saturday did care, and did realise that this was the FA Cup and did dream of getting through the next few rounds the night before. Of course they did. How could they not?
I was hoping for anything but a draw. A Tuesday night visit to Folkestone, after the bank holiday, would in all honesty put an end to this project there and then. Luckily for me, the teams wanted to win. Dulwich started brightly with the centre of midfield holding the ball well and allowing some sharp, crisp attacking play down both wings. The rain hadn’t started to pelt down just yet and the first half was an open and attacking game with Dulwich being the better side. A friend commented in amazement ‘This is like actual football!’.
And it was – Dulwich dominated the opening stages until their goalkeeper was called into action. It’s a funny thing that can’t really be explained; how football matches change so dramatically, so quickly for something so small. But when a goalkeeper slices a simple kick and the crowd laugh at him, it does. Now Hythe just needed to get the ball near him to see if he does it again. They do and he does. The crowd grimace this time. At the next goal kick he takes an age to change his boots and wallops the ball as far as he can, the crowd breathe a sigh of relief that cries ‘It was the boots, the boots I tells ya!’ Two minutes later, palms are raised to faces once again. It is evident that the goalie really cannot kick a ball to save his life.
Half time saves the goalkeeper from any more embarrassment. The crowd head to the bar to see the scores of the other games and refresh their empty glasses. The burger stall is mauled and some canny lads sneak to the local Dominos and bring in their take away. During half time, we did some fashion reconnaissance and saw that band t-shirts were very in. Two Rolling Stones, a Credence Clearwater Revival and one Joy Division hoodie. We also saw the sound guy for McClusky in the crowd, although we think he was a Hythe fan(spits).
I was really getting into the game. And then the rain came. Torrential doesn’t do it justice. We are talking biblical proportions of rain offering up a much cosier experience for the fans in the second half, as no one wanted to sit on the first two rows of seats. This made the atmosphere a little more caustic than anything else.
The rain really didn’t help the football, puddles formed and moves broke down easily, the ball became trapped in midfield until Dulwich brought on Frankie Sawyer. He added a little more drive to Dulwich’s game, hitting the bar and then forcing the corner from which their only goal came from. The goal was a scrappy affair, forced in by Kalvin Morath-Gibbs who deserved a goal for his tireless work on the right flank. The crowd wanted more now with one demanding ‘a better goal.’ He was to be disappointed as the weather dragged the game to a snail’s pace. The crowd became bored and longed for the final whistle.
After the game, most people headed home whilst a few went to the bar which was being set up for a wedding reception later that evening. I decided to make my own way home telling Big Nosed Phil I’d see him in two weeks, he looked chuffed at another Hamlet recruit. Little does he know I’ll be off as soon as they get knocked out.