Monday 29th November 2004

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Obituary: Charlie Fuller 1919-2004

Charlie Fuller, centre-half of the 1938 Amateur Cup Final team, died suddenly on 16 November at his home in Sheppey at the age of 85.  He made barely 100 appearances for the Deres and never scored for them but his influence on local and indeed national football went much further.

Charlie Fuller was born on 25 May 1919, and his exposure to the Deres came early: his father, also Charlie, played at Park View from 1921-23, being a regular for Belvedere and District in their last season and Erith and Belvedere in their first.  

Charlie junior grew up in Dagenham, where he attended Grafton School and sat next to Jim Peters, later world-famous as a marathon runner.  He was an outstanding player for Dagenham Boys before moving with the family to Plumstead at the age of 16.

Charlie joined Erith and Belvedere from Bostall Heath and made his debut in a 1-0 defeat at Gillingham reserves on 24 April 1937, a month before his 18th birthday.  

The following season he was ever-present in the 13-match Amateur Cup run that took the Deres to the Final and that 33,346 crowd at the Den, sadly losing 1-0 to Bromley.  

Both Bromley and the Amateur Cup would feature again in his career.

Charlie left for Walthamstow Avenue during summer 1938, not to return to the Deres’ colours (apart from one guest appearance in 1941) for nearly 14 years.  

He served in the Royal Artillery during the war, but his family recalls him playing football more than he was on duty – in fact they have a photo of him being presented to King George VI at Stamford Bridge before a Services Cup game between the Army and the RAF, which the RAF won 4-1. 

At the end of the war he was in liberated Holland, playing for Bromley v Arnhem nine days before VE Day, when three planes came flying low over the ground.  

The visitors were scared witless until the planes dropped thousands of red carnations as thanks to the British liberators.  Charlie and his team-mates were presented with plaques after the 4-1 win.

The post-war years were a boom time for English football.  1948-49 was the year Football League attendances reached 41 million, the Deres’ attendance record was set, and the Amateur Cup Final moved to Wembley.  

That year Charlie had the proudest moment of his life, leading Bromley to a 1-0 win over Romford under the twin towers in front of a crowd of 95,000.  

He was offered professional terms by an Italian club – his family could not remember which – in a letter from Walter Winterbottom offering him a double-figure weekly wage (pounds, not lira!), but stayed with Bromley, and had another career peak when he captained the Great Britain team in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

The Deres had a rough start to 1952-53, and after only half a dozen games manager John Beby resigned.  His replacement caused a sensation: Charlie Fuller, still an England amateur international, came from Bromley as player-manager along with his brother Tommy, an occasional Deres player in the 40s.  

Charlie guided the team through a very difficult season – the one during which Park View and much of the town was flooded.  

The following season he spoke of bringing "the Continental style" to Park View, by which he meant "attack and defence moving forward together and at top speed".  

The innovation was only partially successful, as the Deres finished mid-table in the Corinthian League, and the season was a watershed for Charlie. 

In October 1953 he represented the Corinthian League in a friendly against a touring Trinidad side at Selhurst Park, but three months later he suffered torn ankle ligaments on a recently re-laid pitch at Hitchin, and on 24 April 1954 a twisted knee in a match against Grays spelt the end of his playing career a month short of his 35th birthday.

Now only the Deres' manager, Charlie had a modest return in 1954-55, and was involved in controversy when the club were docked two points for fielding an ineligible player - Jorgen Sorensen had played while registered with Epsom - but he managed the Corinthian League representative side to a 3-1 win, and the Deres lost to the eventual winners, Bishop Auckland, in an epic Amateur Cup tie 50 years ago next January. 

At the end of the season, at a function at which he was presented with his London FA cap (15 years late owing to a little local difficulty in 1940), he stated that he was "enjoying football with this club (E&B) more than any other as player or manager".  Six months later, after a poor start to 1955-56, he was replaced.

Charlie moved on to Slade Green FC, where for a while he worked alongside the upcoming boxer (and current Deres president) Larry O'Connell.  Subsequently he moved to Ryarsh, in north Kent, to become a publican at the Duke of Wellington.  There followed moves to Eastbourne, Crowborough and finally Sheppey, with Charlie organising sports teams everywhere he went, even giving "pep talks" to junior schools teams in Sheppey.

Charlie Harrison picked Charlie Fuller in his all-time Deres XI, calling him "a fearless great centre-half in the Stan Cullis mould".  He was renowned for his heading ability, reputedly able to head the ball half the length of the pitch, and a hapless Uxbridge forward was said to have been knocked out when hit by a Fuller headed clearance one day in 1952. 

His daughter Sandra has a cartoon from the Daily Express in which she, at the age of five, is saying "My dad's just kicked the ball with his head".  But as Alzheimer's set in during the last 18 months of his life, and stories emerged of the long-term effects on the likes of Jeff Astle of heading the football, the family began to wonder…

Sandra recalls her father running onto the pitch with a rare passion in his eyes and giving every game 100% commitment.  Few of us can recall his playing days, but I was lucky enough to meet him at the reunion in 1997, still a barrel-chested, immensely strong-looking man, and hear how he still felt the tingle seeing teams coming out at Wembley on Cup Final day as he had done in 1949. 

Thank you Charlie, one of the Deres' greats. 

Written by Brian Spurrell