Our Dulwich Hamlet reporter, Ben Hednerson, takes a trip down memory lane with the Hamlet Historian…
GOOD FOOTBALL knowledge has always been one of my most valued commodities.
We all relish the feeling of schooling a friend in a Gerrard versus Lampard debate (the answer is Gerrard, by the way), and many of us wouldn’t think of trading such priceless knowledge for something, such as the ability to cook, that an ignorant observer may deem far more useful.
I personally have never wasted my valuable time on such trivial pursuits. However, in this age of Wikipedia, knowledge once held only by the most dedicated is literally at the fingertips of the most passive of fans. Therefore, great respect must be given to those who still stand above the rest, reaching the caverns that even the internet cannot, delving into the obscure histories of players long forgotten until now.
Jack McInroy, aka the Hamlet Historian, is one such figure. Interviewing Jack I could only think of Napoleon as he lays his eyes on the Pyramids; taken aback by the weight of history presented to him he informed his men, “forty centuries look down upon you”, much the same as I felt the weight of over twelve decades of amateur football history looking down at me.
The similarities were not all there, as Jack is far from an ancient relic, though the Woking fans at the Easter Monday game did showcase behavioural standards to be expected from a nineteenth century invading horde. On a lighter note, Jack was promoting his new book, which covers the man he refers to as the original Egyptian king: Hussein Hegazi.
Jack, originally a Liverpool fan, began supporting Hamlet in 1981. He was driven away from top-flight football by the hooligan violence that marred the era. On the recommendation of a friend, he visited Dulwich Hamlet for a game and was immediately hooked. He has been a regular ever since.
During the ‘90s, Jack’s interest in the history of his local club grew and he began writing for a fanzine entitled Champion Hill Street Blues, led by another local fan, Mishi Morath. Mishi went on to found the Hamlet Historian magazine, which Jack later took over from him.
Jack’s recalled conversations with former footballers he met during his research, who played as far back as the ‘30s. But sadly they were dying off, and their pre-internet history was dying with them. The Hamlet Historian’s role has preserved their achievements.
Jack has a great many stories. He met one player who played in the 1934 and 1937 amateur FA Cup Finals.
“I asked him what was the actual colour of the pink they used, because we’re only going off black and white photos. And he said, ‘look I’ve got it at home, do you want to see it?’ I couldn’t believe it, he gave me the shirt he’d worn in the cup final.
“We were able to send that up to Toffs (the old-fashioned football shirt company) and they made one hundred replicas.”
“He died a few weeks later. He was in his nineties at that point. The family sent us the shirt to keep, and his medal from 1937. They’re amazing artefacts.”
Jack also had plenty to say about the Nigeria national side’s first-ever football tour to the UK in 1948, during which they played Dulwich. The Hamlet Historian reported that an astounding 18,000 people turned up to watch the game at the old Champion Hill ground.
Jack’s highlight for study, however, was Hamlet during the war years.
“For me that was one of the best things we’ve ever done. We produced two booklets, one on the First World War fallen and one on the Second. Writing about the Second World War, Steve Hunnisett discovered that there were at least two former Hamlet players killed in action that were previously not on the war memorial, so we might be doing something about that in the near future.”
As the nostalgia really began to flow, Jack reminisced on his favourite times as a football supporter, rather than a historian.
“My personal favourite era was the ‘90s. We had Jim Cannon who brought with him a guy called Frank Murphy, who was like the George Best of the non-league, seriously. He was a wonderful footballer.”
“I actually played against him once. It was the end of the season and it was my very first game for the Dulwich Hamlet supporters’ team. I came on and I had to mark Frank Murphy. I didn’t get a touch of the ball. In the second half he goes off and Gary Hewitt, player of the year, comes on, so I didn’t get a look-in.
“Then we had a guy called Peter Garland, a big guy, fat! ‘Mister Blobby’ he used to be called. But he was one of the best footballers we’ve ever had.
“Some of those players would walk into this team today.”
The focus of McInroy’s latest bout of research is Hussein Hegazi. The Egyptian forward was the first non-white footballer to play for Dulwich, and only the second African to play in British football.
Eager to find out more about the local legend, Jack called the Egyptian Embassy in London requesting the Egyptian FA’s contact details. Jack explained: “They asked for his name, and I replied that they would never have heard of him because he was an old amateur footballer from before the Second World War, but they persisted so I said Hussein Hegazi. The guy at the embassy replied ‘Hussein Hegazi is one of Egypt’s greatest ever footballers’. I nearly fell off my chair, I couldn’t believe it.”
Jack trawled through decades worth of football newspapers, hunting through the archives of the British Library and the Egyptian Gazette, in search of Hegazi’s name. He wasn’t disappointed.
Hegazi represented an English Wanderers side touring Spain in the 1913-14 season. None other than the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII (husband of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter), a patron of numerous Spanish football institutions including Real Madrid and the Copa del Rey, was present at the game. After the match he described Hegazi as “The King of Football”.
Jack told how Hegazi transferred multiple times between the two biggest sides in Cairo, Al Ahly and Zamalek. “Amazingly, every time he moved the fans went with him. He was an idol to the people of Cairo and more or less started off the great rivalry between the two clubs that we have today.”
Hegazi’s high standing in his home country is confirmed by the fact that, during a bout of illness in the 1950s, he was sent a bunch of flowers by the Egyptian president and leader of the Arab world at the time, Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Jack’s fascination with Dulwich Hamlet’s history is infectious, and for anyone feeling the itch his book – Hussein Hegazi: Dulwich Hamlet’s Egyptian King – is well worth a read. Such immense oversight and cheerful nostalgia make the present seem almost meaningless and artificial. I experienced something close to jealousy talking to Jack, wishing that I had something tangible that I held so dear as his football club.
Despite Jack’s best efforts, mystery still surrounds the death of Hegazi – the best guess seems to be sometime in 1961.
However, the efforts of the Hamlet Historian mean that Dulwich’s finest can gain the immortality of the pharaohs. In Jack’s words: “One hundred years before anyone had heard of Mo Salah there was an Egyptian King. And he made his name with Dulwich Hamlet.”