Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Dulwich Hamlet 1-1 Hendon (4-3 pens), Monday 7th May 2018

Dulwich Hamlet 1-1 Hendon, AET (4-3 on pens) Bostik (Isthmian) League play-off final (att. 3,321)

‘You know it’s true, South London’s pink and blue’

Small queues...cos everyone's already in.

What a day, what an atmosphere. Dulwich Hamlet, spurred on by the heartbreak of missing out on top spot, and the anger of being locked out of their own stadium by merciless landlords, go on to rightfully gain a place in the National League South after a an energy-sapping slog in the extreme heat of the KNK Stadium, Mitcham. How the players (of both sides) managed in that heat, I’ll never know. I was getting a headache merely stood still and with my sunhat on, and a bottle of water to hand.

A packed home end.

Having visited Tooting and Mitcham FC via public transport the other week, I thought it so much easier to cycle there from Peckham, even if it would mean leaving my pink and blue scarf behind. It was quite a pleasant cycle ride too, courtesy of Google’s route finder for bikes. Once past Brixton, much of it seemed to be via parks and grassland full of half-naked members of both sexes. Something for everyone.

One lady's method of sun protection.

I timed it well too, getting to the ground with about 10 mins to kick off. The turnstiles were surprisingly not too busy, as everyone else got there early to ensure their space. Indeed, over 3,000 turned up, a stadium record the announcer told us later. I was probably quite lucky to get in, given the listed capacity is 3,500. The crowd was 200 and odd the other week for soon-to-be-relegated Tooting. What a difference.

While a gentleman whacks on the sun lotion.

I like Imperial Fields. There’s two decent sized terraces at either end, with cover in the middle of each. What Hamlet would do for two ends like this. What Hamlet would do for their own ground in present circumstances. Here’s a very brief summary: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/43307301 The Main Stand is cantilevered and tall , while the 4th side doesn’t really have a terrace, save for a couple of old railway sleepers.

Panorama from the Hendon end, 1st half.

The end nearest the turnstiles was chocker with Hamlet fans, a sea of pink and blue, with banners covering the home support as the teams came out. I walked around the perimeter for a decent view and ended up at the far end, in amongst the Hendon support. What I was really looking for was some shade, cos there was no way I could take this heat. I nearly got what I was looking for, but I was ideally placed to take advantage of the changing of ends at half time...

Hamlet fans pre-match.

Hendon took the lead after 36 minutes, Ashley Nathaniel-George cutting inside to bobble a 20 yarder under a complacent keeper. Were Dulwich heading for a 3rd successive play-off defeat, despite finishing 10 points ahead of Hendon in the league season actual? No worries, as it turns out, though the keeper made a tremendous save, low to his left, preventing 0-2. At the other end, Reise Allassani was a right handful, taking defenders on, getting shots off. The sweetest move of the match had Hamlet play the ball out left, then to the right, and returned for Allassani on the left to bring a smart save from the keeper.

The home end awaiting kick-off.

Half time came, and most fans changed ends. I used to love doing this at Feethams, home of the mighty Quakers, but in modern football I don’t think it happens beyond non-league. Still, due to the bottleneck of a two-step longside ‘terrace’, Hamlet fans took things into their own hands and simply walked down the pitch. That’s the spirit!

Half time and fans streak across the pitch (not literally).

Second half, I was worried the temperatures would hinder the Hamlet. Not a bit of it (the 1st 15, anyway) as the pink and blues took the game to the greens. One shot was cleared off the line, another crashed the bar, but Hamlet weren’t to be denied and a scramble brought the equaliser from Tomlin, forcing the ball in from close range. That 5 minute period could have seen Hamlet out of sight, but Hendon hung in there.

Hendon fans.

And that was about it, till extra time and penalties. In the latter 60 minutes (!), Dulwich hammered another off the bar, but otherwise, nought happened. Did I say how hot it was? I’ll give you a clue: players kicking the ball left a cloud of dust. Imperial Fields doesn’t appear to have undersoil sprinklers (yet).

Penalties, and I was really hoping they’d be at ‘our’ end. Does the ref ‘toss’ for things like this? I presume so, and a steward came running towards us, signalling (celebrating) that it was, indeed, to be at our end.

Penalties.  Come on you Pink and Blues!

Hendon went one up. Boooooo. Hamlet equalised, then Hendon missed two in a row. Easy life. Still, Hamlet tried to make it interesting, missing one of their own, before Akinyemi hit the winner. 4-3, and absolute mayhem. Having seen Stoke City and Barnsley get relegated in the last two days, it was great to see some genuine joy as fans invaded the pitch and jumped around with the players, before a convoluted winners’ presentation (‘can everyone please move back another 10 yards’). Well done Hendon, tremendous battle. Well done Hamlet, PROMOTED!!!!!!!!!!

See you in the Conference South. As one placard read ‘To Truro and beyond’. Now, if Hamlet can only return to Champion Hill….it’d knock 35 minutes off my cycle ride!

The Damage: £10 ent

The Tunes: 
Song For Alpha (Daniel Avery)
Mixmag Jan '08 (Simian Mobile Disco)

The winning penalty and celebration:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ey8wCIUpcqM

Pitch invasion awaiting the medal ceremony.

Panorama upon entry.

Panorama from the halfway line.

The players pre-match meet 'n' greet.

The Main Stand...no room at the inn.

Hendon's green and white St. George.


Don't be confused, the fans are Hendon's.

Hamlet strike a penalty home.

Some supporters find some shade after the match.

Players and fans celebrate promotion.

Terrace detritus.

Promotion secured, smoke bombs are lit.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Derby County 4-1 BFC, Sunday 6th May 2018

Accrington Stanley, we’re coming for you.’

Welcome to .....

So it is.  The inevitable inevitably happened and we’re down.  We could blame Derby, for slamming us.  Or Forest, for failing at Bolton.  Or Bolton, for succeeding against Forest.  Or the ref at home to Bolton, for THAT decision (and those other indecisions).  But let’s face it, we simply haven’t been good enough.  The writing was on the wall last January (2017).  We lost Hourihane and Bree (…and Winnall)…later lost Scowen and Watkins and Roberts…and we’ve replaced them with (in no particular order) Potts, Williams, Barnes, Thiam, Moncur and Lindsay, not to mention about 30 others (we’ve had the most players of any club in the Championship).  Says it all.  We’ve given nearly 40 players a trot out at this level and few, if any, are good enough.  (Though 'trot' was probably the right word.  Carthorses.  Donkeys.  Asses.)  How fitting that in a match where victory would save us, we didn’t turn up.

Relegation beckons.

Optimism was low and spirits were high in the pub beforehand.  No, we hadn’t a cat in hell’s chance of winning, but so what?  The sun was shining, whiskeys were being drunk at half nine in the morning (welcome to Wetherspoons!) and we weren’t officially down yet. ‘You never know’ was the order of the day, as we dreamt of Bolton managing to do what they’ve done most of the season and fail.  Do the unthinkable (win) and we stay up on 44 points, surely a record.  The Sunday morning alcoholics, surprised at the early influx of dozens of customers with Barnsley accents, wished us luck.

Ice cream, sun, Greggs....is this what heaven looks like?

It was a hot, hot day in Derby, so good job we were in the shade.  2,700 (sold out) and bad news for Neil, who’d rocked up on the offchance of getting a ticket.  Further bad news:  he got one; someone’s mate was ill.  This was after being quoted £100 by a Derby fan in town.  I told him he could have mine for £100!  Farnham met me in a city centre pub having walked from Pride Park.  He looked destroyed in the heat, so, despite the weather, after a beer, we jumped in a taxi to the ground.

Fireworks...in the sun.  Go figure.

Upon entering the away end, it was a cauldron of noise.  The bar was packed, and we fought our way through to our seats, along with Reedy.  I even made kick off.  I didn’t want to miss a minute!  And it was fortunate I did, as for that 14 minutes, you could see Derby (needing a point to secure a play-off place) were absolutely BRICKING it, misplacing passes all over the place under little or no pressure.  So thank goodness for Conor ba5tard Mahoney, on loan piece of uselessness from AFC Bournemouth.  We have a corner, he swings it in and hits the 1st defender, Shukeresque.  No matter, the ball has come back to him.  He loses it trying to take the player on, Derby run straight up the other end and score.  OK, they had to run 70 yards, but with most of our team in THEIR box cos we were trying to SCORE, we couldn’t get back in time and Derby always had a man extra.  At least I’ll have something to remember this pr*ck by.  Good riddance.

Us and them.

Derby scored again, 2-0…but hang on…it’s been disallowed.  No idea what for, though apparently handball.  A mild stay of execution for the Super Reds, we go in at half time, 1-0.  We were arguably the better side, but without looking like scoring. Kiefer was blocked off going for a header (has ‘obstruction’ officially been erased from the rulebook?) but otherwise, it was as it was at Oakwell, Derby winning without any effort whatsoever.  The half times come in; Preston are beating Burton (hurrah!) and Bolton are being held (double hurrah!).  We are still outside the relegation zone, somehow.

The teams come out.

We come out 2
nd half and collapse.  Derby pass and move, we watch, and it’s 2-0.  Two becomes three, becomes four.  We’ve still got 20 minutes plus injury time.  The players have given up.  We might as well stick Sky on the big screen (instead of the current match) cos this game means nothing now, other than a chance for Derby to rack up a cricket score.  Our chances are firmly in the hands of other teams.  Worse, Preston have had a man sent off. Worser, Burton have equalised.  We’re down.  After all, what do Preston have to play for anyway, knowing we’re getting slammed means they can’t eke above Derby.  (They have PRIDE to play for, and do indeed go on to win 2-1.PRIDE.  Imagine.)
By now, Derby are taunting us with ‘Accrington on a Tuesday night’, to which the instant response is ‘Accrington Stanley, we’re coming for you.’  By now, it is impossible to get updates on our phones, as 4G might as well be 1D.  Rumours abound and news of Preston’s second spreads.  ‘Come on Preston, Come on Preston!’ I refuse to sing.  Derby chant something along the lines of ‘you spawny ba5tards, you’re still staying up.’  If only.

Match action, Derby actually FAILING to score.

By now Moncur is on and he nonchalantly pops one into the top corner from 20 yards as if Derby have joined us in giving up. At least the fans haven’t: ‘5-4, we’re gonna win 5-4’ nobody believed.  Not even Jose.  Both teams go through the motions till full time and a silence envelopes the away end.  Have we gone down? Who knows?  There’s rumour and counter rumour.  The players’ reactions look as if we’re down; only really Hammill comes anywhere close to the away end.  Probably for the best.  The Adam Hammill Appreciation Society sings him off the pitch as our hero is visibly distraught. More than me, to tell the truth.  This relegation has looked on the cards for months.  Adam: so long, and thanks for all the fish.

Adam waves a last goodbye.

I didn’t properly find out Bolton had won till I left.  I’m pleased I didn’t know they were losing when I was in the ground; it’s the hope that kills you.  Nevermind knowing they'd bagged in the 87th and 88th minutes to seal survival.  Good luck, no hard feelings, etc.  We had beer to quaff, sorrows to drown, and it was 4 pubs before we could do that, despite various Derby fans offering consoling ‘don’t worry, you’ll be back.’  Yes, whatever I might think of us as a Championship side, we might be quite well set up for division 3.  And Jose’s gone.  Thank heavens for that.  Our worst appointment in a long time.

Onwards and upwards!

 Hammill.  At least gave a s***.  Ran around all day from centre mid looking for gaps.  His run led to Moncur’s goal.
** Gardner.  Played well till we were overrun.
Walton.  Caught a couple, saved a couple, but couldn’t do much against players 4 yards out.

A friendly fence, separating the fans outside.

As well as the 2,700 at (No) Pride Park, I can’t believe 3,000 watched a live beamback to Oakwell. I wonder what it was like there? Did they know the other scores??

I was really struggling for a top 3.  Everyone was s*** in their own way.  And did I really see Thiam come on?  How can a centre forward, bought for so much money, paid so much money, fail to score in open play the entire season?  Let’s hope the 3rd division is more accommodating.  I'm off to spend my £60 of winnings.  You Reds!!!!!!!!!!

Drink du jour: Erdinger, Stella, vodka and orange.  It’s a wonder I didn’t end up in a fight. 

The Damage:
£26 ent

Programme?  Never saw one on sale.

 2,700.  A great effort from all.  Players take note.

The Tunes:
Microshift (Hookworms)

Pride Park panorama.

Monument commemorating the site of the old Baseball Ground.

Come on you ewes!

The Old #7 gets its flag up.

Just get Sky on!

Resigned to defeat...and relegation?

Farewell, Adam.

We'll always love you!

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Stoke City 1-2 Crystal Palace, Saturday 5th May 2018

Stoke City 1-2 Crystal Palace, att. 29,687

Welcome to ....

The end is in sight (in so many ways: the season; Stoke’s tenure in the Premiership) and Stoke is my 91st of the 92. Or is it 90? I shan’t count Spurs (for now) since their new stadium is pretty much on the footprint of the old one. But with Macclesfield back in the league, I’m technically back down to 90. Still, it’s good to have an aim. As my partner says ‘what will you do when you’ve completed the 92?’

A 3D map of the Britannia / Bet365

Stoke is an aberration on my part, in that I can’t quite understand how I’ve never been there. In the good old days they were second division regulars with Barnsley. And I’ve been to Port Vale 4 times (it has a charm). But, with their Premiership heartbeat running out, and Barnsley’s last match of the season just down the road at Derby the following day, I took the plunge: train and match tickets booked. Furthermore, The Captain was coming up from Southampton. Well, until I told him the week before that the kick-off time had changed: it was now 12:30. Bloody Sky! Fair dues to Stoke City FC, who took back the ticket (ripped in half and sellotaped back together by the Royal Mail) and gave me a full refund at 12:28pm.

£30 to see Stoke relegated.  Bargain.

I’d also made the mistake of booking one of them there ‘plus bus’ tickets you always get offered when you purchase rail tickets. I thought the stadium was about 4 miles away, too far to walk, but on further deliberation it was only about half an hour’s brisk walk away, along the canal. Turn right outside the station, turn right again at the lights, onto Leek Road, cross the canal and follow it to your left. Considering the fine weather, it was rather empty. But, along with Wigan, a traipse along the industrial waterways of England is just the job. No pier in Stoke though.

An old pottery kiln along the canal.

I’d gone for a ticket in the home end for this do-or-die match with Palace. Weeks ago it looked like ne or the other, but with Palace pulling off a couple of good results, it was simply s*** or bust for Stoke. I s’pose I was hoping for a Stoke collapse (given I’d come to a Prem game thinking they were going down), but, if Barnsley stayed up and Stoke went down, I’d be here anyway next season…thereby negating the need to come this time. Quandaries, eh?
My 1st glimpse inside the stadium.

The ground was virtually full and Stoke were in full song. Great noise from the Boothen End and the roof nearly came off when Shaqiri hit a free kick home. Just a point re: the Palace keeper (Hennessy?) Listen, Shaqiri only has one foot, and there’s only one place he’s going to try and put that free kick: just there. Where you should be. Nevermind the slight deflection off a Palace head.  If Stoke won their last two games, they’d probably stay up. So they only have themselves to blame; you take Peter Crouch off at your peril. 30 seconds later Palace were level, McArthur sidefooting in on the overlap after a lightning break. The Stoke players were broken, their crowd was broken. All hope seemingly extinguished, yet 22 minutes to play. Some started leaving early and, to be fair, they were right, the writing was on the wall. With 4 minutes left, and gaps everywhere in the Stoke team, Palace broke again and a despairing Shawcross interception diverted into the path of Van Aanholt to slide the ball through Butland’s legs.

Looking towards the Main Stand.

This was the cue for hordes to leave, which was a blessing to my ears, since the screamy bloke next to me was one of them. If I’ve heard the words ‘in there lad. IN THERE’ a hundred times, I would not exaggerate. Most of what he screamed was unintelligible, save for threatening Palace with death should they win, calling them ‘cockney c**ts’ and calling South London a ‘s***hole’. Has he been to Dulwich Village? I wouldn’t mind, but for the most part he reminded me of Get Carter: you’re a big lad, but you’re out of shape. I hope he enjoys his summer.

A disgruntled fan's shirt is thrown onto the pitch.

Still, I’ll give it to those who stayed. Despite defeat, they roared on their heroes, promising to be ‘Stoke until I die.’ And despite one fans efforts, shouting ‘Lambert Out’, the vast majority still seemed onboard.

I toyed with the idea of a bus back, but looked up the old Victoria Ground, walked halfway back to town along the canal, then turned off for the Victoria’s previous site. Having laid dormant for several years, it’s finally being developed. I hope it encompasses a suitable ‘memorial’. And walking back a different way brought me to an incredible pub, the Glebe, where I sat on a Chesterfield leather chair and reminisced with an old Stoke fan about music and football. He’d visit more often, but, guess what, football is too expensive these days, £34 in his bit. Should Barnsley stay up, I’ve promised to visit him again next season! (Note: Barnsley didn’t.)

Also, has anybody else noticed the Stoke accent is a mixture of Brummie and Scouse? It’c certainly…interesting.

England's Jack Butler is inconsolable.

The Damage:
£30 ent
£3.50 prog
£1.50 fanzine
= £35

The Tunes:
Singularity (Jon Hopkins)
Song For Alpha (Daniel Avery)
Claustrophia (Scuba)
Foxbase Alpha (St. Etienne)
Garlands (Cocteau Twins)

Bet 365 panorama v Palace.

Looking towards the away end.

Former England manager Roy Hodgson looks on.

Crouchy subbed.  Dearie me.

The Stoke tunnel...and changing rooms.

Lovely pitch.

The thin green/yellow line.

Match action.

Some people think it's all over....

The Stoke 'lap of (dis)honour'.

You'll not see his ilk for a while....a regretful Shaqiri.

Full time.

When they changed the name, did they change the seats?

Outside the Bet365.

See you in the Championship!

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