Before the Flood
don’t suppose many of us give a moment’s thought to the floodlights at Dulwich Hamlet. As Summer turns into Autumn and Autumn into Winter they come on earlier and earlier on a Saturday afternoon. Midweek they are usually in operation from the kick-off. But for decades at Champion Hill, and every other football ground for that matter, there were no artificial illuminations flooding the pitch with light enabling fan and player alike to watch and play respectively. Instead, games started half an hour or forty five minutes earlier to utilise as much natural light as possible, and was usually played out in semi darkness. Rarely would a match be abandoned because no-one could actually see what was going on.
Football matches staged under artificial lights date back to 1878 when two matches took place within a few weeks of each other, the first at Bramall Lane, Sheffield and the next at Kennington Oval. The newly invented electrical arc lamps were used, but the technology wasn’t fully reliable. Steam engines or huge batteries powering dynamo machines were never going to meet with the approval of the Football Association.
However, by the 1930s lighting was of a much higher order, and in 1932 an experimental floodlit match was played at the White City Stadium in Shepherd’s Bush between two combined London teams. A white football was used to aid vision. It must have been a very muddy pitch because every time the ball went out of play a replacement was thrown on whilst the ball was washed clean. This happened on fifty seven occasions during the match! Again it did not take off with the stuffed shirts at the FA, and artificial light was banned in domestic competitive matches for a further two decades.
y contrast, South American football teams were used to playing under such conditions. In a climate where ‘needs must’ cool evenings were the preferred game time rather than suffering the heat of the day. It was the rave reviews of returning touring sides like Liverpool, Arsenal and Southampton that prompted the FA to do a U-turn. When Arsenal played a friendly with Glasgow Rangers in October 1951, the Highbury floodlights attracted a crowd of 62,000 with gross receipts of more than £10,000. Cue cartoon like cash registers clinking away in the minds of the FA Council.
That era saw the visit to these shores of some of the great European teams, many under lights. By 1956, floodlit League and Cup matches were sanctioned, as long as both clubs agreed. Eventually most professional clubs had installations fitted, and even the top Amateur clubs saw the light.
Switch on at Champion Hill
friendly to celebrate the opening of the floodlights at Champion Hill was arranged with an illustrious Chelsea side on 28 October 1964. This is not the present ground at Champion Hill but the huge edifice built in 1931 that preceded it. The Chelsea and FA Chairman, JH Mears, flicked the switch, remarking what a privilege it was to be at “the true home of amateur football.”
Chelsea at the time were league leaders, and manager Tommy Docherty’s full strength side was brought along to play the match which they comfortably won 3-0 in front of a 4,000 crowd. Docherty was also impressed with the stadium. “What a ground!” he exclaimed. “They are better off here than at some Fourth Division grounds.”
Like Dulwich, Chelsea prided itself in its Juniors making the move into the First team, so it is quite something that eight of Chelsea’s starting eleven came up through their youth system. The Chelsea side was made up of household names such as Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, Bobby Tambling, Barry Bridges, goalkeeper Peter ‘the Cat’ Bonetti and 18 year old captain Johnny Hollins.
The visitors, in their away strip of bright yellow shirts and socks and blue shorts, took the lead midway through the first half through Bridges from a McCreadie free kick. Then on 39 minutes Murray made it 2-0. Dave Darvill in the home goal was kept busy throughout whilst the amateurs were given a real runaround by the professionals. Nevertheless, there were still several chances, and it was only due to a marvellous acrobatic save by Bonetti, just before the break, that Woolard’s powerful swerving shot did not reduce the lead.
For the second half Chelsea fielded an entirely different eleven. This seems a bit harsh, the home side having to play another 45 minutes against a whole team of fresh legs, whilst they themselves did not even have a single substitute. Young volleyed a third on 69 minutes to kill the game off but the Hamlet showed great tenacity to the end, and were only thwarted from scoring by a superior defence.
Chelsea’s subs included George Graham, Peter Houseman and Peter Osgood. Osgood, a member of England’s 1970 World Cup squad (along with teammate Bonetti), was still a couple of months away from his official Chelsea debut. Absentee, Terry Venables, missed the encounter, representing the Football League in Belfast.
Chelsea finished the season as runners up to Leeds United. In the FA Cup they went out at the semi-final stage losing to eventual winners Liverpool, who beat Leeds in the final. However, they were successful in the League Cup Final defeating Leicester City by 3 goals to 2. By stark contrast Dulwich ended up in the bottom three for the second year running. And the next two years would only get worse.
Dulwich Hamlet line-up: Dave Darvill, John Hammond, Reg Merritt, Mike Woollard, Denis Joyce, James Day, Roy Wootton, Steve Dunwoody, George Nash, Albert Modesto, Dave Le Grice.
Chelsea starting line-up: Peter Bonetti, Ken Shellito, Eddie McCreadie, John Hollins, John Mortimore, Ron Harris, Bert Murray, Bobby Tambling, Barry Bridges, Jim McCalliog, Peter Houseman. [Note: the Chelsea line-up differs slightly from one report to the next.]
Interestingly, right winger Roy Wootton, is a regular attender at most Dulwich Hamlet matches, both home and away, and often stands with the supporters behind the goal kicking every ball and encouraging the current team.
The Ground Committee back in 1964 consisted of eight former Hamlet players: Arnold Botting (Club Chairman), Doug Waymouth (Deputy Chairman), Arthur Aitken (Secretary), Harry Brown (Treasurer), Bert Mew, Fred Dennis, George May and John Hall. It was the Committee’s desire to have top-grade floodlights installed, but they were governed by the financial commitment involved. The smaller crowds attending Champion Hill meant a much lower budget. Yet, despite the restrictions, the eventual improvements meant Champion Hill, already possessing some of the finest facilities in Amateur football, now had up-to-date floodlighting in line with many of its contemporaries and putting them on a par with the professional clubs.
The floodlight installation comprised of four towers, 34 metres in height and made of tubular steel. They stood at the four corners of the ground, each one carrying twenty four 1500-watt lamps. Amenity lighting was fitted throughout the stands, and additional illumination along the driveway from the Dog Kennel Hill entrance to the ground, made a total of 150 kilowatts of lighting.
Sources: Mike and Roy Wooton; Arthur Rowe, The Glare of Floodlight Football (1960); DHFC Handbook 1965/66.
Originally published in HH30 Winter 2016