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Dulwich Hamlet have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years, but back in the 1930s, they were one of the leading clubs in the amateur game. Big crowds flocked to their Champion Hill ground, especially for important cup-ties.
Dulwich were remarkably consistent in the late 1920s and through to the mid-1930s. In that period, they won the Isthmian League in 1932-33 and won no less than three FA Amateur Cups – 1932, 1934 and 1937. They also won the Amateur Cup in 1920 and were Isthmian champions in 1920 and 1926.
Their star man in the inter-war period was one Edgar Kail, who not only won 29 England caps, but also played three times for the full England eleven. He was selected in 1929 to take part in England’s European tour and played against Spain, Belgium and France, scoring twice against the French. Kail remains a Dulwich legend to this day.
Kail, who was born in 1900, was coming to the end of his career when Dulwich secured the Amateur Cup in 1932. It was a season that saw them finish just three points off the Isthmian title, which was won by Wimbledon. In the FA Amateur Cup, the run started with a win at Gorleston and gathered pace with a 7-1 trouncing of Cambridge Town. Stockton were beaten in round three after a replay and then Dulwich faced London rivals and eventual Isthmian runners-up Ilford. A crowd of almost 16,000 saw Dulwich beat Ilford 2-1, with Kail scoring the winner.
The semi-final was another local clash, this time against Kingstonian, and 27,000 saw Dulwich win 1-0 thanks to a 75th minute goal from Buster Court.
The final was easy going for Dulwich, a 7-1 win against Marine of the Liverpool Combination. The game, played at Upton Park, drew 22,000 and in a one-sided first half, Dulwich were kept to a single goal. But in the second half, they were rampant and scored six times to Marine’s single strike. The match was a personal triumph for Jack Moseley, who netted four times. Kail added two and the other goal came from George Goodliffe.
Dulwich were again in contention for the Isthmian title in 1932-33 and this time, they emerged triumphant, but only by the slenderest of margins. They succeeded in winning their last five games of the campaign to overcome the challenge of Leytonstone, the only team to beat Dulwich at Champion Hill in the league that season. Hamlet lost four away from home, at Ilford, Kingstonian, London Caledonians and Wimbledon (0-5).
In the FA Amateur Cup, Dulwich reached the last eight, but Kingstonian beat them 4-2 to avenge their semi-final defeat in 1932.
In 1933-34, Dulwich were knocking on the door again in both the league and Amateur Cup. Their Isthmian title only just slipped away from them, with two points separating champions Kingstonian from second-placed Hamlet, who had beaten them 5-1 earlier in the season.
The Amateur Cup was a hard road, with Finchley of the London League beaten 2-1 in round one. The came Athenian League champions Walthamstow Avenue, who went into a 2-0 lead at Champion Hill. Hamlet came back to win 3-2 with goals from Court and Goodliffe (2). The third round brought a short trip to Sutton United, a 3-1 win, before round four paired them with the Casuals, a game that was packed with amateur internationals. Once again, Court and Goodliffe came to the fore, scoring the goals that gave Dulwich a 2-1 win.
The semi-final was against Spartan League Metropolitan Police and two goals from Court were enough to see Hamlet through to the final, where they would meet Leyton of the Athenian League. Playing again at West Ham, Dulwich had to contend with a robust Leyton side. Dusty Miller was taken to hospital after a collision and Ernie Toser and Herbert Benka both sustained head injuries. Taffy Hamer also broke his nose. At the final whistle, with Dulwich 2-1 ahead (goals from Horace Robbins and Buster Court), they had just seven fit men on the pitch.
They almost retained the trophy the following year, but lost at the penultimate stage to eventual winners Bishop Auckland. In 1937, they beat Leyton again in the final 2-0 with Leslie Morrish scoring both goals. These were halcyon days in South London.