Dulwich Hamlet 2-2 Hampton & Richmond Borough
There’s definitely something in the air, you can feel it as soon as you get off the train. A trail of chanting Dulwich fans pass by in the clean crisp afternoon sun, pink and blue scarves marching along the high street accompanied by a trumpet player while someone bangs out a steady beat on the drum. It’s a good sign. You go as a neutral of course. South of the river. As near to bandit country as you’re likely to get. Except this is East Dulwich, Brixtonite’s on a day out, pink and blue, family fun, pay what you want.
You can’t knock the hospitality, or the atmosphere. It’s Non League Day, officially, so they’re making the effort and the locals respond in kind. The clubhouse is packed, hot and sweaty, the queue for the bar ridiculous, made more ridiculous by the fact one of the bar staff is wearing an Armani vest. No-one’s getting lemon with this geezer. The main stand is already packed full as more people spill through the turnstiles, supporters everywhere stretched all round the pitch. Proper football.
I go and stand with the Hampton fans, seems churlish not to. There’s about thirty of them stuck in the corner behind the far end goal. It’s about perspective. As a neutral you either go with safety in numbers or side with the underdogs. Man U or Millwall. Take your pick, you can’t beat a couple of thousand Dulwich fans getting behind their team from the off, and not letting up until after the final whistle, but gut instinct makes you wander round up with the Hampton fans, outnumbered, outgunned and in enemy territory.
Hampton players aren’t fazed though. They come out fighting, take possession, dogged and determined, keep Dulwich on the back foot, pressing forward. Dulwich hang on till the interval satisfied with keeping a clean sheet.
Half time oranges work wonders for Dulwich who come out looking like a different side, hungry, aggressive, home team advantage once again being asserted. They take the lead just after the break and pile on the pressure against an increasingly thwarted Hampton side.
Weird phenomenon interlude: At half time all the Dulwich fans behind the goal start making a pilgrimage round to the other end of the pitch and set up behind the opposite goal [the one Dulwich will be attacking in the second half]. Begrudging Hampton fans are forced to move up behind the other goal. Is this a traditional Dulwich thing, changing ends along with the team? Who knows, I stay put. The atmosphere is buoyant and energetic. Infectious. A beer-fuelled afternoon joy. Communal, collective, as all good football should be.
On the pitch Dulwich are getting a little too aggressive, lose a player and give away a neatly executed penalty, letting Hampton back into the game. Scores even. Down to ten men, you either crumble and die or dig deep.
Dulwich dig deep. They score again, the crowd erupts, beer gets spilled, flags get waved, the trumpets and the banging drums. Something about Tuscany. Scarves and fists in the air. You can’t knock it. All’s right with the world in south London.
In the final moments Hampton equalise. Everything gets thrown out of perspective again. The tiny Hampton crew have something to cheer about. Fair play they made the journey this far. Two all draw, points shared. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, we’ve all done a bit of travelling, celebrated something monumental. For once every footballing cliche rings true. Dulwich can be proud of themselves today both on and off the field.
Record gate attendance: 2,856
Photo courtesy: Mike Urban (Brixton Buzz): http://www.brixtonbuzz.com/2014/09/record-breaking-crowd-of-2856-at-dulwich-hamlet-witness-exciting-2-2-draw-with-hampton-richmond-borough/