Charlie Marks – ‘Netbuster’
Saturday 26th February 1955. One of the ruses which the Sunnymead Avenue gang used to get into the game had worked, and we were positioned down by the fence at the Gillingham End for a match with Northampton. Gills were having a good season in the Third Division South and Ernie Morgan was on his way to a record 31 league goals in a season. Would he get one today? Well, early in the first half he banged one in, and then he got upended right in front of us, and Gills had a penalty.
Up stepped the Gills number 2. We didn’t know too much about the oldish-looking bloke with a long face and bandy legs who was going to take this penalty, so we had no idea that we were about to see something quite remarkable. Charlie Marks, we discovered, was able to belt the ball with amazing force, and he beat the goalkeeper all ends up. Or did he? The ball was bouncing up the terraces. The Gills players were laughing and shaking Charlie’s hand as the referee gave a goal. The Northampton goalkeeper was waving his arms about and pointing to the ball in the crowd, saying that it can’t be a goal. A grinning referee led him inside the net and showed him an enormous split where Charlie’s penalty had gone clean through!
Obviously, Charlie became an instant cult hero. We discovered that not only was he deadly from the spot, but he could hit cannonball free-kicks from out on the right. Taking advantage of the slope on the pitch from side to side, he often bamboozled visiting defenders with the flight, leading to mad scrambles in the goalmouth. When the pitch was levelled at the end of the 1954/55 season, it seemed that one of the secret weapons was blunted, or it might just have been Charlie getting old. He played for Gills for 15 years, from 1943 when he appeared in wartime friendlies, until 1958 when he moved to Tonbridge at the age of 38. In all he made 452 appearances – a remarkable record.
Charlie Marks was one of Gillingham’s greatest servants, and a hero in many clashes in the Southern League and back in the Third Division South, but without doubt, the net-breaking penalty in a 2-2 draw with Northampton made him a legend . He was probably helped a bit by a heavy ball, and the nets being made of twine and weakened by being left out to the elements, but nevertheless it was an incredible strike. As usual, Gills were on their beam-ends financially, so the net-damage was patched up by additional pieces of twine being tied in. You could see ‘Charlie’s Mark’, so to speak, on the net for a couple of years until the new twine had weathered to match the old.