Legend of Sussex football Gary Charman: I'm touched so many turned out for me

Non-league legend Gary Charman said it was ‘very touching’ that so many fans and players turned out for his final ever match.

After a 24-year playing career, the winger-turned-defender’s testimonial at The Camping World Community Stadium saw plenty of familiar faces gather for a thrilling 7-7 draw and an emotional evening afterwards. See our pictures and video from the game here.

Around 600 fans and 40 players were present for the day, with those both young and old celebrating Charman’s record-breaking career at Horsham and elsewhere in Sussex. “I think that’s the biggest thing – how many people turned out, in a way, for me”, said Charman.

“The people who were on the playing side – some people travelled down from Portsmouth, Havant and Waterlooville, North London. People made a hell of an effort to get there. Exactly the same with the supporters. Obviously, there were a lot of Bognor fans who travelled all the way down, and supporters who can’t get down to every league game for Horsham who made their way down from all over the place.

There was an impressive turnout of Horsham and Bognor players for the match / Picture: Steve Robards

“To have that many people turn up and say goodbye to me was quite touching”, he added.

The game itself saw an absolute blitz of goals, with the Horsham XI leading 4-2 by half-time courtesy of a Shamir Fenelon brace and goals from Will Miles and Jamie Taylor. Tony Nwachukwu added two of his own after the break to make it 6-2, before a stunning Bognor Regis Town XI comeback saw them take a 7-6 lead. Once Charman was denied from a one-on-one by Jack Wyatt, a penalty awarded to Horsham a few minutes later meant only one thing.

“When the penalty came along, you got so many players shouting out to the goalkeeper ‘oh, I’ll give you 50 quid if you save it!!" Charman said. “It was the only penalty I’ve ever taken in my career. So, it was a new thing for me. There was 600 people there to see me. If I blazed it over the top or missed the target or something I don’t think I ever would have heard the end of it and that would’ve been my legacy.”

Fortunately, Charman did of course convert, delighting all the players and fans present. So, who stood out to the Hornets’ record appearance-maker from those on show? “Obviously, half of them still play. And not just still play, play at a very good level”, Charman said.

Smile please! The Charman clan / Picture: Steve Robards

“People like Ollie Pearce, Jimmy Muitt, they’re still in their prime. So, obviously they looked a little bit sharper than most. The more impressive ones were people like James Bird and Jahmahl King. Birdy ain’t kicked a ball for six or seven years, so for him to go and play 45 minutes was quite impressive.

“I could carry on. Nigel Brake, he hasn’t played for a long, long time, and he played 45 minutes. There were some great goals and some great entertainment for the crowd. 7-7, it beats a 0-0, doesn’t it?”, Charman added.

While the game was an opportunity for members of several successful squads to reunite, it also afforded the chance for some emotional reflections on a career that, for Charman started as a fresh-faced teenager back in 1998.

A touching video charting the rise of ‘Gazza’ went out across Horsham club media before the game. “It was amazing. [It was made by] a guy called George Malsbury. He’s got his own business and he does a bit of everything – photography, filming, editing. He does a bit of everything. He’s absolutely brilliant at it'" Charman said.

“We spoke probably about six to eight months ago and he said he’d like to do something with us. I knew I was retiring maybe at the end of the season, or just before as I did. And Horsham had already offered me the testimonial, so we linked it all together. I would like to give a big shout out to George, because what a lovely thing to be able to have for the rest of my life.”

The memories didn’t end there, as a ceremony after the match allowed Charman to reflect on what retirement means for him. “Even like an hour and a half, two hours after the game, there was still about 150 people in the clubhouse. So many people hung around afterwards, which again was brilliant," he said.

“They made me do a little speech that I got a little bit emotional about. But it was a very touching day and when you look up and you see all these faces that you recognise, I just kept thinking to myself, all these people are here because of me. That’s a hell of a nice thought.”

And what’s next for ‘Gaz? “For 25 years, I have done Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Not just that. It’s the Monday, Wednesday and Friday as well, because you have to prep for the days you are playing and training," Charman said. “So, to go from sort of six days a week, I need a rest. I need to concentrate on my family, obviously my partner and just recharge my batteries a little bit and just enjoy life.”

“I’ll be going down and watching several teams next year and catching up with players I’ve played with and people in the stands. I’ll certainly be down to support Horsham. I will become a semi-Lardy Boy, let’s say.”

Lastly, Charman wanted to thank the committee that organised his testimonial, before signing off from playing with a message of positivity. “To say I’ll not miss it would be wrong, because I’m going to miss it so much.. But, it’s time for me to get into different things and for Sussex football hopefully to keep progressing like it is, because it’s in a good place right now.”