Our new Dulwich Hamlet reporter, Ben Henderson, describes his first experience watching Gavin Rose’s side – and finds the values of the club and non-league football the perfect antidote to a multi-million pound, exploitative modern game.
I ATTENDED my first Dulwich Hamlet game last Saturday with little idea of what to expect.
Living in Dulwich for my entire life, I had heard plenty about the club. Their pro-LGBT activity and community initiatives are well known. In the last year, their problems with their Champion Hill landlords, Meadow Residential, has brought them further to my attention. This has been amplified by the backing they have received from high-profile figures in the game including Gary Lineker and Rio Ferdinand.
But why all this attention surrounding a club only newly promoted to the country’s sixth tier?
Stepping out of Welling station last weekend, I was immediately surrounded by a sea of pink shirts. Passing by the first pub on the high street, I overheard a local shout: “Who the f**k wears pink football kits?” I chuckled to myself at the ease with which I felt an immediate sense of solidarity with the travelling fans.
Upon arrival at the Park View Road ground, I was immediately struck by the sheer number of Hamlet supporters, who seemed to outnumber Welling’s fans (and certainly out-chant them) on their own turf.
However, I soon realised my first mistake – failing to anticipate the lack of player names on shirts. This made reporting on the game a nightmare, but I was rescued by a Dulwich fan named Kap and his two acquaintances who provided me with a team sheet and plenty of insight.
This sense of friendliness was reinforced when Welling scored and the two acquaintances cheered; unbeknownst to me they were actually Welling fans, who were more than willing to chat to Kap and myself about the game – something unknown to me as a usual watcher of Premier League football.
After the game, I stood awkwardly in the bar hoping to catch Dulwich Hamlet manager Gavin Rose’s attention for an interview – half-expecting to be completely ignored. However, he was totally approachable, showing admirable grace in the way he talked to the stuttering reporter in front of him and in his reflections on the game.
My final memory of leaving the ground was a discussion with the parents of Welling United goalscorer, Jack Jebb. His father turned towards the group of Dulwich supporters behind the goal, still jumping up and down waving palm trees in the air as if they’d won the league, and not just lost 2-0. “They’re impressive aren’t they”, he remarked and I couldn’t have agreed more. All this despite a disappointing result.
My personal experience and the evident respect of opposition fans highlights that Hamlet is a club leading by example. In today’s era of £200million transfers, ever-rising ticket prices and kits recycled every year to extort fans’ money (Manchester United’s full kit this season costs £183), Dulwich are one of the few clubs putting their fanbase first.
Right from the players and management staff through to the fans, Hamlet fully deserve their following.
I thoroughly look forward to being a part of it through the lows and hopefully the highs over the coming season.