#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
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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)

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