Part 4: The Very First Match

The Personal Memoirs Of Charlie Westwick, born 1879, The Oldest Gillingham Supporter In The World. (As told to his grandson).

September 2nd 1893

However vivid or vague the memories, every Gills fan can recall the first game they ever saw at Priestfield. Grandad could certainly remember his first game, because it WAS the first game.

“David Hutcheson was our Captain, and the rest of the team for the big day was Welsh in goal, Auld, Colling, Luff, Swan, Tyrer, Hibbard, Manning, Buckland and Clark. The committee had bought their boots, 30 pairs all told. No risk of anyone going out in poor quality footwear.

“It was a big day for our club, and it was a big day for me personally, because I’d started my apprenticeship in the Dockyard the previous week. I had money in my pocket, and I was going to have a good time. No threepence entry for me. I was going to buy a five shilling season ticket. Bert had started working for the London, Chatham and Dover Railway the previous month, so he could afford a season ticket as well. All Station Master Partridge wanted to know at his interview was what were his views on the new football club, and when Bert told him he was in. Partridge of course was one of the twelve committee members for New Brompton, and Bert’s first big job was to pester railway passengers with flyers and patter to convince them to come to the games. Partridge was extremely impressed when Bert convinced one of the more wealthy passengers, Mr Walter Hurst, to present a flagpole to the Club. New Brompton weren’t exactly popular throughout Medway though. Take a look at this cutting from the local paper.”

He handed me the scrap-book and I read “The ‘Colony’ of New Brompton is laudably ambitious and kingly desirous to at least keep abreast of its neighbours. It possesses a Technical Institute which ere long will be open to Students, it has a safe dock, the foundation work for a new pier goes on slowly but surely, to crown it all, a football ground has actually been purchased and laid out, the first matches on which were played on Saturday. At present the ground is well away from dwelling houses, but the ‘brick and mortar mania’ is highly contagious and no doubt ere long houses will crop up all around the enclosure. Even on Saturday one individual saved threepence by viewing the matches from a roof at least three hundred yards away”.

The cutting continued “Our representative was directed to make for the New Brompton Railway Station, across the bridge, walk down Franklin Road, turn to the right, then to the left, go up a road, cross a meadow and then he would arrive at his destination. Happily he met with Mr Director, J Randall, a gentleman who had so devoted himself to the task of getting the ground ready for the fray that on Friday his better half despatched his dinner and tea to the football ground, whether hammock also found its way thither report sayeth not. Under the guidance of the ‘bread man’ the route was easy, and on their way Mr Referee, W Roberts, was overtaken; others joined them and arrived at the turnstiles. How many of the group had paid for admission doesn’t concern anybody – the magic word ‘Season’ was apparently the password and the ground was entered. Here everything was of the newest, even the grass, in fact there had not been time to indulge in the luxury of paint; but a little powder there may have been, as ladies mustered a strong force, and they do sometimes use ‘just a little’ you know. Finishing touches were being put here and there and ‘Mein Host’ of the Napier Arms was making ready for his share in the day’s proceedings – not inconsiderably as events turned out, and Mr Chairman, H G Croneen, at last triumphantly exclaimed “now we are ready for them.” Spectators dropped in by twos and threes until some 500 were present to witness the first match.”

Reading that I could see several of Grandad’s favourite targets, and I wasn’t disappointed. “So there you are SunBoy, right from the start they were after us. A sniping press article, that hasn’t changed. They dubbed us “The Colonials” and that nick-name stuck in their reports for years. Snooty looking-down-your-nose from Chatham and Rochester types, that attitude still dominates the Councils and has held the towns back for a century. Then there’s the hangers-on and freeloaders blagging their way in. Nothing’s changed there. Most of their descendents are still in the Main Stand!” “Looks like Checksfield cornered the refreshment business though” I pointed out. “Well of course he did, and I reckon you can still buy some of the pies he had that day from the Tea Bar down the Rainham End!”

The directions to go down Livingstone Road puzzled me. “Well, the press want the best facilities to write their stuff, and that would be from the pavilion. That had cost us £390 to build and was placed on the Gordon Road side. There you would find the top hats and their ladies, and it was placed on that side because you had to have milk-white skin if you were an upper-class lady, so they avoided the sun like the plague. Take a look at any football or cricket ground laid out in Victorian or Edwardian times, the upper class stand always has the sun behind it. Additionally, the best approach for their carriages was across from Livingstone Road. Plenty of grass to park them, and it avoided contact with the lower classes. The pitch had a marked sideways slope on it from the Gordon Road side down towards the railway.

“As was common in those days, you had the ‘A’ team, which was the reserves, play first, then the first team. We kicked off a match with Grays at 2.15pm and when that had finished, at 4.00pm we watched New Brompton v Woolwich Arsenal. By kick-off there were about 2,000 in the ground. Unfortunately they were a bit better than us at that time, and we lost 5-1. We kicked towards the field end (now the Rainham End) in the second half and Harry Buckland scored our first ever goal. After that, it was back to the Napier Arms for the usual Smoking Concert.

“For the rest of that season, other than Cup games, all the matches were friendlies. We had a match most Saturdays, almost all of them at “The New Brompton Athletic Ground, Gillingham Road.” Out of 25 friendlies, 21 were at home. Our next game was a 3-3 draw with Royal Engineers, then on 16th September 1893, our first home win, 5-0 against Woodside. Some teams we played several times, Woolwich Arsenal for instance we played twice more, in December, a 2-2 draw, and they beat us again in April 4-2. Our first ever away game, on 30th September was against them as well and we lost 4-2, but on 4th November we got our first ever away win, 2-1 against Sittingbourne in the Kent Senior Cup. We got past Ashford in the next round before we lost at Dartford 4-0. The other Cups we entered that season were the FA Cup where we went out 6-3 at Ilford in the First Qualifying Round, the FA Amateur Cup where we beat Maidstone United 7-0 and Royal Scots Fusiliers 2-0 before we lost at home 2-1 to Royal Ordinance Factories, and the Chatham Charity Cup, which we won.”

I asked him how New Brompton came to have such an unbalanced fixture list, with so many games at home. “Well it was all to do with finance. To arrange a friendly, you needed to give the visiting club a guaranteed sum to cover their expenses. The amount differed between clubs. With a small club, like at that time Tottenham Hotspur, the guarantee suggested was £7.10s. We played them and drew 3-3. Senior clubs at that time, like Millwall, wanted £20, so we declined. Our gates were around 1,500, which was good for a first season, but as visitors we weren’t an attraction so we didn’t get many invitations to play away games. We were always looking for savings. We usually got in a local referee and each side provided a linesman. But we had some good games and plenty of excitement, which is what it’s all about. Of the 21 home games, we won 9, drew 7 and lost 5, scored 54 goals against 43. We lost three of the four away games, one of them was a 5-4 thriller at Dartford, and we won at Ashford 3-1. And we won a Cup, not THE Cup agreed, but we had some silverware to show. And there it is.”

As if he was playing the Ace of Trumps, he laid on the table a photograph of the 1893/94 New Brompton team. It was a studio-posed portrait, five players at the back with goalkeeper Taylor in the middle, five players on chairs with captain David Hutcheson holding the Chatham Charity Cup, and two players sitting on the floor either side of his feet. They stared into the camera with the confidence and slight arrogance of all gentlemen of late Victorian England, five of them wearing fashionable moustaches, the rest clean-shaven. Local winners from a nation that believed itself to be winners. This group had done us proud. Had they failed the crowds would have drifted away, New Brompton Football Club would have spluttered and died, with their Athletic Ground buried under housing decades ago. From them down the years ran a line of heroes who had thrilled future generations – Charlie McGibbon, Jock Robertson Fred Lester and Wally Battiste, Hughie Russell and Charlie Marks, Johnny Simpson, Steve Bruce and Tony Cascarino.

Well Played The Colonials!!

Danny Westwick

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