How do you define ‘cool'? The dictionary definition suggests it’s “the quality of being fashionably attractive or impressive” but that doesn’t seem to paint the full picture – being cool is surely more about being anti-establishment, outside of the mainstream, and perhaps pursuing some alternative values to society’s norms.
Listening to a best-selling pop band wouldn’t be considered cool by most people, but tuning into the latest breaking bands is considered a much more ‘on trend’ activity. The same can be said of buying your coffee at an independent cafe or doing your shopping at the local organic grocers – the ‘hipster’s choice’ is typically based around pursuing a different lifestyle that is believed to somehow be more authentic.
So can this be applied to football clubs, and are some teams inherently ‘cooler’ than others? Being a supporter of Chelsea or Arsenal brings with it a high probability of success, but perhaps doesn’t offer the instant credibility of being a “proper football supporter” that comes with following Brentford or Millwall for example.
For some fans, even that isn’t enough. Here are three non-league clubs in London that really think outside of the box, offering supporters a truly unique football experience that can’t be found at most stadiums around the country…
There’s very little not to like about Vanarama National League South side Dulwich Hamlet. The club are perhaps best known for their distinctive navy and pink colours, but there’s a lot more to the team from South London than initially meets the eye.
Dulwich’s fans are passionate about equality and have thrown their weight behind a number of worthwhile causes over the past few years. They include supporting a local food bank, campaigning for staff at a nearby cinema to be paid the living wage, and even organising an exhibition for Black History Month.
Tickets to watch ‘The Hamlet’ are extremely affordable, with an early bird season ticket costing just over £150 and matchday admission only £12 for adults. A combination of low prices and a newfound status as ‘London’s most hipster club’ have seen a steep increase in attendances over the last few years, with last season’s average of 1,860 the third highest in their division – an impressive feat when you consider that Dulwich had to spend a portion of the season groundsharing with neighbours Tooting and Mitcham, following a dispute with the owners of their Champion Hill stadium.
With the club now back in their home ground and talk of a new stadium on the horizon, the future is looking bright for one of London’s most likeable teams.
While Dulwich are most notable for the activities of their fans, Fisher FC have gone one step further. They’re a team entirely owned and run by the supporters, who reformed the club after the original Fisher Athletic went out of business in 2009.
Fisher’s story is a tale of survival against the odds. They had been a reputable non-league club for much of their existence and had risen as high as the Football Conference (now the Vanarama National League) from 1987-1991. The Martyrs’ home ground had an incredible central London location that was under two miles from Tower Bridge and looked set to enjoy a continued period of success at the top of the non-league game.
Alas, that was as good as it got for Fisher – the team were relegated from the Football Conference and fell as low as the Southern League’s regional divisions in the years that followed. Things got even worse off the field as the club began groundsharing with Dulwich Hamlet while unsuccessfully attempting to redevelop their Surrey Docks Stadium.
Eventually, mounting debts saw Fisher Athletic go out of existence in 2009 and lose ownership of their home ground in the process. But while this was rock bottom, a new fan-owned club that’s rooted in the local community rose from the ashes.
Fisher FC may only play in the Southern Counties East Premier Division but their team represents more than just winning. Decisions are made democratically by their members, who pay an annual fee of £20 for the privilege of having a say in how their side is run. A binding constitution sets out how the club must operate, ensuring that this really is an organisation run for the fans, by the fans.
They say that money is the root of all evil, and Corinthian-Casuals certainly abide by that mantra – the historic club from Tolworth are the highest ranked club in the footballing pyramid that don’t pay their players a penny.
This stance is based around the ‘Corinthian values’ on which the club was founded, stating that the team exists to “promote fair play and sportsmanship (and) to play competitive football at the highest level possible whilst remaining strictly amateur.”
This is a team that have taken their dedication to amateurism and fair play to great lengths. When the FA officially abolished amateur status in 1973 (replacing it with ‘semi-professionalism’) Corinthian-Casuals refused to accept the change and were relegated to the Isthmian League Division Two as a result. They were also reported to have intentionally missed penalty kicks in their early years (before the Corinthians and the Casuals merged to form the current club) because they didn’t believe it was in the spirit of the game.
But while Corinthian-Casuals’ values are interesting, their rich and idiosyncratic history is truly fascinating. Highlights include Real Madrid, SC Corinthians Paulista and (some say) England choosing to wear white shirts due to the influence of the Corinthians, and inflicting Manchester United’s record defeat of 11-3 on the Red Devils in 1904.
Their former captain Charles Wreford-Brown is credited with coining the word ‘soccer’ and more recently the team has travelled to Brazil to play SC Corinthians Paulista in 1988 and 2015.
This is one of London’s great clubs, and undoubtedly an undiscovered gem in the city’s football scene.