Harry Adey – My Very First Hero
September 1954, and Gills were home to Leyton Orient. All the various ruses the Sunnymead Avenue gang used to get in to see the match had failed, so it was hanging about in Redfern Avenue until the gates were opened twenty minutes from the end. The kick-about had ended in the usual row as to who was going to be centre-forward. That was one of the dreams – if you couldn’t be England’s centre-forward, you wanted to be Gillingham’s. And we’d just signed one – Harry Adey.
The Redfern gates swung wide and we were in, pushing our way to the fence where the Rainham End terrace curled round towards the Main Stand. ‘Look ‘ there he is’ said someone, as a tall figure trotted straight towards us to take a quick throw in. ‘Hello Harry’ said one of us (it was quite usual to talk to them while they were playing). ‘All right boys? How’s it going?’ Then we had a close-up as he shaped for the throw, dropped the ball behind him, and flicked it back over his head into play with the back of his heel. Extraordinary. He’d done that just for us. The Orient players nearby looked totalled bemused, the referee let the game go on, and Gills nearly scored.
‘Cor, can he do that?’ we chirped, not really sure of the rules. ‘No he can’t’ growled some miserable old git, ‘the man’s an idiot.’ Well maybe so, but it was an indelible memory from a 0-0 draw. We were all trying to perfect a ‘Harry Adey’ on the Sunnymead Avenue allotments for weeks. Tim and Dave got close. But a month later Harry got the sack. Something to do with rumours about playing away at Margate when the rest of the team were playing away at Northampton. He went back up north, and signed for Bradford Park Avenue. Us eight year olds didn’t really understand it at all, it was secret adult stuff. All we knew was that our hero had gone.
It was the first hard lesson of being a Gillingham supporter – don’t get too attached to your heroes, they tend not to hang around too long.