#WFC1982 – Charlie Palmer & Long Eaton United

Midland Football League, Premier Division
Long Eaton United v Causeway United
Saturday, 13th September 2014, 3pm
Grange Park
Entrance £5, Programme £1.50
Distance (from Vicarage Rd) 110 miles, Attendance 115
Turning off Station Road – behind the back gardens of Stafford Street – it was still playing on my mind. Why Long Eaton United?
All the other players’ clubs that I’d visited thus far, made for fairly transparent partnerships however, Charlie Palmer’s motives had been tormenting me since exiting the North Circular three hours earlier.
Sandwiched between Derby and Nottingham, close to the lowest bridging point of the River Erewash, Long Eaton – the birthplace of Lewis McGugan – was originally referred to as Aitone in the Doomsday Book. Whilst growth was accomplished at a fittingly gentle pace, the nineteenth century’s development of the railway and lace-making industries brought increased prosperity to the region. Much like the town’s successes however – in the shadow of neighbouring cities – their football club’s achievements have gone relatively unnoticed.

140913 WFC1982 MLPD Long Eaton Utd v Causeway Utd (61)   140913 WFC1982 MLPD Long Eaton Utd v Causeway Utd (66)

Formed in 1956, Long Eaton United’s Grange Park is a truly beautiful set up. A compact stadium, with covered seats on both sides, it is surrounded – in a seemingly rural setting – by practice pitches of full and five-a-side sizes. Much like the Dutch clubs I’ve witnessed on my travels, as I pulled up, I found youth matches in full swing, being cheered on by Chairman (Jim Fairley) and parents alike. “We want to get the club to 20 teams at all levels, with the aim to keep them on site after to watch first team.” Jim explained when we met pitchside before the main event.
140913 WFC1982 MLPD Long Eaton Utd v Causeway Utd (165)Moments earlier much like the warm greeting I’d received by volunteers at the gate, Charlie Palmer – immaculately track suited, and still looking as athletic as he has a Vicarage Road decades earlier – had stood in the very same spot; casually chatting to fans and well-wishers before heading off to attend to his side’s warm up. Watching him, there is undoubtedly a determined streak still running through him. “Coming down to this level, you train once or twice a week, and it’s about you having the discipline, of going out and doing a bit more work in the gym, to build up your fitness.”
Later that afternoon, as we sat at length in the officials changing room, candidly discussing his footballing life, a very well-grounded Charlie told me of his admiration for certain managers and coaches; both those he’d learnt from and those that had inspired him. “I’ve had Graham Taylor – he was a great coach, a great manager, a father figure – and Tom Walley. I’ve said it a million times; if I didn’t have those two individuals, I wouldn’t have been a player. They saw something in me which I didn’t see. Tom Walley worked and worked and worked; he gave me the self belief.”
Recounting some extreme highs and difficult lows, Charlie would explain how Arthur Cox had pulled him back onto the rails when his footballing motivation lost its importance and, when “three good years” at Derby finished with a transfer to Hull, how a chance encounter during a pre-season game saved both his career and his marriage.
“Taylor gave me a chance but, Warnock took me to another level. Warnock is a great motivator, who focuses on your strengths, and he makes you believe you can take on the world.” Back in Derbyshire, the Palmers may have found their home but it was at Notts County, that Charlie found his legendary fame.
Forcing an own goal, that aided Watford’s UEFA Cup comeback against Kaiserslautern in 1983 was great but – rising above marker Stuart Pearce – his powerful winning header against Forest, put him atop a Notts County pedestal he’ll doubtless ever get off.
140913 WFC1982 MLPD Long Eaton Utd v Causeway Utd (16)wLast year one fan wrote on the Nottingham Post website “As any self-respecting Notts County fan will tell you, February 12 is, and always will be, ‘Charlie Palmer Day’. Almost 20 years on, fans fortunate enough to be in the 18,655 crowd at Meadow Lane that day, still rave about the goal that gave the Magpies an historic win over local rivals Forest. The other 181 League games full back Palmer played for Notts simply fade into insignificance compared to this one.”
Standing behind Charlie’s Long Eaton dugout, I even met one County supporter, Gary Hosker, who proudly told me how he’d even named his son Charlie in honour of “The greatest goal ever scored”. Happy but humble of his playing career, out of earshot in front of us, Charlie was just fixated on the game in hand.
With the ref missing a few decisions – possibly due to wearing sunglasses – the first half had begun with The Blues edging a somewhat scrappily encounter. On the quarter hour, a glancing header caused a minor setback but, with fresh instructions from the bench, pretty soon Long Eaton were back level.
After a string of desperately cleared corners, Michael Armstrong rifled back an unstoppable shot to the bottom corner, from 30 yards out. A player Jim had boasted would one day beat his appearance record for Long Eaton, Armstrong was easily the pick of the first half and this goal was a fitting reward.
The confidence this gave lifted the Blues onto another plain, with fine passing moves setting them apart from the Causeway United. Minutes later – whilst I was distracted by a dog scuttling pitchside – leaving the visiting keeper yelling obscenities at his defence, unmarked Theo Smith stabbed home at the second attempt. Two minutes later Ben Watkis headed a third. The optimism around the ground was palpable.
Though in the second period, this overconfidence led to some casual play from Long Eaton; thankfully Causeway could only score one – from the spot – as Long Eaton forgot everything they did well until the final minutes.
140913 WFC1982 MLPD Long Eaton Utd v Causeway Utd (112)wWhilst Charlie confirmed the penalty had been correctly given, he was less impressed than some at his sides win. “We started having extra touches, started show-boating, and then all of a sudden a bad challenge – and it was a penalty – makes it 3-2… … Others will be over the moon with the result but, I’m not looking at the result, I’m looking at the performance; the second half performance.”
Given the managers Charlie holds in such esteem – those he’d learnt so much from – it’s not difficult to either sympathise with such an assessment, or understand where it had been cultivated.
Upon retirement Charlie hadn’t planned to enter management but in the end, watching football back in Derby just wasn’t enough. Even his wife could see he was itching to get back into the sport. In the hiatus Charlie had trained as a Social Worker, and committed his working life to it. A profession that is still his chosen “day job”, it has developed in him a considered yet caring side that one can easily witness permeating into his football management style.
Asking Charlie whether he’d ever give it up for future success in football, he described how these two worlds worked in tandem in his life, revealingly confessing “The football for me now, it’s a release.”
Like all successful teams, and their town before them, Long Eaton United are building gently; carefully fitting pieces of the jigsaw together. Talking to those at Grange Park, it fairly apparent Charlie and his knowledge and experience have become a large part of their future planning.
Is it working… at the time of writing they still haven’t lost a league game this season.

140913 WFC1982 MLPD Long Eaton Utd v Causeway Utd (181) 140913 WFC1982 MLPD Long Eaton Utd v Causeway Utd (25) 140913 WFC1982 MLPD Long Eaton Utd v Causeway Utd (178) 140913 WFC1982 MLPD Long Eaton Utd v Causeway Utd (33)

The fact that Charlie is a County legend, whilst Long Eaton’s Chairman is a lifelong Forest fan, matters not. There is a clear mutual respect, and an understanding of the importance of community and family to the success of this club. They both recognise that the club needs to be run sensibly, that everyone needs to stay in touch with reality, and that young players need to be nurtured and guided in their career development. Most of all, there’s an expectation that all involved will work hard to build memories for cub and the town.
Before departing I asked Charlie whether he’d rather have played now, he replied, “Moneywise yes but, memories no… I’ve had to look after the pennies but, I played at Wembley 3 or 4 times, I won promotion. I was fortunate enough to play in the Watford side, played 14-15 big league games and then played 3 or 4 games in UEFA Cup. Come on, if I was about now I wouldn’t have played in Europe… I’ve had some good memories.”

140913 WFC1982 MLPD Long Eaton Utd v Causeway Utd (90)w

He didn’t say as much but watching his side’s warm-up, it was clear that in both his jobs, Charlie will work and work and work to build the self belief in others.
Final score: Long Eaton United 3-2 Causeway United
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Because these articles are initially appearing in the 2014-15 Watford FC matchday programmes, they will consequently have a delayed publication on here.

WFC1982 Charlie Palmer programme (1)   WFC1982 Charlie Palmer programme (2)

Posted in #WFC1982, 2014-2015, Midland Football League | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#WFC1982 – Ross Jenkins & Washington Dilpomats

Major League Soccer
DC United v Colorado Rapids
Sunday, 17th August 2014, 7pm
Robert F Kennedy Memorial Stadium
Entrance $45, Programme $free
Distance (from Vicarage Rd) 3711 miles, Attendance 12814
Rattling about inside the Robert F Kennedy Memorial Stadium, DC United clearly look out of place. There is no doubt they have an exceptionally talented squad, nor that their passionate fans want to take the club forward but in Washington, football – and I mean soccer – still feels like “the other sport”; a distant cousin.
???????????????????????????????Host to some fantastic matches at the 1994 World Cup finals, the colossal RFK Stadium is situated east of the city centre, in a spacious, purpose built setting, with great transport links. It’s big enough to cater for any capacity gridiron crowd however, unfortunately when the Redskins moved out in 1997, what remained wasn’t really made perfect for MLS. In fact, it’s hard to see that much has changed since the NASL – North American Soccer League – last put is its professional roots down in the capital.
Back in 1981, the very last NASL incarnation of the Washington Diplomats graced the RFK Stadium.  Though the original NASL Diplomats side had folded a year earlier, in the close season of 1980, the Detroit Express relocated to DC and renamed themselves after their predecessors. With attendances slipping away, what followed was a single high profile season, sadly finishing without any great success.
Chaired by Jimmy Hill and managed by former Watford boss, Ken Furphy, the new Diplomats started the season promisingly with “everyone on the squad, all on board the team effort” then Dips PR Director, Ken Droz, informed me. By mid-season the squad was also bolstered by the return of Dutch master Johan Cryuff. “I was hugely thrilled as the press coverage was sensational.” Ken continued “at that time there was no baseball team in DC, so we had front page stories of every game.”
Dips 81 Head Ross JenkinsRecounting the side Ken told me “We had some good players, and also had a tremendous victory over the Cosmos, at a home night game, that had something like 35,000 fans at.” By coincidence it was against NY Cosmos that season, that Ross Jenkins would score what he has since described as his “best goal ever; a half volley from the edge of the area”.
Having broken his ankle against Swansea in December 1980; when the injury didn’t heal quickly, Jenkins met Hill in London and was soon heading across the pond “to “get some football in and, get [his] fitness back.”
In a lengthy conversation about American soccer back then, Ross explained how the games were “not as strenuous” which afforded him the time to “blow the cobwebs away”. A traditionalist at heart – there are many nuances he’d rather hadn’t entered the modern game – Jenkins saw the then NASL end-of-game shoot-out as little more than a gimmick. That said, Ross talked of enjoying his US experience “immensely”; he also singled out the likes of skilful Trevor Hebbard as a real force within their Dips squad, and a pleasure to play with.
Dips 81 Home TeamAway from the pitch the younger members of the squad regularly hung out in bars like the capital’s Sign of the Whale or, Tramp’s Discotheque out in Georgetown. Determinedly professional to his sport, Ross however was always more of a family man. Living across the river in Virginia, the Jenkins’ family would spend much of their free time exploring their new country. Ross jovially added, “It’s hard enough to look good on a football field, let alone look good at a disco.”
At the end of the American season, the Dips had narrowly missed the play-offs and within a month Jenkins was back in the starting eleven for Watford’s 3-1 win at Chelsea.
Steve Winter, PR consultant to the Diplomats for that season, summed up the season “The same financial mismanagement that killed the team in Detroit, did them in here in Washington.  The team needed to win its final regular season game in Montreal to make the playoffs, which would have provided the owners with one more home game and likely enough money to keep the team afloat but they lost and never played another game.”
With some humour, Ross described his time in American as akin to The Jetsons. Comparing the NASL and MLS, both Ken and Steve also pointed to some incredible highs but, went on to surmise that the then model was simply unsustainable. Steve explained “I absolutely loved the NASL because it was exciting and dynamic.  The Soccer was fun to watch, the players friendly, personable and accessible and the European stars loved being treated like royalty without having to deal with mobs of fans… but the beauty of MLS is that they are here to stay.”
Clearly soccer in North America has come a long way since Ross’ rehabilitation; youth coaching has doubtless improved but, the question now is have Joe public really embraced it?
Like Ross I wouldn’t have wanted to find out without my family so, settling into our seats in the RFK Stadium, my son Nicolas and I engaged in an evening game of spot the difference.

140817 MLS DC United v Colorado Rapids (207)w

With little riding on the game, the crowd was much smaller than usual however; across the pitch from us, a boisterous ultra-style crowd weren’t going to let anything dampen their spirits. They began the evening unfurling a banner reading “EVERY WASHINGTONIAN DESERVES A HOME” and concluded by singing devotedly throughout the next ninety minutes. In return, DC United repaid them with a fantastic winning performance.
140817 MLS DC United v Colorado Rapids (209)wWith Talon the mascot dancing atop the old dugouts, the home side were one up within 15 minutes. Luis Silva slipped his marker and collected a superb defence-splitting through ball. Cutting inside the last defender, he then coolly chipped the keeper. With every other chance of the half spurned, the heart-warming interval saw former United star, Clyde Simms – who retired due to kidney disease – campaigning for the National Kidney Foundation.
???????????????????????????????Once the tractor watering the playing surface behind Clyde had finished its business, the teams broke from their huddles and renewed hostilities. Six minutes in – whilst Nicolas distracted me with food requests – Dillon Serna stole in and equalised for Colorado.
Convincing everyone about us the lead had been restored, when almost immediately, Silva hit the side netting. Some divine skill soon saw Fabián Espíndola strike the crossbar with a deft lob and, Silva was flagged fractionally offside before driving the ball home. As fierce complaints rang out about us, across the way the reaction was even more animated. Dead rubber or not, this game clearly mattered to the home support.
Sean Franklin then first shot wide before – moments later – setting up Silva for his second of the night. With the end-to-end game really hotting up; ten minutes from time, persistent Taylor Kemp beat three down the left before driving a low ball across the penalty area for the onrushing Chris Rolfe who, sliding in with enough force drove the ball home, gave himself such bad cramp he was soon substituted off. In the dying minutes, Espíndola hammered home a fourth in on the break and saw his next effort well saved by Clint Irwin, before a back post header from visiting Deshorn Brown brought some parity to the score line.

140817 MLS DC United v Colorado Rapids (194)   140817 MLS DC United v Colorado Rapids (221)

Eventually turning to leave, we noticed on the wall to our right, plaques reminding us all of the rich yet short history of this MLS club. Amongst other silverware, having won three of the first four MLS Cups, the foundation for this Washington club couldn’t have been better.
Debating our experience on the train back to our hotel, it was acknowledged that the food sellers and constant conversations about certainly made this soccer game closer a baseball experience than those of the Baseball Ground however, to the loyal soccer fans inside the RFK Stadium, DC United matter.
140817 MLS DC United v Colorado Rapids (111)wSoccer in the US is no longer a game of gimmicks and glamour but more one of familiar sporting endeavour where chants were sung with gusto, tactics debated in bars and, the chap at the counter understood the importance of us having a real ticket to keep.
Assessing soccer now Steve concluded, “With European-sized stadiums (18,000-22,000) they [MLS] found the formula that has worked; they have grown steadily but cautiously and the US soccer fan has grown and matured with the league.  While the US fan truly understands that MLS is not Serie A or Premier League, there is a place for MLS and it’s the right place.  It’s a solid league with a strong base of support across all its markets and most important of all, the fact that teams own and manage their own buildings – most of them anyway – makes easy team financially viable, stable and successful.”
One truly hopes DC United can soon find their own home and build on from there… if nothing else their fans, players and staff deserve it.
Final score: DC United 4-2 Colorado Rapids
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Because these articles are initially appearing in the 2014-15 Watford FC matchday programmes, they will consequently have a delayed publication on here.
Ross Jenkins programme (1)   Ross Jenkins programme (2)
Posted in #WFC1982, 2014-2015, Major League Soccer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment