An insightful piece by Tony Norman, capturing what it was like being a famous footballer in Brighton in the late 1970s, courtesy of an interview with Peter Ward:
“You should have got here earlier, Wayne,” said the street kid, outside the Goldstone.
A smile creased his grubby face, as he held out a battered autograph album in triumph. “I got Peter Ward. Magic!”
There’s only one star in Brighton. In the bars along the shoreline, they’ll nod approvingly of Gregory, or the skill of O’Sullivan. But there’s only one Peter Ward.
“He signed twice for me,” crowed the street kid. “You should have been here, Wayne.”
Wayne said nothing. He just shuffled awkwardly, trying to hide his disappointment and envy. He felt like a losing captain at Wembley, when the wrong man walks up the stairs and lifts the Cup. Deep inside, Wayne was sick as a parrot!
“Most of the supporters are with me, said Ward later, as we drove back along the south coast to his home. “I know they’re on my side. They expect a little more from me. They want me to turn it on every week, but that’s impossible. Extra pressure? I suppose so, but it doesn’t worry me. I go out there and do my best. It’s as simple as that.”
But, of course, it really isn’t so easy to live with the pressure of being a being a star, in a town where First Division football is still a novelty.
“When I go out, they’s always someone asking for an autograph. If I go to a club for a game of snooker or darts, I can hear people saying: ‘Look over there, it’s Peter Ward’. But if you go to the same places a few times, the novelty wears off and people leave you alone.”
It seems to be Ward’s policy to play down his star status in Brighton. But he lives the kind of goldfish bowl life that drove Best to drink. perhaps the biggest steadying influence on Ward is his happy home life, with his wife, Sue, and their two daughters, Rachael, 3, and Rebekah.
Best lived in a magnificent, empty shell. Ward’s home is his haven.
“I try to forget everything, when I get home. I’ve got my family to think about. Brighton’s a nice place to live. We’re buying a new house and we’ll be even nearer the Downs then. I like going up there and taking our dog, Sumi, for a run. I’ve joined a local fishing club too. I’ve only been out a few times, but that’s another good way to relax.
“I think I’m pretty easy-going. Nothing really bothers me, I enjoy taking it easy at home, doing a crossword, listening to records, or watching TV. I’ve bought one of those video recorders, so I can watch my favourite shows, like Fawlty Towers anytime I like.
“When you’re well-known, things can cut into your private life. You get reporters ringing you at home and that sort of thing, but I don’t mind. The only time it bothered me was when I was on the list, last summer. I took the phone off the hook. I knew I’d be inundated with calls.”