In the first of two guest blogs this week we hear again from Andy Pearmain, who originally offered us his pre-season thoughts ahead of a City XI’s friendly at Dulwich Hamlet. He returns to update us on their fortunes, looks at City’s prospects and the the corrosive effects of money on football:
A few months ago, in the full flush of pre-season optimism, I wrote a piece for MFW on football allegiance and how I’d transferred mine from Leeds United to Norwich City, then most recently to non-League South London outfit Dulwich Hamlet.
It had been a protracted, painful process over fifty years of following football, with a connecting thread of sheer folly at attaching my emotional well-being (and that of my loved ones) to the fortunes of distant strangers playing the beautiful game for money.
And that, dear readers, is the theme of this next little homily on the state of our national game – the corrosive effects of money on football – by way of an update on the somewhat mixed fortunes of the mighty Dulwich Hamlet so far this season.
It’s all been a bit weird really – unbeatable away, decidedly flaky at home, with a couple of thrashings and draws which really should have been 5-0 wins – like quite a lot of clubs at the moment, including Norwich City.
I’ve got no statistical basis for this (any budding Stattos out there?) but it seems to me that a lot more games are being won by away sides. It’s a lot to do with the favoured counter-attacking style, solid massed defence and aim to score on the breakaway, which home sides don’t generally do because it gets the fans groaning.
As we all know, there is nothing more dispiriting – bar the state of English politics perhaps – than the sound of a groaning football crowd.
This brings me back to something I mentioned last time, the football of fear, which has made watching NCFC such a trial over the last few seasons. From reading MFW – especially Rob Emery’s excellent piece on the anxiety levels at Carrow Road – this is a theme that has been picked up in quite a few recent posts. And contra Rob, it did set in under Paul Lambert, whose most memorable pitch side instruction/bellow was (from my seat right behind the dugout) “Don’t get f***in’ beat!”
Anyway, to the early autumn chill of Lowestoft last Tuesday evening, to watch Dulwich take on the Trawler Boys in a rearranged league game. Lowestoft have got money troubles of their own this season, mainly to do with last season’s relegation from a division they should never have been in – the National League North (yes, somehow Lowestoft was dispatched to the north of England, and fortnightly, expensive and arduous outings to the far north west and east).
It also looks from a distance as if their strategy of relying on old fringe-pros from Norwich City – the Jarvises, Spillane, Eagle, Fisk and most recently the statuesque Danny Crow – hasn’t done them any favours, not least because these guys understandably want to squeeze every last penny out of their dwindling careers.
After an excellent dinner of grilled lamb and salad at the Marmaris (much recommended, at least in the culinary desert that is Lowestoft), I made my way to Crown Meadow. On entry I was accosted by a middle-aged man with one of those strange leather hats that always suggest (to me at any rate) questionable private pursuits.
“Are you a Dulwich Hamlet fan?” he said. I pointed at my pink and blue scarf by way of tentative answer. Why did he want to know? I remember a Leeds fan having his scarf set on fire by a Man Utd mob in the late ’60s. Was a similar fate about to befall my little scrap of acrylic? “You’re not just wearing it as a joke?” he went on. Er, no…
Anyway, it turned out that in recognition of the twenty or so of us having made the long trek from south London on a chilly Tuesday evening, with no train back that evening, Lowestoft Town Supporters Trust had clubbed together to offer us a £1 voucher towards a drink. How kind, the true spirit of non-League ‘real’ football etc…. I couldn’t bring myself to tell the chap in the leather hat I’d only come from Norwich (part-time supporter…) and, providing I left at the final whistle, would be home by 10.30.
I did leave on time, which was rather a shame, because I couldn’t join the other twenty Dulwich fans in the usual display of man-love towards our team, who had just delivered their best performance of the season in a 3-0 win over pretty ordinary opposition.
Our right-winger Nyron Clunis (great name, eh?) played a blinder, scoring twice and setting up the third. As another pink and blue fan in the adjoining urinal put it at half-time, “Nyron’s on fire tonight!”, though not in the sense I’d been fretting about my scarf.
So Dulwich’s away record now stands at won 2, drawn 4, lost 0, the only unbeaten away record in the division, including runaway leaders Leiston, who were really impressive winning 4-2 at Dulwich. As I said earlier, the Hamlet’s home form’s been a very different matter: won 2, drawn 1, lost 3, plus an FA Cup defeat to unremarkable Hendon.
The first few games Dulwich were truly dreadful, and had me seriously questioning the sense and value of my £64 season ticket. They played like the bunch of strangers they largely were, having lost several key players to higher and better placed clubs.
Even at this level money talks loud and clear. These guys are on 400/500 quid a week, so if Ebbsfleet or Forest Green can offer them a few hundred more they’re off before you can say “Tuscany, Tuscany, we’re the famous Dulwich Hamlet and we play in Tuscany” or even “Loyalty to the fans?”
On the other hand Dulwich seem to have first call on most Crystal Palace rejects, who tend to be rather better than Norwich’s.
The fact is – and a fair few Canaries fans would do well to remember this, especially those calling on ‘the board’ to ‘show more ambition’ by ‘loosening the purse strings’ – that money has always been the overriding concern in professional football. Usually other people’s money and how to get hold of more of it for yourself.
I remember sitting on the fringes of a bunch of Leeds players on a night out in the ’80s and listening to them talk about money – wages, fees, bonuses etc. – the whole evening. Not a word about football.
It’s just all gone so much further, to the point where the commerce completely outweighs the joy or even entertainment value of Big Football, just like everything else in the icy grip of global capitalism.
I went to Norwich’s recent under-21 game against Valencia (admittedly because it was free), and was shocked by how much more commercialised the ‘matchday experience’ of Carrow Road has become since I last went a couple of seasons ago. Just about every announcement was aimed at flogging us something.
Then again it was a really good game, not least because everyone was relatively relaxed and could enjoy the spectacle. By the way, Alex Pritchard looks very special; obviously Wessi’s long-term replacement and I would say a considerable upgrade.
But even him, a really talented footballer with a startling turn of pace, is thought of in terms of how much he cost and how he might ‘repay the investment’. And the other youngsters, so exciting to watch coming through, must even now be thinking of big money moves elsewhere. It’s a short career etc., and if you’re not careful you’ll end up playing for Lowestoft Town…
And that’s my biggest concern, that right up and down the football pyramid, the commerce is squeezing out the art (just as it has in real Art). I blame the Premier League for drowning our national beautiful game in money, hype, superstardom, transfer-tattle and over-excitement.
That’s the real source of all the anguish. It all just matters too bloody much to too many people.
Cheers, as ever, to Andy. I’m sure we’ll be hearing from him again during the season.