Ray’s lifetime in game
TALKS TO STALWART WHO HAS SERVED LOCAL FOOTBALL IN ASHFORD FOR 65 YEARS
Ray Knowler believes the fun has gone out of football at all levels. He said: “Everyone used to enjoy it but not any longer. Now they all have to win and the game has got nastier.
“Ten years ago and before, everyone played and enjoyed it, even if they lost 10-0.”
And the man who has served local football in Ashford for 65 years as a player, referee and administrator is in a good place to judge.
Ray, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year, got his love of the game from his mum Marge, whose dad Herbert Finn played left back for Ashford Town and followed him everywhere.
His own involvement started from modest beginnings in 1948, at the age of 14 living in South Ashford.
He said: “A lot of the local kids needed something to do, so my mum and I decided to start an under-18 football team. There was no money around, so we asked each boy to bring an old sheet and she coloured them all blue.
“Town gave us one of their old balls and we had a football skin which we filled with paper to make another we used to train with.
“In the evenings, we played our front lawn which was 25m long and 12m wide and at Victoria Park at weekends.
“We called ourselves South Ashford Juniors, entered the Ashford Minor League for the first time but had no ground, so played all our matches away.”
The team’s biggest success came in season 1949- 50, winning the league and the Southern Railways Miners Cup, beating Woking 3-1 in the final at Town’s old Essella Park ground.
Ray added: “We stayed together for three years before changing our name to Ashford South End, playing in Division 3 of the Saturday League, always doing quite well but never winning it.”
Two years’ National Service with the Royal Air Force followed in 1953 before returning to live at Aldington,
it, even if they lost 10-0’
playing for several clubs, including Willesborough Old Boys, Newtown Ramblers and South Willesborough Invicta before finishing his career with his local team on Saturdays and Proprietary Perfumes Ltd on Sundays.
Ray quit playing at the age of 30 before deciding to take up the whistle in 1966, earning promotion to Class 1 three years later but still believes to this day he should have done it sooner
He said: “I stopped because I didn’t think I was a good enough player. I should have done it three years earlier giving me a chance to make it to the Football League.”
Ray’s refereeing career spanned four decades, his final game being at Bromley Green in the Ashford Saturday League in 2006.
He has a host of interesting stories to recall, one involving a game between Margate and Ramsgate in 1971.
He said: “I wore contact lenses then but they could only be in for six hours. The game was held up for half an hour due to one of the groundsmen being hurt in a thunderstorm, meaning they were in an hour longer and I had to get home and wash my eyes out because they were so sore.”
Ray’s career in football administration began as social secretary in both Saturday and Sunday Leagues and Kent Referees’ Association.
Then in 1975, he got a call from the Stour Centre, asking if he would like to organise a 5-a-side League which he agreed to do.
He said: “We ran it until 1980, before the Sunday League took it over for three years.
“John Fenning, another former referee and I then started our own Super Fives League in 1983, he as chairman and me as secretary. They are roles we still hold today.”
The pair were elected co- presidents in 1985, following the deaths of Doug Gillard and Bill Manklow.
The league celebrated their 30th anniversary last year, and Ray highlights the loyalty of the clubs as key to it’s success .
“Ashford Spartans have been with us from day one,” he said.
Ray (third from right back row) in the South Ashford Juniors side who won the Southern Region Miners Cup beating Woking 3-1 at Essella Park in 1949-50. Dad Joe is standing second from left while mum Marge is on the far right
Co-founder Ray with his achievement award at the Ashford Super Five-a-Side League’s
30th anniversary celebration last year