Although Eric Diver now lives in Vancouver he remains a passionate Hoops’ supporter and next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the first match he ever watched at the Charles Ground.
The occasion was a charity match on February 19th 1961 which was watched by 4,001 spectators, a figure which remains the second highest ever attendance at the Charles Ground (the highest was 4,200 for a Kent League “local derby” against Dover 10 years earlier).
The charity match was between a “Managers’ XI” and a “Showbiz XI”and the main reason why the game attracted such a big crowd was that the “Showbiz” team included Tommy Steele, who is generally regarded to have been Britain’s first ever teen idol and rock ‘n roll star. Tommy, then aged 24 and still alive today, had already achieved a No 1 single with “Singing The Blues” and his album “The Tommy Steele Story” was the first album by a UK act to top the charts in this country.
So when it was announced that he would be playing in the charity match it produced a flurry of excitement within the town and the big crowd who went to the game included, according to the “East Kent Mercury” report, many “gaily dressed girls” who were presumably hoping to get Tommy’s autograph rather than to watch the football.
But most of the autograph hunters went home disappointed as Tommy was carried off near the end, supposedly with an injured ankle. However he was soon spotted nipping over a fence to have a “quick cuppa” with the Hoops’ coach, Ernie Wallace, before heading off home to avoid the crowds!
Although Tommy was clearly the big “draw” as far as most of the crowd was concerned the “Showbiz XI” also included a famous soccer name in the shape of former Wolves and England captain Billy Wright, who had retired from competitive football two years earlier having achieved the notable claim to fame of being the first player anywhere in the world to win 100 international caps.
A year later Billy himself joined the managerial ranks when he became boss of Arsenal in succession to George Swindin, who also played in the game at Deal. The “Managers XI” also included Harry Haslam, the then manager of Tonbridge and who 13 years later led Luton Town to promotion to the old First Division.The “Showbiz XI” also included Ronnie Carroll, who remains the only artist to have represented the UK in two successive “Eurovision Song Contests”.
As for the match itself, the “Managers” won 3-2 but more importantly the game raised over £300 which was shared between the Friends of Deal Hospital and Deal Round Table.
For Eric, meanwhile, it was the opening chapter in his regular watching of football at the Charles Ground. His next visit came two years later, in August 1963 and he recalls: “It was the club’s first home game in the Southern League and we lost 5-1 to Corby Town in front of a crowd of 741. Corby’s fourth goal was scored by Hugh Curran who was to later to play for Wolves, Norwich City and Scotland.”
Since then Eric has watched hundreds of Hoops’ matches, including making a special trip back from Canada in 2000 to watch the FA Vase final along with his late friend and former Deal resident Garry Girdler, who had also made Vancouver his home. Eric’s passion for the club remains as strong as ever nearly 60 years on from the “The Tommy Steele” game, as that special match in February 1961 has come to be known.
If you can recall when you first watched a Hoops’ home game, and anything that you especially remember from the match, please let us know and we’ll include it in another “The First Game I Ever Saw at the Charles Ground” feature.
Finally, we would like to thank the family of former “East Kent Mercury” photographer Basil Kidd and also Deal Maritime and Local History Museum for granting their joint copyright permission to use two of Basil’s photos from the Tommy Steele match.
Photos: Tommy Steele (centre) in the changing room before the game along with Billy Wright (far right) and
the “Showbiz XI” team with Tommy in the front row (far left) and Billy Wright (third from right in the back row)