As September starts to roll into October, the evenings start to get shorter and the autumn leaves crispen and fall underfoot, The 2008/09 FA Cup continues to rumble on. We’re at the Second Qualifying round stage now, and things are starting to become rather more serious than they were. This is the fourth round of the competition to have been played so far this season, and the prize money is rising. £3,000 goes to the winners of this weekend’s matches, with the added bonus of the knowledge that they will be 180 minutes from the First Round Proper, where Football League Clubs enter the fray, matches are shown live on the television and the serious money starts to be earned. Should anyone make it all the way from the Extra Preliminary Round to the First Round, They’ll have made £30,000 in prize money alone – a tidy sum for clubs the size of the clubs that enter the FA Cup at the Extra Preliminary Round stage.
One of the matches drawn out of the hat for this round is likely to quicken the pulses of people of a certain persuasion – Dulwich Hamlet vs Hendon. This is a clash of two former giants of the amateur game that have fallen on hard times. Dulwich Hamlet live in a world of faded glamour and constant battles against threats to their very existence. The club are globally well known for their distinctive pink and blue shirts, but have faced an uphill battle stay alive for much of the last quarter of a century. Their old Champion Hill stadium was a giant, cavernous stadium. It hosted matches in the football competition for the 1948 Olympic Games. In the early 1990s, it was demolished and rebuilt, but any hopes of this securing their long term future have been misplaced. The freehold to their stadium was sold by their owner, Nick McCormack to Eren Muduroglu, the owners of their south London rivals and former tenants Fisher Athletic during the summer. At the time of the sale, Muduroglu said, “If we are able to provide a vibrant mixed use facility [at Champion Hill] that increases revenue streams to support the football club without the need for a benefactor, then yes. If not we need to consider what we can do to achieve this”, which is hardly the sort of statement that will fill Hamlet’s small but loyal support with much confidence. Similarly, the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust has been put at arm’s length by McCormack, who claims that the Trust should forget the aspiration of buying any shares in the club with the £11,000 that they have raised from a 100 Club over the last couple of years. This twin pronged attack of freezing out the club’s trust and trying to discredit them just before selling the stadium has an ominous feel to it, considering was has happened Fisher’s old Surrey Docks Stadium since they vacated it for reasons that don’t seem to have satisfactorily explained by Muduroglu, and the fact they are still homeless. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but something about it all just doesn’t smell right.
Hendon joined the ranks of football’s homeless this week. The club had played at Claremont Road since 1919 and were one of the biggest amateur clubs in the club in the 1960s and early 1970s, but time has not been kind to them. The club was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair in the 1980s, and ended up in administration in 1994. A last minute buy-out by the Arbiter Group, a company owned by businessman Ivan Arbiter, saved their skin then, but there were still signs that not everything was right at Claremont Road. In 2004, the club turned down a place in the Conference South (effectively volunteering itself for relegation), and in 2005, the supporters club organised itself into a Supporters Trust, with the widespread belief that Arbiter were set to stop funding the club and evict it from Claremont Road. The death knell was signed with a letter sent from Arbiter to the Trust, evicting the club with immediate effect. They’re great, these white knights on chargers, aren’t they? Hendon’s very existence is now in question. As long time members of the Ryman League, they will have the complete support of the league’s committee as they try to find a permanent home, but the league has certain obligations to fulfil, and if Hendon don’t secure a semi-permanent home soon, it is likely that they will have to resign from the Ryman League.
Against this background, it is perhaps scarcely surprising that the crowd for their match at Champion Hill was 350, not far short of double Dulwich’s average at the moment. The match was also one of the more colourful of the day, with Dulwich’s pink and blue clashing nicely with Hendon’s green and white kit. The opening twenty minutes were enthusiastic, but both teams seemed to lack players with the nous to be able to grab proceedings by the scruff of the neck and make the decisive move. The opening goal came more or less completely out of the blue. A shot was parried by the Dulwich goalkeeper to give Hendon a corner. Danny Dyer’ corner was only cleared to the edge of the penalty area, where Rakatahr Hudson met the ball with a hot into the roof of the net. Hendon, a division above Dulwich Hamlet, should have been able to kill the game stone dead there and then, but they failed to kill Dulwich off and a couple of minutes from half time, Mohammed Coly, who had already been booked and given a final warning by the referee, was sent off for a second yellow card.
Eight minutes into the second half, a refereeing decision cost Hendon a second goal that might have finished the game off. Dulwich failed to clear a low ball into the six yard area, and the Dulwich goalkeeper Lunen failed to gather the ball. Dave Diedhiou drove the ball in, but the referee, whose view of proceedings may have been obscured, ruled that Lunen had gathered the ball beforehand and disallowed the goal. The game was spun in its head as it went entered its final quarter. Gary Noel was brought on as a subsitute and, within a minute of coming on, found himself through on goal. He rounded the Hendon goalkeeper Berkley Lawrencin and scored from a narrow angle to bring Dulwich level. Hendon have had a poor start to the season, with just one win and two draws in their opening ten matches of the season, and the confidence visibly drained from them. Inside two minutes, Dulwich had the lead. Defender Mark Kirby and goalkeeper Lawrencin got themselves in a tangle as the result of a long ball forward by the Dulwich goalkeeper Lunen, and Lawrencin, possibly blinded by the sun, palmed the ball into the path of Dulwich’s Marc Cumberbatch, who rolled the ball into the empty goal. Hendon’s revival from this set back was, however, impressive, and with twelve minutes left to play, they levelled things up again, when Harry Hunt picked up a pass from midfield and carried the ball forward before shooting in off the post.
Honours even, then, and the two clubs will replay on Wednesday night at Harrow Borough FC for a place in the next round. Both clubs may have bigger issues to have to take care of in the near or distant future, but the FA Cup will be considerably better off for having these old names in the hat for the draw tomorrow. One of these two clubs has fallen victim to the insatiable appetite for land in London that has done so much to damage the non-league game in the capital over the last thirty years or so. We don’t know what the future holds for Dulwich Hamlet, but the refusal to engage with the Supporters Trust and the sale of the ground fills me with no confidence that the man in charge at Champion Hill has anyone’s interests at heart apart from his own. I wish Dulwich Hamlet all the luck in the world. I have an uneasy feeling that they are going to need it.