Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Journey to Dulwich Hamlet and Memories by John Swan

Journey to Dulwich Hamlet and Memories
By former player John Swan

ike every young boy brought up in the fifties who played football in the street, the senior  local amateur team was something of a pinnacle to aim for. So, when in 1960 after watching Kingstonian lose to Hendon 1-0 in the Amateur Cup Final at a full Wembley Stadium, (in which Alan Wyatt, Hugh Lindsay and Mike Candey featured and who later I would train and play with) I got a phone call to ask me to play for Kingstonian’s ‘A’ team at the age of 14. It was like winning the pools. The K's were one of the top sides at the time and their ground at Richmond Road had a wonderful playing surface and was used for Amateur Internationals. I had played on it as a schoolboy in the District side so knew the training area and clubhouse, which were excellent.
It was then I met Vic Heasman, Alan Wyatt, Brian Wakefield, Brian O'Connell, Bob Butler, Dave Johnson, Tony Slade, Peter Searle, Dave Roberts, Roddy Hay and Bobby Russell – all of whom were to find their way to Dulwich Hamlet.

I made my debut at 17 when Roddy Haider was selected for England. We played Hitchin Town and that was when Alan Wyatt became a mentor to me, offering sound advice like "Play the ball" and "Keep it simple." Advice which stayed with me all my playing days. I really enjoyed my years at the K's. It was a happy club and everybody was treated the same. It was at this time that Peter Gleeson managed to get me to Charlton Athletic where I played with Billy Bonds, Keith Peacock, Vic Halom and Ray Harford. My ‘claim to fame’ (which I have used in many after-dinner speeches) is that I have slept with ‘Bonzo’ in a double bed in Holland. We were on tour and played in Feyenoord Stadium against Spurs, and the home team in front of a huge crowd for a youth match.

Bob Stokoe came in as manager and got rid of me and two other future Hamlet players – Ray Major and Alan Hawkins. Back to the K's and the bombshell that Peter Gleeson was leaving and going to Dulwich Hamlet. Why would he go there? That was the chat among the players as Dulwich were struggling at the bottom of the league. The consensus of opinion was that they could only get better. Dulwich were a sleeping giant with probably the best amateur ground in the country.

A Scotsman took the reins at Richmond Road. His name was Tommy Dougall. He came from Hillingdon Borough in the Southern League. His introduction to the first team squad was on a tour to Spain. I don't think he was impressed with the behaviour of some of the senior players, who had quite a strong drinking culture. A few departures followed and he offered me expenses which were higher than what I had been getting. The catch was that he was an insurance salesman and half had to be used to buy an insurance policy! My father worked in insurance and told me to have nothing to do with it.

I wasn't enjoying my football or the atmosphere created by Tommy so when Peter rang me and suggested I made the trip round the South Circular to Dulwich I jumped at the chance. My first game was an away game at Wealdstone, a team that included many amateur internationals and who were top of the league. We lost 4-2. Not a bad result as I had monitored some of the results before I joined and they were not very encouraging. After the first game I played I was invited into the boardroom to meet the committee.

The chairman, Doug Waymouth introduced me to Harry Brown, Tommy Jover, John Hall, Pat Connett, Sid Gray and Arthur Aitken, who was holding his customary large scotch and called me by my surname all through the conversations. I was told that it was an honour to play for the club and that they would pay for my travelling expenses to matches. No brown envelopes here, I thought. When asked where I lived I said, Newcastle, which went down like a lead balloon. These men were true gents who were great servants of the club and all became good friends and advisers over my years at the club.

Match days at the old Champion Hill were always special. I used to enjoy the commissionaire’s salute as he checked the badge on my car to allow me to park behind the main stand. One day the manager was stopped as he had changed his car and had no badge, Peter Smith who was walking in, was asked if he knew the man in the car. Peter said that he had never seen the man before in his life! Peter Gleeson was a bit late getting in the dressing room, and I think Peter Smith was sub that day.

After parking up you were met at the main gate by Reg Mitchell who wished you luck and asked if you wanted any complimentary tickets.  After dumping your bag in the dressing room, and negotiating the groundsman Len Evans’ Alsatian, we checked out the playing surface. The pitch was always a problem and usually had no grass on it from November on. The mud was rolled flat before every game. The first team used to watch Harry Brown and Tommy Jover (long retired) training on the pitch before the game. Tommy was still faster than some of the lads who were playing!

And then we were greeted by a shout from Bronco in his white hat behind the goal. He would tell Alan Wyatt to aim for his hat when shooting. It must have worked for Alan as he scored around 30 goals in the 1967/68 season.

When the game was over, after a plunge in the deep bath, it was up to the bar for the celebration or inquest with the committee and supporters.

Our physio at the time was a Welshman called Emrys Tucker. He was partially sighted as he had been wounded in the war. The only way he could focus was to wear his flat cap at an angle. A visit to his surgery when injured was always a hilarious experience as his methods were quite basic.

To become a committee man you had to be an ex-player. A tradition which created an atmosphere of togetherness with the existing players. This is obviously not possible in today’s game as commercial considerations have to be taken into account. Expectations and standards are different.

John Hall was one of the committee I got on very well with. He was a large man. His party piece was his Tommy Cooper impressions, which he performed wearing a fez. He resembled the great comedian and his performances on tour still make me chuckle when I recall them.

On tour in Majorca one year we stayed in the hotel next to where Liverpool F.C. players were staying. After talking to some of their players on the beach we were invited to join them in a club for a drink in the evening. To get in we had to say we were Liverpool players. The club was crammed with young women as George Best was on the island and they were looking for him. During the evening the manager of the nightclub approached Roger Hunt and Ron Yeats and asked them how many players Liverpool had with them as there were 54 in the club. None of them had paid to get in. We disappeared into the crowd.

Gradually Peter Gleeson attracted players and we climbed the league and had some good results in the cups. Trips to Sharpness in the West Country in the Amateur Cup come to mind [DH won 2-1, Swan and Wyatt with the goals], and a Surrey Senior Cup Final which we lost 1-0 to Sutton United in a replay. Trevor Blaydon scored the winner and he later played for the Hamlet.

The club started the tradition of touring again. We went to Belgium, Spain and the Isle of Wight (where we played Harlow Town, which was a bit strange at the time). After some fixtures on a Saturday we visited the hotel in New Romney which was owned by O.C.S., who were now helping with the costs of the upkeep of Champion Hill.

One weekend we were flown out to play a Jersey F.A. X1, but our performance was hampered by a night out in St. Helier before the game. All of these trips brought the players and the committee close together and created a good team spirit. This was probably the happiest time I have spent in football.
Training during this time took place on the back pitch behind the main terracing. We spent many a session running up the terraces being shouted at by Tommy Court. He was a hard taskmaster with a wicked sense of humour. After a dip in the plunge bath in the old training clubhouse it was off to the Crown and Greyhound for a pint or two. I do think modern players have missed out not having a plunge bath to soak in after a game. Most dressing rooms in the Isthmian League had them.

One pre-season we played an Arsenal Xl. The man of the match was a 15 year old, who looked about 11. It was Liam Brady. He strolled through the game, using his cultured left foot to split our defence with inch-perfect passes. Our left back that day was Bobby Russell, a very talented 20 year old, who had the ability to overlap and cross accurately. He did not look out of place against the professionals of Arsenal. Luke Shaw reminds me of Bobby. Ironically he suffered the same injury – breaking his leg badly. It happened in a mid-week match at Wealdstone. This was a real tragedy for Bobby and his family as his father confided that Arsenal had asked him to go training with them. Treatment in the 60’s was not as good as it is now and Bobby never played again.

At the end of the season it became apparent that Peter Gleeson felt that he had taken the club as far as he could with the financial restraints he was under. He resigned. It was all change at the Hamlet. A few players jumped ship before the new manager Fred Setters arrived.

He came from Merstham, so it was quite a jump up for him. Managing in the pre-contract days was all about having contacts with players and Fred struggled in this regard. Results suffered. A few stayed including Peter Smith, Dave Barker and Vic Heasman, but it was a poor season. Paddy Long joined us, but he was at the end of his career.

I had an offer to join Leatherhead but I had just met my future wife, who taught in East Dulwich. Her flatmate later married Dave Barker, so it suited me to stay. We have kept in touch with the Barkers and have spent holidays together.

At the end of Fred's time we arrived for pre-season training to be told by Jimmy Rose that we were no longer wanted. The club had obviously taken the cash injection offered so they could attract better players. The amateur days were over and players were now placed on contracts. A month into the new season I received a phone call from Jim Philips (who was running the Reserves) and he asked Dave Barker and me to come back. We played with a group of young players – Steve Rogers, Alex MacFarlane, Charlie Pooley, Alec Jackson – and were quite successful. My appearances in the first team were more limited and after getting married and moving to live in Richmond, I found the travelling and commitment too much. I decided to call it a day. My friends Peter Smith and Dave Barker stayed and played in one of the most successful periods of the club’s post war history.

John Barnes, a former 2nd team manager at Dulwich had become manager of the Lensbury Club at Teddington. Owned by Shell and playing in the Southern Amateur League, the facilities were second to none. When John asked me to join I jumped at the chance. Over the following years a veterans’ team was formed and former Dulwich players such as Eric Allison, Dave Barker, Vic Heasman and Ray Purvis joined. The likes of Hugh Lindsay, Ada Hill, Ian MacLean and Joe Fascione have all played and toured with Lensbury. I am still connected with Lensbury – now called Weirside Rangers – we run 4 teams every weekend and play at Imber Court.

My time at the Hamlet, however, was the best time ever, and the club will always have a special place in my heart.

Original article from HH30 Winter 2016
Copyright © John Swan

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