Roy Proverbs – ‘Chopper’
In the days when the only fashion statement footballers made was whether or not to wear Brylcreem, every team had a player or two who was really hard, and down in the Fourth Division there were some real….err….no-nonsense defenders. Men with legs of granite, dishing out bone-crunching thigh-high tackles from every angle, elbows flailing, kicking, fouling and clogging. Ouch! These days most of them would be sent off by half-time, but in those days even bookings were rare. So, in such company, if a player was revered and respected such as to be called ‘Chopper’ he had to be quite something – and Chopper Proverbs really was quite something.
Roy Proverbs was an artist. Literally. A sign-writer by trade, he spent the close seasons painting or re-painting the signs all over the ground. One example of his work was the notice which was displayed by the front row of C Block in the Main Stand until well into the 1980’s – “Patrons are requested to refrain from spitting” – (presumably that was why enclosure seats were cheaper), but when he pulled on a pair of football boots he became a legend.
Signed in February 1958 from Bournemouth he was the first of Harry Barrett’s ‘real men’. Playing at right back or right half it was pretty clear early on that Roy wasn’t exactly cultured, or likely to play the thoughtful ball. He was deceptive in that he was fairly slim, clean cut and only 5’9’ in height and at first glance one might think that he played to Corinthian standards. Not so, he was a destroyer, pure and simple, pushing the rules to the limit – and the crowd loved him.
Right-back was probably the easiest position to play, because at Fourth Division level it was rare to come up against a true left-footed winger. Chopper’s tactics were pretty simple – the initial runs by the opposition winger would be clogged, a bit of jostling on (or more likely off) the ball, some crunching tackles and the winger was in his pocket for the rest of the game. On the rare occasion that a player turned up who could go either way, then more forceful measures were needed – usually a body check aimed at putting the upstart winger into the enclosure.
Chopper was not a goalscorer. In his 143 appearances he only scored twice. He is unforgettable amongst all Gills fans who saw him for raising the art of fouling to a truly spectacular level. For example, in the 4-4 draw with newly admitted Peterborough in October 1960 he nearly put their left-winger through the Gordon Road wall, but probably his best foul ever was in the notorious 3-2 defeat by Wrexham on Easter Monday 1962. Chopper, playing at left-half tore across the field to body check their right-winger into the gates between the Main Stand and the Redfern terracing, and when he bounced off them back onto the field, Chopper trod on his hand. I wonder what David Elleray would have made of that!
Roy Proverbs was one of many players who left Gills following Barrett’s sacking in May 1962 and played for several seasons with non-league sides. There have been hard men since, and plenty who like to think they are, but no-one compares to the legendary cult hero ‘Chopper’ Proverbs. Today’s primped up show-ponies like Cristiano Ronaldo would have soon been sorted out, that’s for sure.