"Good afternoon, today we welcome back to Champion Hill for the first time for an Isthmian League fixture since 2003/04. That was the season when the top six of the Ryman League Divisions One South & North were ‘promoted’ to stay at the same level of the pyramid, due to the formation of the second level of Conference football, at North & South level the following year.
We ourselves, of course, lost a ‘winner takes all’ one-off play-off spot with Wealdstone, in a penalty shoot-out after extra-time…which meant we missed out on the last Premier Division slot, on a heartbreaking night for all of the Hamlet fans who were there that night.
I mention this not to open old wounds, bring back bad memories, or whatever; but use it to illustrate how far we have advanced since in the Gavin Rose era. For Wealdstone travelled in numbers, as you would expect, yet the crowd was still only 582, but a very big one for us at the time. This season our opening home gate against Canvey Island was 877..which was up by on our first home match last season, which was ‘only’ 607, for an ordinary league match…yet still bigger than that Wealdstone play-off!
I mention this because it’s a great credit to everyone at the Club as to how our crowds have shot up in the last few seasons. Of course much of it has been down our manager Gavin Rose, now entering his seventh season in the Champion Hill hotseat. But there are other factors too. Take last season and the ‘concept’ that was ‘Non League Day’. The idea behind this simple but ingenious concept was to promote the national game at our levels on a day when there was no top flight football. To try to show fans of professional clubs that non-league can be just as entertaining & exciting, while also crucially being somewhere you can go to watch football without being stung too hard in the wallet, and being able to enjoy yourselves, merrily drinking, socialising with the away fans, and moving ends at half time. All things we take for granted…but not realised by the majority who go to the likes of Millwall or Crystal Palace; or get their ‘football fix’ via a satellite dish in the local pub or from the comfort of their own armchair.
Finally, last year we WERE at home on ‘Non League Day’, and truth be told we had no idea how it would go. The Club took a HUGE gamble in having a ‘pay what you like’ offer at the turnstiles, with the proceeds, after our costs were covered, going to the two charities chosen by the Mayor of Southwark, as his beneficiaries for his term of office. It was a lot of hard work, with individual fans & Committee members linking up with an extremely hard working team from the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust to promote the game via social media, leaflets & posters all across our corner of South London. Everyone had their fingers crossed for a great day, but I think we were all blown away by the response from our local community, who flocked to Champion Hill in great numbers, so large that our ground record for the ‘new’ current station was smashed. No less than 2,856 were counted through the turnstiles, & in all probability it was maybe a tad more.
That match, despite us not winning the game, proved to be a catalyst attendance wise. We went on to record no less than TEN more four figure home gates between that Hampton & Richmond encounter right up until the end of the season.
Unfortunately fate has been against us, with the fixture list casting an away game for us on the 2015 Non League Day, which is Saturday 10th October. But we are pleased to announce (which some of you may have seen on our official website www.dulwichhamletfc.london earlier in the week) that we are holding a “Pre- Non League Day” event the week before, when we host VCD Athletic, again ‘Pay What You Like’ thanks to the kind agreement of our Club owners Hadley Property. All proceeds after the usual matchday costs have been deducted, will be split between our official 2015/16 charity partners Cooltan Arts & the British Heart Foundation.
So please make a note of that date in your diary & let all of your families, friends, neighbours & work colleagues know about the match. It would be great to fill the ground again…and in the process once more help Dulwich Hamlet put something back into our local community.