The closing bars of the Desert Island Discs theme tune lulls me somewhat into a false state of security. I’m sure I can feel the sun on my face, the rustle of the palm fronds above me and the feel of sand between my toes. My mind is clearly playing tricks on me though, because outside my car it's like a scene from a well-known Rebel Alliance bolt hole, which is only reinforced by the sight of Tom almost waddling towards the car, like a toddler with too many layers on.
“Two pairs of socks today” he explains.
I’m not a religious man, so I don’t feel like I’m being disrespectful to some higher power by doing stuff on a Sunday. However I have my own strict views, no, philosophy on what one should be doing on this holy of days and the very core of this mantra is centred around not leaving the house. Unless it's for a croissant or some other such baked morning pastry, it’s mandatory to watch at least one black and white World War Two movie, watch at least one if not two mediocre televised football matches, European or domestic, and never, I repeat never move from the sofa, unless absolutely necessary.
Imperial Fields in the snow
Just about the only thing that will get me dressed and out, among the park walkers and day time drinkers is football. Sadly non-league football on a Sunday is an all too rare occurrence. Yes there are a few teams, mainly lodgers who don't have their own ground who play on the sabbath, but other than that, you might have more luck finding someone who doesn't shout on Arsenal Fan TV.
So as delighted as I am that I’m driving over a Tower Bridge covered in selfie-takers, heading to a game, it’s just unfortunate that the circumstances around the club we are visiting meant it wasn't played the day before.
Unless you have been living under a rock these last few weeks, living in some self-imposed football news blackout, you cannot fail to be aware of the plight of one particular pink and blue wearing non-league club, whose badge looks like the lesser known house at Hogwarts, Dulwich Hamlet FC (DH).
Crikey their circumstances have been brought up in the House of Commons, has the backing of the likes of Gary Lineker, Rio Ferdinand and ex Dulwich player Peter Crouch. Their unscrupulous- to say the least- landlord has locked the gates on their home of eighty seven years, evicted them, and has thrown the club into turmoil. However fans of DH are not the kind to sit idly by, sitting on their hands to see what happens; they are far too proud of their clubs heritage, what they have achieved on the pitch and the work they do in the greater community, to let one individual ruin that.
Worthing warm up
Suddenly homeless at a crucial part of the season, very much in the running for winning the league, some might have said that the off field distractions may well derail their seasons- only for a knight in black and white striped armour, to offer a helping hand, and save the day.
I certainly don't know of any other examples of two traditional foes, shacking up, to assist in the preservation of one of the main topics of your fans’ songs. I know Spurs and Arsenal shared White Hart Lane during World War Two, however that was for slightly different reasons, but at least it shows its possible. So when DH were approached by Tooting & Mitcham United FC, who forgot old rivalries and offered up their stadium as a temporary home for the remainder of the season, I imagine no one was more surprised than DH themselves.
Despite how hideous it is outside Tom is surprisingly upbeat. “It will be worth it” he tells me. He reckons we will be treated to an “8-6” score line, in return for our commitment to braving the elements. His positivity takes a little dent when I tell him it's unlikely that the dumpling stall from our previous visit to watch DH at Champion Hill (they were so good I named the blog after them), is unlikely to be there. He does though explain, however, he is even more determined to have a “Cup-a-soup” today, after failing to get one at Basingstoke yesterday, where he was unable to satisfy his craving.
The pitch of the regally named Imperial Field is almost completely covered in snow when we arrive, as are the steps of the large covered terraces at each end of the pitch that really makes this ground quite unlike any of the others we have visited. One hardy soul though has already cleared the lines, and today is very much an orange ball day.
Tom- the DH media officer, not the moany one I spend too much time with- hopes that they will get around one thousand through the gate today. Yesterday there was a superbly attended march in support of DH’s predicament, and he would hope for just as good a turnout today, despite the awful weather.
DH are a well-supported club, sometimes getting bigger head counts then league teams, so an eight mile detour across South East London for their fans is unlikely to put them off. If anything, people will want to be here in even greater numbers to prove they won't be bullied by the main protagonist in their current struggle. Almost under his breath, but not going as far as covering his mouth like an over sensitive Premier League player leaving the pitch after a match, he admits he “hates Tooting” but “loves” their ground.
A few of the Thermos and sandwich brigade have already taken up position in the main stand, fully stocked and well prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws their way. The same cannot be said for the man wandering around in shorts. Just like at Basingstoke the previous day, where the weather was just as atrocious, someone here also seems impervious to the sub-zero temperatures.
Although disappointed at the absence of the dumplings, the smell of the Caribbean BBQ has Tom intrigued. We head in the general direction of the wafting smell of burning charcoal, where I hear the call of the programme seller. Not only is he ensuring I can add the vivid pink matchday magazine to my collection, but also there is the promise of a prize if the one you purchase has one of two “pink stars” you will win yourself a “lucky bottle of prosecco”. A matchday programme, 50/50 tickets, and the potential of a free bottle of bubbles too. I have all my matchday essentials wrapped up in record time.
“Testing 1 - 2” says the voice over the PA, who is then cut off by the most monstrous feedback. “That sounded like a spaceship” according to Tom, but it is more likely to be someone getting to grips with a new system. Once he has stopped the awful noise, he is quick to offer a “thank you” on behalf of DH to their “hosts”, and apologies to the visiting team Worthing FC (WFC) for “inconveniencing their Sunday”.
The normal colour scheme in these parts is very monochrome, quite the opposite from the vibrant pink and blue DH wear. It is well documented that I’m a big fan of pink in the football sphere, particularly when a keeper wears it, but I’m also far from adverse to it on an outfield player either, Palermo and Juventus 2015/16 away kit, gorgeous. It is therefore pleasing to see that, even though this is a distance from home, slowly but surely as the fans start to arrive so does that one colour synonymous with the club. Hats, scarfs, flags, and banners, even a dog has got in on the action.
We'll leave the story here, as it is an epic of rather Homer-esque proportions, but you can continue to read it by following the link below. You can also see lots of fabulous photographs and a rather marvellous video blog, too!
Beautiful Game- Two pairs of socks today