Malcolm Allison (1927-2010)
Big Mal was a decent player who ended up better known as a manager. A Dartford-born centre-half, he played first at Erith & Belvedere before spending six low-key seasons at Charlton Athletic; but he made his name at West Ham United, where he mentored the young Bobby Moore. His senior playing career ended abruptly when he caught TB and had a lung removed. After three years as a car salesman and nightclub owner, he got into football management and, following seven years as assistant to Joe Mercer at Manchester City, briefly became manager. He enjoyed a dramatic three-year spell at Crystal Palace before embarking on an odyssey embracing a dozen clubs in as many years. Instantly recognisable with his cigar and fedora – not to mention his womanising, alcoholism, and combative manner – he enjoyed a reputation as just about the most flamboyant manager in England, and remains a favourite of connoisseurs of his playboy cheek.
Arsenal Football Club
Dial Square FC was founded in 1886 by sixteen Woolwich munitions-factory workers. They soon changed its name to Royal Arsenal, and settled at the Invicta Ground in Plumstead. In 1893, it became the first Southern club to be accepted into the Football League, playing under the name Woolwich Arsenal, whereupon it had the Manor Ground stadium built nearby. It played in the Football League 2nd Division for ten seasons before gaining promotion to Division 1. After suffering serious money troubles, it was bought out and moved north of the Thames, playing at Highbury Stadium under its simplified modern name from 1913. Its glory years arrived in the 1930s, when it won the League title five times – the only southern club to be Champions before WW2. Although now famous nationally as half of the North London Derby, the club until quite recently enjoyed the support of older fans in Kent who still considered it “the big local club”.
Steve Backley (b 1969)
Steve Backley was a world-class javelin thrower from Sidcup with the physique of a rugby union number 8, the looks of an American football quarterback, and the luck of a French snail. His great misfortune was to be a contemporary of the indomitable Czech Jan Zelezny, who swept all before him. Backley did actually lead Zelezny briefly in two consecutive Olympic finals, but both times had to settle for a silver to add to the bronze he’d won in 1992. Similarly, he won two silvers in World Championships, but could console himself with seven golds at European and Commonwealth championships. His most enduring achievement was the throw of 91.46 metres he made in 1992, which set a new world-record and is still the British record today. He was subsequently awarded an OBE, competed on ITV’s ‘Dancing on Ice’, and served as a BBC athletics commentator. He now works as a motivational speaker.
Debbie Bampton (b 1961)
Deborah Bampton was born in north-west Kent in 1961 and, already by the age of 13, was making a name for herself in the Maidstone Ladies team. She stayed for five years, during which time she made her debut for England, proving the epitome of a hard-working midfielder. It was the first of 95 caps in an international career spanning nearly 20 years and culminating in the captaincy. At 23, she joined Millwall Lionesses, with whom she stayed for five years apart from a one-year interlude in Italy. She joined the Arsenal Ladies side that won the women’s Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup in 1992-93, before going to Croydon as player-manager and winning the FA Women’s Cup for a fifth time. She ended her career at Eastbourne Borough, and still lives in the area working inconspicuously as a postman. She was awarded an MBE, and is in the English Football Hall of Fame.
The Band of Brothers
Founded in 1858, the Band of Brothers is a cricket club that unusually does not represent any locality but seems to exist just for the heck of it. Most of the founders were members of the Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles; their suitably military name was taken from a popular song of the era. After the original members left, the club’s most illustrious leader, the 4th Lord Harris, reinvigorated it. ‘BB’, as it is universally known, thereafter maintained its distinctly Kentish and gentlemanly complexion, but always with a sense of humour. In 1879, at its home ground Torry Hill above Harrietsham, BB took on the neighbours from Sharsted Court, whose owner Chapman Faunce-De Laune was actually a BB member; he was henceforth known as ‘Traitor’. Several top Kent players have subsequently become ‘Brethren’, including Lord Cowdrey. BB has commendably preserved its remarkable original records, ‘The Books’, which now rest securely in the archive of Canterbury Cathedral.
John Bartley (b 1958)
By the age of 23, the lethal Camberwell-born striker John Bartley already had a Pele-like goal-scoring record under his belt, having notched 450 goals for Welling United in just 326 games. Things didn’t subsequently work out at either Millwall or Kuopion Elo in Finland, but he scored 87 times in just two seasons to help Maidstone United win their first Alliance Premier League title. Back at Welling from 1984, he continued to score at the rate of a goal a game, but returned to do the same for Maidstone in 1986-87. He then got 21 in 28 competitive matches for Chelmsford, 31 for 38 for Dartford and, for an encore, 86 in 86 for Alma Swanley. In total, he is reckoned to have scored 762 goals in 714 appearances, probably an English all-time record. Given his brilliance, he was ribbed about his supposed lack of footballing ambition, although he actually had a good job as a computer programmer.
Warren Barton (b 1969)
Warren Dean Barton, born in North London, was Maidstone United’s outstanding right-back during the club’s first season in the Football League. He’d been signed in 1988 from Redbridge Forest for £30,000 plus no fewer than three players, and soon showed his worth with his exciting wing play. On account of the club’s growing financial problems, he was sold after a year to top-flight Wimbledon for £300,000, then a record for a fourth-tier player. Four years later, he moved to Newcastle United in the Premier League for a fee of £4 million, making him the most expensive defender in English football. While there, he made the first of his three appearances for England. He had spells at Derby County and Queen’s Park Rangers before briefly rejoining Wimbledon, and finally returned to Dagenham & Redbridge. After retiring, he moved to America, becoming coach of San Diego Flash as well as serving as a Fox Sports TV pundit.
Sam Bartram (1914-81)
It was by sheer fluke that Sam Bartram, a Geordie miner, got his footballing break. A centre-forward, he was standing in as goalkeeper for his local team when a Charlton Athletic scout turned up. In no time he was keeping at the Valley, aiding the club’s meteoric rise to footballing eminence. His one honour was the FA Cup in 1947, though one can only guess what he might have achieved if WW2 hadn’t wiped out six seasons. His career is quickly related: he played for Charlton. He stayed for 22 years and played 579 times competitively, retiring as the oldest Addick in history. Charlton fans remember him best for the time when, at Stamford Bridge, fog descended. He was left wondering when Chelsea were finally going to mount an attack when a surprised policeman told him the game had been abandoned some while ago. The hugely popular Bartram is now commemorated by a nine-foot statue at the Valley.
Bat and trap
The origins of bat and trap are lost in the mists of time. Once widespread, it is now a distinctly Kentish game. It melds elements of cricket, rounders and hockey, with a bowling-machine (known as a trap) thrown in. The batsman hits a lever to fire a ball into the air, and attempts to strike it into a goal without it being caught by a fielder. The batsman is ‘knocked out’ after three failed attempts to hit the ball, or by failing to hit the ball between the posts. The fielders meanwhile stand behind the goal. After each hit, one fielder in turn throws the ball at the near end of the trap; the batsman is ‘bowled out’ by a hit, or else scores a run. The batting team, typically consisting of eight players, bats one after the other until all are out. There are several leagues in Kent; the Canterbury one has its centenary in 2022.
Bobby Beale (1884-1950)
Robert ‘Bobby’ Beale was the son of a Maidstone councillor and undertaker who first played at left-half and outside-left for Maidstone Church Institute. While still in his teens, he crocked his knee, and had to re-invent himself as a goalkeeper. It was a singularly successful transformation. He took part in three early tours to Belgium before joining Maidstone United in 1904-05. From there he moved to Brighton & Hove Albion and then via Norwich City to Manchester United of the First Division, which he joined in 1912 for £275. He made 105 appearances there before WW1 intervened. By that time, he had also represented the English League against the Scottish League at Hampden Park in 1913. Early in 1919, he played for Maidstone United in all its Victory Cup ties before ending his career at Gillingham. His son Wally signed for Manchester United, but never made the first team. Bobby Beale died in Dymchurch.
William Bedle (1679-1768)
Although he was born in Bromley, William Bedle earned his wealth as a farmer near Dartford, which is where he also played his cricket. With his help, Dartford CC became the best club in England (and therefore the world) in the first half of the 18th century, and was practically synonymous with Kent cricket. Although no records survive of his playing performances, he was in fact the first player in the world to be renowned purely for his cricketing ability. The notoriously cantankerous cricket writer Rowland Bowen described him as first in a line of greats that included Pilch, Grace, Hobbs and Hammond – four of those five, incidentally, having Kent connections. When he died in Dartford in the reign of George III, Bedle was described in his obituary as “the most expert cricket player in England”. He was 89, which at the time was a very good innings.
George Beel (1900-80)
While stationed at Blackpool during WW1, George Beel started playing football for the Seasiders. After failing a trial with Manchester United in 1919, he began his professional career at his hometown club Lincoln City, before making his way via Merthyr Town and Chesterfield to recent champions Burnley. He would stay at Turf Moor for nearly a decade, racking up 337 appearances. He proved the club’s best-ever centre-forward, finishing top scorer six times and scoring a club-record 187 goals. After a further short spell at Lincoln and then Rochdale, he moved south to player-manage Tunbridge Wells Rangers before spending a season as player-coach at Maidstone United. After WW2 he returned to serve as manager during the club’s transition from Kent League to Corinthian League. He remained in mid-Kent for the rest of his life, helping with junior football even after retirement age. He died in Linton Hospital, aged eighty.
John Bell (1718-74)
A Dartford man through and through, John Bell was the wicket-keeper who established a tradition of outstanding Kentish figures behind the stumps that would later include Fred Huish, Jack Hubble, Les Ames, Godfrey Evans, Alan Knott, Paul Downton and Geraint Jones. He played for Dartford, for Kent, and often for All England, and was for a time the country’s best-known player. Believed to have been a shoemaker by trade, he became a publican after his retirement, running the ‘Queen’s Head’ in Dartford. Since it was frequented by fellow cricketers, it was appropriately renamed ‘The 11 Cricketers’ after his death, which it remained until its closure in 1988. Bizarrely, Bell’s brother Thomas, another England cricketer, was found guilty of highway robbery at Maidstone Assizes in 1762 and sentenced to death; luckily for him, the umpire’s decision was reviewed, and he won a reprieve.
Blackheath Football Club
Though familiar today only to keen rugby fans, Blackheath Football Club has a unique status in world sport. The club was founded in 1858, at a time when football was still a hybrid of soccer and rugger. In 1863, BFC was one of twelve London, Kent and Surrey clubs – three from the town of Blackheath – who founded the Football Association. Their aim was to draw up the code of laws that would shape the modern game. After their sixth meeting, at which the majority of members voted for a set of rules closer to the new ‘Cambridge Rules’ than the older ‘Rugby Rules’, BFC withdrew from the FA, and by default became the first open rugby club in the world. Eight years later, it went on to become a driving force in the creation of the Rugby Football Union. Blackheath FC thereby played a key role in the foundation of not one but two great world sports.
Blackheath Hockey Club
One of the least predictable of the dozen founder members of the Football Association was the Blackheath Proprietary School. Amazingly, that was not the School’s greatest claim to a place in the history of world sport. Just as some old boys had gone on to form the Blackheath Football Club that proved so influential in the development of football and rugby, so others decided to form a separate club to play hockey, which was at least as popular at the time; this they did in 1861. It was in fact the first hockey club in the world. (It should be mentioned that Teddington Hockey Club dubiously claims that honour because, when founded ten years later, it introduced a more modern pitch and ball). It is odd to reflect that the Club played its centenary match, in original dress, nearly sixty years ago. A merger in 2012 formed the current Blackheath & Elthamians Hockey Club.
Ivo Bligh (1859-1927)
The Eton and Cambridge educated 8th Earl Darnley, Lord of the Manor of Cobham in Kent, was an unimpeachable choice of captain for the England cricket team. He wasn’t that good at cricket, but his quirky forename did endear him even to the Australian public. He went down in cricketing history for his part in the 1882-3 test series in Australia. Its predecessor in England had been lost, prompting ‘The Sporting Times’ to print a spoof obituary of English cricket. Bligh announced that his aim was to regain England’s “ashes”. When the series was duly won 2-1, a group of Australian women presented to him an urn bearing a ditty referring to “Ivo” and containing the ashes of a local bail. The gracious England captain did his bit for international relations by marrying one of the women, teacher Florence Morphy, who thereby became the Countess of Darnley. After his death, she gifted the urn to the MCC.
Colin Blythe (1879-1917)
Colin ‘Charlie’ Blythe from Deptford had the sort of bowling talent best described as sublime. A slow left-arm bowler who was lethal on a sticky wicket, he was only discovered by chance. He was an apprentice fitter when, while spectating at Blackheath, he was asked to give a Kent batsman some net practice; a passing coach immediately offered him a trial. Blythe’s batting was never much use, but his wicket-taking became a mainstay of Kent’s glorious spell before WW1, when they were County Champions four times. When the famous Chevallier Tayler painting was commissioned to celebrate Kent’s first title in 1906, Lord Harris insisted that Blythe be the featured bowler. His greatest day came in 1907, when he took 10-30 and 7-18 at Northampton – the first time 17 wickets had been taken in a day. Despite his epilepsy, he enrolled in WW1, and was killed by a shell at Passchendaele. He is commemorated by a monument at the St Lawrence Ground.
Few under forty are aware that, for 25 years, Brands Hatch was on a par with Silverstone as the nation’s leading motor-racing circuit. Already before WW2 there had been motor-cycle racing on a grass track at the site, a natural bowl beside the A20 near Farningham. The tarmac track was opened in 1950 – a young Stirling Moss being among the demonstrators – and by 1964 had hosted its first British Grand Prix, won by Jim Clark. It alternated with Silverstone as host thereafter, winners including such greats as Brabham, Lauda and Mansell. In 1988, FISA’s new policy of embracing one circuit per country led to Silverstone being preferred permanently, on the grounds of having more space to expand into. It was in truth the faster of the two, though less interesting and far less accessible. Brands Hatch still hosts many other forms of motor sport today; and ‘Brands’ has left names like Clearways, Druids, and Dingle Dell seared in race-fans’ memory.
Steve Bruce (b 1960)
Though a Geordie and current manager of Newcastle United, Steve Bruce owes his illustrious career to Gillingham. Aged 16, Bruce was starting work as a shipyard plumber when he was invited to a trial in Kent. He signed as an apprentice, making over 200 appearances in a seven-year stay. He moved to Norwich City before hitting the big time. In 1987, Alex Ferguson recruited him for the Manchester United squad he was rebuilding. Alongside Ramsgate-born Gary Pallister in central defence, Bruce provided the foundation stone of the colossus that came to dominate the early 1990s. His proudest moment at Old Trafford was captaining the team to the club’s first Double in 1993-94. In total he won the Premier League and the FA Cup three times each, the League Cup, and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. He has subsequently been little more than a jobbing manager for around a dozen clubs, but it’s certainly better paid work than plumbing.
Charlie Buchan (1891-1960)
Having been born in Plumstead, it was natural for Charlie Buchan to join his hometown club, Woolwich Arsenal. He never played for them before being loaned to Northfleet United. He signed for Leyton in 1910, but was soon snapped up by Sunderland. He went on to earn fame on Wearside by scoring 224 goals in 413 appearances before and after WW1. Though generally considered the best player in England, he was able to represent England just six times, scoring four goals, before returning south to make 102 appearances for Arsenal. He can’t have known when he retired at 36 that life was about to start again. He became a familiar BBC commentator, wrote for the ‘Daily News’, penned a coaching manual, and helped set up the Football Writers’ Association that survives today. Most memorably, however, in 1951 he founded the landmark magazine ‘Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly’, which carried on for another 14 years after his death.
Buckmore Park Kart Circuit
Strangely enough, the Kart Circuit up Blue Bell Hill alongside the M2 was the brainchild of a scoutmaster called Cecil. Wanting to expand the facilities available to scouts at the Buckmore Park centre, Mr Whitehead decided upon go-karting. As a local businessman, he cunningly cadged a design from motorsport experts and got the track built as a military engineering training project, without paying a penny. The scouts used it for two decades from 1963, but it fell into disrepair. In 1985 it was sold off, and then upgraded to competition standard. The circuit was subsequently extended to full international length, by which time future F1 champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button had cut their racing teeth there. In the last two years of his life, the great John Surtees bought the circuit outright and invested in further upgrades. A technically challenging circuit with a first-class karting school, it is generally reckoned one of the best kart facilities in the country.
Steve Butler (b 1962)
A Brummie by birth, Stephen Butler played for Brentford in the Third Division before joining Maidstone United in 1985. After a relatively quiet first season, he was to prove a goal-scoring sensation, finishing as top scorer in five consecutive seasons. He accompanied the Stones on their three-season adventure in the Football League, but left for Second-Division Watford when opportunity beckoned. After a decade that also took in Cambridge United, Gillingham and Peterborough United, he returned to the re-formed Maidstone as player-coach in 2001 at the age of 39, providing invaluable experience in a season that brought a league-and-cup double, and endeared himself to a new generation of fans by scoring a hat-trick in an FA Cup tie at local rivals Tonbridge Angels. He left again to join Peter Taylor in a coaching role at Hull City, but returned briefly as assistant manager in 2010. He remains Maidstone United’s all-time top scorer, with 178 goals in 315 appearances.
Francis Maule Campbell
One of the greatest travesties in world sport is an imposter’s name on the World Cup of Rugby Union. The myth that Revd William Webb Ellis created the sport in 1823 by carrying the ball while playing football was fabricated by Rugby School in 1895. Ellis wasn’t even involved in the instance of cheating that prompted it. The name on the Cup should in fact be Blackheath-born Francis Maule Campbell’s. In 1863, when football was still in fact a unified sport, he became Treasurer of the new Football Association, the youngest of its three officials. It was Campbell’s decision to withdraw his club Blackheath FC from the FA late in the day, on the grounds that the new laws made the game less masculine. He thereby created the schism in football that led directly to the creation of the Rugby Football Union in 1871. Later in life, Campbell became a wine merchant and moved to Wales.
Peter Cazalet (1907-73)
Peter Cazalet was literally to the manor born, at the family pile of Fairlawne in Shipbourne. He played cricket for Kent 22 times, the highlight being a partnership of 204 with Frank Woolley when his personal score was 150. At 23, however, he turned to horse racing. He became a National Hunt jockey while building race stables at Fairlawne, which he inherited after both his elder brothers died in wartime. After serving as a tank major in WW2, he became a noted racehorse trainer. He trained horses owned by both the Queen and the Queen Mother, had over a thousand winners, and was champion trainer three times. The incident for which he is best remembered, however, was a calamity. In the 1956 Grand National, Cazalet’s jockey Dick Francis was riding the Queen Mother’s horse Devon Loch to certain victory when, with 50 yards to go, it inexplicably jumped a phantom fence and collapsed. Cazalet himself now lies buried in Shipbourne church.
Tommy Chapman (1871-1929)
Thomas Chapman was born in Newtown, Montgomeryshire, and played for his local club for five years. He went on to join Manchester City in Division 2 for one season. In 1895 he was selected for Wales, which he represented as a centre-half seven times, scoring twice. His team-mate in both teams, the great Billy Meredith, described him as a man who never knew when he was beaten. Chapman moved next to Grimsby Town, where he stayed for two seasons, before moving south to non-League Chatham Town. In 1901, the club folded on account of financial difficulties, so he moved down the road to Maidstone United of the Kent League. There he formed a seemingly unbreakable partnership with former West Bromwich Albion and Luton Town midfielder Billy Ford. By the time he retired in 1907, at the age of 36, he’d racked up the best part of 250 appearances. He lies buried in Chatham cemetery.
Charlton Athletic Football Club
Charlton Athletic was one of three major clubs alongside Chelsea and Crystal Palace to be founded in 1905. Its base was the village of Charlton-near-Woolwich, so named to distinguish it from Charlton-near-Dover. Opportunity knocked in 1913 when Arsenal moved out of the area. The Addicks, who had played youth football till then, formed a senior side with the aim of becoming the new local top dog. After WW1, an army of fans was impressively persuaded to dig out a new stadium from a chalk pit that became the famous Valley. The club played one season in the Kent League and another in the Southern League before joining the Football League in 1921. Incredibly, it finished runners-up in Division 1 above Arsenal in 1936-37, and won the FA Cup ten years later. The Addicks – nicknamed after fishmonger Arthur Bryan’s habit of gifting the players ‘addick and chips – still have many fans in Kent.
George Cohen (b 1939)
Footballer George Cohen is the only member of England’s World Cup winning team of 1966 to have an enduring connection with Kent. His playing style as a full-back was like the man himself: stolid, straight, and dependable. England and Fulham were the only two teams he ever played for. He stayed with the Cottagers for 13 years, racking up 459 competitive performances. He had a short career in management at Tonbridge Angels, lifting the Kent Senior Cup win in 1975 – his only other trophy. Thereafter he settled in Tunbridge Wells, at first in real estate, and now in retirement. His life has been beset by traumas: a knee injury that ended his career, bowel cancer that recurred twice, his mother’s death under a juggernaut, his brother’s decease after a nightclub brawl. Yet he remains the sort who counts his blessings. Extraordinarily, his nephew Ben Cohen also won a World Cup medal, with the 2003 England Rugby Union team.
Tim Coleman (1881-1940)
John George Coleman, known for some reason as ‘Tim’, started playing football around 1900 at his home-town club, Kettering Town. He spent a season at Northampton Town before joining Woolwich Arsenal, then of the Second Division but soon the First. A natural goal-scorer, he played 172 competitive matches as a Gunner, racking up 79 goals, and appeared once for England. After five seasons, he transferred to Everton for two years, also in the top flight, and squeezed in Sunderland, Fulham, and Nottingham Forest before WW1 intervened. After the War, he got a goal a game for Tunbridge Wells Rangers, and ended his career as player-coach for Maidstone United. He brought with him his son Arthur, a useful outside-right; the two actually played together in a friendly against Charlton Athletic, a rare case of a father and son appearing in the same team. Still playing at 40, Coleman had registered over 200 goals.
Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge (1932-2000)
Michael Colin Cowdrey’s initials revealed his father’s determination that he should become a cricketing legend. Born on his father’s tea plantation in India, ‘Colin’ left for England aged five, and scored 93 in his first match at his new prep school. After WW2, he went to Tonbridge School, where he showed more of his precocious talent. He became Kent’s youngest ever cap at 18, captain of Oxford University at 21, and an England debutant at 22 in Australia, when he scored the first and best of his 22 centuries in 114 Tests. He subsequently overtook Wally Hammond’s records for both Test runs scored and catches taken. Though enjoying hero status at Kent, where he spent his entire professional career, he was the epitome of the English gentleman in both his elegant batting style and unassuming manner. As well as 107 first-class centuries, he left behind a cricketing dynasty: sons Chris and Graham and grandson Fabian all played for Kent.
CS Craven (1863-1940)
By the time Charles Samuel Craven came south in the early 1890s, he already had a remarkable sporting record. This Chesterfield-born man was not only a co-founder of Darlington FC in 1883, serving as both secretary and goalkeeper; he went on in 1889 to found the Northern League, also known as the Craven League. His administrative skills led Leeds Cricket & Rugby Club to poach him in 1890 to work on the launch of Headingley, home of Yorkshire cricket. Having moved to Maidstone by 1894, he took a team of English players abroad to take on Holland. In 1895 he became the first secretary of the Maidstone Athletic Ground and, the following year, secretary of both the Maidstone Cricket Club and Mid Kent Football Club that he had co-founded to play there; he was goalkeeper for the latter. He also chaired the Maidstone League, and even did a bit of refereeing. A purist, he was a fervent supporter of the amateur ideal.
The oldest extant football club in the world is Sheffield FC (1857), still competing in the Northern Premier League. What’s less well known is that the second oldest is quite possibly Cray Wanderers. The club’s foundation myth has its origins in the construction of a viaduct carrying the new London, Chatham & Dover railway line across the Cray Valley. The itinerant workers supposedly played matches against the locals on the land beneath it, now the St Mary Cray cemetery in Star Lane. Around 1860, they formed a club bearing the village’s name, and in 1887 that club became Cray Wanderers. The Wands have not achieved a great deal in their long life, still playing only in the Isthmian League; but the club’s antiquity certainly deserves to be celebrated on its badge. There’s only one issue: the viaduct was actually built between 1858 and 1860. It’s just possible that Cray ran Sheffield an even closer second.
Investigations into the origin of cricket inevitably founder upon one tantalisingly inconclusive piece of evidence. An official document of 1200 lists expenses of £6 incurred by the young Prince Edward in playing a game of creag’. Was this the first record of cricket? A shift from ‘g’ to a ‘k’ is not improbable in the transition from Middle to Modern English; nor is ‘ea’ to ‘i’. As for that apostrophe, it was quite normal to indicate a common suffix that way, such as ‘-et’. Wishful thinkers have no doubt about it; yet the doubt remains. One thing is for sure: if it wasn’t cricket, we’ve not a clue what he was playing. What’s intriguing here, though, is that the game was played at Newenden, in the Weald of Kent. As for the future King Edward II, we can only hope he was a better cricketer than monarch. He ended up suffering a notoriously grisly fate involving a red-hot poker.
There’s no dispute that cricket was invented long ago in the Weald. It may even have been introduced by the Saxons. It simply needed a flat patch of land deforested for pasture, with a wicket gate to aim at or else defend with a shepherd’s crook. The first legal record of ‘cricketing’ comes from Guildford around 1550. That aside, the firsts are almost uniformly Kentish: the first recorded match (Chevening 1610), first mention as a respectable pursuit (Ruckinge, 1629), first religious denunciation (Maidstone, 1640), first match for money (Coxheath, 1646), first record of player names (Malling, 1705), first county match (Dartford Brent, 1709), first ‘county champions’ (Kent, 1728), first England match (Bromley Common, 1739), first match scores (Kent vs All England, 1744), first recorded century (Wrotham), first scorecards (Sevenoaks, 1776), etc. Alongside innovations in bat and ball making, round-arm and over-arm bowling, and the third stump, Kent has an unmatchable claim to inventing the first world sport.
The Croquet Association
When the Athletic Ground opened in London Road, Maidstone in 1895, it had grander aspirations than to be the non-League football ground it eventually became. It was meant primarily as a cricket ground, but catering for a wealth of other sports. One such was croquet. Although today a fringe sport, croquet was immensely popular with early Victorians; witness the croquet scene in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, written in 1865. The sport had been on the wane when, in the 1890s, Mrs Machonochie and Mrs Hill initiated an open tournament on Maidstone’s Lockmeadow, sparking a revival of croquet as a popular mixed-sex sport. Today’s national body the Croquet Association was actually founded in the town in 1896. An annual tournament started at the Athletic Ground in 1897, its first lady champion being the delightfully named Miss Elphinstone-Stone. Unfortunately, the Maidstone Typhoid Epidemic struck, and Wimbledon subsumed croquet into its formal name, the ‘All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club’.
Crystal Palace FC
The magnificent Crystal Palace was constructed for the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. Being too good to waste, it was moved afterwards to Penge Place in Surrey. Its capacious grounds embraced both a cricket ground – where Kent used to play – and a football ground. An amateur football club formed to play there in 1861, – a founder member of the FA – reached the semi-final of the first ever FA Cup competition, but folded in 1876. In 1905, the owners of the Palace decided to start up a new professional club. By then, all of Penge had formally been transferred to Kent, so the new club, Crystal Palace FC, was officially Kentish. The club was obliged to leave during WW1, and eventually moved into its new stadium, Selhurst Park in Croydon, in 1924, four years after joining the Football League. The Glaziers have never been FA Cup winners or Football League champions, but continue to compete in the top flight today.
Steve Davis (b 1957)
Plumstead’s six-time snooker World Champion had a most unfortunate TV nickname: Steve ‘Boring’ Davis. He was never boring in the slightest: he just had a mild-mannered disposition and a tendency to sound somewhat overawed by his own brilliance. The epithet was instead a back-handed compliment to his playing style. Davis offered none of the crowd-pleasing theatrics of a Hurricane Higgins or Whirlwind White, but was actually a far more effective player on account of his sublime accuracy. He became so hard to beat in the 1980s that he remained the world’s imperturbable number one for seven years; he could almost have modelled his unflappable persona on his near contemporary, legendary tennis-player Bjorn Borg. The one time he ever sounded fazed was after his cliff-hanging loss to Dennis Taylor in 1985, before a record TV audience of 18.5 million. His remarkable record has won him an OBE, but strangely he has not yet been knighted.
Ted Ditchburn (1921-2005)
Edwin Ditchburn from Gillingham was one of those unfortunates whose footballing career was seriously compromised by the outbreak of war, in his case when he was nearly 18. Luckily he was a goalkeeper, so he still had 20 playing years left in him after 1945. He’d started his working life as a papermaker, playing football for Tottenham Hotspur’s feeder club Northfleet United. After serving as an RAF physical training instructor, he became practically a fixture in the Spurs first eleven for eight seasons after the resumption. In that period, he starred in the team that won promotion from Division 2 in 1949-50 and the following season became Champions; team mates included Bill Nicholson and Alf Ramsey. Owing to stiff competition, however, he played only half a dozen times for England. After 418 competitive matches for Spurs, he joined Romford in Essex as player-manager, staying for six further years. After retiring from football, he ran a sports outfitters.
Andy Ducat (1886-1942)
Andrew ‘Mac’ Ducat was one of that rare breed who have played both football and cricket for England. Born in Brixton, he grew up in Southend, where he began his football career. It was however at the Manor Ground in Plumstead that he made his name, playing 175 times competitively for Woolwich Arsenal. He represented England six times, either side of the Great War, and continued playing with first Aston Villa and then Fulham until the age of 38. Thereafter he spent two years as Fulham manager. As a cricketer, he played for Surrey, for whom he made 52 centuries and a top score of 306 not out. In his only test match, against Australia, he was famously dismissed two ways with one ball, when he was out both caught and hit wicket when his bat shattered. He also has the unlucky distinction of being the only man to die at Lord’s while playing in a match.
The Duke cricket ball
The manufacture of cricket balls has always been as typically Kentish as growing cherries. The Duke family of Penshurst starting making balls as a cottage industry as long ago as 1760, until which time cricketers had generally made their own. Within 15 years the Dukes had won a royal patent, and five years later invented the six-seam ball that became the cricket standard. In 1920, Duke & Son merged with cricket-bat manufacturer John Wisden, and in 1961, under pressure from the Australian Kookaburra ball, joined Gray-Nicolls to form Tonbridge Sports Industries. This in turn was sold to its current owner, Dilip Jajodia’s British Cricket Balls, in 1987. The company experienced controversy concerning the white Duke ball produced for the 1999 World Cup, which according to tests swung more than normal balls; the tournament saw a record number of wides. Nevertheless, the trusty Duke brand is still used by England and West Indies in test matches.
English Bowling Association
As if dominating cricket for four decades weren’t enough – not to mention distinguishing himself at athletics and playing numerous other sports – WG Grace decided to adopt yet another pursuit in his fifties: bowls. On retiring from Gloucestershire CCC in 1899, he was invited to establish a new London County Cricket Club on the Crystal Palace ground where Kent had played. Ironically, in 1900, the whole of the Crystal Palace became formally part of Kent. On moving to Sydenham, just minutes away, WG took up bowls enthusiastically. In 1903, in the cricket pavilion, he co-founded the English Bowling Association, becoming its first president. He quickly arranged the first ever international bowls series there, with England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland competing. For good measure, he next created England’s first indoor bowls club, named after the Crystal Palace. He even secured a club pavilion for the use of the Womanhood Bowling Club, helping cement the game’s appeal to both sexes.
The FA Cup final
From their inception in 1872 until 1892, most FA Cup finals were played at the Oval in Kennington. In 1895, the venue was switched five miles further out of town to the football stadium at the Crystal Palace in Penge, Surrey. This immediately attracted far larger crowds, though without affecting the Northern and Midlands clubs’ total monopoly on finalists. The change came in 1900, when Penge was turned into the Penge Urban District and transferred to Kent, bringing the Crystal Palace ground with it. On April 20th, 1901, Southern League minnows Tottenham Hotspur took on high flyers Sheffield United in front of 114,815 fans; Spurs lifted the trophy after a replay. That crowd remained a record until 1913, when Aston Villa and Sunderland were watched on Kentish soil by 121,919 – an attendance surpassed in English football only by the White Horse final of 1923. It took WW1 to end Kent’s run of 13 consecutive FA Cup finals.
Chapman Delaune Faunce-De Laune (1843-92)
Kennington Common lay where two main routes crossed: one linking Kent to the ferry at Vauxhall, and another from the South West to London Bridge. It was therefore a natural venue for gentlemen arranging sporting ‘matches’ for gambling purposes; which is why the first ever football club, the Gymnastic Society, used it in the C18. It naturally became home to the Kennington Oval, site of the inaugural FA Cup final and the first international cricket and football matches on English soil. The estate immediately north-east of the Common belonged to Chapman Faunce-De Laune, of Sharsted Court in Doddington. The High Sheriff of Kent and a true philanthropist, he created a sporting institute in New Street, Kennington (now Braganza Street) catering for a dozen sports. Two of his clubs even survive today. The Delaune Cycling Club still holds a regular memorial service near his Kentish home; and the Lynn Boxing Club is now the oldest amateur club in the country.
Billy Ford (1876-1951)
The son of a military family, William Gracey Ford was born in Scotland to Irish parents who’d married in Chatham. He made his footballing way south from Dundee via West Bromwich Albion to New Brompton (later Gillingham), which he skippered, before spells at Luton and Gravesend. In 1900, still only 24, he joined Maidstone United as captain. Apart from a short break at Chatham, he would stay at the club for eleven years and rack up over 315 appearances, also serving at times as trainer. With Welsh international Tommy Chapman and former Thames Ironworks (i.e. West Ham United) player Gus Older, he led the best set of half-backs Maidstone ever had. His talents extended as far as writing columns for the South Eastern Gazette that showed far more sophistication than the ‘sick as a parrot’ school of player journalism. On retiring in 1911, he emigrated to Australia, but still kept in touch with Kent by post.
Even many Kentish sports fans will not know the Foxgrove Road sports ground in Beckenham, yet it is steeped in sporting history. Originally farmland, it was adopted as Beckenham Cricket Club’s headquarters in 1866. Starting in 1886, Kent CCC used it for First Class matches until 1905, including one against the South Africans. It was however not for cricket but tennis that it would earn world renown. The Kent Championships, known as a dress rehearsal for Wimbledon, took place there annually from 1886 to 1996, attracting many Wimbledon champions. Not only that, but Foxgrove Road provided the traditional venue for the Varsity hockey match from 1909 to 1957. Although it no longer enjoys the same prestige as in the past, Foxgrove Road is still a busy sporting hub, playing host to Beckenham Cricket Club of the Kent Cricket League and Bromley & Beckenham Hockey Club, as well as catering for tennis, football, netball and squash.
William Fox-Pitt (b 1969)
It was a foregone conclusion that Fox-Pitt would become a top horse-rider, both his parents having completed Badminton and Burleigh. Although he was born in London, the family’s traditional home was at Knowlton Park near Canterbury, and he attended school at Wellesley House in Broadstairs. From 1995 he became a mainstay of British eventing. His track record of team medals includes two silvers and a bronze at the Olympics, as well as a world championship gold and silver, and six European golds. His individual record is also impressive: he has been the FEI world number-one five times. In 2015 he suffered a bad fall that left him comatose for two weeks, but he recovered to take part in the 2016 Olympics. He is now based in Dorset, where he owns an eventing school with his wife, broadcaster Alice Plunkett. He relaxes by fishing in the local river, which by happenstance is called the Stour.
Tich Freeman (1888-1965)
AP Freeman from Lewisham had a very obvious nickname, being just 5 feet 2 inches tall. He was however sturdily built, and could bowl and bowl. He came along at the right time for Kent CCC, just as Colin Blythe was retiring. His Kent career stretched from 1914 to 1936, during which time he also played twelve times for England. Despite losing the WW1 years, he established himself as a legendary wicket-taker with his lethal top-spinner. Incredibly, he took over 250 wickets every season from 1928 to 1933, and in 1928 became the only man ever to top 300. Uniquely, he took seventeen in a match not once, but twice. He ended up with more career wickets than anyone in the world bar Wilfred Rhodes, who played in nearly twice as many matches. Freeman later launched a chain of sports shops with former Kent wicket-keeper Jack Hubble, and retired to a house in Bearsted called ‘Dunbowlin’.
Eric Fright (1917-95)
Eric Gautrey Fright, born at Eastry in Hampshire, recovered from infantile paralysis to become an Olympic-level footballer. After starting his career as an amateur at Margate and then Shorts Sports, he made his name as a prolific goal-scorer at Bromley, whom he helped win the FA Amateur Cup in 1949 in front of 95,000 at Wembley; he was carried shoulder-high from the pitch afterwards. He picked up 18 England amateur caps, and was selected to play four times as captain of Great Britain at the 1948 Olympics under the management of Matt Busby, when England lost to Denmark in the bronze-medal playoff. Not long after scoring four goals against Maidstone United in an 11-0 rout, he swapped sides, becoming manager of the Stones from 1951 to 1954; he also played regularly for the first team in the Corinthian League in his late thirties. The owner of a large sports shop in Bromley, he was still living in Maidstone when he died.
William Funnell (b 1966)
An international show-jumper, Funnell was born in Ashford and attended the North School. His parents owned a farm at Challock where they kept horses, being keen hunters. He learned to ride ponies as a child in his spare time. At the age of 16, he had the option of leaving school and going into farming, but instead opted to accept an offer as second stable jockey in Sussex. He first competed at the Hickstead Derby at 17, and finally won it 23 years later; he has now won it a total of four times, one of only five riders to do so. His long record of international competition was crowned by a team gold in the 2013 European Championships. In 1993 he married the eventer Pippa Nolan, possessor of three Olympic eventing medals, who unluckily was born just the wrong side of the Sussex border. The two now run the Billy Stud at Dorking along with breeder Donal Barnwell.
Previously known as ‘stroke bias’, goal running was a peculiarly East Kentish sport that only died out after being practised for several centuries. We know this because, in his ‘Travels Over England’ (1700), James Brome wrote about it as a Kentish tradition. As late as the early C20, an annual championship was held at Maidstone Athletic Ground. It was actually a complex form of tag. Two teams, representing villages, lined up on their own patch, called a ‘goal’. Each player would then jog around a flag 30 yards away – 20 yards from the opponents’ flag – and return to his goal. If it seemed opportune, however, he could loop around the opponents’ flag and attempt to return to goal without being tagged. Rather like sprint cycling, it made for an exciting combination of cat-and-mouse and hell-for-leather. The sport was eventually eclipsed between the Wars by football. Efforts to revive it have gone down well, but a comeback remains elusive.
RC Gosling (1868-1922)
Robert Cunliffe Gosling was in every sense an aristocrat. An Eton and Cambridge educated banker, in later life he became High Sheriff of Essex and a justice of the peace. He was a natural sportsman, playing cricket for Essex. He was also one of the dying breed of gentleman footballer, and a seriously good one too. He was in fact reckoned to be the wealthiest Englishman ever to represent his country. He won five football caps between 1892 and 1895, in an era when very few internationals were played, scoring twice and captaining the England team at least once. Even on the pitch he looked every bit the aristocrat, but distinguished himself with his unselfish play as an inside forward. At the time, Maidstone’s town football club was a gentlemanly affair, and Gosling was persuaded to turn out for them several times in the early 1890s while a current England international – well before even Woolwich Arsenal had such a player.
David Gower (b 1957)
David Gower is a bad case of the one who got away. He was truly of Kentish stock, being born in Tunbridge Wells to a former head boy of The King’s School in Canterbury. He himself attended Marlborough House prep school in Hawkhurst before becoming a Scholar at King’s, where he was captain of cricket. After spending a few months at University College, London, he somehow slipped into the clutches of Leicestershire. He made his debut for England at 21, and went on to make 8,231 Test runs, then the second highest total in history. He always provided an elegant counterpoint to the power of Botham, Gatting, Gooch and Lamb, his one perceived weakness being a lack of stickability. Though no record-breaker at county level, this maker of 26,339 First Class runs would have come in handy for Kent in the lacklustre 1980s. After retiring, he went on to replace elegance with eloquence as a well-liked Test Match commentator.
WG Grace (1848-1915)
It is a measure of Grace’s stature, in all senses, that he is still known, a century after his death, by his initials. A Bristolian, he was by profession a medical doctor, though it’s as an ‘amateur’ cricketer that he became immortal. He was a champion hurdler and decent footballer before joining Gloucestershire. A giant of a man, he proved a demon with ball in hand and in the field, yet best of all with the bat. In the first ever Test match in England in 1880, he scored 152. He racked up all manner of records for county and country, and the fact that he was also given to gamesmanship and money-grubbing seemed not to matter much. His career was so long – a record-equalling 44 seasons – that it included time after his retirement from Gloucestershire to move to Kent in 1899 and play local cricket for Eltham for some years. He now lies in Beckenham Cemetery.
Wally Hammond (1903-65)
If losing David Gower to Leicestershire was a disappointment, letting Wally Hammond slip was a disaster. WG Hammond was born actually inside Dover Castle. When he was just five, his soldier father was posted overseas, and the family went with him. They never returned before WW1 arrived, and his father was killed in action. Mrs Hammond took her son not back to Dover but to Portsmouth. Young Wally excelled in cricket at Cirencester Grammar School. After he was snapped up at 17 by Gloucestershire, the Kent-based MCC president Lord Harris, knowing of Hammond’s Kentish provenance, stalled his debut; but there was no going back. Hammond became England captain, and an all-time cricketing great. He could have had a career just with his fast-medium bowling, but proved superlative at batting and slip fielding. Unfortunately, he was not a nice person. He had all the symptoms of a classic personality disorder: excessive risk-taking, arrogance, and resentment. Perhaps Kent were lucky after all.
Wally Hardinge (1886-1965)
The son of a Greenwich seaman, Harold Thomas William ‘Wally’ Hardinge was handy at both cricket and football. After joining Maidstone United at 17, he was top scorer in both seasons he spent there, notching 74 goals despite being suspended for a month for disobeying instructions. He was then poached by Newcastle United, for whom he scored a hat-trick in both halves of a reserve game. He moved to Sheffield United and then Woolwich Arsenal, retiring in 1920. He had made his debut for Maidstone as “A Newman”, already being well known after precociously making his cricketing debut for Kent two years earlier. He went on to become a prolific batsman, amassing 33,519 runs for the county in a 31-year career. Oddly, he played for England only once, against Australia, just as he represented his country at football just once, against Scotland. After retiring, he managed Tottenham Hotspur briefly as caretaker.
The 4th Lord Harris (1851-1932)
Colonel George Harris, 4th Baron Harris, was a classic imperial administrator, best remembered for his time as Governor of Bombay. That he coped less than admirably with famine and riots may have been due in part to his dedication to his first love, cricket. He’d become an official of Kent CCC as early as its inaugural meeting, chaired by his father, in 1870. He devoted much effort to propagating the game in India, and ran the 1926 Imperial Cricket Conference meeting that spread test cricket to India, New Zealand and the West Indies, where he’d been born. No mean cricketer himself, he enjoyed a first-class career that spanned 42 years, during which time he captained both Kent and England. On October 23rd, 1889, when he was also president of the Kent County Football Association, he made a well-received speech arguing the importance of sporting provision to the nation. He lived and died at the family pile, Belmont in Throwley.
Roy Hodgson (b 1947)
After starting his career as a youth at Crystal Palace, Hodgson played for some years at Tonbridge and then Gravesend & Northfleet. In 1971, he joined his former Croydon school-mate Bobby Houghton at Maidstone United as a full-back. When Houghton was sacked at the end of the season – the club’s first in the Southern League – Hodgson departed for Ashford Town. He also played in South Africa and for Carshalton Athletic before turning to club management in 1976. He took charge of a number of Swedish clubs, enjoying stunning successes, before moving to Switzerland in 1992. A number of top appointments followed over the next 20 years, starting with the Swiss national team and including Inter Milan and Liverpool. In 2012 he landed the England job, but departed after failures at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016. He then returned to Crystal Palace, where he has remained a familiar Premier League manager to the present day.
Colonel Dame Kelly Holmes (b 1970)
Holmes is the true Golden Girl of British athletics. Though born in Pembury, she was always a Hildenborough girl. Her father left home when she was a baby, although her young mother married seven years later. After school in Tonbridge, she joined the WRAC as a driver before becoming a PT instructor and later Army judo champion. She burst onto the middle-distance running scene in the mid-1990s, winning one Commonwealth and two European Cup golds, but her career was beset by injuries. She suffered from depression that induced self-harming. Holmes picked herself up, however, and in 2004 decided with just five days to go to compete in both the 800m and 1500m events at the Athens Olympics. On August 23rd, she astonished the world, and herself, by winning the 800m gold at 34. Five days later, she pulled off a miracle double in the 1500m. She now helps others with mental-health problems. Her life is surely worth a biopic.
Bobby Houghton (b 1947)
Bob Houghton was on the books of both Fulham and Brighton & Hove Albion before being appointed player-manager for Hastings at the tender age of 23. After a season, he was snapped up by Maidstone United chairman Jim Thompson for the new semi-professional squad created at the start of the club’s journey to the Football League. With his distinctive blond curls atop the new all-white kit, he looked every bit the charismatic leader. He was unlucky not to make promotion first time, missing out by a point; but his failure sufficed to earn him the sack. It was a cloud with a golden lining. He left to assist Bobby Robson at Ipswich before becoming manager of Malmö, which he took to the 1979 European Cup final against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. After moving to Bristol City in the early 1980s, he went on to a 30-year managerial career overseas that included both the China and India national teams.
Jack Hubble (1881-1965)
John Charlton ‘Jack’ Hubble from Wateringbury played inside-right for Maidstone United before joining Kent County Cricket Club and becoming a household-name wicket-keeper. During his two years in Maidstone’s first team, he was not the most prolific goal-scorer, but did get the winner in a Kent Senior Cup final against Ashford, as well as an FA Cup hat-trick that put out Folkestone. He gave up football on taking up cricket full-time in 1904. Though he was never capped, his precision behind the stumps was a significant part of Kent’s haul of four County Championships between 1906 and 1913, and increasingly so as Fred Huish approached retirement. In 1923, he dismissed ten Gloucestershire batsmen in one match. He remained in First Class cricket for 25 years, always at Kent. Having opened his own sports shop in 1910, he set up two others after he finished playing cricket: one with Les Ames in Gillingham, and another with Tich Freeman in Maidstone.
Gordon Jago (b 1932)
Born at Poplar in the East End in 1932, Charlton Athletic loanee Gordon Jago made his first-team debut for Maidstone United at the age of 17, holding down his place at centre-half for some weeks before reverting to the reserves. By then he’d already started playing for England Youth, and captained them against Scotland in February 1951. He stayed at Charlton for the rest of his playing career. In 1967 he made his first foray into US soccer, coaching first the Baltimore Bays and then the United States national team. After returning to manage Queen’s Park Rangers and Millwall for three seasons apiece, he left again to take charge of Tampa Bay Rowdies, and finally the Dallas Sidekicks, with whom he remains associated today. His role in promoting the Dallas Cup – an international youth tournament – brought him quite some celebrity in American soccer, and in Britain he was awarded the MBE.
The Kent All-Comers’ Championships
Every June for more than a hundred years, the Foxgrove Road cricket pitch at Beckenham staged one of the nation’s most prestigious tennis tournaments. Starting in 1886, the Kent Championships came to be known as the traditional dress rehearsal for Wimbledon. As from 1963, the competition was the first to attract a commercial sponsor, Rothmans; and five years later it became an Open event, only the third after the British Hard Court Open at Bournemouth and the French Open. It drew competitors of the highest calibre from around the world. A total of 33 players won both the Beckenham and Wimbledon titles; winners included such legends as John McEnroe and Billie Jean King. In 1996, for want of a new sponsor, the Kent All-Comers’ Championships were killed off, and the county went from boasting two tennis tournaments of international standing at the start of the C20 to none at the end of it.
Kent County Cricket Club
To Kent’s long list of cricketing firsts can probably be added another: the first county to have a representative eleven. Early in the C18, Edwin Stede started picking Kent teams for gambling purposes. A familiar opponent was All-England, who sometimes gave Kent a good game. When several Northern counties formed clubs in the mid-C19, however, the balance of power shifted. Kent was hamstrung by having not one representative club, but two: Beverley Kent in Canterbury, and Kent County in Maidstone. Beverley owned Canterbury Cricket Week, but had no money. In 1870, they put aside their differences and merged at the Bull Inn, Rochester under the auspices of the 3rd Baron Harris. In 1906, 16 years after the start of the County Championship, Kent perfected a powerful squad that chalked up the first of four titles before WW1. Only during the 1970s, when three more were added, has the St Lawrence Ground seen such glory again.
Syd King (1873-1933)
Chatham-born Ernest Sydney ‘Syd’ King was the true King of Upton Park. After attending grammar school in Watford, he started playing as captain and full-back for Northfleet, during which time he once scored a hat-trick of own goals. He nevertheless progressed to New Brompton for two seasons, and then to Thames Ironworks, which broke up in 1900 but quickly re-formed as West Ham United. He became player-manager before retiring from playing, but would continue as manager for an incredible 30 years. In that time, he got the club out of the Southern League and, in 1923, into Division One. Sadly, it all ended in tears. King was known to like a drink. After relegation in 1932, it got the better of him at a board meeting, and he was sacked. It emerged that he had also been less than honest with club funds. With his career in ruins, and the balance of his mind disturbed, he gruesomely killed himself.
Alan Knott (b 1946)
When A.P.E. Knott from Belvedere made his England debut in 1967, the many Kent fans watching were only anxious that he should not disgrace himself. After all, this amiable 21-year-old looked an unlikely candidate to replace Jim Parks as wicket-keeper, with his impish face, his lightweight physique, and those initials that underscored his simian gait. When he got a duck, all feared the worst; but he conceded only one bye in two innings, which boded well. Before long, the world could see that his was no ordinary talent. Not only did it become a schoolboy’s game to guess how many batsmen the athletic Knotty would catch or stump in an innings; he also blossomed as an elegant batsman, possessing a cut as productive as anyone’s. While forming a lethal partnership with Derek Underwood for county and country, he played 95 times for England, a record. In 2013, he was named in Wisden’s best Test World XI of all time.
Stuart Leary (1933-88)
There are few sadder stories in Kent sport than that of South Africa-born Stuart Leary. Blessed with tremendous all-round sporting talent, he first came to England at 17, when he was signed by Charlton Athletic. He played at centre-forward, in which position he proved a natural goal-scorer, racking up 153 goals in 376 competitive matches. After remaining an Addick for 12 years, he joined Queens Park Rangers for four further seasons, scoring another 29 goals. Meanwhile, in the summer, he was busy playing cricket for Kent as an all-rounder. In his 20-year career, he scored 16,517 runs and took 146 wickets; he continued playing until the age of 38. After retiring, he became a coach. His premature death came about when he took a cable-car to the top of Table Mountain, and leapt off the edge. He was known to suffer from depression, and there were unsubstantiated rumours about his marriage and his sex life.
Leeds Park Cricket Club
Cricket in the Georgian era was mostly concerned with gambling. Gentlemen would put together a team of any agreed number to take on another for money. It was therefore not unusual for a man of wealth to invest in a strong team capable of taking on all comers like a prize-fighter. This could of course be an expensive enterprise. One man who didn’t shy at the cost was Charles Wykeham Martin, the owner of Leeds Castle. In 1829, deciding that his Leeds Park Cricket club needed an upgrade, he recruited the services of the mighty Alfred Mynn, the ‘Lion of Kent’, as well as his brother Walter. Along with other reinforcements, they made the club so powerful that it beat MCC and Surrey in both 1834 and 1835, celebrating afterwards at the Park Gate Inn on the Ashford Road. Leeds Park was then reckoned to be a match for any team in England, which meant the world.
Charlie Lewis (1886-1967)
Despite being born in Plumstead, Charles Henry Lewis did not sign immediately for his local club Woolwich Arsenal. He cut his teeth first at Eltham, and then spent the 1906-07 season at Maidstone United where, playing at either inside-right or centre-forward, he finished top scorer with 31 goals. The First Division Gunners signed him up on the strength of it, and he spent an incredible 14 years with them, playing in every forward position. Unfortunately, Kent’s senior club was struggling on the pitch, and had money troubles off it. Lewis survived the bankruptcy crisis of 1910, when the club was forced to sell its best players. In 1912-13, Woolwich Arsenal’s relegation season, he was top scorer with just four goals. Unluckily, WW1 arrived as his career was reaching its peak. He would play only five games for the renamed ‘Arsenal’ at Highbury, but did nevertheless amass 220 appearances. He even managed to squeeze in time at Margate before retiring.
The first Olympic marathon in 1896 was run between Marathon itself and Athens, a distance of 25 miles. Not until 1908 was the now standard distance of 26 miles 385 yards set in the London Olympics. Yet today’s London Marathon is not a home-grown idea. It was actually suggested by the New York Marathon, in which Great Britain steeplechasers Chris Brasher and John Disley competed in 1979. Impressed by its cosmopolitan sociality, they pinched the idea. The first London Marathon in 1981 was organised to begin in Blackheath and run around Canary Wharf via Tower Bridge, before finishing at The Mall after some good sight-seeing. 7,055 participants started, a number that has since expanded six-fold. There are nowadays three starts for different categories: at Charlton Way, St John’s Park, and Shooter’s Hill Road, initially heading east and converging at Woolwich. The record time of 2:02:37 was set in 2019 by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge.
Sir John Lubbock of High Elms sired an extraordinary sporting dynasty. Of his seven sons, three were outstanding sportsmen. One, Edgar, played in four FA Cup finals, winning with both Wanderers and Old Etonians. In the 1875 final replay, he and brother Alfred played in the same team – a first. Edgar also represented England in all five ‘pseudo internationals’, and later became a top tennis-player. Furthermore, Edgar and Alfred played cricket for Kent, as did brother Nevile. Alfred additionally played for MCC, and as a batsman was considered the equal of WG Grace. Sir John’s most famous son, also John, had no time for sport because of his political and scientific activities; but his son, a third John, surprised nobody by turning out a superb all-rounder. As well as getting a football blue for Cambridge, he appeared for Oxford University in an FA Cup final, played cricket for the MCC, won a real-tennis blue, and was a scratch golfer.
Maidstone Athletic Ground
The Athletic Ground opened in 1895 as Britain’s first privately owned multi-sport centre. The owner of Springfield Paper Mill had made available 13 acres on the opposite bank of the Medway, and joined nine others in raising £6,500 to level the land and erect a pavilion. It was a splendid affair, with seating for 2,000 and first-rate changing and catering facilities. Though designed for cycling and athletics while providing for rugby, tennis, croquet, quoits and tug-of-war, it was principally meant to house the new Maidstone Cricket Club, boasting an attractive pavilion. Nevertheless, it quickly proved a commercial flop. The cricket club struggled to compete with The Mote, and other sports attracted too small audiences. An amateur football club was created to play there from 1896, but had little success and fizzled out after two years. Salvation depended on acquiring a professional football club. Maidstone United took occupancy in April 1898, and the Ground became a sporting and social hub for 90 years.
Maidstone Tennis Tournament
At the end of the C19, Maidstone briefly enjoyed a reputation as a sporting venue of national standing, albeit not for football or cricket. The town became an international tennis venue in 1881, when it was part of the Men’s World Tour; a two-day tournament was won by Scottish-born Richard Mercer via a walkover in the final. The opening of the Athletic Ground on the London Road in 1895 precipitated an annual open grass tournament. Within five years, both ladies and gentlemen were competing for 10-guinea singles trophies. Renamed the Mid-Kent Championships from 1900 until 1910, it resumed for just two years after WW1. Its most exotic winner was the German Otto Froitzheim, a future Wimbledon finalist, in 1908. After being held as a PoW, getting engaged to Leni Riefenstahl, and having an affair with Pola Negri, he refused to serve with the Brownshirts; it was only Göring’s admiration of his tennis that saved him.
Sir Horatio Mann, 2nd Baronet (1744-1814)
Horatio (or Horace) Mann was best described as a wastrel. His father Galfridus Mann died when he was just 12, leaving him a £100,000 fortune, as well as both Boughton Place and Linton Park. Not content with those, young Mann moved to Bourne Park near Canterbury, to which he invited the Mozarts. There he also indulged one of his favourite passions, cricket. The one achievement for which he deserves credit is Bourne Paddock, a ground where a lot of First Class cricket was played during the 1770s and 1780s. He did not play much himself, but happily sponsored Kent teams, and became a member of the ground-breaking Hambledon CC. He did have a political career, serving as MP for first Maidstone and then Sandwich. After his death, however, his nephew and heir James Cornwallis lamented only one thing: that Mann had left behind a shadow of what should have been the biggest estate in Kent.
Charlie Marks (1919-2005)
Before WW2, the industrial area north of the London Road out of Maidstone produced a whole crop of good footballers. The most talented of all was Eccles-born Charlie Marks. He played for his home village and Maidstone Paper Sacks in his teens, before joining Maidstone United as a full-back in 1937. Though a nephew of manager Bill Wood, he blotted his copy-book by joining local rivals Gillingham in 1943. He went on to become a club legend there, racking up 15 years’ service and 392 competitive appearances. He is remembered best of all for his cannonball shooting. His most celebrated moment came in a match at Northampton in 1955, when he burst the net with a penalty; the repair was still visible years later. On leaving the Gills, he joined Tonbridge at nearly 40. After retiring from football, he worked as a stock controller in the paper-making industry while living with his wife Gladys at Larkfield.
Jimmy McMullan (1895-1964)
In the early 1920s, Sir Edward Sharp’s son Herbert hoped to turn Maidstone United into a top club. He invested heavily in professional players, the best of them being left-half Jimmy McMullan. Scottish FA Cup holders Partick Thistle had been planning to sell him to Newcastle United for £6,000 when Sharp controversially poached him. As player-manager, McMullan helped the club win a flurry of silverware, including two Kent League titles. A letter to the Kent Messenger summed him up: “undoubtedly an artist of the first order”. He left after two seasons, but always spoke afterwards of his affection for Maidstone. Three years after returning to Partick on a free transfer, he was sold to Manchester City for £5,000. He was made captain at Maine Road, and in 1928 skippered Scotland’s famous ‘Wembley Wizards’ who defeated England 5-1. In 1958, he appeared on the ‘This Is Your Life’ TV show dedicated to his old friend and teammate Matt Busby.
Alfred Mynn (1807-61)
It is Alfred Mynn’s misfortune that WG Grace was born after him, the latter’s larger-than-life persona now eclipsing the equally great Mynn’s. Having been born in Goudhurst, Mynn was a natural to play for both Kent and England. A veritable giant among men at the time of round-arm bowling, he could hurl a projectile almost unplayably at the wicket; it was he who necessitated the introduction of wicket-keepers’ gloves. He became wildly popular wherever he went. Not for nothing was he known as the ‘Lion of Kent’. Alongside his brother Walter, he made Leeds Park for two years probably the best in the world. Among the anecdotes attached to him was the story of a long-stop, providing the wicket-keeper with some necessary cover, who was struck on the chest by a Mynn delivery and was still spitting blood a fortnight later. Mynn retired to Bearsted, where the ‘Lion of Kent’ pub (now the ‘Yeoman’) was named in his honour.
Charles Nepean (1851-1903)
Charles Edward Burroughs Nepean was an outstanding Mayfair-born sportsman whose career was cut short by his appointment as vicar of Lenham. Primarily a cricketer, he played from the age of 19 for Oxford University and then Middlesex. He also won a football blue at Oxford, which led to his selection for four of the five ‘pseudo-internationals’ that preceded the first recognised international between England and Scotland in 1872. Though an Englishman, he was actually picked for the ‘Scotch’, reportedly on the strength of having a Scottish relative by marriage. He kicked off one match and scored in another, playing in various positions, but never finished on the winning side. His most famous footballing achievement was winning the FA Cup as goalkeeper for Oxford University in 1874. At 23 he was ordained, and remained at Lenham church until his death 28 years later. Highly popular, he was commemorated by a brass plaque in the chancel and a stained-glass window.
New Brompton Football Club
When New Brompton was founded in 1893, neighbours Chatham United had already been in existence for 11 years, and even reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup; yet it was New Brompton who went on to dominate in modern-day Kent. Primarily using players from Chatham Excelsior, the club was formed by local businessmen on land that later became the Priestfield Stadium. It thrived partly because the New Brompton railway station facilitated travel to the capital. The club initially competed in the Southern League, which became the Football League Division Three in 1920. By then, the club’s name had changed to Gillingham FC. Voted out of the League in 1938, it was re-elected in 1950, and spent half a century in the bottom two divisions. Gillingham’s heyday was the early C21, when it enjoyed five seasons in the Championship, achieving 11th place in 2003. It also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in 2000, losing 0-5 to Chelsea.
Isaac Newell (1853-1907)
The name of Isaac Newell is little known outside of avid footballing circles, but he was one of the most influential Kent men in the history of the game. Newell was born in Strood, but emigrated to Rosario in Argentina, where he set up a school. There was a lot of local interest in the exciting new sports imported by British immigrants, and the school’s Old Boys’ Society started up its own football team. Co-founded by Newell’s son Claudio, the ‘Newell’s Old Boys’ club became one of the greatest in Argentinian football. Playing in red and black after the English and German flags, it has been champion of Argentina on no fewer than six occasions. Particularly noteworthy is its roster of former players, which includes Diego Maradona, Gabriel Batistuta, Lionel Messi, and Mauricio Pochettino. Bizarrely, the club’s nickname is ‘Los Leprosos’, acquired after playing a charity match on behalf of a leprosy clinic nearly 100 years ago.
The Original All Blacks
The home nations must have assumed that the lead they had enjoyed in rugby union since the first international in 1871 was unassailable. All that changed in the course of a fortnight in 1905. The first ever touring team had arrived from New Zealand in September. Wearing black kit and performing a strange ritual before each match that they called a ‘haka’, the Kiwis had set about English club opposition with an intensity never seen before. One opponent after another was dispatched with ease, including Blackheath, who were shockingly thrashed 32-0. Scotland and Ireland fared little better. On December 2nd, England took on these All Blacks, known nowadays as ‘The Originals’, at the Crystal Palace in Kent. In front of nearly 100,000, they too went down heavily, by 15-0. Only Wales salvaged some pride, pulling off a controversial 3-0 win. Any hopes that the tour was a flash in the pan have been squashed flat by subsequent rugby history.
Round-arm bowling was legalised in 1835, but always remained fraught with problems. The law was that the ball must be delivered from between waist and shoulder height. Bowlers were frustrated at being no-balled when their releasing hand strayed too high, and ex-bowlers among umpires were not unsympathetic. The issue was deliberately brought to a head on August 26th, 1862 by Kent player Edgar ‘Ned’ Willsher, from Rolvenden. Playing for England against Surrey at the Oval, he deliberately bowled six ‘high’ deliveries in succession. After being correctly no-balled each time by umpire John Lillywhite, he and the other eight professionals in the England team left the pitch, leaving two amateurs behind. The game continued the next day with a new umpire. The MCC responded to the manufactured crisis in 1864 by introducing the law that applies today. Some authorities consider that this formal introduction of overarm bowling constitutes the true start of First Class cricket.
All text © Old Bunyard 2020. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.