Nash memories


Phil played for Margate during the 1977/78 season and enjoyed a lengthy Southern and Kent League career, he now lives in America and sent the following memories of his time at Margate and career in general...

Phil Nash in 2002

"Like a huge number of other players I owe a lot to Alf Bentley, playing for him at various times, starting at Aylesham Youth Club in a team which included so many good players: Alan Morgan (ex-Charlton, England U15 cap), Peter Brooks (Canterbury, Gravesend, Dover, Folkestone), Tom McGing (Cambridge Blue), Steve Atmore (later to ref in the old First Division), Trevor Pearce (Folkestone, then Arsenal). Every other player in that Youth Club team played Kent League or better at the same time, almost all of them were from Aylesham, AND it was Under 18!! Alf was something else. Later additions to that team were Kenny Hill (Gillingham, Washington Diplomats, Maidstone, England non-league), Pat Hilton (WBA, Brighton, Blackburn, Aldershot, Southport, Gillingham and Southern League, including Thanet) and Tess Norton (Wolves, Brighton, Canterbury, Margate, Dover, Folkestone, Tonbridge). All three were from Aylesham. I played for Alf in that team and in Canterbury reserves in the Kent League, aged 15.

I then went to Gillingham and played in the same Youth Team as Dick Tydeman, David Peach, Kenny Hill and Graham (Bootsie) Knight. Bootsie, of course became a bit of a Canterbury stalwart, like many other ex-Gills. One of the young first-teamers at that time was the frightening Carl Gilbert. He and some of the other young first-team players took great delight in tying youth team players to a pillar in the dressing room (naked of course) and blackening their balls with shoe polish !! I later became great friends with Gilly at Folkestone and Canterbury.

I went from Gillingham to Brett Sports (Kent League works team, based in Canterbury who at one time had ambitions to become Canterbury's top club). About this time Alf took over Folkestone reserves who had Dennis Hunt as first team manager. Alf took me and 15 year-old Pat Hilton with him, Pat got in the first team as a skinny little winger and set the place alight. Also in the first team there was David Bostock who was only 17 himself. I watched a game at Folkestone in which Pat nicked the ball in the centre circle, took on four players plus the keeper and rolled it into the net. They reckon you heard the crowd roar from the beach! Bostock came on as sub and got the second in a 2-0 win (against Corby I think).

In January of 1971 Alf got the job of manager at Canterbury and took me and Pat, Dave Wiltshire, Tommy Horsfall and Peter Prior with him. A few names from that Canterbury team: Laurie Thompson, Gordon Walton, Ray Ellam (he was a great bloke - a big tough, soft-centred Yorkshireman). I spent the next six years at Canterbury, staying on after Alf got the Dover job and playing for the GREAT Bob Harrop who became player-manager. Alf had signed John and Bob Wickens (loads of stories about them if you'd like, at a later date), but they followed him to Dover as did several others. I wanted to prove to myself that I could play for someone else besides Alf, and Bob brought a different attitude to management - I think he had one of the happiest squads I've ever known, not that he couldn't give you a right good bollocking though !

Then when Dennis Hunt got the Margate job he 'tapped' me up to play left back for him, using the leverage of our going back some years and the fact that Margate were very ambitious. I was only too keen although Canterbury refused to let me go. I basically had to threaten to quit football altogether, using the argument that I had played for them as a first-team player for six years, plus reserves when I was younger, had never made a fuss about anything and that my loyalty over the years through thick and thin deserved some recognition. Coincidentally they finally agreed to let me go if I played in a night game against Margate. I remember standing in the cold stone bathroom at Canterbury, about 20 minutes before kick-off and still in my clothes, arguing with the Chairman and refusing to play. So I played, we drew with Margate and everyone was asking me why I wanted to leave when we were just as good. I think Margate won 7-0 in the return match at Hartsdown !

My first two matches were a revelation, playing Chelmsford who were top and beating them 3-0, then beating Romford who had gone top, 6-0, to put us top of the league (I'm almost certain that was how it worked out, you'll be able to check). Good players in that team were Bob Harrop who was 40 when we won the league, Ray Summers (played anywhere, lots of goals), Vic Pain, Ricky Fusco, Ronny Barr, Tess Norton, John O'Mara and Steve Bowtell. Another ex-Canterbury player was also in the side, Bob Walter, who while never being terribly skilful, was a really tough, fit defender or midfield player who had a heart of gold. I got on very well with him. Lennie Lee came in and out of the side, just a 17 year-old, and another friend of mine Neil Cugley signed as a centre half for a big fee a few games from the end of the season. We all felt really sorry for Bob Harrop because it was obvious that Neil was signed to replace him and he had done such a great job. We were certs for promotion and Neil was signed with a view to the future. As it happened Bob got a bad shin injury that kept him out of contention for the rest of the season anyway.

That one season I had at Hartsdown wasn't the most fun I ever had. Dennis was a great coach but not such a great manager and took far too much advice from senior players - Ricky Fusco, John O'Mara, but especially Ray Summers. Going to away games by train would have been funny if it hadn't been so serious for some of us. Dennis and trainer 'Curly' Russell would go off down to the other end of the train with one of the three players mentioned above. For us fringe players it was a nightmare. Ricky might come back, give you the thumbs up and say "you're in", Ray would then be summoned, come back and say "sorry mate, you're not playing", then John would be called and eventually come back and tell you were in again ! Not much fun although the side was very good and obviously successful. I remember well the solitary goal I scored, having come on as sub to play in midfield I got a tap-in at the far post from what I thought was a pass from John (Twiggy) O'Mara. He was about a foot taller than me and, as you do, I jumped into his arms to celebrate and thank him for the chance. Blunt as ever, John said something like "It was a shot you daft twat, I wouldn't pass to anyone when I'm in that position !" John was a great bloke who was very blunt and always told the truth. Tess Norton and I would usually sit with him after the match to be told in no uncertain terms whether we were great or had a stinker ! Another great quote from John was his answer in reply to a question from someone asking when he had quit playing football. He must have been in his late 30s by then, well past his prime. Again, blunt as ever, John replied "About a year before I joined Dover !".

At the end of the 1977/78 season Ashford came in for me and I was glad. The following season I played every competitive game, league and cup for them, never substituted. I had one more season at Ashford then went back to Folkestone where Alf was manager. From Folkestone I went to Whitstable, then Herne Bay then back to Canterbury as first-team coach, Alf was back there as manager. Carl Gilbert was trainer and took over as manager when Alf left. I was playing as player-coach most of that time. Gilly did very well at Canterbury but got sacked after a few bad results and I took over. Bad decision. That was at the time they were digging up the Speedway track to convert it to a Greyhound track and football was way back in the list of priorities. The whole club looked like a building site and I couldn't get any decent players to sign - Canterbury had always been an unpopular stadium for players anyway, dank, cold changing rooms, huge stands with very little support and no atmosphere. I eventually quit (before I got the inevitable kick up the arse).

There was one particularly bleak Saturday afternoon, pissing down with rain, playing a very good Dorchester side. Pat Hilton was playing for me, just because he was my mate but he couldn't do much with the players he was playing with. Anyway, I sat on the bench, no shelter from the rain and cold, no sub, no trainer. I was all three - manager, trainer, sub and then BLOODY ball-boy ! Whenever the ball was kicked into touch (Canterbury v Dorchester on a wet, muddy Kingsmead - it went into touch a lot !), I had to plough my way through about a foot of mud where they had dug up the speedway track. By half-time we were 6-0 down and I had to wonder what I was doing there. So at half-time I gave it the 'Fergie' smashed tea cups routine, although being Canterbury it didn't have the same effect because the cups were plastic ! Pat quietly told me to calm down, it wasn't the lads' fault and he was right. We eventually lost 7-1. Pat joined Thanet a little while later after a match against them had been called off due to the state of the pitch - 'top-soil' that was full of broken glass, stones etc. had been laid in one part of the pitch and Norman Fusco, then Thanet manager, quite rightly refused to play on it. I pleaded with him to no avail. Canterbury was shut down by the Southern league for a couple of weeks until it was sorted out. So I quit Canterbury, went on the radio and in the papers saying how appalling conditions were and all of that stuff. It certainly didn't endear me to the Canterbury board though !

Anyway within a few days I received a call from my old friend John Wickens who was manager at Herne Bay, paying better than Southern League wages, a really good side. I played for Herne Bay then went back to Whitstable, back to Herne Bay as player-manager (another disaster so I quit as manager there but stayed on as a player) and finished up at Ramsgate aged 37. I then played for Snowdown a couple of years later and stayed until I was 42.

I'm 50 years old now and had a great time playing. I lasted a lot longer than most people but it still seems to have gone far too quickly and I miss playing so much. But at least I have made some good friends and have some great memories. I live in America now, working for a Soccer Camp company and I'm based in Mississippi. Tess Norton and Pat Hilton were my two best friends in football and Pat now lives near Detroit, also coaching soccer.

By the way, I haven't mentioned Ian Christie and Bob Wilson, both Aylesham lads and both, I think, played for Margate at some time. I know Bob did. What a pair !! They came to Canterbury as 15-year olds (Bob Harrop brought a bunch from Thanet too, including Mark Weatherly who was a skinny centre forward, turned out ok though didn't he ?!). Bob and Ian were really fit and funny. One day we were doing some ridiculous sprint work, half-laps round the speedway track at full pace, then walk a half-lap then sprint again. We used to do six at a time and it was exhausting. Well I remember one day when we were at maybe the end of the 3rd or 4th sprint, most of us just hanging on, and I heard Ian as he got level with Bob, take a paper bag out of his shorts and say, hardly needing a breath, "do you want a sweet Bob ?". It killed the rest of us (and if you could see Ian now you just couldn't imagine it, he's 'a little' overweight !).

Bob, Ian and Mark got into the first team often but Bob and Ian weren't in awe of Alf like the rest of us and would do stuff like go out on Friday nights, not worrying about the game the next day. Alf used to like a beer himself and he was being driven home one night when the car went past 'The Ratling' club in Aylesham, about 11:30 pm maybe. Well Alf saw Bob with a girl, up against the wall, in a bit of 'a position' so of course the next day Alf had to pull Bob in front of everybody. "Wilson, you little twat, I saw you out shagging last night !!!". Bob - "no I wasn't Alf, honest". Alf - "Yes you were, we saw you up against the Ratling wall with a bird". Bob - "no honest Alf, I wasn't shagging, I was too pissed !!". Right there in front of the lads and of course we cracked up. Alf told that one till the day he died."

Added to the site in 2002.