The ‘smartest’ league stadium in the world (in the opinion of Brighton fans, of course) and the smallest Football League in the world - what could possibly connect these two icons?

Liz Costa went on holiday and found out:

Charlie Wood [now known to all his friends as Chas] who lives with his lovely wife Katharine on the Isles of Scilly where he not only acts as a tour guide to guests in the Atlantic Hotel there, but also plays a very active part in the very quaint football activity on the islands. There are just two teams – The Garrison Gunners and the Woolpack Wanderers. 17-man squads compete every Sunday morning on top of a very windswept hill experiencing strong north-westerly winds and rain. There are 16 League games throughout the season, plus the Wholesalers' Cup, the Foredeck Cup [played over 2 legs], the Old Men v. the Youngsters on Boxing Day and the season opener which is naturally called The Charity Shield, where last year's league winners play last year's cup winners. If the same side won everything, they play the runners-up! Just recently the 'groundhopper' article in the Non League paper featured this unique 'stadium', reporting that this season they have been doing something not usual – draws! The one he reported on resulted in 4-4 and there have been a few more draws since!

This is their club house! No seats, or catering, loos to speak of! But it is their HOME ground!

And this, as you know, is our 'club house' with padded seats, a roof [!], loads of catering plus plenty of loos! A vision and now reality of our Theatre of Dreams.

Even though Chas is approaching his 70th birthday, according to one of his team mates [who did not know who I was, nor that Chas is a friend of mine] did tell me that he is definitely not there just to make up numbers – he takes his place in the side, when selected, and makes his presence felt! I don't believe either his team-mates or opponents [all of whom, of course, he has known for a good few years] make any allowance for his age – his skill overcomes all! When I last saw him, he was trying desperately to shake off a slight injury because he wanted to play in the Charity Shield. He really relishes the chance to be playing regularly at least until this year when he will be 70. As this picture below shows [he's the one on the right], he's pretty active and the wimp in the red kit looks a little 'wary'!

Chas in full action last season!

So, where did it all start? Chas was born in Eastbourne and worked in the accounts department of one of the stores in the town. He played football as an amateur for Eastbourne Old Town in the Mid-week league when he was 18 and was spotted by a scout from the Albion and invited to come to the Goldstone for trials. Whilst he never made it to the heady heights of the First Team, some of his team-mates included Don Bates, Denis Foreman, and Tommy Bissett. One memorable game took place under floodlights – one of the first at the Goldstone, and even though it was a reserve game, there was a pretty useful crowd. Seems odd now – we take lights for granted. However, for an evening game, of course, he had to take time off work to get over to Brighton [Hove] for the match – and although his employers were very flexible (granting permission because the Albion was a professional club, even though he personally was an amateur within the club), he still had to make up the hours he had missed – even if it meant working at night or over the weekend!

One of his travelling companions between Eastbourne and Brighton was one Stan Barry who lived in Hastings but played with Chas at the Albion and then went on to play for Hastings United – Chas is sure he was related to our former 'star'Gareth Barry. Can anyone shed any light on that? He would love to know if he really did rub shoulders with a relative of a true professional. At the time, he was just a team mate!

In those days, the goings on inside the club were kept 'inside' – there were rumblings of an imminent 'take over'. Billy Lane who had been very popular with the fans was struggling to keep the first team going and lost the confidence of the board and basically was thought to have resigned in 1961 'before he was pushed'. The players really didn't get to know what was going on – just grateful that they still had a job! George Curtis came in but Chas didn't have much to do with him. Because he [Chas] had played for Eastbourne, they permitted him to train regularly with them so when the Albion Reserves or 'A' team had a game, he was fit and raring to go!

There have been a series of changes to kit and club badge over the years – this era was Brighton stripes with the "Twin Towns" crest that most of you will remember we got permission to reproduce on our wonderful Centenary Shirts [in my opinion, still one the nicest shirts the club has produced in recent years!]

Chas later moved 'west' and played in the Hellenic League for Newbury and in the Western League for Taunton, Glastonbury and Weston-Super-Mare. While at Taunton he went pro, mainly because he was informed by the manager, Doug Hillard, the ex Bristol Rovers player, that England amateur selectors were watching him and the club would want a transfer fee if another club signed him, which would not have applied if he was still an amateur. He had as an amateur represented Sussex, Somerset and the Hellenic League.

While he was with the Albion, he was loaned to Westbury to play for them in the Amateur Cup. We are used to 'sharing the gate' for cup matches but in the Amateur Cup this was not the case – you only got a share if you reached the 1st. Round Proper. During his spell at Westbury they were drawn against Gosport and reached the First Round Proper where they were drawn against Lydbrook over a weekend. Unfortunately they lost 2-1 thereby avoiding a trip to Bishop Auckland [somewhere up near Darlington !]

Chas became Player/Manager of Ilminster in the early 70s. Because Chas had been a pro, the club had to turn pro too. [Is this still the rule, I wonder? Very interesting]. From here he went to Glastonbury, Weston Super Mare and then back to Glastonbury.

In his first spell at Glastonbury, they were drawn against Merthyr Tydfil in the FA cup, which gave Chas the opportunity of playing against the great John Charles, who was their player/manager. In typical John Charles style, he played centre half in the first game at Glastonbury, which was drawn 0-0 and played centre forward in the replay, scoring twice in a 3-1 win. This was similar to when he played for Juventus when he would often start up front and if they went ahead, he would revert to defence! [Editor's note: This connection is very interesting – my first ever football match that got me hooked was John Charles' first game for Roma when he went back to Italy for a second spell. I can't remember who the opposition were – frankly I didn't care, it was just the atmosphere that got to me and I've been football crazy ever since!]

Also during this spell with Glastonbury, the club were approached by John Bond, then manager of Bournemouth who was interested in Chas after watching a game against Poole. As Chas was 32 at the time it didn't seem like a good career move!

In his second spell at Glastonbury, he suffered his worst injury, dislocating and breaking his ankle against Torquay at Plainmoor. As he was 38 at the time, he felt that it was probably the end of his career, but 4 months later he was playing again. At Weston super Mare the manager was Kim Book, (brother of Tony Book - Man. City). Kim's claim to fame was he was in goal for Northampton when Georgie Best scored 6 past him in the FA cup!

Chas's job with Welbeck was moved to London and he lived near Andover, so he signed for Thatcham Town in the Hellenic League and later in the Athenian League.

His job location moved again, this time to Bristol and as he wanted to continue playing, he contacted Kim Book, who was now player-manager at Paulton Rovers. At 43 years of age, Chas felt he was too old to play in the Western League, so he played in the reserves in the Somerset Senior League until he was 46.

While working for Welbeck Finance in Bristol he was sent to a meeting with a well-known credit card company in Northampton but that evening was scheduled to play for Weston Super Mare [at home!]. Tricky but not impossible, until his boss suggested a meeting in Edinburgh the following day! So, Bristol to Northampton to Weston Super Mare to London to catch train to Edinburgh – all in the space of one day! I think he said he drove all of it! Thankfully he managed the feat without any ill effects. His evening match would have been frowned upon but he enjoyed playing so much that he didn't think of the consequences at the time. Now he looks back with a wry smile!

He was made redundant from Welbeck Finance so moved to Portugal and played in an ex-pats team Lisbon Casuals, many of whom had been pros, for the best part of 6 years in the early 90s. He played regularly until he was 58. Sadly, the firm he was working for fell on 'hard' times so he was released and he came home, back to Bristol.

In 1999 together with his wife Katharine [who had also just been made redundant] he decided that a totally new experience was needed for both of them. They had both spent many happy holidays on the Isles of Scilly so decided to try to sell their house in Bristol, purchase one on Scilly and try to get a job! Obviously this was a very risky business, but risk is something not on Chas' radar – if it's there, go for it! They were very lucky to find a lovely house on the islands that suited them perfectly and were even luckier that they had an excellent estate agent who suggested a selling price for their Bristol property that they themselves thought was grossly over-priced – they sold it in no time for the full asking price! Lucky, or what! So, they moved over to the Islands a couple of weeks before the Total Eclipse on 11th August. Again, lucky – best place in the whole of Europe to see it!

They gave themselves a limited time to find employment – living on the Islands may be idyllic for us as visitors, but it is not cheap, transport on and off the islands is in the lap of the gods with weather dictating much of it. It seems that in Chas' world, nothing is impossible because in no time at all Katharine who had been working in personnel in Bristol, also had an MA in Archaeology and Anthropology specialising in Neolithic and Bronze Age periods – Scilly probably has more graves and cists [pronounced Kists] per mile than almost anywhere in the UK and it didn’t take long for that part of her life to take over. She started Archaeological Walks on the islands – initially I would guess teaching the locals about their own history! It is now very hard to get a space on one of her trips, so popular are they. I've had the privilege of going on one, involving trips to two of the uninhabited islands with a great deal of history attached.

Of course, not to be outdone, Chas needed to find something to do – to his delight there were the aforesaid couple of football teams to get heavily involved with, but he also needed employment. As a very 'young' man, he took on the job as a tour guide which are extremely popular throughout the summer. Personally I can't see him sitting doing nothing, even during the winter months because there is so much that the pair of them can be doing, preparing for the following season. There are many archaeological sites that need work on, and of course there is football every weekend!

Because of the unique situation in Scilly, the smallest league in the world gets a lot of publicity and was featured on the BBC Coast programme. In 2007, Adidas also decided to do an advertisement featuring the league and flew in stars such as Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Patrick Vieira, Michael Ballack, and Daniel di Rossi. As Chas is also Chairman of the league he was heavily involved and was interviewed on both programmes.

What a life – what a man. I could have listened to him reminiscing for a lot longer than the couple of hours we had – I am hoping I have managed to capture some of the essence of a truly fascinating person who just doesn't know when to stop!

I gave him one of the postcards that Duncan Muir produced so that he could see just how our club has progressed since his early life with the club and what the new stadium looked like at that stage of the build. He visits the mainland regularly and obviously still has family in the Eastbourne area so he has been promised a visit to The Amex when we are up and running. It will make Garrison Field look a bit 'lacking in facilities' when he gets back home!

The pitch! Spot the 'slope'!

Chas at work as Tour Guide

Thanks also to Dan P for use of photo of The Amex from the Countdown2falmer website.
Liz Costa

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