The Personal Memoirs Of Charlie Westwick, born 1879, The Oldest Gillingham Supporter In The World. (As told to his grandson)
For every football fan, there are usually one or two seasons which stand out as holding the indelible memories – of a promotion win, a cup or a championship success. For Grandad, one such season was 1894/95. In just over a year, from nothing New Brompton had become a professional football club, and at that time you didn’t find too many of those south of Birmingham. They had some silverware on the sideboard, and were newly elected members of the Second Division of the Southern League. It was an exciting time to be a young New Brompton fan, as Grandad recalled.
“There were only six other teams in the Division, Bromley, Chesham, Maidenhead, Old St Stephens, Sheppey United and Uxbridge. Not exactly leading hot beds of modern football, but we had to beat them, and we did. Twelve games, and we won eleven of them. First up was an away game at Sheppey United, on 15th September 1894. Several of the older blokes in the yard wangled a trip down to Sheerness on one of the packet-boats that went between the two Dockyards. Bert came along with several of his mates from the Station. It took us ages to find the ground, but we made it by kick-off. Our first team as a professional club was:-
Jenner; Auld; Ashdown; Pellatt; James; Meager; Buckland; Manning; Hutcheson (Captain); Dickenson; Rule.
“We thrashed them 6-0, captain David Hutcheson scored a hat-trick. Brilliant. Sheppey finished the season runners-up to us. After the game, most of the group wanted to go to the pubs in Blue Town, so me and Bert tagged along. We ended up missing the tide, had to sleep on the boat and got back lunchtime Sunday. My aunt gave me a right telling off for skipping church.
“Next week we were at home to Uxbridge and beat them 4-0. We then didn’t have another league game until 1st December, when we played Old St Stephens at home. They were the first side to score league goals against us, took the lead in fact, but we beat them 5-2. Then the Saturday after Christmas, we thumped Chesham 7-2 away. And so it went on for the rest of the season, which we rounded off with a 6-0 away win at Old St Stephens and a 9-0 home win against Chesham on Easter Saturday. Our only defeat was losing 3-1 to Bromley in March. Hutcheson scored but despite having our regular team out it was just one of those days when everything went wrong. We avenged our first ever home defeat as a league club by winning 3-2 at their place two weeks later, but it blotted a perfect record. In our eleven victories out of twelve games we scored 57 goals and conceded 10. Our leading goalscorer was Arthur Rule with 18, and David Hutcheson got 13.
“In the FA Cup, we won our first ever tie when in the Second Qualifying Round a Joe Dickenson hat-trick saw us beat Chatham 3-0 at home, but Millwall Athletic turned us over 2-0 at home in the next round. The local derby with Chatham attracted 8,000, the biggest crowd we’d ever had, and they erected a temporary stand for about 850 people down the railway side. Otherwise our average gate was about 2,000, and with a lot less home games than the previous season, and players’ wages to pay, trying to keep the club coffers full was a continual problem. One of the railway passengers Bert knew worked at the bank, and he told Bert that the New Brompton directors got hauled in for a right going over about the overdraft. We think that forced them into hosting the Ladies Football Match.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “A LADIES Football Match? At Priestfield?” “Oh yes, SunBoy. I first found out about it when Miss Cubitt came up to me after church one Sunday during Lent and asked if me and some of my friends could help her on the day. She was running one of the teams. Well, she had to fight us off! Apparently, there had been a big row amongst the directors about it, the traditionalists were appalled but the more pragmatic felt it would raise much needed funds, and they prevailed. I’ve no idea which directors fell into which camp, but I tell you what, they all turned up to watch it! So did plenty of others. We took seventy-nine pounds, twelve and fourpence halfpenny, which wasn’t much less than we took at a home game. The odd fourpence halfpenny was probably all some bloke could afford!”
I asked him who actually played. “They were mostly what you would call ‘young ladies’ from finishing school, officers daughters and the like. As always there were a few ringers from the lower classes – knocking back a tankard of ale after the match gave ’em away. They arrived in a procession of carriages all crinoline dresses and parasols, and were pretty closely chaperoned to make sure they were kept away from the oiks, but when they trotted out onto the field in tight bodices and pantaloons showing plenty of leg – well, it was like a Naughty Nineties postcard come to life. Miss Cubitt’s team won, but I don’t think most of the crowd cared much about the result. Blimey, you could see that some of the blokes watching it were getting a bit turned on by it all, so what they got up to in the fields on the way home is probably better imagined than described!
“But to return to the First Team. Even though we’d won the Southern League Division 2 Championship by a country mile, we didn’t get promoted automatically. We had to play a Test Match. It was on Saturday April 27th 1895, at Caversham, and our opponents were Swindon Town. There was no way that we were going to miss it, so for our second big away-day of the season Bert, and ‘Slogger’ Wood and his brother Alf, wangled a load of travel warrants for our mates and we all went on the train. The Wood brothers were big blokes in their early twenties, and they both worked in New Brompton Goods Yard. ‘Slogger’ whose real name was Bill I think, smashed up coal for the engines, and had biceps like Popeye. We were glad he came along, I can tell you.
“It was the first time I’d ever been to London, and when we got outside Victoria Station I couldn’t believe my eyes. The place was teeming with hansom cabs and traders carts, people shouting, a couple of barrel-organs going, and horses everywhere. You had to be careful where you walked – I mean you know what it’s like outside a London ground with a few police horses. You imagine what it’s like with hundreds of them. Slogger and Alf knew their way around, and we all piled onto a horsebus they’d spotted which took us to Marble Arch. It was a totally different experience to Victoria as the bus went along the side of Hyde Park, gentile ladies with parasols strolling in the spring sunshine, and kids with their nannies playing near the Serpentine.
“Then, once we had changed to another horsebus to go along the Bayswater Road to Paddington Station it was another world again. The Station Approach was crawling with prostitutes, and when they saw about twenty young blokes jumping off a bus, they were on us like vultures. Two of ’em grabbed me and Bert and started to push us down an alleyway. One of ’em leered at me, saying through a haze of stale gin fumes ‘Ooo young man, come home with us and have your back broken.’ Blimey, how do we escape this? We’ve got to get to the match. Fortunately Slogger waded in and rescued us. ‘Go on, clear off and leave us alone, you ol’ harpies, we’ve got a train to catch’.
“Caversham was an express train to Reading General then change to a local one. We got to the ground in good time and by 1.00pm there were about 1,000 people watching. With Swindon being just down the main-line, we were heavily outnumbered but the locals got behind us. They hated Swindon. There was a neat pavilion where the VIP’s from both sides sat, and the players lined up in front of it for exchange of pennants, handshakes and speeches. Some old buffer with a stove-pipe top hat and a huge grey beard droned on for ages. The players just wanted to get on with it and were getting a bit edgy, but finally the brass band struck up ‘God Save The Queen’, all three verses, and we were away.
“And we mullered them. They had no answer to New Brompton’s goal power and we gave them a 5-1 thrashing. Arthur Rule hit two in the first half, then two more in the second half, and Harry Buckland bagged one near the end. We only let them score because we felt sorry for them! The locals enjoyed it as much as we did, and jugs of beer magically appeared all over the ground to start the celebrations. Most of the Swindon fans had disappeared by the end. At the final whistle we ran on to the pitch and helped chair the players off. Everyone crowded in front of the pavilion as Mr Croneen made one of those delirious victory speeches, thanking everyone, great day for New Brompton etc and then it was a rousing ‘Three Cheers’ for the team and we were off home.
“Swindon were nowhere to be seen, until we got onto the London platform of Reading General. There was a mob of about fifty of them from the Great Western Railway Works on the opposite platform, and when they realised we were from New Brompton they suddenly jumped down onto the tracks and charged across at us. It was pretty frightening, but Slogger, Alf and a few others raced to the edge of our platform and started fighting and punching them as they climbed up onto it. They were knocking seven bells out of ’em for the honour of New Brompton and the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. It was classic Gordon of Khartoum stuff. Then someone shouted ‘There’s a bloody train coming, you dunces’ and they scarpered.
“It was our train fortunately. We found an empty compartment and it wasn’t long before our singing had emptied the carriage. These days everyone would sing the “We Hate Swindon” song I suppose, but the one we sang on the way back to Paddington, if I can remember it, went like this:-
Ee Aye Ee Aye Ee Aye Oh!
Up the Southern League we go!
We are Brompton FC
We play in white and black,
And let us tell you Swindon fans
Your team’s a pile of cack.