Obituary: Christopher Napier, footballer who was always in demand in the lower leagues

Kit Napier
Kit Napier
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Christopher Robin Anthony Napier, former footballer. Born: Dunblane, 26 September, 1943. Died: Durban, South Africa, 31 March, 2019, aged 75.

Kit Napier, who has died in his adopted South Africa, aged 75, was one of that largely-unsung army of itinerant Scottish footballers, who were the backbone of the English club game for many years.

Born in Dunblane, but raised in West Linton, Napier – a nephew of Celtic ­legend ­Tommy McInally – played for the wonderfully named ­Linton Hotspur and joined the Blackpool ground staff straight from school.

After learning the ropes on the ground staff, Napier turned professional with the ­Seasiders on his 17th birthday. The glory days of the 1950s were over for the club and Napier, one of the new boys, failed to establish himself, playing a mere two games before being transferred to Preston North End in 1963.

He again failed to make the breakthrough at Deepdale, moving on to join Workington Town, who had just been promoted to the English Third Division.

In 58 games for the club, he scored 25 goals, including two in a memorable League Cup win over Blackburn ­Rovers, and the equaliser as they took Chelsea to a replay in the ­quarter-finals, before going out to the Tommy Docherty-managed Blues, who went on to win the trophy in that 1964-65 season.

This spell of goal-scoring made Napier hot property and in 1965, Newcastle United signed him for £18,000. However, he struggled to make an impact in the First Division, failing to find the net in a mere eight first-team appearances.

The signing of Welsh international centre forward Wyn Davies marked the end of the road at St James Park for Napier. In 1966, Brighton & Hove Albion’s manager, former Rangers, Arsenal and Scotland midfielder Archie Macauley, paid £8,500 to take him south to the Goldstone ground, where he would enjoy the best spell of his career. In six seasons with the Seagulls, he played more than 250 games, scoring 84 goals, which still places him third in the club’s all-time scoring lists.

His 16 goals helped Albion win promotion to the Second Division in 1972. They ­finished second behind Aston Villa, but, three games into the new season, Napier was on his way back north to the Third Division, joining Blackburn ­Rovers, who paid £15,000.

He spent two seasons at Ewood Park, making more than 50 appearances and scoring ten goals, before, after a career of 380 senior games and 119 goals, he departed to play out his career in South Africa, with Durban United.

This was a fairly common move at the time – the likes of former England captain ­Johnny Haynes, and Rangers and Scotland centre-half ­Ronnie McKinnon were playing in Durban at the same time.

Former Brighton team-mate and fellow Scot Brian Tawse, a native of Ellon, was working in the motor trade in the Natal capital at that time and he got Napier into the business, where he spent the remainder of his working life.

Napier enjoyed the lifestyle, playing a lot of golf, and was a frequent competitor in local pro-ams until he suffered a lengthy illness, emphysema, which blighted his final years.

He was briefly married in the 1970s, but, that union failed. He is survived by his son ­Robin and his family.

MATTHEW VALLANCE