DHFC TV has fans in the Far East, Belize and New Zealand. Our Dulwich Hamlet reporter, Ben Henderson, wanted to know how it became so popular.
DULWICH HAMLETS’ media channel, DHFC TV, is the envy of most non-league clubs. Its slick highlight reels and popular live radio broadcast Dulwich’s occasionally beautiful game to fans around the world.
The channel’s co-founder and commentator, Tom Bale, spoke to me about his favourite experiences while running it, and his dreams for the future.
Now in his third season with DHFC TV, Tom first turned his commentary voice to Champion Hill in the summer of 2014. He had just graduated from university and was searching for jobs in sports journalism. After getting in touch with a non-league broadcasting company for work as a commentator, he was commissioned to undergo a trial game at a certain Champion Hill Stadium.
“I knew nothing about the club, I’d never been to a non-league football match before,” Tom admitted. “I ended up doing alright to get the job on the day, and Dulwich were the team that I commentated on most over the next two years.
“I was lucky that Dulwich were the first non-league team I ever watched, and Nyren [Clunis] scored the first non-league goal I ever saw. It was all very fitting.”
During those two years, Tom encountered Jamal Watts, who had coincidentally attended the same university as Tom.
After two years of commentating independent of the club, Tom was approached by Gavin Rose and the Dulwich Hamlet FC management team, who proposed the idea of setting up a club channel. Tom contacted Jamal as he needed a cameraman, and in the summer of 2016 DHFC TV was born.
Tom is now renowned for his encyclopaedic knowledge of non-league football, which he credits to his own “anorak-ish” nature. However, it wasn’t always the case.
“After my first game, I memorised the starting XI and substitutes by their shirt numbers,” he recalled. “Then during my second match I gave all the wrong names because I hadn’t realised that they don’t have fixed squad numbers [in non-league football].”
Nowadays, it is a different story.
“I prefer watching non-league to the Premier League these days” Tom said. “It has a wonderful quality to it that you don’t get in the Premier League – you feel a bit closer to the action, you can interact with the players and talk to the fans. Everyone loves their club that little bit more in non-league.”
Over the last three years, the channel has garnered a huge and diverse following, with viewers as far flung as the Far East, Belize and even New Zealand regularly tuning in.
But how has it become such a success?
Tom was too modest to credit himself and Jamal for the channel’s reach. Instead he focused on the allure of the club, its values and what it has been through.
“I think people like the fact that [Hamlet] play wonderful attacking football.
“There’s obviously a big focus on community and the club has done a lot of great things for local people.
“Last season was like a fairy tale. I think people liked the good versus evil kind of thing, if you want to put it like that, and I think everyone likes a happy ending. That’s the beauty of Dulwich: It’s a relatively small club that shouldn’t really exist by now, but thanks to its fan base it’s been able to take on a massive property company.
“The TV channel can spread the word to those who maybe can’t come to every game.”
When asked for his personal highlights from his time covering the Hamlet, Tom did not hesitate before answering.
“The play-off final…I think I’ve watched it about ten or fifteen times since,” he said, beaming. “The whole day was amazing. The emotions of getting promoted after everything the club had been through that season. That penalty shootout against Hendon was without doubt the best moment I’ve had in football, full stop.
“If you listen to the commentary carefully you can hear me crying.
“When I was 11 I realised I wasn’t good enough to be a footballer and the next best thing to me was to be a football commentator. The dream is probably to commentate on a World Cup final, but if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen. I’ve only ever aspired to commentate on one live game and now I’ve done close to 400 so I’m lucky in that regard. Dulwich has given me the opportunity for that so I am very satisfied, really.”
It seems Hamlet fans can revel in Tom’s tears of joy for some time yet, especially if the club continue to produce those magical moments.