the real fa cup

Dear Henry, This Is Football

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Should Mike Alpha play for England? Why has Henry Winter’s brain melted? Matty Lawrence has signed for the Gills. All topics pondered by us and halftimewhistle in the Vale pub in Dulwich. It’s had some swirly wallpaper added to the existing room of sofas to give it a rather more upmarket feel than the illicit-football-feed-den we knew last season.

“No, he’s Spanish”, “yes, he’s more English than Owen Hargreaves”, “no, and why are international managers allowed to be foreign” were all answers to the first question, “no idea” to the second question, “HURRAH” on the Matty Lawrence issue.

After sitting in the sunshine/howling gale putting the footballing world to rights we ambled over to Sainsburys, I mean Champion Hill, to catch our first Ryman game of the season.

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I am a schizophrenic football fan, sometimes I love watching the intricacies of the game, other times I really couldn’t care less and just feel the need to see new places and have some beers with mates. Tonight I was in need of medication as I couldn’t decide which ‘me’ took precedence here.

A man in full Blackpool kit ran past … I thought they were at Franchise tonight? We were just in time to witness my second minute’s silence at Hamlet. Long-serving fan, groundsman, vice-chairman, treasurer and assistant secretary Bill Andrews died over the summer and this was why the players were stood in a line in the middle of the pitch. Fortunately, this minute, unlike our last one, was not punctuated by Fat Boy Slim booming out of the tannoy.

The age old question of ‘is a minute too long’ raised its head after about 50 seconds when one of the players concentration slipped and he tried to make one of his team mates giggle by pinching his arse. Ooh matron. He quickly checked himself though. We don’t know Bill personally but we hope he would have chuckled.

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Having been to watch Hamlet on numerous occasions I selfishly and lazily opted for a decent photo vantage point in the stands. Mr Halftime (why am I calling him Mr Halftime, it is of course Cockles from the much famed RealWorldCup podcast!) hadn’t been before and was probably itching to join the Hamlet fans behind the goal or the three Whitstable fans (Andrew +flag, his son and possibly a mate) who had made the longish journey up to South London.

The game was a shambles for the first 30 minutes. Neither team had any shape, or as Cockles said, “either that or this is the most ingenious formation I have ever seen”. It wasn’t. At times the away side appeared to have six defenders and four attackers, with the midfield uncertain which bank to opt for. They certainly couldn’t decide between themselves exactly who was supposed to be defending and who was attacking. As a result, massive gaps.

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In truth, despite the shambles, Whitstable passed the ball better and more crisply than Dulwich and a bit more discipline might have seen them make inroads. As it happens, whatever they threw at Hamlet was snuffed about by man mountain, captain and MoM Francis Duku. His death stares at his team mates were both instructive and terrifying in equal measure, presumably he left Kingstonian because he was scaring people.

Dulwich couldn’t really get going or exploit the space often left through the middle, bar a couple of nifty little through balls that the keeper dealt with well.

The rather dull half was, at least, punctuated by two moments of humour. Firstly, the tannoy announcer instructed several young lads to stop pestering a steward, a comic moment I wish had been captured on video. They looked round in the general direction of the main stand, stood with hands by sides like the naughty schoolboys they were.

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After the ref blew up for an injury, he awarded Dulwich an uncontested drop ball a few yards in from the touchline and bench. The intent of both the ref and Dulwich right back, Blue Boots Jordan Wilson, was to return the ball to Whitstable. Rather than the traditional approach of taking a touch and hoofing the ball back to the keeper, Jordan took the unusual step of taking a touch and ‘controlling’ the ball immediately out of play, right in front of both giggling benches.

What Henry Winter would have made of that 45 minutes I don’t know, ‘Lawro’ may well have imploded, Hansen would have loved the defending and Shearer would have repeated whatever Gary said before making an aside to his cohorts to reinforce his fragile ego and make any sane man (or woman) wince. Lee Dixon would have noted how Duku had performed as well as he had against Sittingbourne last week, to which Lawro would have said “oh, Lee’s bin doin’ ‘ees bluddy reesurch again. It’s only the Ryman, I really can’t be bothered “.

The second half was much more engaging but, until Hamlet took the lead after about 75 minutes, it was very much the away side applying the pressure, retaining possession or passing well. Again the structure of both teams was a bit haphazard (or fluid?) but Duku marshalled everything well. I am no scout but he has the pace, tackling, positional awareness and leadership to play at a much higher level, which he has, obviously. It is ironic that in this Non-League Paper interview in 2007, he put Gavin Rose and Junior Kadi in his Best XI – Gavin is now his manager and Junior the assistant boss.

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Cockles has already told the story of this half and seeing 25% of Kevin James’ career goals but I would like to add that he DID actually drink beer in sight of the ground and THREW things on the pitch. In fact he threw beer on the pitch!!! Scandalous. Well, actually it was the mighty wind that picked up his beer and hurled it in the general direction of the concreted area behind the ‘Car Wash’ end goal. Nevertheless, tsk.

A lightning break from the very decent Nyren Clunis had the Whitstable defence backing off and he matched his run with a superbly drilled finish (right) low to the keeper’s left. Once the Hamlet had netted it was more or less one way traffic and they went in search of and found a second. The chaps who run the Dulwich twitter feed claimed it was a dominant performance, which it was in the last 15 minutes, but that is somewhat ignoring the previous 75 minutes that (in our humble opinions) Whitstable shaded, hence Duku as our pick for man of the match. With the confidence of a goal, though, Hamlet looked a genuinely threatening side. This bodes well for the season ahead.

I wonder if any of the jingoistic Sun journalists trying to nail Fabio to a cross for not selecting unproven teenagers to play for England have lost touch with the reality of visiting such joyful places as Champion Hill on a sunny late summer evening? Judging by some of the hacks’ comments about having to visit poorly resourced lower league grounds in the Carling Cup over the last few nights, lost touch they have. Maybe they should be forced to go down the pyramid every few months for a refresher, to get even a loose grip back on the reality they now entirely fail to relay to their readers.

Good luck to Hamlet with their assault on Ryman League One, South. I got a bus home and was tucked up in front of Family Guy before I could say ‘DUKU, please don’t hurt me or my family”.

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