Dulwich Hamlet: Remember Them?

By Pete H

Can we say that Dulwich Hamlet are (almost) synonymous with non-league football? The name itself evokes a strong link with the beautiful game lower down the ladder. Well. It does for us, at least. You can accuse us of being over-romantic later. The Hamlet’s tale is a long one too, which we’ll soon find out about in as much detail as you can bear to stomach. More importantly, what we’ll also soon find out is how the south London side became (’til now) a fleeting chapter in our own story. Because why else would we bother? You think we have time to burn?

Who are Dulwich Hamlet Football Club?

The 19th Century was in its last knockings when the Hamlet came to be; formed in 1893 when a couple of local likely lads asked Lorraine ‘Pa’ Wilson to start a club. So, he did. To start with, the club kept their competitive football local. But that changed (sort of) in 1907 when they became members of the Isthmian League. And that’d be a long-running association that lasted long into the 21st century. More on that later.

The interwar period was a golden one for the Hamlet. The 1919-20 campaign is the first in which the honours flowed; the club claiming an Isthmian League and FA Amateur Cup double to kick it all off. By the time World War Two came around, they’d recorded two more Isthmian League title wins and three more FA Amateur Cups. And shortly after peace returned, the Hamlet were league champions again by finishing top of the pile at the end of the 1948-9 campaign.

We almost forgot to mention that, during the 1920s, TWO Hamlet players were called up to the FULL England squad. There’s a quiz question for you…

After that, the 1958-9 season would be as good as it got for a long time; ending in second behind Wimbledon (remember them?). The Hamlet soon saw themselves at the wrong end of the table. In fact, the club finished rock bottom of the Isthmian League two seasons on the bounce during the mid-1960s. This became a problem when the league expanded in the 1970s as the club were relegated from Division One in 1977.

The good news is that Division Two was renamed Division One that summer. So, they remained as a Division One side on a technicality. It simply didn’t mean what it used to.

Why do we know the Hamlet?

At the first time of asking, the Hamlet returned back into the Isthmian League’s top flight. In the years that followed, encouraging showings were interspersed with seasons of struggles. And the yo-yo of the pendulum caught up yet again with them in 1990, and their second-ever relegation. This time, it’d take them two seasons to return to the Premier Division. But not before they got a first glimpse at a bright young thing called Stevenage Borough Football Club in Division One.

What is our record against them?

It all started with a 1-1 draw at our place in late October 1992 – but Boro’ soon started to assert ourselves and bagged a 1-0 win at their temporary gaff* in March 1993 thanks to Martin Gittings (who else?). For us, it was four of the 96 points that saw us finish in top that season. So, up we went into the Premier Division. And with us came them; claiming the third and final promotion place to secure their passage back into the division they fell from a couple of years previously.

(* we’ll explain later)

Boro' and Dulwich Hamlet both came up from Isthmian League Division One together; meeting in the Premier Division at Broadhall Way in September 1993
Photo: Stevenage Football Archive

For both of us, the 1992-3 season was one of getting used to the stiffer competition. The Hamlet sprang into life and gave us a bit of a beating at Broadhall Way; Steve Cox scoring a brace in vain as our visitors defeated us 4-2 in September 1993. By the time the return fixture came around in March, Boro’ had sussed the division out and ran out 2-0 winners at Champion Hill (Gitts getting on target again, along with Neil Trebble). We finished sixth, while they finished 14th.

Going into the 1993-4 season, we stepped up our game big time. For the Hamlet, meanwhile, it was more of the same; lower reaches of the table, but relatively consistent all told. And how we were faring played out in the results from that campaign too. Both home and away, we won 2-0. And, yet again, Gitts was in the goals at Champion Hill. It seems that our legendary striker had a love for wherever the Hamlet called home.

Think how many more he’d have scored if we’d played them more?

En route to the Premier Division title in 1993-4, Boro' recorded two 2-0 wins over the Hamlet
Photo: Stevenage Football Archive

Dulwich Hamlet: Boro’s Record

Our head-to-head: P 6 — W 4 — D 1 — L 1 — F 10 — A 5 — Pts 13 — WR 67%
Our last tango: Dulwich Hamlet 0-2 Stevenage Borough, 15 January 1994

What happened to them?

After we rose up into the Conference, the Hamlet were six points short of promotion themselves in 1996. But that was as good as it got. As we ushered in the new century, they were relegated in 2001 and spent the next decade-or-so at the Isthmian League’s second table.

Not to go out on a bum note, however. The south Londoners are riding a resurgent wave. Back into the Premier Division in 2013, the Hamlet recorded five straight top six finishes. And in 2018, the nut cracked; their second position taking them into the National League set-up for the first time.

You might know about the story about their Champion Hill stadium. In the wake of the Taylor report, the old ground met the wrecking ball. The 1991-2 season – the first in which we met – saw them share with Tooting & Mitcham United, before returning home in 1992. Check out the Hamlet’s Wikipedia page for the ins and outs about how that all came to happen.

In 2013, Champion Hill was named as an ‘Asset of community value‘ – only for the local council to pull that due to a “legal technicality”. The risk that caused came to be realised in 2014, when Meadow Residential bought the land with a view to plonking some houses on it. The company forced the Hamlet out in 2018 and back to Tooting & Mitcham United.

Thankfully, the Hamlet were soon back home and seem to be as safe in that status as can be in these difficult times. Like all non-league sides, cash is tight thanks to Covid-19. And the danger that poses is all too clear. It goes without saying that we hope the long story of Dulwich Hamlet continues on for many more years to come.

• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Dulwich Hamlet club profile

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