Friday, 15 March 2013

Supporting Two Teams Takes Diversity To A New Level

It is perhaps assumed that simply by their larger attendances, Premier League Clubs would attract a more diverse group of supporters than an Isthmian League team such as Dulwich Hamlet.  Maybe it's because of its location; it's history; maybe due to the travels of its supporter's football team; or the mix of players, but those that follow Dulwich Hamlet must be near the top of any diversity league.

Photograph courtesy M Morath.
There are the usual groups that make up the attendance at many non-league grounds at this level.  There's the middle-aged men that like a pint and may or may not have been involved in running up and down the high street while following a league team in the past.  There's also the group which includes men and women who have found that non-league football can provide an excellent creche facility, that also allows you to keep an eye on your child, watch football, have a pint and talk bollocks.  Relatives that come along to watch their sons play or hope they get a game off the sub's bench form a further  group.  Finally in this list of usual suspects, there are the Committee Members selling all sorts of 'golden' tickets, who 'know where you live' as a gentle encouragement to purchase.

Aside from these, Dulwich Hamlet also has a group of younger supporters that sometimes forms into a band consisting largely of drums and trumpets and memorably turned up in onesies at Leatherhead.  The second impromtu band within the club is sometimes made of the  'Turkish Ultras', who have attended games ever since Erhun Otzumer, the Non-League Messi arrived and add strongly to the cacophony.  A more recent but quieter addition is Ged TheGiraffe.

Photograph courtesy of Dulwich Hamlet Facebook page
Less regular, but exciting additions to games have included around twenty Belgians, supporters of the fourth tier club Union Royale Namur.  These supporters have attended both at Champion Hill and what might be consided almost a home game for them at Folkestone, much to the surprise of the locals.  Having been on some typically strong Belgian beer all day, their support at the Folkestone game was vociferous throughout the game and rewarded with a Dulwich win and post match photo on the pitch with the team.  The presence of the travelling Belgians was clearly noted by the home supporters since in the return league game they spent some time chanting "where's your Belgians gone"?

Altona 93 and Dulwich Hamlet supporters on 9 March 2013.

Most recently, as a result of the diligent efforts of MM in finding a German football team formed in 1893 and a supporter's football team trip to Hamburg, over 50 Germans supporters from Altona FC attended the home game against Sittingbourne.  Altona FC currently play in the fifth tier of German football.  The Altona supporters took the attendance well over 500 and resulted in a big increase in takings at the club shop and the bar.  Additionally, a great deal of extra noise and colour was provided on the terraces.  Again, Dulwich's  European guests were rewarded with a win in the league game, although the Dulwich supporters also won their game 6-2 against Altona supporters on the Sunday.

Dulwich Hamlet has also become the focus of an Italian connection recently largely through social media.  A group of Italian supporters inspired by the "passion of the English game" have started a website English Football Station, @EFSblog.  They have adopted the club and plan a visit shortly.  Let's hope Dulwich can continue the winning run.

It is genuinely exciting to attend games where large numbers of foreign supporters have turned up not to see a Premier League team, but to see Dulwich Hamlet in the Ryman League South.  They bring both their own songs and also join in with the usual chants, but all with their own distinctive accents.   The credit for starting and maintaining these links must go to MM and the small group of enthusiasts that turn out for the supporter's football team.    They certainly greatly add to the support, noise and interest surrounding the game, but goes largely unreported.  Are there any other clubs at this level that have this diversity of supporters and particularly relationships with foreign supporters?

Sunday, 24 February 2013

#Snowgate, #Wallgate and #Boggate

The hashtag controversies flowed from Dulwich Hamlet's table-topping home fixture against Maidstone United.  The week before the game, my  daughter, Z, and me turned up to help with the big clean up of the ground, along with a few other individuals who looked slightly worse than usual at 9.00 am on a Saturday morning.  We worked hard for a couple of hours and the ground looked a good bit tidier by the time we departed for the promised hot chocolate.

Fast forward to the following Saturday, 19 January and #Snowgate.  Me and Z again arrived at 9.00 am in response to the club's call for volunteers to clear the snow from the pitch and terracing.  All of last week's cleaning work had been covered up by the snow from the previous day and night.  Even at 9.00 am there were already over a dozen people at the ground working hard to try to ensure the game against Maidstone went ahead.  The pitch seemed in decent condition as the snow was slowly cleared.  Everybody's spirits were lifted, not only by the tea and biscuits served up in the boardroom, but also by the news that a local referee inspecting the pitch at 11.00 am, considered the pitch playable.  Additionally, the rumour was that the match referee was Russian and therefore likely to ask what all the fuss was about.  Z and me left to get some lunch at home, with high hopes we'd be back for the game.

We were ultimately reduced to watching Twitter updates on a laptop for news.  I feared the worse when several people tweeted that players from both sides didn't seem to fancy it.  When a tweet was finally posted that the game was off Z was a bit distraught having by then got excited about seeing the game after all her efforts over the past week.  It was certainly very disappointing for the many Maidstone supporters who had already set off, some of whom were already at the ground or in local bars, when it was called off.  Particularly disappointing also for the large group (30+) of Dulwich supporters that had worked hard for several hours to try to get the game on.  #Snowgate left an empty feeling on that Saturday, despite the beer and burger vouchers from the club.    

Speaking as a 'bitter' (bitter blue), and therefore somebody with long experience of football disappointment, #Wallgate was in many ways more annoying than #Snowgate.  The week after #Snowgate, Dulwich played at Leatherhead.  This again involved keeping an eye on Twitter for the results of a pitch inspection, while also watching MCFC's FA Cup game on TV at Stoke.  I wasn't going to travel all the way to Leatherhead for a wasted journey.

Ha.  Informed via Twitter that the game was definitely on, I managed to get to Fetcham Grove only 10 minutes into the game.  There was a decent amount of Dulwich supporters already there, the younger element having decided that onesies might be a good idea.  Dulwich scored mid-way through the first half to make the half-time pint that bit more enjoyable, especially as I'd also heard the score from the Britannia Stadium.  Joined in the bar by one particular Dulwich supporter, we decided to maximise our options for the second half by watching from just outside the bar area.  Dulwich seemed largely in control of the game and it was no surprise when the second goal arrived on 78 minutes, but unfortunately led to #Wallgate.  The goalscorer, Daniel Carr, ran to the supporters behind and to the side of the goal.  The supporters ran towards him and a section of wall between them then collapsed.  From our vantage point near the bar on the sidelines it was it seemed clear that none of the rubble was actually on the pitch.  There were no players injured, although one Dulwich supporter later attended at a hospital with some minor injuries.

There immediately seemed to be attempts by the Leatherhead players to use the situation to their advantage by indicating to the referee that he should abandon the game.  Clearly this was an attractive option for the Leatherhead team, having just gone further behind.  After about ten minutes of inspecting the damage and without taking the players off the pitch, the referee decided to abandon the game, despite no debris being anywhere near the pitch.  This was when #Wallgate turned really sour as several Leatherhead players began punching the air as they ran past their supporters towards the dressing rooms.  It was as though they had achieved a famous victory.  The journey home demonstrated I wasn't the only 'bitter' that day amongst the away supporters.  The Ryman League subsequently ruled that the game should be replayed.

The following weekend Dulwich were away at Horsham.  Easy enough to get to and apparently no need even for a pitch inspection.  I arrived in time to pop into a local boozer and watch some of both QPR v Norwich City and Wales v Ireland in the Six Nations.  It was useful to have maxed-out as I suddenly became aware that it was all the sport I was going to see that day.  Checking Twitter, I found that the match referee had found a boggy patch on the pitch on which to bounce the ball and decided to call off the match just before 2.00pm.  After the events of the two previous weeks, it quickly became #Boggate on Twitter.

Trudging back to the train station I met another disgruntled Dulwich supporter, J, who happens to  support a different team from the Manchester area, and had also been at the Leatherhead game as well.  He put forward an interesting suggestion relating to the state of non-league pitches and the frequent late postponements during the winter.  Facilities at this level have clearly not kept pace with justifiable concerns over potential injuries to players or a desire to see the game played on decent pitches.  This means that during winter supporters are regularly inconvenienced and out of pocket, while the postponed games are played in mid-week with a considerably reduced attendance income for the clubs.  Given that most non-league clubs are not about to invest in under-soil heating or new drainage systems, J suggested that it might be an idea to move to a summer league system.

The idea might not be well received by all supporters, but it seemed a sensible suggestion at least worth debating after three weeks of #Snowgate, #Wallgate and #Boggate.


Friday, 18 January 2013

Supporting Two Teams Really Pays Off

Supporting two football teams increases the pain involved most of the time.  This is sometimes because I feel that I've let down one team by attending a game when the other team are playing at the same time - even though I know its impossible to attend both games.  Sometimes I can assuage this guilt by keeping up with the score via the television or social media.

Occasionally, there are commitments outside of football that can't be avoided and then you've let both teams down.  Admittedly these are rare, mainly due to a very understanding family.  If there's the possibility of missing a game I will try to get family members involved at any opportunity: "your family would love it as they're all from round here", "you could just zone-out while the game is on", "let's go along and help clean-up the ground before the game, it'll be great exercise", "it will be a chance to see somewhere new".

Aside from the away shirts, supporting two teams paid off in the form of what might be considered a lottery-style win in May 2011.  MCFC managed to reach a first FA Cup final in 30 years to face Stoke City.  Cue a desperate scramble for tickets by contacting everybody I'd ever known, many of whom I hadn't spoken to for years.

Then an e-mail was posted on the DHFC website stating that the club would receive six tickets for the final due to their membership of the FA and inviting applications from supporters. I had always subscribed to the view that a larger percentage of tickets should be given to the supporters of participating clubs rather than the FA 'family'.   Now I found myself as a very distant member of the FA family, I was immediately on to the club to press my two-club supporting credentials.  "Well the Chairman's taking a couple, but you might get two tickets if you can get up here now with the cash".  The reality was that it was only due to both clubs being unfashionable.  "If it had been Tottenham v Liverpool, you wouldn't have got near them".  So, for once supporting the two teams had really paid off.      


Monday, 14 January 2013

The Away Shirts Dilemma

What happened with the away shirts demonstrated that I wasn't the only one with dilemmas in supporting two football teams.  Non-league clubs are always looking for volunteers - fundraising, cleaning the stadium, fetching balls when the centre-half kicks them out of the ground, etc.  I volunteered to take on a position with the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust.  

Aside from retrieving footballs, the Trust was asked by the football club if they were able to buy new away shirts for the first team.  The old ones were rags.  It was agreed that the Trust had sufficient funds and it was a good idea.  A short-list of three different kits was agreed with the football club.  The idea being that the supporters would choose the kit in a ballot organised by the members of the Trust.  

Ballot papers were printed and votes were gathered at the next home game.  There was quite a lot of enthusiasm amongst the supporters with a lot of talk about why particular shirts might or might not be appropriate.  Some supporters didn't like green because it was worn by other teams in the league, others just didn't like yellow and red, while some preferred anything but light blue. If you've read the previous blog you'll know where my vote went.

Anyway after the Chairman of the Trust had counted up all of the votes, the light blue kit had won by a slim majority.  A result; both my teams would regularly now be playing in similar colours with no red in sight.  

Alas, this was precisely not the result wanted by some of Dulwich's supporters.  Perhaps like many football clubs, Dulwich has a number of supporters who followed another team with Manchester in its name.  A number of these supporters, knowing my other team affiliation, even suggested that there might have been some sort of vote rigging involved.  Some people find democratic decisions a little hard to accept, especially .

"Come on you blues".    

Friday, 11 January 2013

The Dilemmas of Supporting Two Football Teams

For many football supporters it's only ever possible follow one team, despite perhaps having a 'pet' team in another league.  I've supported Manchester City since 1969.  I was a successful young glory hunter, having bet my mum 6d that they would win the FA Cup.  Over the years I have followed them to varying degrees as my personal circumstances allowed.  This has included being a Junior Blue many years ago, having a season ticket for a number of years and playing in the APFSCIL league for the club.  However, over the last ten years it has largely involved watching them whenever possible at away games with a group of London based supporters.

Over the last five years I've also discovered the increased pain and pleasure to be gained from supporting my local non-league team. Watching Dulwich Hamlet team has allowed me to always be able to get a ticket for the game, take my daughter along to watch more easily, give advice to opposing players from the touchline to which they regularly respond and get home in time for dinner.  This support has also allowed me to visit many places and associated pubs around London of which I was only vaguely aware - and again still be home in time for dinner.  As another supporter said to me "I go and visit these places because I'm nosey".  

It has also provoked a number of emotional dilemmas.  As an example, while attending Dulwich Hamlet's  play-off final game at Bognor Regis last year, I heard in the crowd that YaYa Toure had just scored for MCFC at Newcastle. Fortunately, I was watching the game just outside the bar area and nipped inside to see a replay of the goal.  Resuming my spot on the terrace, I was just in time to see Bognor score (ultimately the winning goal) from a corner at the other end of the ground.  Having been briefly elated by a goal scored over 300 miles away, I was instantly deflated by what happened in front of me.  Further emotional confusion occurred as MCFC completed their win during half-time at Bognor while Dulwich Hamlet managed to miss a second-half penalty.  I felt very disappointed with Dulwich's performance in the game I attended, but later  managed to find consolation from the other result.

From knowledge of other supporters who follow non-league teams, I can only assume there are more people out there that have found their own ways of dealing with this increased pain, pleasure and confusion.