Dulwich Hamlet Football Club Limited
Registered in England and Wales Number 02840930
Registered Office: Champion Hill Stadium, Edgar Kail Way, London SE22 8BD
The Hamlet are back in the Isthmian League for the 2023-24 season for the first time since 2018 following five years in the National League South.
Those five seasons playing at Step 2 represented the highest level achieved during our 130-year history, but would end in heartbreak on the final day of last season. Only needing a point to avoid the drop against Chippenham Town, the side would lose 1-0 in front of a sell-out 3,334 at Champion Hill, with other results elsewhere condemning them to a return to the Isthmian League, which we have spent 111 years of our existence playing in.
The club with the famous pink and navy blue shirts can boast an illustrious past. Indeed, between the two World Wars, they were among the giants of amateur football.
The Dulwich Hamlet story began back in 1893, during the closing years of Queen Victoria’s reign. Towards the end of the summer that year, Lorraine Wilson was handed the princely sum of one shilling and eight pence (less than 10 pence in today’s coinage) by a couple of keen young footballers and asked to start a Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. ‘Pa’, as he was affectionately known, tackled the task with great relish and over the next thirty years, he helped to build Dulwich into a powerful force.
Life in the early days was fairly tough. The club’s original ground in Woodwarde Road had no changing facilities. On match days the players used to walk half a mile through the streets of Dulwich Village to get from their dressing room to the pitch. Usually they had to carry the goalposts, crossbars, and corner flags with them. One consolation was that the players’ route took them through the gardens of the local inn where no doubt they paused on their return journey for a post-match drink or two!
Dulwich made their debut in competitive soccer when they joined the local Camberwell League in 1894-95. The following season the championship of that league’s ‘B’ Division became the first entry on what has proved to be a long list of honours. Achieving senior status in 1900, the club proceeded from strength to strength and in 1904-05, they won the Surrey Senior Cup for the first time. They have now won the Surrey Cup a record 16 times, most recently in 1975. In 1907, Dulwich gained election to the Isthmian League, where they have remained ever since.
During the First World War, the legendary Edgar Kail joined Dulwich. In his brilliant fourteen-year career with the Hamlet, Kail scored 427 goals (including a club record of 53 goals in the 1925-26 season). He also played three times for the full England International side, scoring twice on his debut against France. Kail helped Dulwich to the Isthmian League championship in 1920, 1926 and 1933, two FA Amateur Cup triumphs in 1920 and 1932, and the London Senior Cup in 1925. Another Hamlet legend of that era was goalkeeper Bert Coleman who gained a full England cap in 1921, keeping a clean sheet against Wales. Dulwich’s other major successes during their heyday between the wars were two more FA Amateur Cup wins in 1934 and 1937, and another London Senior Cup victory in 1939; they were also runners-up in the Isthmian League five times. Incidentally, their 7-1 win over Marine in 1931/32 equalled the record score for an FA Amateur Cup Final.
Dulwich were quickly into their stride after the Second World War and in 1949 they were Isthmian League champions for a fourth time. In 1950 they lifted the London Senior Cup again, and it was in the same season that fullback Reg Merritt embarked upon a long career with the Hamlet during which he made a club record 576 appearances. One of the most popular players of the immediate post-war period was flying left-winger Tommy Jover whose career goals tally for Dulwich has only been bettered by Edgar Kail. Tommy completed more than seventy years magnificent service to the club, as player, official and latterly club President from 1985 until his death at the grand age of 91 in 2008. The club’s main stand is now named in his honour.
Dulwich then went through a very lean spell during the 1960s and 70s, which, apart from three good seasons in the mid-1970s, culminated in relegation from the top division. However, they bounced straight back under manager Alan Smith, winning the Division One championship at the first attempt in 1978. Midfield dynamo Chris Lewington was an ever-present that season and he repeated the feat in each of the next four seasons to complete a remarkable 290 consecutive appearances, another club record.
Since the phasing out of amateur football and the end of the FA Amateur Cup in 1974, Dulwich have been a semi-professional club and compete in the FA Trophy. Their best run so far in the competition was in 1979-80 when they reached the quarter-finals, losing to Boston United in a replay. This was repeated in 2016-17 when they would be knocked out by National League Macclesfield Town, again after a replay.
However, as the 1980s progressed, the club fell on hard times again and despite a London Senior Cup success in 1984 they struggled in the Isthmian League, being relegated to Division One at the end of 1990. This time it took them two years to get back to the top flight - an exciting finale to the 1991-92 campaign saw the Hamlet win their last seven league games to pip Boreham Wood for a promotion place on the final day of the season.
It was most appropriate that Dulwich were able to celebrate their centenary by moving into a new Champion Hill Stadium. Their famous old ground, situated on the same site, opened in 1931 and for a long time was the mecca of amateur football. Numerous Amateur Internationals and other important matches were staged there, including the FA Amateur Cup Final between Kingstonian and Stockton in 1933 that attracted a record crowd of 20,744. Sadly, the old ground fell into disrepair over the years and in order to satisfy safety regulations several alterations had to be made which reduced the capacity considerably. Eventually, in 1991, the stadium was totally demolished as part of Sainsbury’s redevelopment of the area.
The 1990s would bring ups and downs, with Frank Murphy transforming us into championship contenders again, before the decade would end with a run to the FA Cup First Round under Dave Garland in the autumn of 1998, losing to an own goal in a 1-0 loss at home to Southport, before the club lifted the London Challenge Cup at the end of that season, beating Uxbridge 2-1 at the Valley.
Relegation occurred again in 2001 with just four league wins all season, which brought a long spell back in Division One. A Premier Division spot was almost regained under chairman/manager Martin Eede in 2004, however a 4-5 penalty loss to Wealdstone in a promotion play-off ended those dreams. Three days later, a brace from Omari Coleman handed us our fifth and most recent London Senior Cup title, as we beat old rivals Tooting & Mitcham United at Hendon.
Eede was succeeded first by Wayne Burnett and then Craig Edwards, before the arrival of former players Gavin Rose and Junior Kadi in the summer of 2009 as manager and assistant gave the club a huge upturn in fortunes.
After a mid-table finish in their first year, the duo took the side to the Division One South play-off final in 2011, beating Bognor Regis Town in the semi-final after finishing 31 points behind them, before leading Leatherhead 3-1 with minutes to go in the final, only to lose 4-3 after extra time. Dulwich also reached the final of the League Cup for the first time, but lost 0-2 to Wingate & Finchley at Imber Court.
Rose would reach the final again 12 months later, where Bognor Regis exacted their revenge for the previous year, winning 1-0 at Nyewood Lane, but undeterred, 2012-13 would bring incredible joy to the club. Blending a mixture of experience in the likes of Peter Adeniyi, Kevin James and Phil Wilson with exciting youngsters such as Nyren Clunis, Ellis Green and Xavier Vidal, the Hamlet were involved in a scintillating title race with Maidstone United. The arrival early in the season of magician Erhun Öztümer and then striker Danny Carr added incredible skill and firepower, with the season going right to the final weekend. Against Burgess Hill Town at home, a second half strike from Vidal earned the point we needed to secure the title, one point clear of the Stones.
Back in the Premier Division, it was a series of disappointments for the side in the next few years, missing out on the playoffs in 2014 by a point, before losing in the semi-finals a year later at Margate. Two successive final losses followed, with a 3-1 defeat at East Thurrock United in 2016 followed by a 2-1 loss at Bognor Regis Town 12 months later.
However, 2017-18 brought more success, as a side containing the likes of Clunis, Preston Edwards, Ashley Carew, Kenny Beaney, Nathan Green, Reise Allassani and Sanchez Ming went toe-to-toe with high-spending Billericay Town, finishing with a club-record 95 points in second place. This was made even more impressive by the fact that we had been evicted from Champion Hill in March 2018, with home games at Tooting & Mitcham United, and the club relying on fan donations and fundraising throughout the season to keep playing. In the play-offs, a Carew free-kick beat Leiston in the semis, before Hendon awaited at Imperial Fields in the final. On a baking May Bank Holiday, an equaliser from Gavin Tomlin sent the game to extra-time and then penalties, with goalkeeper Amadou Tangara saving two Hendon efforts before Dipo Akinyemi struck the winner to send us to the National League South.
Life at Step 2 was a rollercoaster for the Hamlet, with a brief flirtation with the drop easily avoided in the end during 2018-19 as we finished 14th in our debut season at the level. The following year brought an appearance in the FA Cup First Round, televised live on BBC1 against Carlisle United, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic, which may have ultimately saved us from relegation, with the following season ended prematurely too. 2021-22 brought a stunning first half of the season in which we looked like strong contenders for the playoffs, before faltering after Christmas to end 10th, the highest position in the club's history.
Last season, the club parted company with Rose after 13 years in charge, with Paul Barnes replacing him at the helm. However, a run of one point from ten games in the spring saw another managerial change, as Hakan Hayrettin came in, but despite keeping us in the running for survival, that defeat to Chippenham on the final day condemned us to the drop.
The Hamlet have also had a Women's side since 2019. During that summer, the club merged with AFC Phoenix, who had been in existence since 2010 and who had gradually risen up through the regional London leagues to reach Step 5 and the London & South-East Regional Women's League.
Manager Farouk Menia sadly passed away just months after the mergence following a long illness, with Ryan Dempsey taking the reins, and the Hamlet would enjoy two excellent seasons, only for the pandemic to intervene, and deny them promotion to Step 4. 2021-22 was a more inconsistent campaign, with a fifth-placed finish lower than the previous two seasons, but the side reached their first cup final under the Hamlet banner, losing 2-0 to Ashford Town in the final of the Capital Senior Cup at Dorking Wanderer's Meadowbank.
2022-23 would bring more history, with the side reaching the proper stages of the Women's FA Cup for the first team, eventually bowing out in Round 2 to Gillingham in front of a record 631 at Champion Hill, with the side improving on the previous season to finish fourth in the league.