Eric & Dave, the story of ex-Brighton men Gill and Hollins

The ability to use your feet and be the first playmaker when your team is building from behind would have floored him.

His great friend and fellow ex-Albion goalkeeper Dave Hollins isn’t as enthusiastic about the game we’re watching now.

Some of the things he sees from goalkeepers drive him insane.

It’s one of the few things they don’t have in common.

Both born into poverty in the 1930s, both were considered the best goalkeepers in the country in their time.

They struggled to become Albion’s No. 1 in the 1950s.

And they remain good friends and even teammates — in the world of bowls.

Gill at the age of 91 and Hollins at the age of 84.

Freelance writer Spencer Vignes, an Albion supporter, has written many highly readable articles about former players over the years.

Anyone who reads the Seagulls program will be familiar with his work.

He has done individual pieces for both Gil and Hollins.

But there was so much to do, such a special story, that a book was born – Eric And Dave (Pitch Publishing, £18.99).

As the blurb says, it’s a trip back to the days when footballers made £20 a week and goalkeepers wore lace-up gloves.

It’s football nostalgia. The book feels and looks dated when you pick it up.

But in a good, reassuring, golden way.

The two main characters recall dodging Hitler’s bombs as children before championing several top clubs including Charlton Athletic, Albion and Newcastle United (and in the case of Hollins, Wales).

The list of players they faced included Stanley Matthews, George Best, Pele, Garrincha, Jimmy Greaves, Tom Finney, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and their nemesis – Brian Clough.

They now live just down the coast road from each other – in Ovingdean and Peacehaven.

Hollins has moved back south after his career took him as far as Newcastle.

Spencer said: “Eric is such a character. He’s a North London boy, that Camden accent is still there.

“But he’s lived in Sussex since the 1950s.

“He says he would have liked to have been a goalkeeper in the modern age, where you can do a little bit more.

“Have a little bit more about yourself and pass the ball a little bit more and don’t just let yourself rattle.

“He says he’d much rather play football today, while Dave says he’d like to throw his shoes at the TV someday.

“Goalkeepers come for crosses and just hit them!”

It was a long through ball from Gill that sent Albion to their first win of their first season in promotion.

He saw Peter Harburn run away and the subsequent finish at Gillingham got the ball rolling in 1957/58 as the club finally escaped the Three South Division.

Spencer said: “He was a very accurate kicker which is why he thinks he could have done better during that time.

“I think he would too.

“He didn’t just lump it, it was a pass.”

It wasn’t until he transcribed his interview with Gill that Spencer really realized the fact that he had said he and Hollins were still friends.

The idea for a book came about despite the fact that interviews had to be conducted mostly remotely as a precaution against Covid.

Spencer said: “Despite the fact that they were rivals at the time, they had become good friends and still are to this day.

“David spent most of the two years at Eric and his wife’s guest house.

“It just struck me as really remarkable.

“So many footballers are all buddies when they are at a club and often they stop speaking to each other once they move away.

“I’ve never encountered such a genuine friendship in sport.”

And so he set about scouring their memory banks for memories of those golden days with Albion and elsewhere.

It turned out to be a rich seam.

Spencer said: “What really struck me was how good her memories were.

“I was expecting when I checked something it might be a little off.

“But they were spot on. Her attention to detail was amazing.

“There was the odd little thing, but about 97% of it was right.”

Hollins was Gill’s understudy at the Goldstone when he set a record 247 consecutive Football League appearances.

He equaled Ted Ditchburn’s total for Tottenham in a 2-0 win over Walsall in 1958.

Then came a twist that gave Hollins his big chance when Gill, who had already been congratulated on his new overall record by Ditchburn himself, fell ill before the landmark game.

Eric And Dave reflects on both sides of this episode.

Perhaps the irony is that the two men are generally in good health (apart from some self-inflicted nostril damage).

And that, although it used to be target practice for battering ram center forwards.

The problem of dementia in old players will be examined in a later chapter.

Of course, there have often been competitors for a place in a team who also got along well off the pitch.

If “rival” is even the right word.

Perhaps Bruno and Inigo Calderon were right when they were Albion’s right-backs not too many years ago.

I forgot who said it, but both thought it.

“I have no rivals on my own team.”

After all these years, maybe Eric and Dave would feel the same way.

The Eric & Dave launch is next Sunday 2nd October at Denton Island Bowls Club, Newhaven from 2pm. It was moved from this weekend. Eric & Dave, the story of ex-Brighton men Gill and Hollins

Fry Electronics Team

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