OUR DULWICH Hamlet reporter, Ben Henderson, discovers the innovative ways the club is trying to capture the hearts of the next generation of fans.
Dulwich Hamlet and art are rarely associated together. However, in keeping with the charitable mood of the festive period, the club has given local children a surprise gift in the form of a Christmas card competition.
The contest set local primary school children the task of creating their own festive cards, with winning entries to be awarded the much-sought-after title of official Christmas cards for Dulwich Hamlet FC.
The competition is now in its second year and aims to engage younger fans with the club. Rob Hyneman, Deputy Head teacher at Cobourg Primary School and the driving force behind the competition, explained to me what it was all about.
Rob volunteered last year to help out with the original competition, and has now taken on greater responsibility.
“This year I joined the Dulwich Hamlet Committee to really push forward the community work with a real focus on schools, because I’m keen to get as many schoolchildren through the turnstiles as possible,” he said.
The competition enjoyed the support of a familiar face among club fans and local schools – mayor of Southwark, Catherine Rose. The mayor traditionally runs her own Christmas card competition and had the idea of merging hers with that of the club, so as to maximise the numbers of participants.
Rose attended the game against Torquay United on Saturday and presented the winner with her winning card on the pitch at half-time. Rob added: “She jumped on board and has offered incredible support.”
In the end, the winner was Adah Ellis from Beecroft Garden Primary School in Lewisham, and the runner-up was Iris Smith of St Anthony’s School in East Dulwich. Their cards were printed and sold at the match between Dulwich and Torquay. Further copies will be available in the run-up to Christmas. (For interested customers, more precise details will follow from the club’s channels and the Twitter handle @dhfc.community. The proceeds will be split between Redthread Youth, who are Hamlet’s charity partner this season, and the club’s 12th Man fund.)
The competition is one element of the club’s wider community effort to get free tickets for youth groups and school children. All pupils from the schools of both winners will be invited to a game in the New Year to celebrate the achievements of their class-mates.
Rob explained his drive to get children involved with the club. “We serve some very deprived communities in south London and many of the kids don’t get the opportunity to come and experience live football.”
Rob pointed out that opening the competition out to children across south London also reflects Dulwich’s growing allure.
“We’re actually getting a lot of fans from outside Southwark now, our name is out there and it’s good to try and attract young fans from as far as possible”.
Rob hopes that the commitment of these young fans will endure. “I believe that if we get the children and their families to the Dulwich games they will catch the Hamlet bug and keep coming back – simply put, they’re the Dulwich fans of the future. Also, I think it’s important that the children who might be aspiring footballers come and see what, in my opinion, is proper football on a Saturday.”
The schoolteacher said that the Torquay supporters present at the game last weekend epitomised the values of what he refers to as “proper” football.
“The Torquay fans – quite unfairly from what I saw on Saturday – have got quite a bit of bad press this year. But they were brilliant last weekend when we took the winner round to sell her cards.”
Rob emphasised the uniting power of the competition even between rival fans. He admits that most Torquay fans couldn’t buy a card bearing a rival team’s crest, but relates how instead they paid significant donations to the club’s 12th Man fund in recognition of what the competition aimed to achieve.
“It brought everyone together. Plus, it’s a nice way of putting a child’s artwork out there and it’s a chance to celebrate what she’s been doing.”
Rob showed no signs of stopping for a moment to appreciate his success in organising community initiatives. In the coming weeks, the club committee is launching a schools football competition in partnership with Cobourg Primary School. The competition will include eighteen primary schools with separate boys and girls competitions. The finals will take place on December 14 and the winning boys and girls teams will go on to represent Dulwich in the National League Trust Under-11 Cup in the New Year.
Dulwich Hamlet’s involvement in community initiatives is rolling on, irrespective of the financial plight of the club. It appears that, with the help of people like Rob, the next generation of Hamlet fans will be equally indoctrinated into the club’s generous spirit.