Football - Tooting & Mitcham United 0, Dulwich Hamlet 2
Boxing Day is a traditional high point of the English soccer season. Despite the lack of public transport and indifferent weather, there is usually a full slate of matches scheduled. So-called modernisers have been advocating a winter break for the British game, bringing it in line with most leagues around Europe. So-called traditionalists argue that the Christmas fixture list is what sorts out the men from the boys and that the game would suffer. The era of games on back-to-back days (usually home-home series) and of derby matches (Chelsea-Fulham was an exception this year) have disappeared.
Nevertheless, down the reaches of the organised football pyramid, yesterday did see one big derby match. Dulwich Hamlet travelled the few miles down to the Wandle Valley to tangle with one of its few remaining local rivals, Tooting & Mitcham United.
Apart from geography, the clubs share a few other similarities. Both have seen better days as they now plough the furrow of the middle division of the old Isthmian League. Like Dulwich in the 1990s, Tooting moved to a new ground in the new century. Imperial Fields is a modern facility on the outskirts of Mitcham, by the River Wandle and site of a sports centre including a much used astroturf soccer pitch.
It looked a tough outing for mid-table Dulwich. Tooting were in second place entering the match with a +25 goal difference, league top scorers too boot.
Festivities were forgotten after just 15 seconds when Hamlet midfielder Danny "Rottweiler" Ward elbowed home left-back Craig Tanner in the face. Ward was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.
For most of a scoreless first half Dulwich held their own. Tooting had trouble stringing passes together and Hamlets direct style with Miguel De Souza as a spearhead unnerved a shaky home backline. De Souza it was who had the best chance of the first period when put through by Richard Brady. The veteran striker rounded the 'keeper only to blast over from a tight angle.
At the other end, John Hastings nearly latched on to a whipped cross from Tanner. United finished stronger and Hamlet looked as though they had done well to keep level.
The second period started with Tooting still failing to create a clear cut chance.
After 53 minutes though, man-of-the-match De Souza provided for the visitors. He got the ball at the goal line, back to goal. He managed to turn his marker and send a low cross into the goalmouth. Charley Side got between defenders. His initial shot was parried by Cessay but the slender netminder could not stop Side's thumped second effort.
This brought out the best in Tooting. For the next 15 minutes Dulwich were put under constant pressure. It seemed only a matter of time before an equaliser came and that would surely be followed by a winner. A goalmouth scramble found the ball in the net, but the assistant referee had flagged for offside for the initial cross. A succession of free-kicks and corners failed to find any further openings.
On 78 minutes, Dulwich suddenly found themselves 2-0 up. Central defender Jamie Coyle rose high and unmarked at a corner to power a header home. Jubilation on the Dulwich bench.
Tooting petered out and speedy Phil Williams - on for Side - should have made it 3-0 when he failed to head home from close range.
Players and travelling fans cheered a famous victory.