Dulwich Hamlet 1-2 Millwall XI
Saturday 23 July 2016
Dulwich Hamlet are riding high on the crest of a very big wave. The public’s love of non-league has gone from a few huddled obsessives, dedicated souls and fearlessly committed family members to a manic celebration of crowd pleasing collective euphoria at your local, and not so local, football ground and in the national press.
Dulwich Hamlet have rightfully been at the forefront of this upsurge. Over the past few years their home attendance has sky rocketed from a regular match average of 451 in 2012/13 to 1343 last season – taking the top spot for highest match attendance in the Isthmian League. Where the fuck are all these people coming from? They can’t all drink in Dulwich village, they can’t all be clueless lefties, media posh boys, football hipsters, they can’t all be priced out of premier league football can they? The answer, in Dulwich Hamlet’s case, is well yes they are all of these, and a little bit more besides.
The myth and reality of the Dulwich Hamlet crowd, often blurred, is charming, alarming, disarming and generally well deserved. There’s an eclectic mix of social tribes and cultural identities at play, all welcome and represented (although frankly the well-to-do posh boy graduate does tend to make himself obvious), as demographics go it truly is a diverse environment. And if it was The Rabble who originally brought in the energy levels, atmosphere, unwavering fanaticism, ironic chanting and Guardian press attention, the crowd at Saturday’s game seemed to have created its own dynamic.
Clapton Ultras have pegged themselves as a lefty enclave, a novelty piss take of the working class fan; at least with Dulwich those turning up seem to be putting the football before the spectacle of their own social status. I could be wrong on this though, there were a surprisingly large amount of flip-flop wearers out and about today – a cross between ‘browsing the farmers market’ brigade and the sociology student slumming it.
It’s certainly not the working class leisure activity of old, but neither is it the full-on class tourism of the liberal left, there is a defiant sense of social equanimity on show, and it does seem to work. Any class antagonisms remain undetected, or at least unspoken. I suspect it’s through the diligence and hard work of the club this balance has been struck and when the non-league bubble bursts and the posh boys find another form of weekend entertainment to distract them, Dulwich will have built up enough good grace, community acknowledgment and a genuine football fan base to see them through.
And with the escalating level of support (frankly noisy, visible, utterly devotional level of support) the team’s game has been duly raised – they just missed out on promotion to the National League South, losing to East Thurrock in the play-off final, all of which generates enough kudos and respectability to allow them to play their pre-season friendlies with major league clubs – Charlton, Millwall, Crystal Palace.
Saturday was Millwall’s turn to meet the Rabble. Yes it was the youth team (i’m assuming it was a Millwall youth team they all looked incredibly young to me) but they had to work hard for their result. And fair play to Dulwich they came out like a team eager to prove themselves. For the first fifteen minutes they retained almost complete possession effortlessly knocking the ball about the pitch with ease and openness, confident enough to take the game to Millwall. Millwall for their part looked neither flustered nor out of their depth even when Dulwich came close with a few useful shots on goal.
It was only when the home side took the lead, an easily converted penalty for a handball decision given by the ref, that things became a little more urgent, a little more competitive, keeping the keepers busy at both ends, pulling off some brilliant saves.
It looked like Dulwich were going in at half-time with their lead intact until Millwall struck from a set piece corner right on the whistle. A beautifully crossed ball just grazing the outstretched arms of the keeper met with a bullet header on the far post. A relief for Millwall, a half-time rethink for Dulwich.
Second half was much more evenly paced with each side guarding against clumsy errors or quick breaks from midfield. It was maybe the heat but it started to all get a bit physical with tempers flaring and challenges a little more robust and careless. It was Millwall’s way of asserting themselves in an attempt to dominate play, but Dulwich, not shy when it comes to a hard physical game themselves refused to be intimidated and were unlucky not to see several attacks result in a goal.
Again both keepers played a blinder but it was the Millwall winner that deserves the most praise. A nice one-two that took the Millwall forward into the penalty area, and with a focused run on goal and old-school shimmy wrong-footed the defence finishing with the lightest of touches to put the ball beyond the reach of the keeper. A worthy winner.
Adidas grey/white/lime check cotton short-sleeved shirt
Peaceful Hooligan stone container shorts
New Balance 999 sound & stage edition (grey/white/blue atoll)
The look: Tuscan ice cream seller