Top 25 Cult Heroes 1954-1979: Number 5

Alan Wilks – ‘King Arthur’

My dad pushed the paper straight into my face as soon as I got in from work. ‘Look, we’ve signed a hippie!’ What on earth was he on about? On the back page was a photo of new manager Andy Nelson beaming as a bloke with long bushy hair and a moustache sat at a desk putting pen to paper. And Nelson had paid £5,000 to Queens Park Rangers for him. Hmmmm, what do we make of this? Not many people with facial hair in football. The only one I could think of was Jimmy Hill, and everyone took the p*ss out of him.

We very quickly discovered that no-one extracted the urine out of Alan Wilks, the first signing in Andy Nelson’s three year rebuilding job to take Gills back into the Third Division. Quite the reverse in fact, his dazzling array of tricks and talents extracted it from tormented Fourth Division defences and left Priestfield fans in absolute rapture. After several years of utter dross, it was like finding diamonds in the compost heap. Alan won the 1971/72 Player Of The Year Award by a country mile.

Gills had probably been able to capture ‘Arthur’, as he was known by all the players, because he didn’t quite fit in to established team formations. He was a striker, but not really a target man as he rarely headed the ball. He tended to play down the right but he was not really a winger. He couldn’t tackle. He sometimes didn’t get into a game. But build the right team around him – and Andy Nelson did with a target man (Mike Bickle followed by Damien Richardson) and a goal-poacher (Brian Yeo) and you had shed-loads of goals and fabulous entertainment.

In the 1973/74 promotion season it all gelled together. Alan chipped in with 14 goals, but more than that game after game he was the man who totally destroyed defences with powerful runs, trickery, and telling passes, leaving Brian Yeo in particular to finish them off. Occasionally, Alan reached such a height that he really was unplayable. Two games stand out above the others. A 4-0 demolition of Workington in November featured a Wilks first-half hat-trick of stunning strikes, each time beating several defenders before finishing with thunderous shots. On the way to a 5-1 win against Doncaster in September, he picked up the ball just inside their half, beat about five players and with the goal at his mercy, crashed the ball against the bar. A defender booted it out for a corner. Dick Tydeman simply rolled the corner to Alan, who beat another couple of players as he cut into the box, before he buried it in the corner. Completely and absolutely breathtaking.

Then, with Gills back in the Third Division and new manager Len Ashurst in charge, it suddenly all went a bit haywire. Ashurst played a more defensive game, and Alan didn’t quite fit into it. Where everyone was itching to see him tear Third Division defences apart, he could only sometimes get on the bench. The skills were still there and he played a few cameo ‘super-sub’ roles turning games our way, but he had suddenly become a bit-part player. He drifted off to Folkestone in January 1976.

Alan Wilks scored 29 goals in 138 appearances for the Gills. In every one of those games, we worshipped at the feet of King Arthur.

 

Eccles

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