The Half-time Whistle was invited to an entertaining evening of football at Dulwich Hamlet with The Real FA Cup yesterday and, in an increasingly depressing football world, it was a breath of fresh air. The match was a Ryman League Division One South match against Kent side Whitstable. As a part-time Gillingham fan, I have a soft spot for Dulwich Hamlet having started the careers of former Gillingham favourites Carl Asaba, Marlon King, Chris Dickson and Simeon Jackson. I was pleased to see that Dulwich’s current squad contained one Kevin James, formerly of Gillingham, Nottingham Forest and a few other clubs.
Match entry was less than two pints of beer if you’re in London and the South East, and less than a small flat if you live in the North East. At £6 I thought that was eminently reasonable. The Real FA Cup told us that they’d been charged £10 for a pre-season friendly at Sutton United this season. £10! Sutton United!! A friendly!!! It does strike me that football prices in this country are perhaps too much. My local Blue Square Premier club charges £14 for standing on the terraces. I can’t help but feel that if a few pounds was knocked off that price, they would see more people through the gates, boosting attendance, maximising enjoyment, increasing the likelihood of fans coming back.
If you’re a football geek you’ll like the ground. With one main stand along the side, a small stand the other side, and no stands behind either goal, it’s a great opportunity to walk around the pitch and serenely take in the game. Pint of beer in hand. Oh, and you can smoke too. It’s almost like a higher civilization. Why can I hear the Hovis music right now?
Having just reminisced about a bygone era of football, I should point out that the first half was shit. The dullest half I’ve seen live in a long time, and I couldn’t help but think I could be at home watching Sky Sports’ coverage of the Carling Cup second round in the comfort of my living room.
At half-time we went to the bar in the ground which – get this Premier League fans – has a nice view over the pitch!! Yes, at this level we’re trusted to have our beer “in sight of the pitch” (banned in the Premier League and Football League) and you know what? I didn’t once get an urge to start chucking things on the pitch and cause mayhem (maybe a little bit, but that’s more a statement on me rather than being in sight of the pitch with a beer in hand).
The second half was much more entertaining, and Kevin James came on as sub which cheered me up no end. I saw Kevin James score a few years ago when he came on as a late sub against Watford, a nicely taken goal. Before this match, Kevin James – a forward – had scored 7 goals in 10 years of football which means, as the Real FA Cup pointed out, that I had seen 15% of his career goals before this match. He looked brilliant in flashes and looked average in others. It was interesting to think that he had played in front of maybe 25,000 for Forest in the Championship and was now playing in front of maybe 150 in the Ryman Division One. There’s no real explanation for this drop and he didn’t look massively out of place in either league to be honest.
I noticed that he has an infeasibly high-pitched voice. Which is another great thing about football at this level: being able to hear the players. When one Dulwich player tried an intricate through ball which didn’t come off, the left winger screamed “WHAT THE FUUUUUCK?!?!” which was just perfect. Being able to hear a player call the referee a cunt is part of what football is all about. It’s what Tony Adams and David Ellery tried to bring us all those years ago.
Also, stood right behind the goal, we were able to hear the beautiful “pfssshhhhh” sound as the ball hits the back of the net and rolls down it. Beautiful, and we both decided that that sound, along with a ball thumping a crossbar, are among the most satisfying sounds in football.
It was an entertaining evening and the quality of the players made for an entertaining match. Three players stood out: commanding centre back Francis Duku who is built like a cross between Kenwyne Jones and Micah Richards, and with the haircut of a Brent Sancho. An absolute monster centre back, and he caused loads of problems at corners, too. Nyren Clunis, described on the Dulwich Hamlet website as “frighteningly fast”, really was. Scored a decent goal and looked dangerous all game long. And, of course, Kevin James who also scored and looked quality most of the time. And, having seen him score, I’ve now witnessed 25% of his career goals.
While the quality was high, I foundright-back Jordan Wilson’s contribution quite amusing. A non-contested drop ball was awarded for Wilson to hoof back to the keeper. He controlled the ball and it promptly ran out of play for a throw-on. Probably he wished he wasn’t wearing a pair of bright blue boots after that.
Finally, we particularly enjoyed the following tannoy announcement during the first half: “would the children in the right-corner of the ground with the football, please leave the steward alone”. Three ten year old boys kicking a football near a steward looked round. Maybe you had to be there, but it was highly entertaining.