Channel Island Stars in English League Football
By David Eves
It was the beginning of May 1951. It was teeming down with rain and the pitch was a mud bath. Charlton were playing Tottenham at The Valley and I went there straight from school. Spurs were about to win the League Championship only a year after winning the old Second Division. The first player to catch my eye was the right back of Tottenham, a player called Alf Ramsey. While every other player was covered in mud Ramsey was absolutely spotless, his white shirt as white as when he started the game. He was a master full back, poised, elegant, would never rush a tackle, and always kept himself between the winger and the goal. But up front that day for Spurs was a dark haired warrior of a player called Len Duquemin, who I noted from my programme came from the Channel Island of Guernsey. In those days hardly a foreigner graced the British game, Charlton probably being the leaders in that field with Hans Jeppson from Sweden, and the South African trio of O’Lynn, Firmani and Leary. So a Channel Islander in the British game was a novelty and it wasn’t till 1961 that I came across another one, when I saw Ray De Gruchy playing centre half for Grimsby Town at Crystal Palace in a Third Division game. He was big, strong a typical English stopper if ever there was one. But his efforts were in vain that day, because Palace had a dancer of a centre forward called Johnny Byrne, later to play for West Ham and England, who was all over the place, a flick there, a touch here, forever wandering around, bemusing the Palace defence. Grimsby were well beaten 4-1 and Johnny Byrne ran the show.
Probably the next Channel Islander I saw playing League Football was Geoff Vowden, an impressive inside right for Notts Forest and Aston Villa. Never spectacular but a consistent performer, who scored goals and never seemed to have a bad game. Wherever I have been watching football I have always tried to see a Channel Islander playing and it seems that over the last twenty to thirty years there have been more than ever, despite so many people saying that the standard has gone down. The long list of those that have made the grade in that time defies the theory. Of course, we all know about our biggest stars, Graeme Le Saux, who I saw play for Chelsea, Blackburn & Southampton, and played 36 times for England and Matt Le Tissier, who I personally sponsored for many years at Southampton, yet despite his outrageous talent, only played eight games for England. In comparison, someone of the limited talent of Carlton Palmer, a League player only if ever there was one, played 18 times. Then we wonder why we never win anything at the highest level of International Football!!
While local pundits are always arguing over whether Barry Breuilly or Steve Carlyon was Jersey’s best goalkeeper, they always seem to forget that Jersey’s best goalkeeper ever was Trevor Wood. Being a schoolmate of my son I spotted him at an early age and from about 11 years of age it was obvious to me that he could go all the way. Unfortunately, in my view, he made the wrong decision when he started out in the professional game by signing for Brighton. At the time they already had experienced goalkeepers like Joe Corrigan, Graham Mosely and Perry Digweed, who were all in front of him, and in 5 years there he never had a chance. So he drifted around between Port Vale, Hereford and Walsall, and it was there I saw him play in a League Cup tie at West Ham, where he performed gallantly in a 2-1 defeat. That was his best spell in League football, earning him one cap for Northern Ireland. Guernsey also has the same argument over its best goalkeeper, Gervaise-Brazier of their star studded team of the 60s or the current incumbent, Chris Tardif, so tragically ruled out for most of this season. Twice I saw this gentleman, giant of a keeper play for Oxford United. The first time was for Swansea City’s last ever floodlit game at the Vetch Field back in 2005, when Tardif played a blinder to restrict the Swans to a 1-0 win when they were chasing promotion from Division Two. Included in the Swans Squad that day were such as Gary Monk, Roberto Martinez, the captain, and Gary Britton. A week later I was at Oxford to see them beat Southend 2-1, when again Tardif starred for Oxford.
Of the three current Jersey born players plying their trade in the English game I have, of course, seen Peter Vincenti a number of times playing for Stevenage, Mansfield and Aldershot, but I still think his talent has not been fully appreciated. A football brain like Peter’s, never mind his technical skill, never seems to get the same recognition as a hard, physical player, in the British game. Like Matthew Le Tissier, I still think Peter’s ability would have been more appreciated in the French game, where skillful players have more opportunity to develop their talent.
Finally, there is Brett Pitman and Curtis Guthrie. I first saw Brett one afternoon here at St. Peters and immediately realised I was watching a special player. I saw him later play for Bournemouth at Oldham during his first spell with the Cherries, but he was played out wide by Kevin Bond, the manager, and clearly out of position. I am pleased, therefore, that he has now played about 400 games for Bournemouth, Bristol City and Ipswich Town.
As for Curtis Guthrie, I told John Welsh only a few years ago that we must go out and get this player to come to St. Peter. Before I knew it he had signed for Forest Green Rovers in the National League and is now scoring plenty of goals for Colchester in League Two.
Man Utd – Love them or Loathe them?
By David Eves
Growing up around the parks and sports fields of South East London, close to the Kentish borders, it was only natural to take an interest in football and one of my earliest memories of the beautiful game was the day of the F.A. Cup Final in 1948. My mates and I had already taken note of some of the great players of the time on the back of the fag cards with which we used to play and exchange, to try and get full sets, and the orange shirts and white shorts of Blackpool players always seemed to attract us. Not only that, they possessed one of the great players of the day, Stanley
Matthews, who forever seemed to have the ball glued to his feet, swerving this way and that, going past people as if they weren’t there and setting up goals by the bucket load for Mortensen and Co. Can you imagine telling him to ‘track back’, like so called wingers supposed to do today! So it was that Blackpool were playing Manchester United in the F.A. Cup final on that memorable day and I was playing football in the garden with my brothers, as there was no TV in our house in those days and the radio we considered too boring. At half time my mother came out into the garden and told us that Blackpool were winning 2-1, which pleased us all, but at full time she came out again and told us that Manchester United had won 4-2! We were sick. Ever since that day, when a fearsome striker with a lethal left foot, Jack Rowley, scored twice, Manchester United have always been sweet and sour to me.
Yet wherever I go in Jersey, I seem to find Manchester United supporters and always ask why? I can understand it with Mancunians or Lancastrians but why do people in Jersey have this obsession with Manchester Utd, when they should surely be supporting their nearest team, Pompey, Saints or Bournemouth. What is the connection, apart from following a powerful and successful club? That’s easy. What is more difficult, but probably much more rewarding, is following your local team, like Millwall or Gillingham, and sticking with them for life. Success long term maybe limited, but when it does come, it brings unimaginable joy for its fans.
Having said all that, there is an aura, a glitz, a joie de vivre, an excitement about Manchester United. It stirs the cockles. It is enshrined in triumph and tragedy. It is a talking point. It is an institution. It has brought through its famed Academy some of the greatest players of all time, the mercurial Duncan Edwards, a man who could play in every position on the field, including Goalkeeper, and still be man of the match. Then there was the marvellous Roger Byrne, a player of poise, pace and technique, left foot or right foot it made no difference, the best left back England have had since the war, never mind Ray Wilson, Stuart Pearce or Ashley Cole.
Despite the terrible events in Munich, one shining star emerged from the wreckage to grace the game for ever more, Bobby Charlton. I first saw him play as an 18 year old against Charlton as the Valley in 1956. In those days they had no floodlights and it was a re-arranged League game in the middle of winter on a Wednesday afternoon so I had to take a ‘sickie’ because Man. Utd were in town. Out there in the gloom was this slight figure of a teenager, blonde hair blowing all over the place, hanging around the centre circle, waiting for his chance to pounce and steam towards goal. Here was a genius in waiting, incredible acceleration, getting away from defenders as if they weren’t there, shooting from all over the place. A star was born. He scored twice. Utd, won 5-1. He was an out and out striker, an outside left with the glorious playmaker Johnny Giles playing inside him, a midfielder running the show but still steaming through to strike wonder goals, like at the World Cup in 1966. He was the outstanding attacking player England have ever had. And he was Manchester United through and through.
So whatever you say about Manchester Utd, they are the team nearly everyone wants to see play. One day in 1959 I was at Ipswich and saw the scraggy, scrawly slip of a lad playing for Huddersfield Town, a deft touch here, a somersault there and a couple of goals in a 4-1 win. His name? Denis Law. I would’ve signed him there and then. Later came George Best. I first saw him play at Chelsea in 1964, as a mere boy, nothing of him, taking the ball up to Eddie Mcreadie, no mean slouch of a left back, and leaving him for dead, another genius had arrived on the scene. Later came the “Joie de Vivre”, the Frenchman, Eric Cantona, the talisman that changed the whole culture at Old Trafford. Then the best midfield the English game had ever seen: Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs. Finally the greatest of them all, Cristiano Ronaldo. What is there not to like about Man. Utd?