DULWICH HAMLET. The hipster club, right? Where blokes with beards go to drink craft beer and wave banners with political messages? Well, you’re wrong.
Speak to the people who actually go to Champion Hill to watch games and you’ll realise that’s a lazy label they’ve been lumbered with. But the revolutions happening in this part of the Ryman League have been taking place both on and, particularly, off the pitch.
On Tuesday Gavin Rose’s side valiantly went down in their FA Trophy quarter-final with Macclesfield Town, after last week’s replay was postponed due to snow.
Their second crack at the National League Silkmen came thanks to Ashley Carew’s wonderful equaliser in a 2-2 draw last weekend in front of a bumper 2,834 crowd.
When manager Rose took over in 2009, they were averaging 180 in the league below. Now their league average is over 1,250. So, how have they done it?
“The football played under Gavin plays a big part,” Football Committee member and Community Initiative Lead Mishi Morath tells The NLP.
“To me, what kick-started it off was when we played Hampton & Richmond on Non-League Day in September 2014. It was the first time we did, ‘Pay what you like’ and it was our first four-figure gate of the season.
“After that we had another 13 gates of 1,000 or more that season. We did a lot of hard work in the community before that game – the committee, the supporters’ trust, everyone. That brought people in and showcased the club.”
Prices are sensible. Under-13s are free while concessions – including full-time students, 13-19 year-olds, and local NHS workers – pay just £4. They also give out free tickets to schools that, crucially, are family tickets meaning a child can bring their mum or dad.
“We believe kids won’t necessarily come on their own, you need the adults to come with them, and they have the spending power,” Morath says.
“It’s the adults who will buy the burger or a scarf. Once they’re there, they enjoy it. They won’t all take up the tickets, but enough will come. It’s for one game and it gives them a flavour. Enough will then come back for the next one and tell their mates where they’re going.
“You could see that on Saturday by the amount of youngsters we have at games, how many families, how many women. We’re very proud of the fact that, across the community, everyone is welcome at Dulwich.”
That’s shown by the good work they do locally and last season they were awarded the Football Foundation Community Club of the Year at The NLP’s National Game Awards.
Last season they played FC Assyria to raise funds for the ongoing refugee crisis and they’ve also hosted a game against LGBT club Stonewall.
When they return to league action against Merstham on March 11, they will wear a special purple kit for International Women’s Day.
“We get lazily labelled as hipsters, left-wing – all we are is a football club who try to do what’s right for our local community,” Morath says.
“Anti-homophobia, anti-racism, trying to care for all members of society, refugees, food banks…we’re a club with a social conscience. If you want to call that political, good luck to you.
“On Wednesday we had a club XI, mostly youngsters, playing a team from Centrepoint to raise money for a homeless charity.
“Games like that, and when we played FC Assyria last year and Stonewall the season before, are not about putting out a first team and winning. It’s about raising awareness and money for the opposition and letting them have a good night out at Champion Hill.”
The good times certainly seem to be back at a club with a proud history and a long list of players who have gone into the Football League and Premier League.
Edgar Kail, capped by England while playing for the club, has a specially brewed Pale Ale dedicated to him.
Next year the famous Pink & Blue celebrate their 125th anniversary, which will include a trip to Germany to play Altona 93 in July, and Morath says there is a noticeable buzz about the club in the local area.
But they’re also facing a very important battle for a new stadium as part of a proposed new development. It’s seen as the best chance to secure the club’s long-term future and sustainability, while also placing it in the hands of supporters.
Southwark Council haven’t taken a decision on the planning application to redevelop Champion Hill. So now it has been passed to the Planning Inspectorate and fans have been urged to write explaining why the club and its community work is so important by Tuesday’s deadline.
There are genuine fears for the future of Dulwich Hamlet should it not go ahead. Morath, a lifelong supporter, knows the importance of the right result.
“If that all goes through,” he says, “combined with what we’re doing off the pitch, hopefully it will set the club up for future generations.”