The one-off Gorleston on sea man who was the eccentric Willie
PUBLISHED: 13:26 29 April 2018 | UPDATED: 13:26 29 April 2018
Sailor Brown Way? Don Burnett Drive? Dick Campling Road? Eric Kirk Avenue? Sammy Morgan Grove?
Those are my tentative suggestions for the name of a controversial possible new road across the 129-year-old Gorleston Recreation Ground, traditional home of the Greens for whom these stalwarts played (assuming memory serves me a-right).
An international star in the 1981-82 side was there too briefly to be considered - Martin Peters, scorer of one of the four goals when England beat West Germany 4-1 to win the World Cup in 1966, a feat bound to be recalled as the tournament is played in Russia this summer.
Peters, at 37, was working for Gorleston chairman Jimmy Jones who persuaded him to continue his career with the Greens; he scored four times but did not attract crowds after the initial euphoria. It was Jimmy, who died in 2012, who campaigned for the club to move from the council-controlled “Reccer” to the purpose-built Emerald Park.
By coincidence, the idea of a road across the Reccer arose as I was writing about an ardent Gorleston fan of yesteryear who seemed ever-present at home fixtures.
I was reminded of the late Willie Arnold by regular correspondent Trevor Nicholls whose memories were recently prompted... when his bus stopped in Church Lane alongside the Reccer!
His view from the upper deck was unobstructed, the long-serving grandstand having been demolished in 1992.
Trevor describes Willie as an eccentric, resident in sheltered accommodation in Addison Road but always about town, easily recognised in his white-topped and gold-braided peaked cap and navy-blue jacket. Invariably you could hear the shrill sounds of his referee-style whistle.
Many football fans regarded him as the Greens’ unofficial mascot, although the club presumably persuaded him not to blow his whistle during matches so play was not interrupted.
Whether or not Willie followed the Greens to Emerald Park I cannot say, but do not recall spotting him there when I was reporting football. Perhaps the enclosed ground was too far away for him.
According to Trevor: “One day he took it upon himself to direct traffic, standing at the junction of Trafalgar Road East and High Street in Gorleston, beckoning vehicles from the former. How that potentially disastrous episode ended, I do not know.”
Vaguely, I remember Willie from long ago, standing outside Gorleston’s Coliseum Cinema like an unofficial commissionaire, shouting “Lovely show inside” to encourage people to the pictures.
From here, Trevor and I differ.
“Willie’s greatest reputed coup was when - what with the white cap, jacket, the whistle and much shouting and waving of arms - he persuaded the master of a German ship which had berthed at Bollard Quay to move her to the other side of the river!” says Trevor.
Bollard Quay seems somewhat off Willie territory. The version I heard was that he was on Gorleston’s Brush Quay when a foreign vessel sailed in. Willie’s flag-waving, whistles and shouts - and his blazer and white cap - convinced the master he was officially ordering him not to proceed up-river but to tie up there.
The situation was resolved when concerned people upriver waiting for the ship inquired as to her whereabouts.
Truth and legend have become blurred with time but do not diminish Willie’s status in Gorleston.
Bert “Sailor” Brown, one of those I reckon merits a cross-Reccer road to be named after him, played for top clubs, was an England international, and skippered Gorleston in their 1951 epic three-match FA Cup tie against Leyton Orient. After two draws, the Greens were defeated in the decider on neutral ground - Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium.
Sammy Morgan was a Northern Ireland international and a prolific scorer for the Greens.
Two other England 1966 World Cup gold medallists briefly visited the borough. Hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst came to Johnsons’ clothing factory on The Conge in 1973 to promote its sportswear. And midfielder Alan Ball often attended Yarmouth Races.