By Tony Attwood
Charlie Williams was born in November 1873 and died in South America in 1952. He played in goal in Woolwich Arsenal’s first ever league match, at the age of 19.
Prior to joining Royal Arsenal in 1891 he played for Phoenix, Clarence, and Erith. Quite which Phoenix FC Charlie played for is not clear – Wikipedia rather oddly seems to suggest it was a club in Ireland, but there is no reason to believe this is so. There are lots of Phoenix clubs around, and there always has been, and I can’t find one that was operational in the 1870s and which had Charlie on the books as a 16 year old.
With Erith however we can be a little more clear. Erith were one of the teams that applied to join the Southern League that Woolwich Arsenal proposed before gaining admission to the Football League – although they were not successful applicants. What’s more the first official fixture that Royal Arsenal played was against Erith played at Plumstead Common in 1887. Arsenal won 6-1.
Charlie joined Royal Arsenal in 1891, and had impressed enough in the pre-league season to become the goalkeeper in the first ever league game that Woolwich Arsenal played.
He played the first six games in goal for Woolwich Arsenal, but in the last three of these had a very bad run letting in six, four and five goals consecutively in three defeats against Newcastle, Small Heath and Liverpool. At that point he was dropped. Overall, including the pre-league period he made 23 appearances.
He made two comebacks, once for three games in December, and then again for the last nine games of the season, making 19 league appearances in all. He also played in three FA Cup games.
Arsenal then signed Harry Storer at the end of the season and sold Williams to Manchester City where he stayed as a regular for eight seasons. He also scored the first recorded goal by a goalkeeper, scoring direct from a goal-kick on April 14th 1900 when playing for Manchester City against Sunderland (for whom J.E. Doig was in goal.)
He later played for Tottenham H, Norwich C and Brentford before going on to coach the Danish national team in the 1908 Olympics, Danish club B93, Lille in France, and ultimately Fluminese, and later Corinthians, in Brazil. So he turns out to be another of those amazing people who played for Arsenal in the midst of a quite extraordinary life.
But the story doesn’t end there, because the family of Charlie stayed in Brazil and the great-great nephew of Charlie signed for the Brazilian team Sorisso EC.
This was Seth Burkett, who was born in April 1991, who plays left back, and who is reputed to be the only English national who plays in Brazil.
Seth Burkett was born in Cambridgeshire, played for Peterborough, and was offered a contract by Conference team Kettering Town (which, on a note of utter irrelevance, I might add, plays five miles from where I live, and whom I still go to watch occasionally when Arsenal haven’t got a game).
Seth seems to have spent a bit of time with the non-league clubs of the Northants, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire area (the three counties meet just near the town of Stamford on the A1). But then in 2009 while on a tour of Brazil he was spotted by a local agent, and signed to play with a local club.