Our Hamlet reporter, Ben Henderson, visits the East Dulwich Tavern for a sense of what the club means to local businesses and why those businesses felt such a need to help out in times of trouble.
AS A reporter covering Dulwich Hamlet, the most common question I receive from friends and colleagues who have only heard of the club from afar is, “why on earth does a non-league club get so much attention?” This is a question that I struggled to comprehend for many years growing up locally, having never paid Champion Hill a visit.
However, Dulwich continue to defy their status in the sixth tier of English football and command a large and devoted following. This extends from die-hard football fans through families on a day out and even to local businesses. I talked to David, manager of the East Dulwich Tavern, who outlined the sterling efforts his establishment have gone through to support the football club, and why on earth they do so.
The pub has hosted fundraising quizzes and raffles for the club, including one last Thursday which raised £810 for Dulwich’s 12th Man fund. Furthermore, this month the local organised a Dulwich-related ‘Penny for the Guy’ with the proceeds going to the club – involving a palm tree on Goose Green Roundabout (or as it has become known: Promotion Roundabout). Even more appealing to fans may be the introduction of a new Hamlet Pale ale, from which ten pence per pint will be donated to the club. Going back to earlier in the year the Tavern became the hub in which Dulwich fans unleashed their creative skills in preparation for the rally at Goose Green. Fans gathered at the pub and put together banners and flyers in preparation for the march to Champion hill.
But why so much effort for a small local football club?
David points out the club’s economic benefits for the local area.
“When Hamlet were playing in East Dulwich hundreds of people would stream through the streets every Saturday,” he says. “Then around lunchtime there was a lull until around 5pm, then at five half of East Dulwich would pile in again. This was obviously brilliant for all the local pubs, bars and restaurants, so we try to give back as much as possible. If the community didn’t support them they wouldn’t exist, so everyone rallies together”.
However, David is keen to emphasise that the club plays much more than a simply economic role in the local community. “Football fans often receive a bad rap but with Dulwich you see absolutely none of that. Everyone’s enjoying their food and drink and having a great time, full of jovial smiles”.
Dulwich’s recent trials and tribulations have also played their part in its relationship with the local community.
“I’m originally from Kent and I support Gillingham,” David adds. “I became manager of EDT a year-and-a-half ago. I’d never heard of Dulwich Hamlet but then I couldn’t help but notice the influx of fans on Saturday afternoons and I’d never experienced anything like it, and even working behind the bar I thoroughly enjoyed it. What really struck me was the good-natured attitude of the fans. Then I saw in the press the problem with the stadium, and that was when my opinion changed. From then on I wanted more than simply to stand behind the bar, I wanted to be a part of it.”
I could hear the excitement building in David’s voice as he recounted the events of the end of last season:
“I went on the march – I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. And then there was promotion – it was chaos! I’ve never seen so much joy on people’s faces. I’m sure you’ve seen the videos of it but they don’t do it justice, what a day!” he exclaimed breathlessly.
So, to answer the question posed at the beginning of this article – “why on earth do they get so much attention?” – Dulwich are excellent value for their media attention and local support. The economic benefit they provide the local area is very important, but their positive impact on the local community is truly priceless.