Andy Pearmain has already popped on here a few times. As MFW’s Dulwich Hamlet correspondent (kind of) he’s kept us abreast of non-league events in south London, while passing comment on events in Norwich. And he’s back…
I can safely say that I’m enjoying my football more than you are. My adopted team Dulwich Hamlet are nine points clear at the top of the Bostik Premier League, whereas the team that plays five minutes from my home near Carrow Road….
I made the stupid mistake of going to see Norwich City ‘entertain’ Burton Albion, now officially designated the worst game I’ve ever seen. And that includes the last game I saw at Carrow Road four long seasons ago, a bore-draw against Swansea that actually sent me to sleep after an hour.
For what it’s worth, here’s my thoughts on your lot. I suspect the ‘Webberlution’ was always supposed to include David Wagner, but he rather inconveniently got Huddersfield promoted. So Norwich had to settle for his successor at Borussia Dortmund reserves, who turns out to be… well, not as good. Mind you, he’s not been given a lot to work with.
Norwich are suffering a hangover from their fairly brief dalliance with the (Global) Premier League, whose only long-term effect has been to saddle the club with a bunch of Delia-related cliches (not to mention cliched relations) and make a fair few indifferent footballers multi-millionaires. As the latest accounts make clear, the real culprits at Norwich City are not the board, whose worst failings are bumbling parochialism and honest naïvity, but all those useless players who have come and gone, giving very little but taking a lot.
The only honest footballer Norwich City have employed in the last five years is Jonny Howson – a team rebuilt around him (paid whatever he wanted, which probably wasn’t that much) would have won promotion last season. As it is, you’re stuck with kids, crocks and journeymen, with genuine prospects like James Maddison and Alex Pritchard set to depart in the January or summer sales.
A future of mid-table mediocrity beckons, grinding out enough points to stay in the Championship, with just a couple of local derbies a season to disturb the inertia. And that was always what Big Football promised a nice, cosy provincial backwater like Norwich. Before you shout me down, that’s what makes it such a nice place to live, unlike all those other places in England where football served to alleviate grim lives. It was always a big city business, and our fine but small city has always struggled to compete.
Having said that, looking at the Premier League now, at least from the ‘Top Six’ down, what’s striking is how many clubs ‘represent’ relatively marginal, out of the way places. The fact is that West Brom, Watford, Swansea and Bournemouth etc. don’t ‘represent’ those unremarkable places at all, but their mostly foreign owners’ predilection for television revenues. Increasingly the rest of the football nation finds it harder to care how any of them get on.
Really and truly, how interested are you in the outcome of West Brom versus Watford, and all those other helter-skelter kickabouts Match of the Day is contractually obliged to tack on as midnight approaches? That’s how the bubble bursts, not with a bang but a finger on the off-button. Even those clubs’ own supporters are getting weary with the annual slog for survival, just as Norwich did under Hughton then Neil.
So back to the real world, and my current football passion 7th-level semi-pro Dulwich Hamlet. The last game I saw was actually the worst of the season, but then it was at home to Lowestoft Town, who didn’t so much ‘park the bus’ as hide in the bus station toilets. Not only did Lowestoft not have a single shot on target, they barely bothered to attack at all, not even after finally going a goal down in the 75th minute.
I’ve never before seen a team settle for a 1-0 defeat. Lowestoft have financial problems of their own, which have involved releasing their manager and all their best players, but the region’s highest non-league club is suffering a variant of the malaise which is afflicting its two professional clubs. What is it with football in East Anglia? The same thing that made so many of you vote for Brexit?
Meanwhile Dulwich continue to excite and enthral their growing ‘hipster’ fan base, scoring for fun and turning up waves of young players from the considerable talent pool of South East London, many of them cast-offs from the funhouse at Crystal Palace. The latest is a little dread-locked free-scoring striker called Reise Allesani who could do a job for Norwich. Dulwich have been very capably managed for nine seasons by Gavin Rose on a playing budget of £5000 a week (yes, as much as Matt Jarvis takes home every day… well, almost), and play patient passing football that finds a way through most opponents.
Their only defeats, both at home, were to a last-minute fluke against Hendon and to moneybags outfit Billericay owned by a local ‘waste magnate’ who installed himself as manager and is reported to be spending £20,000 of his own ‘fantasy football’ money every week on ex-Premier League players. Billericay are the only club that look like beating Dulwich to the single automatic promotion place, but even then Dulwich should win the play-offs.
Off the pitch (literally) it’s a rather different matter. All of London’s lower league clubs have had developers sniffing around for the last 30-odd years of the ‘property owning democracy’, Millwall the latest victim. A few years ago, a New York-based ‘investor’ called Meadow bought up the Champion Hill ground where Dulwich have played for 125 years. The idea was that they would redevelop it for housing, then build a new stadium on adjoining land and hand over the club debt-free to the fans. The problem is that the adjoining land is only leased from Southwark Council, whose plans involve leaving it as green space.
So the football club is caught up in a battle of nerves between an unscrupulous developer and a council digging its heels in for more ‘planning gain’. At this stage the outcome is wholly unclear, but Meadow declared a few weeks ago that they would no longer ‘subsidise’ the club. The amounts involved are fiercely disputed, but the most remarkable outcome is that the fans have made up the shortfall by donations and increased attendances (1900 to watch Lowestoft).
It looks like something good will come of it, including good passing football, played at a pace I can follow and understand, lots of young players enjoying their part-time football and keeping weary old codgers like me genuinely entertained.
Thanks to Andy. I suspect if Dulwich’s season pans out as he expects we’ll be hearing from him again 🙂