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Whitstable Town FC: Memories of the 1950s

Article Produced in Conjunction with Ian Johnson

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Introduction

   

This is YOUR page. If you have memories of Whitstable Town FC and the Belmont ground of the Golden Era, please email them to...

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Personal Memories....

  

To set the ball rolling, I will kick off with my own personal memories because matches at the Belmont weren't just 90 minutes of football. They were social occasions and the focal point of an entire day.....

  

 

Saturday Was Special
by Dave Taylor

 

In the early 1950s, Saturday was special. Not because it was a 'non-shoolday'. All days were 'non-schooldays'. I was a few months too young for schooldays!

Saturday was special because, after living in the female world of mum and friends all week, it was the day for dad...... and events that would unfold just a quarter of a mile away at The Belmont Football Ground.

In fact, Saturdays were constructed around those events. Dad arrived home from the shunting yard by midday... and fish and chips arrived home from The Waverley by 1 pm. By then, dad had scrubbed evidence of shunting from his face. I skipped the fish and dipped my chip soldiers into a lightly boiled egg. I hated fish. Why would anyone eat a submarine? If God had intended us to eat fish, he wouldn't have hidden them in water.

As the chip soldiers and submarines disappeared, we listened to the wireless for previews of Manchester United v Arsenal and Bolton v Blackpool..... but our conversations were all about  Whitstable v Margate.... or Dover... or Sittingbourne.

At 2.30, we set off from Railway Avenue and headed into Cromwell Road for the shortcut along Stream Walk. Already, we could hear the music wafting across open fields that time would later transform into Millfield Manor and Millstream Close.

Dad was pedalling while I was wedged on a seat affixed to the  crossbar and clinging to the handlebars. No-one in Whitstable was very sure whether cycling was permitted on Stream Walk and, if it was, whether such permission extended to two people cycling the same bike. So, we kept a wary eye out for policemen.

There were policemen in those days. In fact, there was always one on duty near the ground to control traffic and crowds. Yes.... there were crowds too.... and we started to meet them along Stream Walk as other locals made their way to the ground in hope if not expectation. As we turned into Old Bridge Road, we met non-locals streaming from the station. These were the friendly enemy and there were more of them in Belmont Road - offloading from a line of pre-war coaches.

Dad parked his bike by the fence and we paid our few pence at the gate. We also picked up our programme - a flimsy publication printed wholly in red ink on thin white paper. The content amounted to very little beyond adverts and the team sheet. The adverts were of no interest, the team sheet was usually amended by the crackling loud speaker and I couldn't read. Nevertheless, a programme was essential.  

A roar greeted the teams. Town were in their red shirts with white sleeves. The opposition were from somewhere we knew and wore colours that we recognised - gold and black (Folkestone), green (Canterbury), blue (Margate), red and white stripes (Sheppey), white and black (Dover). If they wore white and black.... or gold and black... or blue... the roar for the opposition was louder than the roar for The Reds.

We stood at the Gas Works end because the main stand  had gates and guardians. It cost extra to sit. Only posh people had extra. Only posh people sat. 

Dad would pick out some of the players to watch.... from the opposition. And they needed watching too... because, as often as not, we lost - particularly if the opposition wore black offset by white or gold.

Goals were always greeted with  roars. Sometimes, they were also greeted with a sound that has remained with me for half a century - "the Belmont thud". This was caused by the ball crashing against a white board at the base of the netting. 

   

Above: This extract from the team photo of 1948/49 shows one of the curious white board inserted at the base of the netting at both ends of the Belmont.

   

Over the years there were more foreign thuds than Native thuds. It was disappointing to lose.... but we didn't expect to win every battle and we certainly didn't expect to win the war. Being part of it was the thing.... and we knew that, in two weeks time, another familiar tribe of neighbours would descend Borstal Hill in an attempt to create more thuds than us. Thus, we would have another chance to vanquish the friendly foe and celebrate a famous victory by two thuds to one.

Mind you I don't think I ever saw the end of a match. A few minutes before the final whistle, dad would suggest that we "make our way to the gate to avoid the rush". We rediscovered his bike where we had left it..... complete with wheels and cycle lamp. The only problem was that it was six bikes from the surface.

Then it was back along Stream Walk - stopping briefly at Weatherly's Bakery to pick up crumpets. These would be toasted on an open fire while Sports Report crackled over the wireless. The day had turned out okay.... Arsenal had been thumped at Old Trafford.

There were, of course, Saturdays when dad was working all day. Then, it was a case of kicking a ball in the garden and listening for roars that carried on the breeze across the open spaces between The Belmont and Railway Avenue.

In later years, I became independent and attended the Belmont with friends. By then, we had taken to the economy seats - the branches of a tree on the banks of the Gorrell Stream close to the football ground toilet block. At half time, we would drop neatly over the fence.... but more often than not, we lost.

Then, suddenly, it had all gone. The Reds were immersed in something 'orrible called the Aetolian League and we were being visited by teams from places that we had never heard of....  wearing colours that we didn't recognise. 

The tribes and friendly hoards had been taken from us along with the coaches, policemen.... and dad's cycle lamp.

 

      

Those days remain indelibly etched into the memories of all who enjoyed them. Ian Johnson picks up the story....

 

Memories of WTFC
 in the 1950s

by Ian Johnson

  

I remember many of the same things as you Dave – I had forgotten all about the policeman who would be directing the traffic at the junction there, but many things are still clear.

My Dad and I normally watched games standing between the dressing rooms and the corner (by the toilets), though I often moved around to other vantage points during the game, not through boredom (I hope) but maybe just for the fun of it. Sometimes my Dad moved round with me, other times I went by myself.

At half time, my Dad always bought me a packet of crisps – Smith’s crisps with that little blue-paper twist of salt. I don’t remember having crisps much at any other time in those days!

There was also the prize draw every match. Two men in cloth caps would come round selling the tickets in the first half, and the prize was always a display box of fruit, covered in cellophane. In the second half the same two men would come round with the winning number displayed on a small chalk blackboard. There was a very chatty man and a quieter one – I’ve an idea that the quieter one was Mr E. Venning who features in the photo of the 1948-49 team and officials.

One memory of something which died out long ago in English football is the Christmas Day match. Local rivals would play home and away games against each other on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. One of my programmes has the following note in it:

 

  

The 1957-58 season was the last one where football league teams played on Christmas Day. So, this could well have applied to English football at all levels, and been the last one ever at Belmont. My Mum was thankfully tolerant of my Dad and me going off to Belmont for an 11.00 kick-off on Christmas morning! The atmosphere walking up Stream Walk from Sydenham Street where we lived and being at the game itself felt very special.

Unfortunately I don’t have the programme from the match v Gravesend & Northfleet in the FA Cup third qualifying round, where the record crowd of 2,500 attended, but I remember the game well. My Dad and I couldn’t get our usual spot up against the rail, so my Dad sat me on top of the wall between the football ground and the cricket ground. This meant that my view was a bit restricted, but it was the same for plenty of other spectators.

The Gravesend team had a number of ex-league players, and there were profiles of each player in the programme, which there wasn’t normally. I particularly remember being excited at seeing the ex Arsenal and Scotland player Jimmy Logie playing, as he was one of the footballers featured in the cards which came with Barrett’s sweet cigarettes – I had a big collection of those cards. It’s a little disappointing to see now in the records that Jimmy Logie only won one single Scottish cap (in 1953), but he was a prominent Arsenal player for a number of years.

Anyway, I remember Whitstable only lost 3-0, so Frank Cox and company were not too overawed by the stars.

A couple of months after that came the shock of the Munich air disaster, and on the Saturday after the disaster, players at every level of football wore black armbands, including Whitstable. I can remember a spectator berating Chris Bertchin of Whitstable during the game, saying something like “What’s a matter with you Bertchin? Is it the black armband [affecting your game] or something?”, and Chris Bertchin glaring back at the man.

That’s another thing. I don’t remember swearing or obscenities from the spectators in those days, but remarks directed towards the team or individual players (or at the referee) could be pretty scathing at times, and the close proximity of the players meant that they usually heard the remarks – but then that is still the case nowadays!

Something else that doesn’t happen so often these days is friendly matches during the season, not just pre-season. I can remember Whitstable playing a friendly against Charlton A one Saturday. Knowledgeable spectators pointed out that the Charlton A centre-half that day was Gordon Jago, a regular first-team player, probably in the team recovering from injury. He later went on to be manager of QPR and Millwall.

Anyone else remember the cries of “Chatham!” when a player kicked the ball high out of the ground? Why it should have been Chatham I don’t know. Was the suggestion that the ball would land in Chatham? Why not “Faversham!” or “Canterbury!”. Anyway, I hear the tradition persists - a cry of “Chatham!” was reportedly heard last season during the FA Cup tie with Margate.

Up the Reds!

  

 

Playing conditions and grounds were very different in the Golden Era and it added charm to the fierce competition of the Kent League....

 

The Hallowed Turf
by Dave Taylor

  

Thanks to all the hard work of the club in recent years, the Belmont Ground has one of the best playing surfaces around. However, it was not always like that! Back in the 1950s, it resembled a swamp in mid winter.... and a bare and rutted switchback in Spring. It was what gave the Reds an 'edge' for home games.

The secret of that advantage stemmed partly from the very different preparation of the turf in days gone by! All this brings back a strange memory from a particular summer when Kent County Cricket Club paid its annual visit to the adjacent cricket ground. 

Such cricket encounters gave us the chance to watch the likes of Colin Cowdrey, Stuart Leary, Godfrey Evans and Derek Ufton. On this occasion, while sitting on the massive heavy roller, I took the opportunity to peer over the wall into the football ground..... where a flock of sheep was munching its way through grass six inches deep! I suppose it was a way of raising cash and keeping the playing surface in trim.

By winter, this sort of treatment had quite an effect. I recall seeing John 'Bonnie' Archer (the town's popular goalkeeper) covered from head to foot in mud as he tried desperately to keep table topping Ramsgate from reaching double figures. He looked like the creature from the black lagoon and there were plenty of suggestions from the Gas Works End as to what the mud might comprise.

Mind you, whilst many Kent League clubs were keen to create stands and terraces, few paid much attention to the pitch. Dover (Crabble Ground), Margate (Hartsdown Park), Canterbury (Bretts Sports Ground at Wincheap) and Sittingbourne (The Bull Ground) all had pitches with significant 'side to side' slopes.

The grounds had other idiosyncrasies and, unlike the bland structures of modern times, it added to the charm of travelling to away games. Here are just some of my memories.....   

  • Canterbury's Bretts ground was accessed via the Bretts Company works. It had a substantial stand on the southern touchline.... and a cricket square on the north side. For big attendances, boards were placed on the turf to accommodate the crowds on the undeveloped sides of the pitch. Mind you, this type of arrangement was not unknown even in Football League circles where both Sheffield United and Northampton Town shared their grounds with the county cricket clubs.
     
  • Deal had a curious narrow wooden stand that tapered to a point at either end
     
  • Sittingbourne's Bull Ground was aptly named as I seem to recall accessing it via an alleyway that led past the heavy railings of a cattle market.
     
  • Whitstable's changing room is rumoured to have orginated as a hut on Tankerton Slopes. It had a curious front door and porch facing the wall that separated the Belmont football and cricket grounds. 

All so brilliantly eccentric!

Of course, times have changed dramatically since those days.... and not just in respect of the venues. Terminology and emphasis have changed too. As I have mentioned on one of our other pages, the word "Oystermen" was never used to describe the team back in the 1950s. It was always "The Reds".

In recent decades, Whitstable v Herne Bay has been the key derby match. Not so back in the Golden Era! Herne Bay didn't reach the Kent League Division 1 until 1957 and, by then, attendances and enthusiasm were in decline. Our biggest rivals were Faversham and I recall my old dad telling stories of the odd 'post match' altercation along the route from the Belmont Ground to the railway station. However, it was unfortunate, transitory 'spur of the moment' stuff involving individuals and not the organised gang warfare that blighted the Football League in the latter part of the twentieth century.   

 

   

Sounds and familiar cries were all part of the Belmont 'occasion as Bill Dancer recalls from British Columbia....

   

"Harold!".... "Alright, John" 
by Bill Dancer

    

Hi Dave,

Well Ian and your piece on "The Reds" was well worth the wait and I agree "The Reds" should remain the team's calling card. I tried hollering "come on you Oystermen". It simply does not roll off the tongue and, even more, you can't get any oomph in the cry!!

My time as an avid Reds supporter was in the early golden years when the team topped the Kent League Division 2 table and moved on to the Kent First Division. My pride and joy was a large wooden rattle.

Our little circle (including Reg Butcher and Brian Walters) stood to the right of the goal at the Millstrood end and watched the interplay between John Conley and the then superb goalkeeper Harold Saddleton. John's frantic cry of "Harold!!" was a very familiar item as was the quieter "All right, John" as more defensive heroics were acted out. Another feature was a gentleman in a flat hat who used to patrol inside the barrier during matches. I think his name was Harry Bills. I never knew what his exact role was but he was certainly part of the scenery in those days.

My memories are like yours.....  the rush out to grab your bike and make it home for Sports Report. In my case, it was to see if Charlton Athletic had won and if Sam Bartram had sensational day in goal for them. Sam was my hero in those days and could be brilliant. However, he also had some very bad matches. The last time I saw him play at the Valley it was against Fulham in a semi peasouper - a very interesting way to watch half a game!

Congratulations to The Reds for their 2007 achievements and good luck for your next season in a more senior league.

 

 

I am curious to know what impact your trial cries of "Come on You Oystermen" have had on your Canadian neighbours, Bill!

Incidentally, a couple of years ago, I was taking some photos of the Whitstable Ladies team playing on Westmeads Rec' when I met a great character on the touchline. He told me that he lived close by... that his name was Saddleton.... and that he had played in goal for Whitstable Town FC. His enthusiasm for the game was still very much in evidence as he pointed out all the players to watch in the ladies match. 

  


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