December 12 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
He scored 45 league goals for Arsenal and rivalled the great Sir Stanley Matthews for a place in the England football team.
Yet few people know that Alf Kirchen, who played for the Gunners between 1935 and 1943, was in fact born and bred in the little village of Shouldham, near Downham Market.
The winger, born Alfred John Kirchen in the west Norfolk village on August 26 1913, started out by playing for none other than Shouldham FC before progressing onto Norwich City.
Eventually he transferred to Arsenal in what was one of the star signings of the time, attracting a hefty transfer fee of £6,000, and going on to be one of the club’s most prolific goalscorers.
Now residents in his birthplace are marking what would have been his 100th birthday with a fun jog and walk in his memory as part of a weekend of celebrations which will also see the launch of campaign to buy a village pub for the good of the community.
Phil Harriss, secretary of the Save Our King’s Arms (SOKA) campaign, which is organising the weekend of activities, said: “We wanted to mark the anniversary in some way because he is probably the most famous person Shouldham has ever produced.”
As a result, SOKA contacted the Norfolk Arsenal Supporters’ Club, which Mr Kirchen used to be president of, to see if it could send representatives to mark the occasion.
A fun jog and walk starting on Shouldham Playing Field will take place in Mr Kirchen’s honour on Sunday, with a 5km walk starting at 10.30am and an 8km jog setting off at 11am.
After signing at Highbury on March 1 1935, Mr Kirchen immediately endeared himself to his new side by scoring in Arsenal’s 6-0 win over fierce north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. That means that he participated in the Gunners’ biggest ever win against their rivals in the club’s history.
He went on to be one of the team’s most prolific scorers, netting 22 goals in just 32 starts in the 1936/37 season, including a hat-trick against Grimsby. The following year he was part of the Arsenal side that won the league title.
The Second World War interrupted his glowing career, as he went to serve in the Royal Air Force – but he still played for Arsenal in wartime football and continued his phenomenal scoring rate, bagging 80 goals in 113 appearances.
Mr Kirchen was also given the honour of playing for his country, winning three caps for England and scoring twice.
He would have played more games for the national side but, unfortunately for him, another player occupied his winger position.
That person was none other than Sir Stanley Matthews, who is considered one of the greatest players to have ever walked out on the football pitch.
Arsenal said that he could have gone on to be one of its best goalscoring wingers had it not been for a severe knee injury he sustained that finished his career.
However it was not quite the end of Mr Kirchen’s sporting career – he went on to represent England at clay pigeon shooting.
He died in August 1999, just a week short of his 86th birthday.
Mr Harriss added that Shouldham FC, which has youth teams from under 7s to under 13s, was “quite proud” that they had a former top footballer as a former player.
“The football team is now really thriving and he was once a member of that team,” Mr Harriss said. “There are still a few older residents who remember him.”
Entry to Sunday’s jog and run costs £5 for walkers, £7 for joggers and £10 for families. Proceeds from the event will go towards the SOKA campaign.