Champion Hill is a cracking place to watch football, if you know what you’re doing. Over the last ten years, average attendances here have soared from under 200 to well over 2,000, and occasionally even bypass the 3,000 mark. Given that the entire stadium doesn’t hold much more than that, the swelling crowds can often make matches feel like a real squeeze, but in the best possible way. On an average matchday, the terraces making up three sides of the ground get seriously busy, and vantage points offering a clear view of on-field events become prime real estate. Suffice to say, if you want to see the match from anywhere other than the main stand, get there early. In fact, get there early anyway, otherwise you’ll likely arrive to find yourself in a whopper of a queue.
I’m biased, of course. I discovered Dulwich Hamlet not long after relocating to the area in 2012. Making occasional visits to the odd game soon turned into becoming a regular, then buying a season ticket, and even following the team on the road. Having moved to London from Scotland a few years earlier, I missed having a team to call my own (I remain a lifelong St Johnstone fan, but the journey’s a killer), and it soon became apparent that the Hamlet could fill that void for me. Sure, in the interim period I’d enjoyed checking out London’s many other football clubs and gaining multiple new notches on my groundhopping bedpost. But nothing beats having a team to actually get behind on a Saturday and, having always shunned the bigger clubs and cocked a snook at football’s glory-hunters, non-league football felt like a natural fit for me.
Becoming a follower of the Pink ‘n’ Blues hasn’t all been plain sailing these last few years, though. This time last year, the club was in enforced exile, playing its home games seven miles down the road at the KNK Stadium, home of Tooting & Mitcham United. The set-up was impressive (and the jerk chicken stall wondrous), but the crowds didn’t follow. It’s been well documented since then that, had the nine-month period of homelessness dragged on, it would almost certainly have spelled the end for Dulwich Hamlet. Thankfully, after a very public campaign and a load of media coverage, the club managed to broker a deal with Champion Hill’s unscrupulous owners to get back into the ground. Football returned to Dulwich and the crowds grew bigger than ever. While there’s a distinct possibility that the war might not be over (the ground’s future is by no means secure), the battle was won.
Hamlet went into this particular match on the back of an eyebrow-raising start to the season, having won four and drawn one of their opening six National League South games. Included in the starting line-up was returning hero Reise Allassani, who scored a bucket-load in pink and blue a couple of seasons earlier, before earning a move up the leagues to Coventry City. That, combined with the fact that it was Bank Holiday Monday and the sun was shining, ensured a typically big crowd (2,086 this time), and all the necessary ingredients seemed to be in place for another triumphant afternoon. Unfortunately, visiting Slough Town hadn’t read the script and, despite Allassani scoring twice, they came back each time and went on to win 3-2.
Still, it takes more than a crushing 87th-minute penalty decision to dampen the spirits round these parts. Beer flowed, street food was munched, songs were sung, and the Champion Hill feel-good train rolled on. You might find sexier football at other grounds (allegedly), but it’s hard to imagine a better or more infectious example of community spirit than the one you’ll find here.
Dulwich Hamlet 2 Slough Town 3
National League South
Monday 26 August 2019