Having all but clinched their place in the playoffs following Saturday’s comprehensive defeat of relegation threatened Burgess Hill Town, a positive result for Gavin Rose’s men against the already doomed Blues would make certain of third place in the Ryman League Premier Division. With Enfield Town and Leiston, 5th and 4th respectively, meeting at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium on the final day of the regular season next Saturday, only one of the pair can overhaul the Hamlet. Meanwhile Dulwich hold it in their own hands to fend off 6th place Wingate and Finchley when they travel to the Maurice Rebak Stadium on the same day. Both Tonbridge Angels and Needham Market can match the Hamlet's current points tally but it would need a swing in goal difference of monumental proportions for either side to bridge the gap, the Angels 21 goals adrift, the Marketmen even further in arrears on -3 to Dulwich +32.
And so to today’s guests from Grays. For the Blues it has been a season of mixed emotions. Off the field the future seems brighter than it has done for many a year with the club now in the hands of its loyal supporters after many years of contentious ownership, The days of the megalomaniac millionaire Mick Woodward may have brought much success to the long lamented Recreation Ground,, back to back FA Trophy successes in 2005 & 2006, an all time high when they finished third in the Conference National at the first attempt, but it would all end in tears. The painful legacy saw the Rec vacated before it was reduced to rubble and joined a plethora of non league grounds buried beneath the foundations of new development. Homeless and now back in the boondocks of the Isthmian League, the Blues shared first with East Thurrock before a disastrous deal with West Ham United at Ford United’s former Rush Green home saw them tossed out just as they had reclaimed their spot back in the Isthmian Premier, winning Division One North in 2013 with a club record 102 points, Next stop was Aveley and the Mill Field Ground but with new hope off the field, visions of home they can call their own once more are starting to materialise.
On the field, almost from day one of the season Grays found themselves stalked by the spectre of relegation as the club didn’t just flirt with the drop zone, but bought the ring, arranged the nuptials and carried it over the threshold. Seven games in, after a 6-1 annihilation away to Merstham, they slipped in the bottom four for a second time, having briefly escaped earlier with a surprise 1-0 win away to newly-promoted Worthing. The Blues would never escape its clutches for the rest of the season despite valiant efforts including three wins on the spin in early December as Kingstonian, Canvey Island and Hendon all fell at their hands. The mini-revival coincided with the return of striker KIeran Bishop who found the net in each of those encounters, bagging six goals in first five games. Unfortunately waiting around the corner were Havant & Waterlooville and once Alfie Rutherford had put the Hawks ahead on 5 minutes, defending against the onslaught became as futile as lying in the path of a steamroller.
As the trapdoor began to creak open beneath their feet and the hangman’s noose tightened around their necks, Grays still had the odd rabbit to pull out of the hat. The “Grays Escape” still had a sequel in the making. Billericay Town had not quite begun to set the Red Tops alight with lurid tales of megalomaniacal management, extravagant signings plucked from the remainder bins of the professional game and reality TV as well as cacophonous choirs in the dressing. Yet already Project Pay for Promotion was already germinating with many experienced faces appearing in the ‘Ricay squad. Not for the first time this season Grays players rose to the occasion, working industriously to stifle their Essex rivals before, almost on the final whistle, Kwabena Osei dispatched a delightful free kick to break the bank, sorry hearts’ of the travellers. Following that win up with another, this time 3-1 away to another of the strugglers as Bishop bagged a brace at Harrow Borough, Grays welcomed Met Police with their dream much alive again. Sadly it was not to be and defeat at the hands of boys in blue would eventually lead to their Premier Division demise. Three more defeats and the axe finally fell at Wingate & Finchley as Grays Athletic, despite their best efforts, slipped to a single goal defeat to the playoff pretenders, club stalwart Ahmet Rifat doing the damage. As the ship sank beneath the waves the Grays’ supporters find themselves facing a watershed season, one that should see the club rebuild and return strong, wiser and ready to reclaim its place among the pantheon of Essex football.
Monday will be the third time that Dulwich have clashed with the Blues this season. Back in September an Alan Turvey Trophy First Round tie at CHampion Hill saw a rather lopsided encounter with the Hamlet two goals to the good within ten minutes after goals from Ibrahim Kargbo and Alex Teniola. Somehow Dulwich contrived not to take the chances that fell their way and it was not until 7 minutes into the second half when Nyren Clunis broke through to add a third with Ashley Carew putting the tin hat on an emphatic win with a 4th near the end. When the sides met again after Christmas, the Grays squad bore little resemblance to the team that had surrendered so meekly at Champion Hill with only Jamie Mascoll and Lheureux Menga starting both games for the Blues. It certainly showed as Grays, although knocked back after three straight wins by a heavy defeat at Havant, went to work with a will. After 51 minutes without goal, it was former Grays’ striker Dumebi Dumaka who broke the home resistence as he hammered home from ten yards out. However it took until stoppage time for the second, game killer goal to arrive such was the Grays work ethic. Everyone was up for a lastgasp Grays corner including their ‘keeper but with that cleared the hosts were left exposed in the rear as Nyren Clunis, like the fox head of hounds, hared upfield to finish into an empty net for 2-0.
The game kicks off at 3.00 pm and takes place at Champion Hill Stadium, Edgar Kail Way, East Dulwich, London SE22 8BD. Turnstiles open just after 1.00 pm and all the usual outlets will be in operation including the outside bar. They’ll be a few surprises on offer in both so keep your eyes on the official Dulwich Hamlet Twitter feed @DulwichHamletFC for details.
Guests and officials are asked to enter via the Health Club reception as may Season Ticket holders on presentation of their Dulwich Hamlet Season Ticket.
- £10 for Adults
- £4 for Concessions
- NB: Concessions cover Seniors - 60+, Teenagers (13-19), Unemployed (JSA), Disability Living Allowance (DLA), NHS Staff, Blue Light Services, Serving Members of the Armed Forces and Full Time Students. (Please bring a form of valid ID for your concession as you might not be admitted without that)
- Under 13s FREE accompanied by a paying adult
Tickets can be purchased online via SEE Tickets by clicking here
Updated 12:28 - 16 Apr 2017 by Paul Griffin