Our Dulwich Hamlet reporter, Ben Henderson, discovers how the club are strengthening ties with local schools as potential Wembley date offers incentive.
THE DULWICH Hamlet committee have orchestrated yet another competition designed to encourage local children to participate in sport.
In December, this column covered the committee’s Dulwich Hamlet Christmas Card competition, and the club’s thirst for community action appears unquenched even by the particularly sweet Christmas that it has enjoyed.
Rob Hyneman, deputy head of Cobourg Primary School and organiser-in-chief of both competitions, lifted the lid on the committee’s latest endeavour.
Last month, the National League Trust organised a regional youth tournament for all of the clubs in the National League (including North and South). However, the competition – aimed at girls and boys – is not intended for academy sides. Instead each club is to be represented by a primary school local to them.
Dulwich Hamlet decided to enter both a girls’ and a boys’ team. So, all Southwark primary schools were invited to participate in a six-a-side tournament which would decide who can really boast to be best in the borough.
There was unprecedented demand and ten teams (five boys’ teams, five girls’ teams) went through to the finals day, which was held on December 14 at the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Sports Facility near Elephant and Castle.
The winner of the boys’ competition was Bessemer Grange and the winner of the girls’ was St Joseph’s Camberwell.
The winning primary schools will represent Hamlet, playing under the club’s name and in its famous pink and blue strip, in a regional competition and, if they progress, a national competition. The national contest will culminate at the National League play-off final at Wembley in May. The final of the schools competition will be played beforehand on the Wembley pitch and the kids are invited to watch the play-off final afterwards.
Rob was quick to acknowledge the “amazing” level of skill on show from such young talents, but was eager not to raise expectations too high.
“There’s a fair way to go, I’m not saying the school teams that won our competition are going to go all the way, but it’s a nice carrot to have.”
All of the teams who took part in the competition have been invited to a Dulwich Hamlet game as a ‘thank you’ for taking part. Bessemer Grange and St Joseph’s will also parade their trophies as Southwark champions on the pitch at Champion Hill.
Rob outlined the significant benefits that the tournament has brought about from a community perspective. “It’s important for Dulwich to link back up with local schools – we’ve been out of the borough for quite a long time so coming back in and running the competition rebuilds that partnership.”
He also emphasised the positive impact that the tournament has had on the local children. “In my personal view, though there’s lots of debate over it, kids need a chance to play competitive sport – it’s all part of the learning process. When they get into adult life it’s a competitive world so they need to understand that you’re not always going to win and that sometimes you will lose. Indeed sometimes it’s good to lose, as that’s how you improve.
“The kids who took part loved the day and what was really nice is that even the schools that were knocked out earlier in the competition stayed for the rest of the day to watch and support.
“The sportsmanship that was on show was fantastic – the kids were congratulating and consoling each other, and the whole day was played in really good spirit.
“What came out of it is that Cobourg has now made links with a few other schools including Judith Kerr and Dulwich Woods who want to continue organising football competitions and even expand to Kwik cricket and handball.
“It was really nice seeing kids from lots of different primary schools come together in one big event. It was an event where everyone got along – there was a real community feel to it.”
Community initiatives such as these are what make Dulwich Hamlet such a special club. Even through times of hardship, the club is committed to encouraging local children to get active and engage in healthy competition.
In addition, judging from (surely unbiased) eyewitness reports of the exceptional skill levels on show, the tournament may be an excellent investment on the pitch as well as off it. Who knows, perhaps these competitions will be the making of the Hamlet players of the future.