How Melford are United with Premier League Newcastle

GLORY DAYS: Arthur Kemp has fond memories of wearing Newcastle United's famous kit while playing for Long  Melford
GLORY DAYS: Arthur Kemp has fond memories of wearing Newcastle United's famous kit while playing for Long Melford

They may be separated by 270 miles and nine leagues on the football ladder, but Free Press reporter Elliot Pinkham retells the link between Long Melford and Newcastle United.

Some of football’s greatest talents have turned out in the iconic black and white striped kit of Newcastle United.

From recent heroes like Alan Shearer to 1970s icon Malcolm Macdonald and goalscoring idol Jackie Milburn; the Toon Army’s shirt has attracted more than its fair share of big names.

But even the most devoted Magpies fan would scratch their head in bemusement at the name ‘Arthur Kemp’.

“I started playing for Long Melford Reserves when I was 16,” said the now 80-year-old Kemp, who lives in Newmans Cottages, Cavendish, and is the brother of current Long Melford FC president Richard Kemp. “I went into national service at 20 for two years and played football for my regiment against an England XI that included Welsh international Melvin Charles, brother of John, and Duncan Edwards from Manchester United.”

He came back to Long Melford, where he grew up, after finishing his national service and broke into the first team a year later in 1956, when his bizarre connection with Newcastle United occurred.

“Long Melford have always been called the Villagers or the Magpies, like Newcastle, and of course they both wear black and white stripes,” said Kemp, who has three children, Sarah, Adrian and Alicia, with his wife Shirley and three grandchildren.

“Jim Aspey, who worked as an insurance agent, was chairman at Long Melford and he used to attract quite a lot of the playing staff. I think the connection was between Jim and the Hall family who were involved at Newcastle.”

In 1950, six years before Kemp made his debut, Aspey, who was also a parish councillor and well-known in Long Melford, had managed to secure a deal where Newcastle would send a set of second-hand first-team shirts to Long Melford every two years to use as their own kit.

“They used to send them automatically,” said Kemp. “We had four sets of shirts over eight seasons.”

By his own admission, Kemp was not the most talented footballer in the side, but his fitness, honed through running five miles a day, allowed him to perform capably in several roles during his two first-team seasons in the last years of the agreement.

“I played in shirts worn by Joe Harvey, the half-back, Ted Robledo, the left back, and Jackie Milburn, the great centre forward,” he said. “It added a bit of glamour to Long Melord.

“The shirts were cotton and when they got wet they used to weigh a hell of a lot.”

In total, Kemp estimates he played around 36 matches in the Newcastle United shirts, including six in the shirt worn by Milburn, scorer of 200 goals for the Toon Army and an impressive 10 goals in just 13 games for England.

The shirts attracted extra attention from some eagle-eyed fans, even if the performances may not have always lived up to their former owners.

“I played a cup game at the Courtaulds Sports Ground in Bocking against Bury St Edmunds and there was a Bury fan who was a Geordie,” said Mr Kemp, who lived in Great Yeldham before moving back to Cavendish 26 years ago.

“He saw we were wearing the Newcastle strip and asked us for an autograph, just because of the shirts.

“After I got back from my honeymoon in 1958 I played centre forward against Stowmarket. It was 0-0, the ball came in and instead of kicking it, I made contact with the goalkeeper and headed it, which he saved. I could’ve won the game wearing Milburn’s shirt – it wasn’t quite the same outcome as when he wore it.”

The agreement between the two clubs finished that season after Aspey, who died several years ago, moved on from Long Melford.

“It would have been a lovely link to maintain,” said Kemp.

He continued playing during his career as a building inspector and spent a decade representing the national and local Government Officers team before retiring aged 43.

While he may have never played for his country or been adored by thousands of screaming fans, Kemp is proud to say he rubbed shoulders with ‘Wor Jackie’, or at least his kit.