Eric Day, who has died aged 91, was an accidental footballer who became the first man to top 400 post-war games for the Saints.
Educated at the rugby-playing Watford Grammar School, he was pursuing that code, during war-time service in the RAF, when he broke his hand. Playing football while he recovered, he caught the eye of Bill Luckett, his PT instructor. Ex-Saint Luckett recommended Eric to another ex-Saint, Arthur Dominy, who had assumed the club’s managerial duties in 1943.
Which is how Eric came to ‘guest’ in a couple of games for Southampton in December 1945, when ‘official’ League football had yet to resume. The Echo was instantly impressed by ‘the most promising left-winger seen in the Saints’ side this season.’ The following Saturday, Eric scored his first Southampton goal, but then duly returned to RAF duties.
Neither his appearances nor the goal would ‘count’ in the official statistics. As far as those are concerned, Eric Day made his Southampton debut at outside-left in November 1946. But he switched wings, the following season. He soon had a hat-trick to his name, although his most memorable performance in that 1947-48 season was perhaps an FA Cup-tie when he scored twice in a 3-2 win over Blackburn Rovers. The man from the Echo had ‘never seen anything more perfect in pace and precision than the way Day took his first goal.’ He had by now made the No.7 shirt his own – for six seasons, in the last two of which he was ever-present.
Eric Day is 'perfect in pace and precision' as he glides through a Dell quagmire to score in the 1948 Cup-tie v Blackburn.
For the final two games of that sixth season, 1952-53, he was switched again – now to centre-forward – marking the occasion, against Blackburn again, with a hat-trick. He revelled in his new position: he was much more ‘in the game’, he explained, than when going ‘up and down the wing, waiting for passes’. And he enjoyed the increase in scoring opportunities: in 122 Third South appearances at No.9, he would bag 77 goals, topping that division’s scoring charts for three seasons running. Which begs the question as to why he was not tried in that position in the Second Division, as promotion beckoned in the 1949 run-in and manager Dodgin struggled to replace the injured Wayman, notably by switching Ted Bates to centre-forward.
Towards the end of the 1955-56 season, his first as manager, Bates moved Eric back to the right wing, where his career whimpered out in 1956-57. Eric, now 35, sought to remain on his full-time contract, training in the morning, but then ‘doing the paperwork’ for a garage in the afternoon. The Board debated this, at meeting after meeting for six months, and at least three directors plotted with brewers to find Eric an off-licence – a position deemed compatible with a part-time contract, which the manager was asked to negotiate with his former team-mate. Neither man wanted that, but Eric felt that Ted should have talked it through with him.
And so a player who had scored 158 goals in 422 games for his only club – remarkable when you think that he made his debut at 25 – left The Dell ‘shattered’ by this anti-climax and took three or four years, he reckoned, to get over it. In later years, he fell out with the club again over some match-tickets, but all was forgiven in 2001, when Eric was on fine form as a guest, with his wife Brenda, at the Farewell-to-The-Dell evening.
ERIC CHARLES DAY
6 Nov 1921 – 11 Nov 2012
Eric's funeral will be held at Semington Crematorium in Wiltshire at 2.30pm on Wednesday 21st November.