Greens hero ended career over ‘border’
PUBLISHED: 11:20 26 May 2018
It was a familiar chant from fans at Gorleston Football Club games at their old home ground - the Reccer - although it might have baffled visiting supporters from inland.
“Come on, Gorleston! Put it in the wheelhouse!” was the exhortation for the Greens to attack.
“The wheelhouse” was the opponents’ goal. The chant had that nautical touch, befitting a side from the world’s biggest herring fishery port.
Memories of matches at Gorleston Recreation Ground, before the club decamped to Emerald Park in 1983, were evoked recently when a developer suggested building a road across the Reccer to access a housing estate.
Whimsically, I suggested the road should be named after some who played for the club decades long past.
One idea was Eric Kirk Avenue...so imagine the pleasant surprise when the former long-serving player’s family got in touch to report that he is still very much with us and will be celebrating his 88th birthday next month!
Apparently my tongue-in-cheek suggestion amused Eric, according to his grand-daughter Alice Kirk. Almost certainly he is the last survivor of that epic three-match FA Cup tie against Football League professional side Leyton Orient, still a talking point among older supporters.
Eric is a retired window cleaner and former employee at Birds Eye Foods locally, and lives with his wife, Pam, on Church Road in Gorleston, only a hefty kick away from the dear old Reccer.
At one time they ran a guest house in Paget Road, Great Yarmouth.
They have a son, Andrew, and daughter-in-law Louise, and two grand-daughters - Alice, who has been in touch with me, and Lauren.
Alice recalls: “A quirky thing I always remember them saying - and it still gets mentioned now - is that when Nanny and Grandad got married in 1951, he played football for Gorleston that afternoon!
“Gorleston played Lowestoft and, after exchanging vows, Nanny went on the coach with the players! That still makes me laugh!”
That doughty and tireless player was possibly unique hereabouts in that he wore not only Gorleston’s green-and-white strip but also arch rivals Yarmouth Town’s amber-and-black in FA Cup first round proper ties against the big boys of soccer drawn against part-timers in the senior national competition.
In 1951 Eric was a member of the Gorleston side led by ex-international “Sailor” Brown which, after successfully negotiating the preliminary rounds, became involved in a three-game first-round proper match against Leyton Orient.
Before the tie at the London professional club’s Brisbane Road ground, Gorleston officials presented their hosts and the three match officials with boxes of bloaters and kippers as goodwill souvenirs. Nowadays that could be construed as bribery!
Some 11,796 fans saw the Greens earn a 2-2 draw.
Prolific centre-forward Jack Hunter was denied a goal when the referee ruled that the ball had not fully crossed the line before being headed clear. Then Hunter put the Greens ahead before his team-mates made two mistakes resulting in the hosts taking the lead.
But ten minutes from the final whistle, Harry Chapman headed the equaliser to earn a replay at Gorleston Reccer - on a Thursday afternoon in an era before floodlights were introduced.
Some businesses closed so staff could attend that match. Remarkably, my Yarmouth Grammar School form was there on “an educational football visit.” Many spectators stood on umpteen wooden fish boxes nailed together to form a tiered terrace.
After a goalless stalemate, the sides headed for neutral ground - Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium for a Monday afternoon decider, watched by 12,000 fans.
Hunter struck again, but the Greens looked beaten at 5-2 down with time running out.
Then Jimmy Guy and Hunter made it 5-4 but it was all too late. Cup progress was denied the Greens.
Later, Eric played for the Bloaters when they defeated Crystal Palace 1-0 in the 1953 FA Cup first round proper at Wellesley Road, watched by 8,944 fans.
He ended his career with Lowestoft.