In any sport there will always be rivalry. It’s what makes sport engrossing and watchable to millions around the globe. In the theatre that is English football there is the traditional local rivalry between the likes of Arsenal v Tottenham, Manchester United v Manchester City, Newcastle v Sunderland etc., and there are also other rivalries like Liverpool v Manchester United, Crystal Palace v Brighton and Leeds United v Chelsea. Occasionally, however, new rivalries are born when two clubs find themselves battling for honours over a period of time when in the past they maybe had never had such rivalry. Bognor Regis Town and Dulwich Hamlet, both currently playing in the Ryman Premier League, began a rivalry during the battle for promotion from the Ryman League Division One South during the 2010/11 season.
That season Bognor found themselves locked in a battle for the Championship with the Met Police, which went right down to the wire on the final day. Bognor could only manage a 1-1 draw away at Chatham Town which meant a win for the Met Police saw them crowned champions and promoted on goal difference after both clubs finished level on points. Defeat was a crushing blow for Bognor who finished the regular season with 96 points but were forced into the lottery of the playoffs. Their opponents in the semi-final were Dulwich Hamlet who had finished a massive 31 points behind Bognor in the league. However, the points gap meant little in the semi-final as Dulwich ran out 3-1 winners to advance to the final where they themselves were to suffer defeat away at Leatherhead.
That meant that the 2011/12 season would again see Bognor and Dulwich line up in the same division together. The season itself saw both clubs again challenging for promotion with Bognor finishing runners up to Champions Whitehawk and Dulwich finishing in the playoff places. This time the clubs would meet in the final after Bognor had got through a nerve shattering semi-final penalty shoot out win over Godalming Town after a 4-4 draw after extra time. Dulwich beat Folkestone Invicta 2-1 to set up a final at Bognor’s ground. A tight and tense final was settled by an early goal from Bognor’s towering centre half Stuart Axten, but it also took a penalty save from Bognor’s Craig Stoner to ensure promotion wasn’t to slip through Bognor’s grasp for a second consecutive season.
The following season, 2012/13, Bognor stabilised in the higher division finishing in 14th position whilst Dulwich finally got their taste of the champagne with a League Championship and promotion double, pipping Maidstone United by just point and in turn ending three years of near misses in Ryman Division 1 South. That meant the two rivals would reacquaint themselves in the Ryman Premier League for the 2013/14 season. The game at Bognor in the league in early November was to turn into a classic. Dulwich had lead 2-1 with just minutes of the match remaining but a memorable comeback from the home side saw them first equalise from a controversial penalty decision and then further add salt into the Dulwich wounds with two further goals deep into stoppage time to seal which seemed at one stage an unlikely win.
The return game in March, vital promotion clash, was also won by Bognor at Champion Hill by two goals to nil, and it went a long way to helping Bognor finished 3rd in the table. Bognor had been at one stage in with a shout of the title but they fell away at the end after games caught up with them. Dulwich were to fall just short of the final playoff place finishing a point behind AFC Hornchurch.
In the semi-final played at Bognor’s ground, Lowestoft Town inflicted playoff heartache on Bognor, this time winning 2-1 on the night to advance into the final where they went on to win promotion to the Conference North.
Last season it was Dulwich who qualified for the end of season playoff, with Bognor struggling to match the heights of the previous season. Bognor did, however, manage to get the better of Dulwich in the two league meetings between the teams, winning with ease 4-0 at home and 1-0 away. In the playoff semi-final Dulwich clashed with Margate, but like Bognor the season before, Hamlet also lost by the same scoreline to the Kent club, and the dream of promotion was over for another year for both clubs.
The current season has again seen the two rivals challenging at the top end of the Ryman Premier League and on a very cold and bitter November day on the South Coast the two clubs went head to head in a second versus first clash.
Saturday 21st November – Ryman Premier League – Bognor Regis Town 2 v 3 Dulwich Hamlet – Att -770
The league leaders came into this clash on the back of five straight wins, but you could forgive Dulwich manager Gavin Rose and his players for being a little apprehensive before kick-off having lost their last five games against Bognor, their last win being that 2010/11 playoff semi-final victory. The home side themselves were also in great form having also won their last five games, with their latest win coming away at Brentwood Town in midweek making it seven unbeaten games in both league and cup. Bognor manager, Jamie Howell, spoke highly of the visitors in his programme notes and it wouldn’t have been lost on him that his opposite number in the away dugout hadn’t managed to get the better of his side in their last five meetings.
However, this was a Dulwich side containing a lot of quality as their league position proved and Bognor would need to be on top of their game to make it six unbeaten against their visitors and old foes from South London. On their last league outing at Nyewood Lane, Bognor had blown away Canvey Island by five goals to nil, and they had also scored four away at Taunton Town in between the Canvey and Brentwood games. Before kick-off the ground fell silent in memory of Bognor supporter George Murphy who sadly passed away earlier this month, and I’m sure many inside Nyewood Lane would also given thought to the tragic victims of the terrorists events of Paris a week earlier.
Dulwich were backed by a healthy number of travelling support and it was them making all the noise in the early stages as both sides went hammer and tongs at each other with no signs of either attempting to park the bus. Both these teams know how to play football in the right way, and with every attack both sides looked capable of scoring. Bognor had already gone close with an Ollie Pearce shot that cannoned back off the cross bar, but they weren’t to be denied when defender Harvey Whyte rifled the ball into the top corner beyond the dive of veteran Hamlet stopper Phil Wilson in the 32nd minute. 1-0 Bognor but it could have just have easily been 2-2 by now with good chances missed by both sides.
It was a goal worthy of the occasion and all of a sudden the advantage was with the home side who would go top with a win. Dulwich, like all good sides, didn’t panic though, and within six minutes they were level. Rhys Murrell-Williamson was causing all manner of problems down Bognor’s left side all afternoon and it was he who crossed for Nyren Clunis to sweep the ball home for the equaliser. All square at half-time then as the top two sides in the division still couldn’t be separated.
As the temperature dropped further with the last rays of the low winter sun fading away, most of the 700+ crowd were probably reluctant to leave the warmth and heat of the Bognor’s clubhouse, but there was still a second forty-five minutes to watch and both teams continued where they left off before the break in an absorbing second half.
The next goal would be a big one and it was the away side who got it. New Hamlet signing Ryan Moss did the damage after Bognor failed to clear the ball inside their area after a corner and Moss was on hand to scramble the ball over the line despite the protests of Grant Smith in the Bognor goal. Smith felt it hadn’t crossed the line. No goal line technology at this level of English football so the decision stood. 2-1 and advantage Dulwich.
It was crucial goal for Dulwich and from this point onwards they wrestled the initiative in the game. However, it could have been very different story not long after Dulwich’s second goal when Phil Wilson’s poor kick found its way to the feet of Bognor striker Chike Kandi who then failed to punish the error with a weak shot that Wilson collected with ease. It was a crucial moment, and in big games you have to take your chances when they come and that’s exactly what Murrell-Williamson did and on 67 minutes with Dulwich’s killer third goal. This time it was roles reverse as the scorer of the first goal Nyren Clunis, got in behind the Bognor backline to cross for the winger to sweep home at the back post right in front of the traveling hordes of Dulwich supporters.
Credit to Bognor they hung on in there and in the last fifteen minutes they almost found a way back into the match. Top scorer Jason Prior forced a close range save from Wilson only for Snorre Nilsen to fire home the rebound to make it a nervous end of the game for the league leaders. Prior came the closest to sneaking a point for the home side but Wilson and the Dulwich back line held firm to hang onto to the three points whilst extending the lead at the top to four points over Bognor.
It had been an absorbing contest between two good footballing sides. The away supporters knew how vital the victory had been with their noisy celebrations at the final whistle and who could begrudge them their smiles and cheers having left the South Coast so often heads bowled after yet another defeat. League titles and promotions are not handed out in November, but this was a big win for Gavin Rose and his Dulwich players in their rivals back yard.
When these two rivals renew hostilities at Champion hill in early April, both Jamie Howell and Gavin Rose will hope their respective teams are again in the hunt for promotion. There is, of course, a lot of football to be played between now and then, but on this cold and bitter afternoon in Bognor it was advantage Dulwich and Gavin Rose. We await the next installment in this clash of the Ryman Premier titans.