Dave Peach – ‘Penalty King’
One of the few positives to come out of manager Basil Hayward’s reign was the start-up of the youth system. David Peach was one of the first recruits, and one of the finest we’ve ever had. He joined us in 1966, and an early claim to fame was that he was a ball-boy at the World Cup Final. Garrison Ground regulars used to give us rave notices about him, and it was no surprise when he made his first-team debut just before his 19th birthday, and held down the left back spot regularly until his transfer to Southampton in 1974. His trademark was an absolutely ferocious left-foot shot, probably one of the hardest and most accurate we’ve had from a Gills player.
His debut was a home match against Barnsley, in September 1969. We were trailing 2-0 when he took the ball from just inside his own half, beat about three players in a diagonal run forward, and smashed the ball in near the underside of the bar from about twenty yards out. It was electrifying. Unfortunately, we ended up losing 3-1.
His first two seasons were spent playing in a struggling side that eventually got relegated in 1971, but new manager Andy Nelson saw him and a few others as the cornerstones of a team that would take us back into the Third Division playing attacking football. Dave’s hallmarks came to the fore – the surging run down the left and pile-driver, often after playing a one-two, free-kicks around the edge of the box, and penalties. With the shots and free-kicks they were often too hot for the keepers to hold, and Brian Yeo got quite a few of his goals pouncing on the loose balls.
Penalties were both power and placement, and you could pretty much bet your house on him scoring ‘ excepting in March 1973 when the unbelievable happened. Dave missed one in an evening match with Torquay. There was a shocked silence all around the ground as it thudded into the wall at the Gillingham End. Late in the game, we had another penalty and he was back in the groove with the equaliser in a 1-1 draw. The following Saturday at Reading we had another penalty, and this time Steve De’Ath their keeper made a save, and then charged down Dave’s follow-up. From then on, it was back to 100%, which he continued at Southampton. It could be that Steve De’Ath, who died recently aged 54, might have been the only keeper to ever save one.
For the first half of 1973-74 season, Dave was part of the team that played some thrilling attacking football – Brian Yeo, Alan Wilks, Damien Richardson, George Jacks, captained by Joe Jacques. Inevitably, the bigger clubs came calling, and Dave was off to Southampton for a then club record fee of £50,000 and everyone’s best wishes. Everyone was rooting for him in the 1976 Cup Final, when he became the first former Gills player to win a Cup Winners medal.
Some were a bit miffed when he joined Swindon in 1980, but the only time he played against us was when he returned with them to Priestfield in October 1981 for what is always understated as ‘a difficult game’! In truth, there was no way that we were going to boo one of our all-time favourites, and that game passed off quietly. Gills won 1-0.
From the left back position David Peach scored 30 goals, including 15 penalties, in just 180 appearances. No-one before or since has got anywhere near that return.