Friday, 25 March 2011

‘Slasher’ Green

Part Two of an appreciation of a former Dulwich Hamlet inside forward. Scroll down the page for Part 1.
In the last issue of HH we brought you the first half of our piece on Leslie Green, who arrived at Champion Hill at the start of the 1946-47 season, advancing from fresh faced junior to seasoned senior in no time. Within three seasons Green was an Isthmian League champion with Dulwich Hamlet and still only a teenager. A few weeks after his twentieth birthday in June 1949 he completed his two years national conscription playing soldiers and square-bashing.

During his stint in the RAF the good-humoured youngster was the life and soul of the barracks, and known by all and sundry as ‘Slasher’ Green, or just plain ‘Slash’, after the cockney wide-boy character created by popular comedian Sid Field. The nickname was quite fitting, as out on the park he was used to slashing through opposing defences – lacerating like a two-edged sword.

One can easily imagine what life in the barracks was like with a company of young men. “There were fifteen beds on either side, and me in the middle by the fire.” he says. He could also spot a fellow athlete a mile away. One chap, he remembers, a Scotsman, claimed he played for Partick Thistle. Les propositioned him, “Take your trousers down and I’ll tell you if you have ever played football.” And before the Scotsman could say, “Hoots mon!” the troops had pulled off Johnny’s troosers. “You have never played football.” said Slash. “You’ve not got footballers thigh and calf muscles.”

Barefoot on the Park
An exceptional group of footballers arrived in East Dulwich in September 1949, to take on the Isthmian League champions. The Hamlet’s match against the Nigerian FA’s touring side (their thigh and calf muscles clearly on display) turned out to be one of the most memorable matches Green took part in. Indeed, it is without a doubt that many in the 18,000 crowd turned up for the sheer uniqueness of the occasion. It was still very uncommon to find one black man on an English football field, so to have a whole team of black men aroused much curiosity. Green wore his trusty shooting boots, but most of the Nigerian team played in bare feet; a couple wore bumpers and ankle straps. Dulwich won the match 1-0. This match has been covered in issue 3 of the HH.
Les Green takes on the Nigerian defence

Les and Don Chantry and the Nigerian players in 1949

Triumph at Highbury
In 1950 Dulwich won both county competitions they entered, the Surrey Cup and the London Cup. The London Senior Cup Final versus Hounslow Town took place at Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium on 6th May. Eddie Rengger of the Management Committee came into the dressing room before the game and emptied out a bag of brand new socks and shorts for the players. As each player made a grab for the new kit Rengger told them they would have to pay seven shillings and sixpence per item per man. The players could not afford to cough up fifteen bob each and one by one they put them back on the table. Instead, they stepped out onto the Highbury turf in their usual gear. One or two of the poorer ones wore black shorts, and the socks were a variety of blues that mums knitted for their sons. Les Green remarked that the club was always bigger than the player, but that incident was a sad reflection on the club.

The London Cup was always considered the most difficult trophy to win, and Dulwich were desperate for its return to Champion Hill. It had only been won twice before and after the 1950 triumph it has only been won twice since. The names of the players on the winning teams are inscribed on the side of the plinth of this handsome trophy. With Dulwich Hamlet’s recent success in 2004, current fans were able to view the names of the celebrated Hamlet team of 1949-50.

At the end of the Final everyone was praising Alec Freeman in goal. “Oi!” cried Les Green, the Hamlet’s two goal hero in the 3-1 victory, “I scored the goals. I won the game!”
“Did you not see the saves that Alec made?” replied a team-mate.
“No. I was at the other end of the pitch. I was too far away.”
Of course Green had seen the outstanding goalkeeping of the Hamlet custodian; he was just slightly irked that he had been upstaged by Freeman’s brave and lively display.

A Night to Remember

The joy of the team was mingled with some relief of having won the trophy that had been so elusive to Dulwich Hamlet. As for an ecstatic dressing room, forget it, that sort of thing was frowned upon. Over the top celebrations might have meant a player being brought before the Committee and asked to explain his behaviour!

However, later in the evening, in the Grove Tavern close to Champion Hill everyone was able to let their hair down and enjoy the post match celebrations. Players and officials and a number of supporters had returned there to continue the festivities. And for Les Green it was a date he would never forget. Amidst all the merriment he suddenly caught the eye of a very attractive young girl in the bar. It was love at first sight, and the star of the afternoon’s matinee had discovered his leading lady. Jean was beautiful and sixteen, Les was barely out of his teens. Thus began a romantic love story that resulted in their wedding four years later, and continued through a successful marriage and a happy family that lasted until Jean’s untimely death only twenty years later.

Seven days after the London Final, Dulwich defeated Kingstonian 5-2 at Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace in the Surrey Senior Cup Final. Green scored a spectacular header whilst Dave Davies and Tommy Jover shared the rest of the goals.

Goals A-Plenty
Les Green was proving to be one of the best strikers ever to don a Dulwich shirt. In the early 1950s he was the club’s top scorer on several occasions. His run of 21 goals in 33 games (1949-50) 23 goals in 42 games (1950-51) 18 goals in 33 games (1950-51) 31 goals in 40 games (1952-53) and 20 goals in 38 games (1953-54) is an astonishing feat by anyone’s standards.

The tally of 31 goals in 1952-53 was not exceeded by a Dulwich player until the 1974-75 season when John Baker (in his only season at DHFC after signing from Hendon) netted 32 times in 54 appearances. To mark this achievement Leslie Green (then in his mid-forties) was invited to Champion Hill to present Baker with a trophy. However, only a few seasons later, a new cult hero, Ossie Bayram went two better, scoring 33 times in 1977-78.

Green was in great demand and continued to pick up county honours for London and Surrey as well as being picked for the Civil Service and other representative sides, including Middlesex Wanderers and the Isthmian League.

Another memorable match was on an Easter tour of Cornwall in 1953, when the Hamlet beat St Blazey (an all Professional side) by 5 goals to 3. Green scored all five and could have had a double hat-trick but missed a penalty. He had talent in abundance, even off the pitch, and thought nothing of entertaining the party by singing on the club’s tours of Cornwall or the Channel Islands. He tells us that his style was based on stylish lounge singer Billy Daniels. With such a sure confidence in his own ability one gets the impression that he could have tried his hand at anything and made a success of it.

Not that Les would agree with that. He points to the 1954-55 season, for example, when the players elected him captain of the first team, and though he was a versatile player himself, he found he was playing everyone else’s game for them. The responsibility of the captain’s role, perhaps coupled with the comfort zone of his recent marriage to his lovely bride, is a very feasible cause of his goals drying up. For by a great contrast to previous campaigns he only managed to pick up a paltry 6 goals, and Dulwich finished one off the bottom. He now admits that he was probably the worst captain the club ever had, and was only too pleased when the season was over.

Marriage 1954
When Leslie and Jean finally tied the knot the Dulwich Hamlet Football Club wanted to give him seven guineas as a wedding present. So, as was the norm, the club wrote to the Football Association to see if it was acceptable. Everything at Dulwich had to be above board, and though shady dealings went on at virtually every other Isthmian League club, nothing underhand took place at Champion Hill. “The FA must have been fed up with Dulwich.” sighs Green. “Oh no, not them again!”

It would have been far better, Green feels, if Dulwich Hamlet had turned professional in the 1950s. “They may even have made a better job of it than Wimbledon two decades later. The ground was the biggest ground in the centre of London, all the facilities were there in place, but the Club would not remove from their amateur ideals. Instead, along came the dark days of the sixties and the rot set in.” He is not wrong there, and Dulwich Hamlet have never really recovered since those days. But to imply that the old Wimbledon FC failed in any way is perhaps a bit unfair on the Dons, who climbed the divisions to the top flight and beat Liverpool in a fairytale FA Cup Final in 1988.

One person Green has very fond memories of is the Hamlet supporter who was known as Bronco. Easily identified by his white cap and umbrella, Bronco had a booming voice that carried far, terrifying referees and goalkeepers alike. Dedicated to amateur sport and a brisk walker, he thought nothing of taking shank’s pony miles to watch a Sunday team in the parks, and could often be seen at Manor Place Baths in Walworth enjoying a bout of boxing. Bronco loved the company of sportsmen, and enjoyed mixing with them and talking about them. He knew the whereabouts of most amateur football players, but with pink and blue blood running in his veins, he preferred the Hamlet players, who remained loyal to the same club

One midweek afternoon Les Green was playing at Chiswick for the Civil Service XI against the RAF when he heard a familiar voice from the terraces. There in the stand amidst all sorts of marshals and officers was Bronco with his familiar white cap and umbrella. As the match progressed Bronco was engaged in several exchanges with Les. “What are you doing here Bronco?” said Les. “Well I was going to see Pat (Connett) in the FA eleven at Portsmouth.” he replied. “But the match was postponed, so I came here.” The other players were asking, “Who is that fellow?”

Les once introduced his parents to Bronco at a representative match. By a happy coincidence they returned to London in the same railway carriage as the Hamlet’s most celebrated fan. When they met up with their son later that day, they said that they had never met a more loyal chap (to Dulwich Hamlet and to amateur football in general) than Bronco. Les Green last saw him many years ago at New Cross. They hadn’t seen each other for ages. He stopped his car, got out and ran across the road to speak to him. After a brief chat, Les put his hand in his pocket and gave Bronco a tenner. “Have a drink on me.” he said. And with a hearty thanks he was briskly on his way, to watch another match –“Peckham Police versus Belvedere Traders!”

Father’s Pride
Leslie Green’s father, William, had actually been a Dulwich Hamlet follower himself when a young lad. His home was just round the back of King’s College Hospital, so Dulwich Hamlet was on the doorstep. Yet despite father and son enjoying a healthy relationship it doesn’t appear that they ever went to a match at Champion Hill together. Then at the tender age of ten war broke out and Les and his mother Bet, were temporarily separated from father as he was called up to fight for his country. All over Europe family bonds would be broken for the next six years, and this meant William missed out on many of his only child’s formative years. So when William arrived back home at the end of hostilities, he was surprised to discover that young Leslie had turned into rather an outstanding young footballer.

As is probably true with all parents, Leslie’s doting father received more satisfaction from his son’s success than the boy himself. It was proud dad who kept all the news clippings and the football programmes that filled up the scrapbooks. He was thrilled to bits when Les was offered a trial at Dulwich Hamlet and began the journey to become one of the club’s leading post-war goalscorers. Yet he only ever told his boy once or twice, “You played well today, son.”

William Green died in April 1953, whilst Les was courting Jean. Mr Green was quite a bit of a smoker, and always kept a stockpile of 50 cigarettes in a tin in the front room. He worked as a postman in the Mount Pleasant sorting office, and on the day of his death was seen gasping for breath on the Embankment on the way home from work. On arrival at his Camberwell home dad failed to mention to his family his fragile condition and how terrible he was feeling. He then got the tram to Dog Kennel Hill and watched Dulwich entertain Barking, whilst Bet went to confession at the local catholic church. When she returned later in the evening she found her husband’s lifeless body slumped in the armchair.

The death of his father effected Leslie in a strange way, and in reaction to this major shock his body broke out in a rash of boils. Les still visits the grave a couple of times a year, a pilgrimage he has been making for over fifty years. Passers by must find him most odd, seemingly talking to himself at the graveside, but he says he likes to relay to his father the current events in football. This is Leslie’s way of keeping his deceased father’s memory alive. His mother’s remains are buried nearby, Jean’s body in the same plot as dad.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier,…

Les, meanwhile continued in his day job working for the Ministry of Defence. He remained with the MoD until his retirement, and was based in many exotic locations like Malta and Cyprus.

Even back in the 1950s, amateur players came from all walks of life. One Hamlet side from 1953 consisted of an electrician, a travel agency rep., a haulage contractor, 2 men on national service (one in the RAF the other in the Army) a civil servant, an advertising rep., a salesman, a shipping rep., and a surveyor. There is an oft-repeated story of a game at Champion Hill that Les Green played in, which highlighted the variety of professions in the amateur game. Following an injury to one of the team, trainer Ernie Toser came onto the pitch with his magic sponge and all the players were milling around waiting for the man to be treated and the game to restart. Dulwich striker Doctor Norman Tate came over to check the extent of the injury, followed by Baptist minister and left back, the Reverend Ron Cowley. And as the assemblage was bending over the player, some wag in the crowd yelled out, “All you need now is an undertaker, and you’ve got the lot!”

Great Cup Ties

“The standard of football in the 1950s was very good and amateur players were as good as professionals.” Les says. “The England side that lost 6-3 at Wembley to the Hungarian team in 1953 included George Robb. Robb was a Finchley player who had recently turned professional quite late in his career. Another one, Derek Saunders of Walthamstow Avenue walked into the Chelsea side and became captain.”

As one of the Hamlet’s leading marksmen, Green was a partaker in some wonderful cup runs the Hamlet team enjoyed. In December 1951, Dulwich travelled to Moor Green of Birmingham, and unexpectedly defeated the strongest amateur team in the midlands. “The Moor Green versus Dulwich Hamlet Amateur Cup-tie in Birmingham was advertised beforehand as a better match to go and see than the one being played at Aston Villa!” Les remembers. Then another trip even further north saw Evenwood Town of Durham, dispatched in a similar way. But in the third round Green and fellow striker Pat Connett were both sidelined with injuries, and their goals were sorely missed as Dulwich lost 4-2 at Leyton.

Just a few years later in the 1955 -56 season, another brilliant run in the Cup saw Dulwich through to the semi final at Stamford Bridge with the Corinthian Casuals. The route to the last four took in long trips to Sheffield and the North East. But even if Dulwich had beaten their old rivals it would have been a tall order to overcome the mighty Bishop Auckland in the Wembley final.

Ted Drake, Chelsea’s successful manager of the 1950s, and the only Blues manager in history to win the championship (so far!), was once a guest in a major cup-tie that Dulwich played. Indeed, he was very impressed with what he saw and made enquiries about a couple of the lads. Unbeknownst to Leslie Green and his team-mates, Drake remarked with all seriousness to one of the Hamlet committee men, “I’ll take young Green and George Pearce”. As usual, and much to his chagrin, Green didn’t get to hear about the bid until after the event. It was a shame, it would have united Green with his childhood hero. When he was a child Leslie Green had idolised Ted Drake, one of the most popular players of the era. As an eight year old boy he modelled himself on the Arsenal star, calling himself ‘Drake’ and parting his hair in the middle just like his hero! And you thought kids copying footballers hairstyles was a new thing.

Loath to Leave

Leslie Green was Dulwich Hamlet through and through, having been at the club for over a decade, but somehow he had lost favour with the selection committee. If he wasn’t being moved about in an unsettled forward line, he was having spells in the second string. At only twenty eight years old, an age when many players are at their peak, he suddenly found himself in a bit of a quandary, and felt that his talents would be more appreciated elsewhere.

His confidence in tatters, he left Dulwich in November 1957 under a bit of a cloud, and joined near neighbours Bromley FC. Within weeks he realised that he had made a big mistake. Following Bromley, he turned out for Redhill. He wrote to Eddie Regger at Dulwich Hamlet asking for a return. The two men didn’t always see eye to eye, and it was no surprise when the club wrote back, saying his services were not required. He humbly wrote once more. Again they said, “No.” But this time they sent fellow clubman Tommy Jover round to break the news a little gently.

He did eventually return to Dulwich, but he was usually selected in the A side, or the reserves, and made only a handful of further appearances in the first team. It was a sad end, but all told, Green played about 350 games in Dulwich colours and scored around 150 goals, a record to be proud of.

Our Man in Tonbridge
Leslie Green still attends Champion Hill a couple of times a season, travelling up from leafy Tonbridge to enjoy some great banter with his old team-mates. He is a very likeable chap, and it is easy to see how he was so popular with players and fans fifty years ago. Dulwich Hamlet could do with his kind once again. We could certainly do with his goals and commitment, which the club have sadly lacked in recent times.

We are very grateful to him for taking time to talk to us, not only about his career on the football field, but also some of the more personal details of his life and his hush hush work at the Ministry of Defence. And Les, we promise we won’t tell them about …[. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ]

Original article from HH13. Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2005

I wrote the following obituary soon after Les Green's death.

Leslie Green
12 June 1929 – 22 March 2006

It was with much sadness that I learned of the death of former Hamlet striker Leslie Green. I spoke to him on the telephone at Christmas and was somewhat shocked to find out he was terminally ill with cancer. He told me that he probably only had a couple of months left. Yet, despite the knowledge of his plight he was in good spirits. I think we guessed the end was coming when he made his final visit to Champion Hill a few weeks later. It was sad for us to see him so frail.

What a wonderful character Les was: greatly admired amongst his many friends and associates at Dulwich Hamlet, where he was always the life and soul when meeting up with his old footballing buddies and some of our elderly supporters. In his heyday Les brought great entertainment to thousands week in and week out.

Although I had been in contact with Les for about ten years, I only actually met him in the flesh a few years ago. But on the handful of occasions I was in his presence I felt privileged to be in such company. I always sensed that he was genuinely pleased to see me. Me! He hardly knew me from Adam but he always had a hearty handshake and sought to introduce me to one or two of his old mates from the forties or the fifties. He was a joy to be with, and he could talk for England – and that’s a compliment.

It was a pleasure to arrange for a replica Dulwich shirt for him from TOFFS. He specifically asked for his name and number to be put on the back, but I think I messed up on the size. He later joked about wearing it as a nightshirt because of his diminutive frame inside the baggy cloth.

You may remember we did a two part biographical piece on him for the Hamlet Historian. I wasn’t sure if he would like what I’d written so I sent him a copy. He proof-read the thing and then waited for my call a couple of days later. I was greeted with the wry “What kept you, Jack?” Anyway, he had found about fifteen typos and he certainly wasn’t happy that I described him as one of the Hamlet’s great footballers. “Change that please, to one of the Hamlet’s past players.” I was very impressed with a good mixture of pride in what he achieved and a real modesty.

He loaned me some photographs of the famous visit of the Nigerians to Dulwich in the 40s. I called him to say the pictures arrived safely. As usual we spent half an hour in conversation on the phone. Within minutes of putting the receiver down he called me back. I could not use the photographs after all – “They are crown copyright!” This caught me on the hop. Was he joking? Yes, thankfully.

His last few weeks were spent in a hospice where he received the best of care. It was here that he wrote a mini autobiography which was turned into a glossy laminated booklet of twelve or so pages containing colour pictures of his caps and medals, some family photos and a couple of Hamlet team pictures.

Apparently, towards the end Les was only being kept alive by stress. He would have ‘slipped away’ some days earlier but his thoughts were only towards those he was leaving behind; concerned that his loved ones knew how to operate the oven in his home, and which day to put the bins out and so on. When doctors gave him some medicine to relieve this anxiety he passed away within a day or so.

The funeral took place on Thursday 6th April 2006 at the crematorium in Tunbridge Wells. It was a terrific send off. A number of Dulwich Hamlet officials and supporters turned up, and many of his surviving team-mates from the forties and fifties including Dennis Joyce, Cyril Nash, Claude Whitworth, John Everitt, Pat Goddard, Alan Tolsten, Ron Eastland, Harry Gornall and Tommy Jover. Another gentleman, Norman Griffiths, a former St Albans City player and colleague of Les’s from his Civil Service days also came to pay his respects.

Before the Committal the minister expertly summed up Les’s life – as a tale that is told. Club President Tommy Jover added a further tribute and the music of Perry Como’s ‘It’s Impossible’ (alluded to earlier in the service) was played. One of Les’s final wishes was that his Dulwich Hamlet TOFFS shirt with the number 8 and ‘GREEN’ on the back, should be placed alongside his body in the coffin; a request that the family faithfully carried out.

Family and friends then reconvened to the nearby Abergavenny Arms, where talk continued of the sad loss of our dear friend, and some familiar stories were aired of this fine character who once graced the pink and blue.

I will miss him.

1 comment:

  1. From Roy Forey (Washington DC, USA)

    I worked with Les at the Ministry Of Defence in the late seventies. We were both Executive Officers responsible for interviewing, selecting, and managing clerks and secretarial staff overseas. We were picked for the job because of our prior experience of serving abroad. Les and I quickly developed a rapport. We both loved football and horse racing. Les used to mimic the celebrations of the pro footballers when they scored kneeling down while making the sign of the cross. He used to talk about how prim and proper the Hamlet were but he loved the club from the bottom of his heart.

    I loved listening to Frank Sinatra but Les waxed on about the Velvet Fog (Vic Damone). He loved his daily bet on the horse racing . He said he had told his daughter to check his pockets if he died in case there was an unclaimed ticket that had money on it. "Don`t want those bookies getting even 5p"

    I have a few programmes featuring Les and cherish them . I never saw him play but have read a lot about him. His record shows what a wonderful player he was. It was a joy to go to work because Les was so upbeat and fun to be with.

    Reading your piece brought his personality back, bouncing of the text.
    I will never forget the man. God Bless you Les and up the Hamlet!