Unstoppable Rusper Rangers and footballers’ wives of 1976

Rusper Rangers under 12s in 1976
Rusper Rangers under 12s in 1976

The 1970s saw some truly amazing players blaze a trail through the footballing world.

Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and Ray Clemence were the names on every fan’s lips as Liverpool dominated Division One.

Some of the Crawley Town WASHs  wives and sweethearts  of 1976

Some of the Crawley Town WASHs wives and sweethearts of 1976

If you were a youngsters in Crawley and fancied emulating that success, you needed to join the Rusper Rangers under-12s or the Northgate Dynamos otherwise you were onto a hiding to nothing every week.

Rusper Rangers were featured in the Observer in March 1976. They played in the Allaway section of the Crawley Playleaders’ League and had won the title two years in a row, thumping more than 400 goals past a string of hapless keepers.

The team was managed by Ron Chandler who said: “We just cut defences open – they don’t exist for us.”

There definitely seemed to be something of the Sir Alex Fergusons about Ron – he knew his lads were good and wasn’t afraid to say so.

In 44 games, his team lost only one game – to Northgate Dynamos – and drew two.

One of the draws was something of a disaster – Rangers threw away a 5-1 half-time lead to draw 6-6 with Tilgate Wolves.

If Ron had indeed been Sir Alex, the famous ‘hairdryer treatment’ would no doubt have made an appearance – though it’s difficult to bawl out a bunch of children who would either burst into tears, run away or go home and tell their dads. Fergie never had that problem!

Among the high-scoring team was 10-year-old striker Gary Chandler who scored 31 goals in 10 games, captain Ian Waller, and goal-scorer Jonathan Bevan who hit the net 107 times.

They were backed up by Ian Batchelor, who had 26 goals, David McDowell, with 16, and Gavin Halliday, with 15.

“There are no slackers here,” said Mr Chandler. “All the boys are prepared to work for each other.”

The club also had a team in the Robert May section of the league. They were managed by former Highland League player Peter Henderson, who was big on discipline and had no time for “truculent big heads”.

He said: “I have always insisted on discipline – no swearing or talking back at referees. And if you are firm but fair, the boys will go along with you. At Rangers we play the game hard but give and take knocks with good spirit.”

Some of the talented boys playing in the Robert May section were: Billy Chase, who scored 76 goals in 18 matches, Barry Hunt, who was regarded as one of the best defenders in the Crawley League, goalkeeper Mark Killick, Andy Gee, Jim Clarke, Mark O’Brien, Russell Keeley, Mark Lancaster and Mark Watt.

The youngest team member was Stephen Henderson, while Simon Lovell had a knack for penalties. It’s just a shame he never played for England.

The squad was completed with stand-in goalie and midfielder Ricky Wright and Mark Manson, who could teach many a player a thing or two about keepie uppie.

As we head into the World Cup, much will no doubt be said about the WAGs – the wives and girlfriends of the players.

At Crawley Town in 1976, they were called WASHs – wives and sweet hearts?

Come torrential rain, freezing cold or blazing sunshine they were there – no doubt bellowing at the referee when he demonstrated his need for spectacles.

The picture was captioned: “Crawley Town’s soccer wives and sweethearts, Jan Maggs, Linda Donoghue, Julie Bailey, Enid Finer, Maureen Elsey, Audrey Turnbull and Jean Easton link up with manager Dave Haining in their match of the day.”