Ray’s life­time in game

TALKS TO STAL­WART WHO HAS SERVED LO­CAL FOOT­BALL IN ASH­FORD FOR 65 YEARS

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Www.kentonline.co.uk/sport -

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,

‘Ev­ery­one en­joyed

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

Pic­ture: Gary Browne FM2552311

Co-founder Ray with his achieve­ment award at the Ash­ford Su­per Five-a-Side League’s

30th an­niver­sary celebration last year

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