Dulwich Hamlet rip up the script to earn promotion to National League South

Dulwich Hamlet 1 Hendon 1 (Dulwich win 4-3 on penalties)

By Anthony Scales

Dulwich finally had their fairytale finish as Dipo Akinyemi’s ice-cool penalty sent homeless Hamlet into the National League South for the first time in the club’s proud history.

Dulwich boss Gavin Rose sounded a defiant note to US-based property developers Meadow Residential, who kicked Hamlet out of their Champion Hill home this season, after a record-breaking crowd packed into the club’s adopted Imperial Fields ground.

“You wouldn’t be able to write this script,” Rose told the South London Press. “They [Meadow] have tried to cripple us. But we just kept on bouncing back as a club and as a group and we shoved it right back in their face. We’re not going anywhere.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve lost a few finals, it’s heart-breaking for everyone: the manager, the players, the supporters, the committee – everyone. But everyone’s come back stronger, we all kept believing in one another and that shows you what you need: strength.”

Gavin Tomlin equalises
Dulwich Hamlet v Hendon, Bostik League Premier Division Play-Off Final, Imperial Fields, 7 May 2018.
Image by Keith Gillard

Dulwich chairman Liam Hickey announced the club will be able to raise a competitive budget for next season and also sounded a positive note regarding the club’s Champion Hill base.

“It’s a constantly moving state of affairs,” said Hickey. “But, as we stand, we’re confident it’s more a case of when, rather than if we go back there. I’m confident that with the support of Southwark Council we will return to Champion Hill very soon.

“We have various things that I can’t say more about on the record right now in terms of being able to put enough money in to make us competitive in the National League South. I’m confident that with Gavin and his team, with whatever budget they’re given, they can make a competitive team.

“With over 3,000 people in a stadium that’s not our own for a play-off final, is nothing short of unbelievable. We’re here because of the fans, we got to the end of the season because of the fans and we will continue to grow because of the fans. We’ll make that happen.”

The game itself, played in front of a record 3,321 crowd at Tooting and Mitcham United’s stadium, proved a rollercoaster ride for Dulwich keeper Amadou Tangara.

Dipo Akinyemi scores the winning penalty
Dulwich Hamlet v Hendon, Bostik League Premier Division Play-Off Final, Imperial Fields, 7 May 2018.
Image by Keith Gillard

Brought in late in the campaign to cover for the injured Preston Edwards – and with Coventry City having recalled youngster Corey Addai – Tangara was at fault for the opening goal as Hendon took a 36th-minute lead.

Ashley Nathaniel-George worked space for a shot and there was a suspicion of an own goal as Dulwich’s Ibrahim Kargbo slid in to tackle – either way, Tangara should have dealt with the low effort but let it go through him and into the net, the goalkeeper tearing off his gloves and racing into the changing rooms at the break.

Dulwich Hamlet v Hendon, Bostik League Premier Division Play-Off Final, Imperial Fields, 7 May 2018.
Image by Keith Gillard

“I needed some time to sit down by myself and concentrate and keep focused,” said the Dulwich shot-stopper. “I said to myself ‘is it going to be my day?’ I thought ‘keep calm’, when it went to penalties, I shut it out.”

And he shut Hendon out too, saving tame penalties from Oliver Sprague and Michael Corcoran to ensure the spot-kick Nathan Ferguson hit straight at Tom Lovelock in the Hendon goal was not costly.

Dulwich Hamlet v Hendon, Bostik League Premier Division Play-Off Final, Imperial Fields, 7 May 2018.
Image by Keith Gillard

With Tangara having made partial amends for his first-half error by scrambling away a Nathaniel-George effort before the break, it was Gavin Tomlin who forced in the equaliser nine minutes into the second period.

The Dulwich number 10 lunged for the loose ball with Lovelock after the Hendon keeper had saved his initial effort, Ashley Carew’s follow-up was superbly blocked by a defender and Lovelock lost the flight of the ball under pressure from the Hamlet forward as it came back into the six-yard box.

Dulwich Hamlet v Hendon, Bostik League Premier Division Play-Off Final, Imperial Fields, 7 May 2018.
Image by Keith Gillard

Dulwich’s Nyren Clunis shuddered the underside of the bar with a tremendous effort in the 57th minute and Tangara was equal to a 35-yard piledriver from Casey MacLaren seven minutes from time.

In an energy-sapping extra half hour, Dulwich came within an ace of winning when Nathan Green’s rifled effort clipped the heel of Hendon right-back Luke Tingey to leave Lovelock a spectator as it dipped over him and came back off the inside of the right-hand post in the 98th minute.

Dulwich Hamlet v Hendon, Bostik League Premier Division Play-Off Final, Imperial Fields, 7 May 2018.
Image by Keith Gillard

But Tangara eventually found atonement and set up substitute Akinyemi’s 12-yard finish to spark a joyful pitch invasion.

“I’ve endured through nearly 50 years of thin and thinner most of the time,” joked chairman Hickey afterwards, reflecting on his attachment to a club his father brought him along to watch at the age of seven. “All this makes it worthwhile. The defeatist in me thought when it went to penalties that we probably had no chance, but this side continues to amaze me.”

Dulwich Hamlet v Hendon, Bostik League Premier Division Play-Off Final, Imperial Fields, 7 May 2018.
Image by Keith Gillard

Dulwich (3-5-2): Tangara, Acheampong, Hayles, Chambers, Clunis (Ming, 84), Ferguson, Kargbo, Carew, Green, Tomlin (Akinyemi, 84), Allassani. Subs not used: Beaney, Weatherstone, Dumaka.

Hendon (4-2-4): Lovelock, Tingey, Bray, Lee, Sprague, MacLaren (Corcoran, 115), Eggleton, Walker (Uchechi, 91), Muir, Joseph (Murphy, 84), Nathaniel-George. Subs not used: Diedhiou, Joseph (GK).

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