Sunday, 30 November 2014

A MAGNIFICENT GOALKEEPER: CHARLIE WRIGHT



IT’S many happy returns of December 11 for former goalkeeper and manager Charlie Wright who will be 76 on that date.

Although he was never really given a chance at his first club, Glasgow Rangers, Wright excelled while was a player with Workington, Grimsby, Charlton and Bolton.

Although born and brought up in  Paisley, near Glasgow, he also made an appearance for Hong Kong.

After hanging up his gloves and boots, he managed York City, then Bolton Wanderers.

The article below first appeared in the Cleethorpes Chronicle in November, 2008.


CHARLIE Wright, a goalkeeping hero for the Mariners in the early ' sixties, can still vividly remember his first match as Grimsby Town goalkeeper.

It was an away match on February 16, 1963, at runaway Second Division leaders Middlesbrough

It was one of the iciest winters on record, and the Town team stayed overnight at a hotel off the A1 road  at Scotch Corner.

Although the morning was bitterly cold, the pitch was just capable of taking a stud so the ref decided the match could go ahead.

Then, ten minutes before kick-off, the temperature plummeted to below freezing. The ground became so hard you could hear the clattering of the players' studs on the glazed and rock-hard surface.

Because the crowd had already flocked into the ground, the match went ahead, but, according to Charlie, it was "a farce, with players of both sides sliding all over the place."

The play was almost entirely one-way, with the Mariners' goal under almost non-stop bombardment. But the debutant played out of his skin and kept a clean sheet.

By scoring with a rare attack on the break, relegation-threatened Town registered a 1-0 win - the surprise result of the day and the start of a winning sequence which saw them surge up the table.

 Over this and almost 150 more matches for the Mariners, Charlie's agility, reliability and enthusiasm earned him a well-deserved place in Blundell Park folklore.  

He protected his goal with an almost ferocious determination which gave confidence to the rest of the defence and inspired the whole team.

Charlie, who lived in Brereton Avenue, Cleethorpes, with wife Helen, was not always a goalkeeper - as a schoolboy growing up in Paisley he played in every position, most often as a left winger.

"I had a good left peg and was a fair crosser of the ball."he recalls.

However, playing first for Boys Brigade sides, then for the YMCA, it emerged that he had a special talent between the sticks - he was strong, courageous, had quick reflexes and could catch or deflect the ball from whatever angle, height or speed it came at his goal.

Oddly, despite going on to play for a couple of trophy-winning club sides - New Hill Amateurs and Glentyan Thistle - Charlie's enthusiasm for football was probably outmatched  in his early teenage years by an even greater  passion for competitive road cycling.

After school, he took a job as an apprentice motor mechanic, but evenings and weekends saw him out on his bike, thinking nothing of riding 100 miles - sometimes further - on a single day.
He even toyed with the idea of moving to the Continent where some of his pals were already seeking a living - albeit not a great one - in the saddle.

But the brakes were slammed on any aspirations to a career on the roads of France  when, out of the blue, the 16-year-old was asked to play in goal for Scottish Second Division side  Greenock Morton in a fixture  with promotion-chasing Queen's Park at Hampden Park, the home of Scottish football.

"I couldn't believe it when my Dad told me of their approach,"recalls Charlie. "I thought it must be a mistake. It was the most exciting moment of my life."

"I never slept a wink the night before the match. Then nerves set in - I must have spent most of the next morning on the toilet."

In the match itself, Charlie did himself proud, making numerous breathtaking blocks and almost saving a penalty - he dived and pushed the ball against a post but it rebounded off his shoulder into the net.

Just on the strength of that performance - and the subsequent Press reports - several big clubs from both signs of the border came calling, but his signature was secured by Glasgow Rangers who saw his potential and reckoned they could groom the youngster for first-team stardom.

Alas, Charlie's spell at Ibrox lasted just two years, ending when, despite having been told he was making progress, he was released.

"I was devastated by the news,"he says. "It was a hell of a shock. It almost blew my brains out."

Little did he know it at the time, but the close of the short chapter in his Scottish career was the prelude to many more both in England and overseas.

An enjoyable spell at Workington, managed by former Newcastle wing-half Joe Harvey (whom he credits with greatly improving his goalkeeping skills), was punctuated by National Service with the Border Regiment which took him first to Berlin, then to Hong Kong.

Away from infantry duties and bren gun training, he played in Army sides and was even selected to play for the Hong Kong national side for whom he made a scintillating penalty save in a match against Peru.

The save became such a big talking point with the Chinese fans that it even earned Charlie the accolade of Player of the Year.

He returned to Workington but joined the Mariners after failing to hit it off with manager Ken Furphy who succeeded Harvey at the helm of the Cumbrian club

There was friction between the two men - possibly dating back to the times they had clashed in goalmouth action at a time when Furphy had been an uncompromising centre forward for Darlington.

Perhaps the new boss was also irritated by the Workington fans' practice of singing "Charlie is My Darling" every time he kept a clean sheet.

Despite the big winter freeze that welcomed him in Grimsby and Cleethorpes, Charlie - and wife Helen whom he had married when he was 20 - loved the three years spent on this part of the East Coast.

"The people are lovely,"he says. "They are the salt of the earth - or should I say the salt of the sea?

They would gladly give you their last cup of tea."

Charlie was later transferred to Charlton Athletic, then managed by Bob Stokoe, for whom he played for five years before ending his playing days at Bolton Wanderers.

Goalkeepers are probably more vulnerable to serious injury than any other players on the park. Over his career, Charlie bounced back from cracked ribs, numerous breaks to his nose, concussion and a fractured jaw.

In fact, it was while recovering  in a Midlands hospital  after being knocked unconscious in a match at Walsall that he first learned from a nurse that "a London club" - Charlton - had made an approach to sign him.

But on the injury front, it was the battering taken by his spine that finally took their toll.

On medical advice, he was given no choice but to hang up his gloves. "My back was knackered, "he said."The doctor told me that, if I had been a horse, they would have shot
me!

"I was 37 at the time. It was a big disappointment. I was as enthusiastic as ever - and, with my experience, I could read the game two moves ahead.

"I would have liked to have played on till I was at least 40."

Charlie was not lost to football, however, because he went on to take up a coaching role, followed by management posts with York City, Bolton and, for a single season, a club in northern Norway.

Thereafter, he returned to Greenwich in South-east London, near Charlton's ground, where he ran a successful cafe - Charlie's Place - for the best part of 15 years.

"It was hard work but rewarding," he says. "From one day to the next, you never knew who might walk in through the door. Our customers ranged from tramps and drug addicts to business people and film stars."

Now enjoying retirement, Charlie and Helen live in Deal on the Kent Coast

 They have a son, Steven, who is a TV executive, two daughters, Sandra and Gail, plus five grandchildren.

Despite his back giving him gip, Charlie stays active and likes to get out on the golf course as often as he can. "I like to be in the fresh air," he says.

And there is still a much-cherished Cleethorpes connection - Charlie's sister, May, is married to Matt Tees, another Mariners and Charlton  star of yesteryear.

From time to time, Charlie and Helen return to the Lincolnshire resort - and it is always time well spent.

"It's great to come back,"ends Charlie. "We drive around and see the old haunts. It reminds us of many very happy times.

“We certainly enjoyed being in Cleethorpes."

To read Charlton fans' memories of "Sir Charlie" (and see  TV footage of him playing alongside fellow-Scot Matt Tees), see:
 http://www.charltonlife.com/discussion/65197/a-great-goalkeeper-of-yesteryear-charlie-wright

After his career in football ended, Charlie successfully ran a cafe for many years





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