The Conversion of Derek

Isthmian League, Division 1 South – Dulwich Hamlet FC v Crawley Down Gatwick FC
Tuesday, 23rd April 2013, 7.45pm
Champion Hill
Distance 17 miles, Attendance 585
You don’t know what you’re missing! It’s a refrain I’ve heard a thousand times and like most of us, a phrase I’ve uttered on numerous occasions (motivated solely by jocular-know-it-all-bragging-rights). Whilst the saying could be argued to be nonsense sporadically, in one situation I cannot find a single fault with it.
Growing up, a few close friends paid the beautiful game no heed at all; they listened to heavy metal and went to “rugby schools” (naturally this was a time when metal was just acceptably heavy rather than thrashing, deathing or some other such inaudible shit). With long distance supporting being fairly unacceptable, had said friends acknowledged the wonder of football, it’s likely this would have resulted in their affiliation to the big boys of North London, Wycombe Wanderers or Watford (times have changed but as immature teenagers, its unlikely any attachment to the orange ones would’ve resulted in our friendship) however they disappointingly never succumbed.
The years passed; we grew up, got drunk, went to college, got drunk more often, graduated, moved to West London, found responsible employment, got drunk on a better class of tipple and then, THEN they decided to “like football”. By this point the club selection had changed; they could have still made the effort to get to others but now Brentford and QPR were the forerunners. For me this dilemma would be a no-brainer; for those with no brain, sky sports can tragically have a greater impact on team preference.


Now thirty-odd years after ignoring my first endeavours to educate them in the way of the round ball, one of these strangely blinkered-premier-viewers is teetering on the brink of another revolution. Stretched out before him lies not the world of big name fawning media but, the beguilingly modest world of Non League appreciation. With David Attenborough commentary drifting through my imagination, watching him fall lemming-like from that premier league perch is truly an irresistible thing of splendour.
The symptoms are clear. Dour faced, unimaginative footballing arguments, never heard of Reynolds Field, thinks Ian Wright’s first club was Palace, brainwashed by “best league in the world” hype, totally drained of disposable income, and craning over the semi-pro fence…
Pondering this change of tack said friend – let’s call him Derek – probably wouldn’t like to admit publicly that I might have had any influence over proceedings, nevertheless I am more than happy to share any credit with some others. The spiraling costs at Loftus Rd drove one of his ilk to Wealdstone. Goth Paul also packed his Rs bag, moving his attention to Sussex and, metal Derek even has a friend who prefers the confines of Champion Hill as a pink card carrying member. It has been a slow-burning, multi-sided assault on his infantile footballing mind and, now he sits on the cusp… secretly wanting to be one of us… Conveniently the opportunity was not far away.


In hushed tones he’s been heard muting the possibility of going to both Champion Hill and Gander Green Lane so – appealing to his brainwashed SUPER SUNDAY view of football – tonight’s match-up between Dulwich and Crawley Down seemed a good place for him to dip his toe in the Non League water.
Founded a century apart neither team has experienced more than modest success. Going into the match The Anvils were safely nestled in mid-table, while Hamlet were top; three points ahead of the only competition for the title, Maidstone United. With just two matches remaining, a win tonight coupled with Maidstone dropping points at Chipstead (I’ll get Derek there one day) would lead to the title and promotion heading to Dulwich for the first time in twelve years. Meeting up with the others, I’ve no idea what Derek thought about all this but, the possibility of running on another pitch in post-match footballing celebration weighed heavy on my childlike mind.

130423 ILD1S Dulwich Hamlet v Crawley Down (7)   130423 ILD1S Dulwich Hamlet v Crawley Down (8)   ???????????????????????????????   ???????????????????????????????

Annoyingly, by half time there was almost certainly more chance of Derek being won over than any on pitch shenanigans. Dulwich started brightly with the ever impressive Erhun Oztumer winning the ball in midfield and sending Kevin James away with a great pass through the defence but, the first time shot was well saved by Tony Di Bernardo. The half continued in much the same vein with Oztumer, James and Daniel Carr all looking impressive until it came to hitting he target. Behind them Xavier Vidal was also doing well in midfield but, at the back…
When Chico Ramos was forced into a fine save on quarter of an hour, one wondered whether all the hard work of the past month was going to slip through Hamlet’s fingers. Maidstone were unsurprisingly winning at Chipstead but at Champion Hill, the home play started looking nervous in front of both goals. The lack of complaints about us would suggest going in all square, at the break, was fairly acceptable however it really shouldn’t have been so.
Thankfully reality hit home in the second period, bringing three fine goals and a deserved consolation for the visitors. Oztumer curled in the opener with his left, then Carr – making up for his open goal miss in the first half – matched Oztumer off the underside of the crossbar and, a fine team effort set up Carr for an easy tap in at the far post to round proceedings off nicely. It was not the best move of the half but it would do, quite nicely.
130423 ILD1S Dulwich Hamlet v Crawley Down (25)Behind the goal the now rather merry pink and blue army, a camel (how many giraffes have you seen draped in a Turkish flag?) and loads of flags, were in fine fettle; predicting certain victory in the final game of the season – making them Champions of the Hill of Champion or something like that – and “Laura” (maybe I need my ears testing as well as my eyes) was announcing four minutes of injury time. It was clear the extra time would have little impact on either the score, the league table or the buffoon in front of us insisting Holloway was the best manager in South London but, it still was pleasantly cordial at this rather well-healed club. All in all (Holloway boy asideit had been a fairly satisfactory night for everyone. The supporters went home happy, the team (still on course for the title) thanked them for their support and, Goth Paul, Metal Derek, et al went merrily back to our families.
130423 ILD1S Dulwich Hamlet v Crawley Down (34)bThere are many sides I could name however, if you’re searching for a club to aid the conversion of a football supporter with tragically haughty aspirations, Dulwich is one of those inspired choices. A buoyant local team, unique kit, decent fans with a sense of humour, lots of bar scarves, some admirable players with the ability play both banjo and the barn door eventually, and chirpy staff behind the counters.
Tonight I hadn’t hoped Derek would come away with full Hamletian sympathies, just a realisation of the wonders which reside over the semi-pro fence. This really is what he’s been missing. As Anne Hathaway’s (no, not the actress) chap once penned in Hamlet…

130423 ILD1S Dulwich Hamlet v Crawley Down (23)b

Doubt thou the stars are fire.
Doubt that the sun doth move.
Doubt truth to be a liar.
But never doubt the Non League groove.
This entry was posted in 2012-2013, Isthmian League and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Conversion of Derek

  1. Mike Bayly says:

    “how many giraffes have you seen draped in a Turkish flag?”

    I like the idea that we may have seen giraffes draped in other national flags in the past 🙂

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