CHIPS CHOKE AS THE SARGE STYMIES SIMPSON SPOTKICK
"The naked earth is warm with Spring, and with green grass and bursting trees Leans to the sun's kiss glorying, and quivers in the sunny breeze." Spring fever should have wrapped Champion Hill, two teams from whom the shroud of demotion to the hinterlands of the county leagues has been lifted albeit only in midweek for the country cousins from the rustic abode of bucolic Chipstead. Since promotion three years previous, the Chips have toyed with the hangman's noose with only events elsewhere saving them from the deadly drop back to whence they came last term. Big boys in the Combined Counties, they found themselves the bullied lower squit, constant victim of the Isthmian League Flashmans. Once more this current crusade has seen them flirting with danger. Not until they stunned the Brickies of Sittingbourne in midweek could the Chips at last breathe a plangent sigh of relief and plan to turn the seasons of struggle into seasons of success.
Dulwich rode into this game atop the charger of victory, three wins of four having left promotion-chasing Fleet staggering out of Champion Hill in midweek dazed and confused after the Hamlet boys had emasculated the Hampshire boys. Thus the scene might well have been set for a rollicking, roistering afternoon of free flowing football, an end-of-season shindig to bring down the gratifying curtain on one of Champion Hill's less memorable campaigns. Instead, with the ground sun-dappled and the pitch baked dry, players with scores to settle and ones who forgotten lessons learned the game failed too often to spark out of the "end of season" torpor.
The Chips, resembling as much as Dulwich Former Pupils outing, boasted manager and number two with Hamlet connections, Mark Tompkins and Mick Read whilst Russell Bedford, skipper Scott Simpson and Sanchez Ming had all plied their trade on these hallowed fields before, the last of these surely itching to put one over on his former boss after departing the Hill on deadline day in some acrimony.
For the boys in Pink and Blue, Yinka Salami stepped back in the centre half shoes with the ever-adaptable Nic Plumain moving out to fullback to replace Junior Kadi, resting the aching joints after midweek labours. The only other change came in midfield where Gerry Gonnella swapped with Ellis Wilson-Joseph, the latter taking his place on the bench.
With the shackles of fear removed, the Chips started with an unusual abandon. Perhaps Messrs Tompkins and Read have eschewed the agricultural football for which past Chips XIs have been derided in favour of a sweeter brand of the beautiful game. Had Dulwich began in such enlightened style, the sun worshiping crowd might have settled in for an afternoon of fairground football. Instead Dulwich had left their homework on the bus. Were skies not bereft of planes then Air Traffic Control might have found themselves flooded by reports from pilots navigating their way home of spherical alien craft buzzing the airspace above East Dulwich.
The Chips fashioned a goal out of clay, Freeman's fine finish giving Phil Wilson not a prayer but the flag of destiny had long been waved against him and the celebrations would have to be put on hold. Dulwich at last found some momentum, Nyren Clunis rifling a shot just wide of the goal before Alim Sesay drew a top-drawer save out of tyro 'keeper Adam Peck, the young custodian somehow turning away, low at his near post, a bullet shot after the burgeoning Hamlet midfielder had muscled his way through a trio of challengers to batter his way in the box. The corner brought a half-hearted headed clearance from Ming, Clunis unable to punish his former colleague as he slash a ferocious shot across the face of goal.
On 27 minutes left-winger, Antony Morrison, attempted an audacious shot from a tight angle out on the flanks but failed to deceive Wilson, gathering in at his near post. However five minutes later Dulwich were wounded on the same flank and Jason Thompson bombed in a deep cross from the wing. A missed attempt to head clear in the middle and the unmarked Freeman was celebrating the freedom of the box as he met the delivery with a first time hooked volley that left a bemused Wilson flatfooted.
Try as they might Dulwich failed to engineer an equaliser before the break when they might have been trailing by an even greater margin but for a lifebelt thrown by the assistant referee. This time the aggrieved party was Ming, merciless or so he thought, as he cracked home a sweet volley from Simpson's pass inside Wilson's right-hand upright. Such was the joy in Ming's face, officials, teammates, even opponents seemed reluctant to shatter his euphoria as he danced a delirious jig of joy back to the halfway line before it dawned upon him that his "goal" was no more.
Dulwich were out early for the second half, the Chips tarried a while, a long while. Whisperings that they had declared and retired to the snug proved unfounded. So to Act II. Dulwich pumped up and determined to fight their way back into contention. Seconds gone and a corner forced. Deep delivery and a stinging volley from omnipresent Plumain but Ming, guarding the near post, blocked the drive. Another corner, this time short and providing the delivery, Plumain. Amidst the melee in the six-yard box Osa Obamwonyi had first one shot stymied before a second skimmed wide of the post. Thick and fast the chances came. Defenders to the left of him, defenders to the right of him, Frankie Sawyer thunder'd and volley'd; storm'd at then shot. Peck beaten but likewise the far post.
On 54 minutes, the Chipstead resolute finally melted as the six-yard box before a paint shop explosion, green and white, pink and blue as friend and foe battled for the ball after Gonnella's deadly free kick into the area had been punched against his own defender by Peck. Amidst the anarchy, Obamwonyi emerged triumphant as he doggedly forced the ball over the line despite the phalanx of green ranged against him.
Not dispirited the Chips came again and on the hour mark had the opportunity to restore their lead as an innocuous Sesay challenge saw Morrison tumble in the box. Ming, the anointed spot kick despatched, looked for the ball but found it snatched from him by Simpson, eager to punish his former team. In front of him Wilson prepared himself as a spider might ready itself for the fly, spreading limbs to every extremity of his goal. Gingerly Simpson tried to slot the ball away low into the corner but Wilson had second guessed him and throwing himself full-length the Dulwich 'keeper dabbed the ball away at the foot of his left-hand post. Unamused by his captain's antics, Tompkins immediately withdrew Simpson bringing on Alan Mathews in his stead. He would soon be joined on the sidelines by Ming as the onetime Hamlet man was fingered by fickle fate, the midfielder leaving the arena to applause tinged with catcalls from ones who had once sung eulogies of his skills.
A Sol Pinnock snapshot culled out of nothing buzzed the crossbar of the Chipstead goal. The same player had a free kick charged down; a precursor for a Chipstead breakaway attack that saw Freeman gallop away from his markers only to be denied by Wilson who was out swiftly to block the striker's shot with his legs.
Excitement aplenty in the closing minutes. Wilson's goal under assault once more as Craig Pitterson chanced his arm with an audacious free kick from distance that landed on the roof of the net. Close to a decider were the Hamlet when, late on, Obamwonyi met a corner with a towering bullet header that smacked against the top of the crossbar whilst Pitterson was denied a winner when Wilson pulled off a late super save to turn away a goal bound shot.
At the death honours shared and enmities forgotten as summer holidays beckon.