Over the course of football history a pattern emerges of certain clubs selling players to the same teams and, in spite of the geographical distance, Newcastle United have had a long record of transferring players to Brighton. Not too many have gone in the other direction, although striker Ray Clarke was one.
In more recent times, Kazenga LuaLua made the long journey south but for this blog I am going to focus on Kit Napier, a forward who moved from the Magpies in 1966 and who was playing up front alongside Alex Dawson when I first started watching the Albion.
It seems extraordinary to say it but Kit will be 73 next month (26 September to be precise).
Born in Dunblane, the promise he showed as a schoolboy prompted his headmaster to put his name around as a future footballing talent and he left Scotland to join Blackpool (then playing in the top tier) as a junior before turning professional in 1960. But he only played twice for the Tangerines before moving on to Second Division Preston in 1963-64. Things didn’t work out there either, though, and he dropped down a further division to Workington, where it all started to click.
Workington were newly-promoted to the Third Division and Napier was on the scoresheet during what has been described as the club’s proudest night, a 5-1 win in a Football League Cup 3rd round replay against First Division Blackburn Rovers on 22 October 1964.
In a team managed by Ken Furphy, who later enjoyed success as manager of Watford, one of Napier’s teammates was Keith Burkinshaw, who several years later would become manager of Tottenham Hotspur.
Napier scored 25 goals in 58 games for the Cumbrian side which attracted the attention of the Geordie giants at St James’ Park. They paid £18,000 for him in November 1965.
Chances were few and far between, though, and he made only nine first team appearances for Newcastle without scoring. Early the following season, Brighton – bottom of the league table at the time – paid £9,000 to bring him south and he made an instant impression, scoring twice on his debut in a 5-2 win over Peterborough.
It was the perfect start to what was to be the most successful period of his career.
He was top goalscorer in five of his six seasons with the club and, by the time he left, he’d netted 99 goals in just short of 300 appearances, including 19 in the 1971-72 promotion-winning side.
The superb The Goldstone Wrap blog did an extended piece on Kit three years ago and their intro perfectly summarised him:
“Kit Napier is rightly considered an Albion legend. He was a ball-playing attacker, skilful with both feet, and with tremendous talent for goalscoring. At the Goldstone, Napier’s class and quick-witted play endeared him to the crowds.”
Aside from the goals, three things about him stand out in my memory. Kit had an amazing talent for scoring direct from corners. I couldn’t tell you exactly how many he scored like that but I distinctly recall him being able to bend the ball in directly, which seemed quite some skill.
There was also the occasion when Napier was shaping to take a penalty against Preston in front of the South Stand and another signing from Newcastle, Alan Duffy, promptly stepped forward, pushed his teammate out of the way and took the penalty himself – and missed!
The third recollection concerns a home game against Wrexham when Napier had been having a bit of an off day and the crowd were getting on his back. Eventually manager Pat Saward subbed him off and, as he trudged towards the tunnel, rather than the polite applause that tends to accompany today’s substitutions there were lots of ironic cheers to greet his withdrawal. Napier responded by waving a two-fingered salute to all corners of the ground! I’m pretty sure nothing came of it although, of course, in this day and age he’d no doubt have been hauled before the powers that be.
With Albion promoted, Saward knew he needed to strengthen the side and he clearly didn’t think Napier was up to playing at the higher level and put him on the transfer list.
Although he made a handful of starts in the 1972-73 Second Division campaign, by the end of August he’d been sold to Blackburn Rovers (who were in the Third Division at the time) for £15,000 as Albion sought to recoup some of the £29,000 record fee they spent bringing former England international Barry Bridges to the club from Millwall.
Napier had two seasons at Ewood Park and brought down the curtain on his English league career with a further 10 goals in 54 appearances.
He moved to South Africa to play for Durban United and then, according to Wikipedia, had a career in the motor trade.
- Pictured in Goal magazine (18 March 1972), Napier was interviewed about Albion’s prospects but things couldn’t have gone further the other way! Also pictured are Napier’s portrait from the matchday programme and a cutting from the Argus after he’d netted his second Brighton hat-trick.