Charlie Livesey – ‘Everybody’s Darling’
Once upon a time, before Posh and Becks and ‘Footballers Wives’, footballers were just ordinary blokes living ordinary lives. As far as the Gillingham players were concerned, they were usually in their late-twenties onwards, lived around the town, had a wife and young family, might drive a battered car. Fashion icons? Don’t be funny son, the missus usually moans about Brylcreem getting on the cushion covers. Clubbing? What, in Rainham? Then suddenly, in August 1961, a wonderfully charismatic player lit up this drab world. His name was Charlie Livesey.
Charlie was signed eve of season when most supporters had given up hope that we would ever get a replacement for Pat Terry. Gills paid £5,500 to Chelsea for him. That immediately caused excitement – Chelsea wasn’t a club we usually dealt with. And he’d played in the first team alongside Jimmy Greaves. There was more than the usual interest around the blue door before the first home match against Doncaster. A large American car rolled up, and several snappily dressed blokes in their mid-twenties got out. Blimey, Italian suits and shoes, jewellery, it was like Hollywood. The one with the sharp haircut, an early mod style, signing autographs, must be Charlie. What an entrance.
Then we got to see him play, and that was something else again. He was full of skill and tricks, able to beat players at dazzling speed, and had a terrific shot. His trademark was to get the ball inside our half, and then dribble through the middle beating man after man. It electrified the crowd, and he was an instant cult hero. How could Gills have managed to sign him, why did Chelsea let him go? Possibly because like a lot of mercurial players, he could drift out of the game, and sometimes he didn’t really want to know. But when he was hot, he was almost unplayable.
A home game against Southport on Grand National Saturday was a good example. In the first half, Charlie was completely out of it, then after half-time he tore them to pieces, scoring once and laying on all the others in a 4-0 win. Had he got the winner up? Then in January 1962, against Chesterfield, we were treated to something absolutely magical. Charlie picked the ball up near the Main Stand touchline, dribbled towards the edge of the box, flicked it up over the head of a defender, ran round him, flicked it up over the head of another defender, ran round him, and as the ball dropped onto the penalty spot volleyed it with tremendous power into the Rainham End net. Hats and scarves rained down on the pitch in tribute. It put us 4-0 up (we won 5-1). After all these years, it’s still my number 1 Gillingham goal.
Charlie was Gills first ‘modern’ footballer. Charisma? He oozed it. Everybody loved him. Dads respected him for his skills, and his reputation for being a bit of a Jack the Lad, especially with horse and dog racing, mums wanted to cuddle him, boys wanted to be like him and the girls fancied him. The local barber who couldn’t do a ‘Charlie Livesey’ soon lost the teenage market. If only we could build a team around him.
When Freddie Cox became Gills manager in June 1962 everyone thought that Charlie would be one of the cornerstones of his team, but an odd incident made me wonder. Walking along Redfern Avenue a couple of weeks before the new season, I saw Charlie standing forlornly outside the players’ entrance. ‘Which way did they go, son?’ he asked. A kid on a bike pointed towards Toronto Road. It seemed that Cox had sent the players on a run and left him behind. Had Charlie been late? Who knows, but it was an early indication that Charlie’s particular type of genius might not be exactly what Freddie Cox was looking for.
He got dropped for a few games. He returned in early October to inspire a comeback at Oxford when we turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win, the first home defeat Oxford took as a league club. It turned out to be Charlie’s last Gillingham goal. He played his last game the following Saturday at home to Bradford City, as the Cuba Missile Crisis reached its height. Krushchev and JFK didn’t contrive any nuclear explosions, but there was one in our house the following week when Charlie got sold to Watford for £6,000.
Charlie later moved to Northampton, and then spent four years at Brighton. For us, he made 47 appearances and scored 17 goals. I don’t know how many goals he scored for them, but did he score a better one than Chesterfield? Come to that, did anyone?