Part 10: All Change For New Brompton

January 23, 2007

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

June 1912 to August 1913

The extensive influx of people from the London area in the last two decades of the nineteenth century meant that by 1900 the population of New Brompton was nearing 50,000. There was now a solid area of housing bordered by Watling Street on the south, the Naval Hospital and the Great Lines on the west, Barnsole Road on the east, and the River Medway to the north. It was clear to the local administrators that such a growing population needed a clear local structure to deal with its needs, and after much lobbying in 1903 His Majesty King Edward VII granted the area Borough status. The oldest part of the area was Gillingham Village, which was located down and around the bottom of Strand Hill, and that became the name for the whole Borough.

The Government Commissioners drew the boundaries for the new Borough of Gillingham very widely, taking in the area of Old Brompton, close by the Dockyard Main Gate, and the outlying villages of Rainham, Wigmore, Hempstead and Bredhurst, all of which were separated from New Brompton by several miles of open fields and woodlands. In 1903, Gillingham was the biggest borough in Kent, and the third biggest borough in England. It was a time of fierce local pride, as Grandad remembered.

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Part 9: Carry On Sergeant

January 16, 2007

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

January to February 1908

Whenever the older generations recount stories of the great days, there are always one or two memories that crop up time and time again. We had now reached Edwardian times, and I knew that once again I would hear the tale of one of the most famous victories of them all. But for the completeness of my own memories, I needed Grandad to fill in the missing years. With difficulty, I started him off continuing to talk about 1899/1900.

“The 9,000 crowd that packed the ground in January 1899 for the cup tie with Southampton convinced the directors that we needed some ground improvements, so in the summer of 1899 we built the Gordon Road Stand. And a fine building it was too – 500 seats, superb view of the pitch, right on top of the players so you could un-nerve the opposition by mouthing off right in their faces, and it’s still standing nearly 100 years later. The oldest surviving stand in the Football League!”

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Part 8: The Longest Game In The World

January 9, 2007

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

October to November 1899

The fans of New Brompton were starting to settle into the routines familiar to football followers down the years. In between shouting the team on every Saturday afternoon came the usual topics of conversation during the week – injuries, team selections, rumours about transfers in and out, and money problems. I asked Grandad what he remembered about football in Victorian times.

“I think the thing that was really different from the modern game, SunBoy, was the influence of the captain. Some of them these days don’t do much more than toss the coin and play at being the biggest mouth in rows with the referee, but in the early days the captain was very much the pivotal figure of the club. He usually decided the tactics, and on the field his word was law as far as the players were concerned. It was a similar role to the one you see these days as captain of a cricket team or a rugby union side.

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Part 7: Local Rivalry

January 2, 2007

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

1895 to 1900

I had discovered the story behind the train warrant to Caversham that Grandad had carefully kept in his treasure chest of football memories. It proved that our intensity of feelings against Swindon was not a modern phenomena, burnt into folklore by the infamous clashes in 1979 and the play-off trilogy in 1987. In fact, 1987 was a re-run of 1895, and we had even played Swindon twice in our first ever season, beating them 2-1 at home in February 1894, and losing 2-0 away the following month. They are the only club from 1893/94 who have been regular opponents of ours over the century since, which must make them pretty much our oldest rivals.

The Southern League which New Brompton joined for the 1895/96 season contained ten clubs, and there were the names of some modern day Football League clubs in it – Luton Town, Millwall Athletic, Reading, Southampton St Mary’s and Clapton (later Leyton) Orient. Ilford and Royal Ordinance Factories had survived from earlier times, as had Swindon Town. Despite being thrashed in the Test Match, they had got re-promoted due to the League electing several new clubs. Grandad and his mates were relishing games against much stiffer opposition, but one club’s name leapt out from the fixture list.

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Part 6: The Oldest Enemy

December 26, 2006

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

Season 1894/95

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.

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Part 5: Professionalism

December 19, 2006

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

January to August 1894

The issue of “professionalism” dominated organised team sports in the last years of the nineteenth century. The main games of football, rugby and cricket were originally played by teams of “gentlemen” who it was assumed would automatically apply the principles of honour, sportsmanship and fair play to the proceedings as intended. For many, it was unthinkable that anyone should receive payment for participating. But as the popularity of the games spread from the Public Schools and Army Corps to the general populace, the strains of keeping the pure “amateur” concept reached breaking point. Many working class people who were good at these team sports wanted to earn money by playing them, and hopefully escape a life consigned to dark satanic mills or underground in coal mines.

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Part 4: The Very First Match

December 12, 2006

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.

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