the real fa cup

Tempting Fate

Football can be a cruel game. One minute you’re sitting pretty, comfortably on your way to glory – the next, it’s all gone wrong and you just feel a bit foolish.

Just ask Bognor.

2 points clear at the top and preparing for Ryman Premier League status going into the last game of the season, they contrived to draw 1-1 away at Chatham Town, allowing the Met Police to steal (ahem) the only automatic promotion spot by a single goal on goal difference. Three days later, the West Sussex side were unceremoniously dumped out of the play offs in the semi final by Dulwich Hamlet – a team that finished an incredible 31 points behind them.

But then again, just ask Dulwich.

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When we visited Champion Hill back in early April, the motivation was a chance to enjoy some football in the sun rather than an opportunity to view prospective promotion candidates. They were sitting mid table as usual, apparently too far from the play-off spots to care about a 2-1 home reverse against Worthing. But a spectacular collapse by those above, a few wins on the trot and a neat 2-0 away victory at Walton & Hersham on the last day enabled Hamlet to light up (bear with me, the puns may well remain at this tortured level for some time) their fans’ season and earned them a spot in the play-offs. The aforementioned victory over those with the crushed spirits on the South coast offered a one-off chance for promotion which could never have seemed possible a few weeks ago.

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We do try to maintain some level of journalistic even-handedness at the games we attend. But the Hamlet are our local side and for once, I think we can be forgiven for siding with those in pink and blue.

There are those (us included, at times) who think that the play-offs are not a fair way to decide who is promoted after a season of effort but few can deny the regularity with which they provide genuine drama and excitement for both the die-hard fans and the neutral alike. Today was to be no exception.

A visit to what was billed as “the best pub in Leatherhead” left me wondering what the alternatives were like after my “Spicy Nachos” turned out to be Doritos laced with gallons of tomato ketchup but this was soon forgotten as we approached the Tanner’s Fetcham Grove stadium to be greeted with something which warmed our hearts after some paltry attendances earlier in the season. A QUEUE!

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The sun was out, Leatherhead hadn’t graced the division above for 28 years and the fans were actually having to queue up to gain access to the ground. Joyous.

Fetcham was a new ground for us and it fits the bill – decent bar, nice setting, some proper stands and an excellent raised grass bank around two sides of the pitch from which to view the entertainment. And entertainment really was the correct word.

The home side looked far better than the Hamlet early on but it was the visitors that took the lead after 20 minutes through Gary Drewett. They doubled their lead a minute before half time as we made our way round the pitch in the direction of the bar – Vernon Francis hitting a shot on the turn and celebrating in fine style in front of us.

Dulwich’s confidence was growing but they were pegged back just before the break by a superb Greg Andrews shot from the edge of the box. 2-1 to the Hamlet at half time and this was developing into a very decent game.

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Despite the scoreline, Lev Red (as the home fans seemed to think they were called) were certainly giving Dulwich some problems and it was somewhat of a surprise when the two goal advantage was restored by Drewett early in the 2nd half. As the game wore on, it was Dulwich that looked more likely to score and the away fans were beginning to celebrate. How had they managed to even be here in the first place? It was truly staggering and led me to curse them using the Power Of Twitter.

At 16:40, I wrote

I think dulwich are actually gonna do this. amazing.

A few minutes later, Lev Red were level. I blame myself. Actually, that’s not quite true – my friends blamed me. Which was nice.

A lengthy stoppage or two earlier in the game had meant that there were to be 9 minutes of injury time. Kev Terry put one in with 7 minutes to go and, as the game dragged on into the night (it seemed) he bagged another to even things up.

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By 5 o’clock, people were beginning to wonder what was going on. “Has the ref just gone straight on into extra time?” was one confused utterance from one of the Dulwich supporters behind me in the Bernard Edward Stand. Eventually, the man in black did bring an end to things and we were to be treated to another half an hour. A few minutes before, Dulwich must have been wondering how they would fare in the division above. Now they were heading for extra time with their heads hanging and the home crowd more excited and vocal than ever.

There was to be no fairytale comeback. We’ve all seen these type of situations before. Terry completed his hat trick in the first half and, despite some frantic goalmouth action in the last minutes, the Tanners won 4-3 and next season will play in the Ryman Premier for the first time since 1983.

At the final whistle, fans streamed onto the pitch in celebration. Even the man on crutches managed to scramble over the wall to join in with the players.

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Manager Gavin Rose looked almost tearful as he made his way to the Dulwich fans for a group hug and the players were crestfallen.

They’d very nearly pulled off the impossible.

Leatherhead had only finished a mere 23 points ahead of them and Dulwich were probably the better side for much of the game. They were leading 3-1 with 8 minutes to go. But, even as a fan of the Hamlet, you have to say that justice was done.

Just.

4 Comments
  1. Great article, thanks. It certainly was a fantastic game, I’m a Levred fan and I’m still in shock over a week later!

  2. Excellent article although inacurrate at the start. Bognor were 2 points clear of Met Police before the last game which they they drew 1-1 at Chatham.

  3. Great article for what was a fine advert for football at this level. Leatherhead were understandably undone three days later against Corinthian-Casuals in the Surrey Senior Cup Final. And that’s it for another season… what to do until late July!!?

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