Reasons To Be Cheerful
Tuesday 24th September 2013
—Dulwich Hamlet 2 Margate FC 0—
It is generally accepted by fans, players, & management that football does tend to throw up quirks over various stages of the season. One of these quirks came about on Tuesday night, as Margate travelled away to newly promoted Dulwich Hamlet – a side that they will be facing at Hartsdown Park on Saturday, albeit in the 2nd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup.
Dress rehearsal was the term mooted around, but these games had two very different rewards at the end of them – Tuesday night’s fixture being for 3 vital Ryman League points in order to sustain both sides’ promotion ambitions, & Saturday’s reward being progress to the 3rd Qualifying Round, & just as importantly for the club – a handsome sum of prize money, £4,500 to be exact.
Due to a combination of painstaking research and too much time on my hands, I had studied highlights of various Dulwich games on YouTube, and a player that stood out by a country mile was their diminutive midfielder – a chap by the name of Erhun Oztomer.
At 5’3 (although a Dulwich fan I spoke to at the ground informed me that he believed Oztomer’s height to be even smaller, due to comparing his height with his wife, who happened to be 4’11) it was clear that gifted players come in small packages, an expression that Ivesy will undoubtedly be nodding in agreement with, due to his goalscoring exploits in a recent charity match!
Dulwich, having been promoted as Ryman South champions last season, had started the season in flying form – picking up 20 points from their opening 10 games, their only noticeable wobble being a 3-1 loss away at Harrow Borough. In their eye-watering pink & blue quartered shirts, they promised to be a test for our boys in blue.
Making the relatively short journey to South London thanks to a lift from a renowned Who fan & lifelong president of the Matthew Bodkin fan club, the mood in the car was buoyant, mainly due to some quality banter between Mark & Kev (they really do need to be given an award for services to comedy!) with some asides from Don & Wade from the Margate forum, we eventually found some space in the crowded car park to pull into.
Walking into the ground, the pitch looked in plush condition, and the home fans & staff were very welcoming. A crowd of 466 was recorded for this fixture – an excellent attendance for a midweek game. As the team news was announced over what can only be described as an incoherent & mumbling tannoy system, we gathered that Hollers wasn’t playing – due to his eye injury sustained by an over zealous striker at Grays thoughtfully leaving his boot in, & escaping being sent off for what was widely accepted as a horrific challenge.
In his place, came Joe Welch – a 24 year old keeper that we had signed only that day on dual registration from Skrill South side Bromley. I have to admit to being somewhat relieved that our backup keeper Daniel O’Neill wasn’t playing, due to the battering his confidence had taken at Dover – it later transpired that O’Neill had been released by the club.
Apart from our talismanic keeper & joint manager being out of action, along with our defensive colossus known as Joe Vines, the management had named a very strong lineup, with Avo, Bealesy & Bodkin all in the starting lineup, as well as the triple threat of Walshy, Paul Vines & Charles ‘Charlie’ Ademeno.
After a brief flick through the programme, the teams came trotting out to a rapturous reception from the impressive turnout of Dulwich fans, & before long the game was underway.
To say Dulwich came out of the blocks faster than Usain Bolt would be an understatement, with some crisp, incisive passing aiming to cut through the Gate defence early on – which was dealt with admirably. With not long played, the signs were already showing that the ‘Pink & Blue Army’ as their fans affectionately call them, were proving to be an excellent footballing side.
However, the Blue & White Army (rolls off the tongue so much better I find!) have an excellent footballing side of their own, & indeed they were making the Dulwich keeper (30 with the help of Just For Men Gel) much the busier of the two keepers, the custodian tipping a Vines header over the bar as Gate produced an attacking onslaught, winning numerous corners that all unfortunately came to nothing.
A very equal encounter with excellent attacking football from both sides really was a joy to watch – if this is how it is Saturday, you’re in for a treat! The Dulwich defenders were finding Ademeno more than a handful to deal with, as he ploughed his way through them almost at will – a prime example of this was shown as he was bought down by a desperate lunge just outside the box – although for my money I felt it was inside. Sadly the free kick came to nothing, the ball being well held by an unpressurised keeper, who clearly gets his hair colouring tips from Mr Boyle!
Margate were posing more & more questions as the half went on, leading to a screaming match between the Dulwich #3 & #8, who responded with a sullen shrug as #3 continued to berate him in a voice that can only be described as the same pitch as Mickey Mouse. Not long after this, Paul Vines surged through, but was denied by the onrushing keeper.
Unfortunately, right on half time Gate were dealt a hammer blow. The aforementioned Oztomer (having been serenaded with a 5’3, better than Messi chant from the Dulwich fans) was upended by Avo as he made his way towards goal – a sending off looked like the only option due to Avo being the last man, but the ref decided that a booking & awarding a free kick in a dangerous position just outside the box would suffice, to the chagrin of the Hamlet fans.
Jeers soon turned to cheers however, as from the resultant free kick, Kevin James curled a sublime free kick over the wall, giving the debutant keeper Welch no chance. 1-0 Dulwich on the very stroke of half time.
Despite conceding at one of the worst times possible (cliches coming out there!) my mood at the break was upbeat – in no way did we deserve to be losing, & a conversation with a couple of Dulwich fans – where they informed me of their surprise that their team rather than ours, was going into the break 1-0 up, only heightened my positivity. All to play for, was my overwhelming attitude. I’ve seen us play much worse & draw, so to be losing was desperately unlucky in my opinion.
This optimism increased with the start of the second half, as Gate came out all guns blazing, chances for Walsh, Vines & Sammoutis (who unfortunately skied his shot having had the ball laid off by an impressive Dolby) sadly going begging. As the half wore on, Margate continually piled the pressure on Dulwich by pelting the ball forward, Walshy & Vines winning most of their aerial battles against an increasingly shaky Dulwich defence (their Achilles heel, perhaps?) only for no clear cut chances to come of these, despite another flurry of corners.
Then, deja vu. A breakaway involving that man Oztomer involved some short, sharp passes before the Turkish midfielder played the ball across to their striker Ian Daly, who slotted in past a helpless Welch – who had made a quietly impressive debut, some of the Gate contingent noticing that he commanded his area well. 2-0 down & a burning sense of injustice lingering, Gate created the last couple of chances which, in keeping with how the night went, sadly came to nothing as the final whistle blew.
A real sickener due to the sucker punch nature of the two goals, & our own very slick, battling and professional performance against an impressive side, which deserved so much more. On another night, we could have well been the ones celebrating three points, & it would have been difficult to imagine even the most hardened of the Pink & Blue Army ranks denying this.
As the Dulwich fans performed a conga, my thoughts turned to Saturday – if we play like that, we’ll be performing a conga (or at the very least, a Poznan) of our own. It has to be said that for a 2-0 defeat, the mood among most Gate supporters was upbeat, ours more than most due to Mark & Kev’s ongoing battle with the female sat-nav on the way back to Thanet.
To complete my brace of cliches on this blog, it really is all in our hands.
Roll on Saturday!