So, in my last post, when I said Millwall are now my closest professional football club, the emphasis was on “professional”. For here in Dog Kennel Hill there’s a club on our doorstep. Challenging for mid-table obscurity in a regional subsection of the 8th tier of English football, ladies & gentlemen, may I introduce… Dulwich Hamlet.
Last Saturday I went to see them beat Chipstead (which I am assured is a real place) 3-2 at Champion Hill Stadium.
Surely, you must be thinking, surely the humble author isn’t going to repeat his tactic from the Millwall post and claim that Dulwich bloody Hamlet hold some secret of epitomous ritualized ecstasy?!
Well, yes & no. Here’s what I found.
Colour – Football clubs play in blue, red and/or white. Dulwich Hamlet play in pink & navy. Pink & navy! The game was immediately a unique experience by this virtue alone.
People underestimate the value of colour. Colour is the first difference between teams, the definition of opposition, hitting you a million miles before the subjective fairytales of “location”, “tradition” and “style”. Colour is the primary building block of partisan spectating.
The football fixture I’m most guaranteed to enjoy is FC Barcelona v Villareal. Regardless of quality, excitement and goals, the game is a carnival of colour, both teams standing out so vividly against one another. In this immediate, intimate sense – what you see – the two teams oppose. They clash.
Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal. That’s less a three way title race, more a conspiracy. Navy & pink Hamlet, sporting deviants, I salute you.
Some notes on the game:
“Shit” Football – The football was shit, I suppose. Both sides raggy doll collections of freaks, technically skilled but portly/skinny, or physically impressive specimens with no control of the ball. Tactical undiscipline. Formational lapses. The ball was all over the place… This was very imperfect.
But it struck me: if a Champions League or World Cup final was played like this it would be considered a great game. Open, end-to-end, action packed.
Maybe the upper echelons of football only seem better because we’re told they are! By buggers like Andy Grey. Vomitworthy.
Death Row – Clubs like Hamlet are on the edge of existence.
(1) Their continued running is contrary to contemporary cultural logic…
These lower reaches of the non-leagues are very barren to the sugarcoated mind of a modern child. The grounds look like Old Trafford or Anfield after a nuclear war. The attendances are tiny. 241 at the Hamlet match. Two hundred and forty one.
Now, the barren stadia I’m fine with. I don’t like football motherships like the Emirates, but I do like a touch of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
But the numbers are problematic. Football, as I’ve clumsily tried to argue in this blog, is a group event, a social happening. Few would admit this, but fans turning up is more important than getting eleven players out on the pitch. 241, spread over a 3,000 capacity stadium, is not enough people to get lost in the crazy midst of. Sad, but simple.
(2) Anecdotally I’ve heard that Hamlet lose £2,000 a week. The football industry is in a process of ongoing monopolisation by a shrinking and increasingly transnational elite. Times are tough for the vast majority of league clubs, nevermind these smaller non-league clubs. They don’t fit in with cruel economic logic at all.
So… – There’s a man who lives in the flat above me. He very loudly supports Arsenal, via the television. I don’t think he goes to games. Probably can’t afford it.
Contemporary logic dictates that the lonely, atomised Arsenal fan upstairs is on the right side of history. He is quite right to avoid these clubs. What point is there in investing time, emotion and money into a small club awaiting relegation to the glue factory?
And maybe he’s been to see Dulwich Hamlet. Maybe, like me, he thought This isn’t so bad… but it’s just missing that throng if people, that crowd, that dash of collective lunacy… (an experience I gather is quite common)
Fuck, maybe he even wrote a wanky blog post about it. But before I too continue the cycle by slipping back into the Big Club fandom of my youth, allow me a moment of ambitious zeal.
There is a tenuous, highly imaginative and utterly hypothetical reason for you and me to pay attention to these Dulwich Hamlet-sized clubs. While they remain out there, grimly holding out, small clubs have potential, possibility. They are cultural facilities. They are bloody great canvasses, in fact, often within walking distance.
During the Hamlet match, something struck me. WHAT IF? What if even a fraction of London’s disenchanted or disempowered football fans went en masse to a club like Dulwich Hamlet? 250 could double an average attendance. We could transform a club. We could make an ignored non-league match THE ritual to be at in this stinking choiceforesaken city.
I’m not one for tubthumping, it sits uncomfortably with my introversion. But isn’t this a good idea?