Years before Graeme Le Saux and Matt Le Tissier became household names, Elie Hurel was the first man from the Channel Islands to play football in the English First Division.
His journey, from being orphaned as a child, to lining up alongside the legendary Dixie Dean at Goodison Park, is a truly unique and remarkable story.
Delve into this amazing story and learn a little more about some of Everton FC’s fascinating history.
The fifth of twelve children born to Emile Andre Marie-Francoise Hurel, Elie Hurel was born on 10th April 1915. His parents were French nationals who had originally moved to jersey in 1900 in search of employment. Elie spent much of his early childhood kicking a ball about on the beach or the grass by Five Mile Road at St Ouen’s Bay.
When Elie was just seven-year-old, his parents tragically died from tuberculosis within a year of each other. This sadly meant the twelve children were orphaned and Elie moved into lodgings in St Helier with his elder both, Emile. They were looked after well by the landlady and Elie began to train as a plasterer, having left St Paul’s school when he was 14.
Elie Hurel the Footballer
Whilst working, Elie Hurel played football for Magpies and St Paul’s FC in the Jersey Thursday League. At only 5ft 6in and weighing 10st 2lb, Elie relied on his trickery, balance and passing ability as an inside-forward.
Every year, the three largest Channel Islands competed with one another for the Muratti Vase and most years the final tie would see Jersey battle against Guernsey. Elie’s older brothers, Andre Jean and Emile Yves had previously represented Jersey in 1927 and 1930/31.
Following in his brothers’ footsteps, Elie debuted for Jersey in 1935, in which they lost to Guernsey and the year after they were defeated 9-0. However, soon Elie Hurel’s footballing carrier would take a turn for the better.
Looking to develop football on Jersey, Duggie Livingstone and David Murray were appointed as coaches, both were former Everton players. David Murray quickly saw talent in Elie Hurel and wrote to Everton’s secretary, Theo Kelly, in order to arrange a trail on Merseyside.
Elie was overwhelmed with the opportunity, he knew all the players by name, especially the legendary Dixie Dean.
The Jerseyman Travels to Merseyside
Elie arrived on Merseyside in April 1936 to make two reserve team appearances for Everton. The first was against Manchester City, lining up against the likes of Jackie Coulter, Cliff Britton and T.G Jones. Elie was impressive and showed his talent and ability on the field.
The trail was a success! After briefly returning home, Elie Hurel made the journey back to Everton as a professional footballer and began to prepare for the 1936/7 season. During his time at Everton, Dixie Dean took Elie under his wing and educated him in life at the club.
Commenting in a newspaper article, Elie said: “One or two things have opened my eyes. First, the kindness of everybody at Everton. The players have all given me hints — even the great “Dixie” Dean.”
On 7th September, Elie scored his first goal for Everton’s reserve team and days after, the news broke that Elie would debut for the first team on 12th September, away to Bolton.
Elie lined up for Everton at Burnden Park alongside Ted Sagar, George Jackson, Billy Cook, Cliff Britton, Charlie Gee, Joe Mercer; Torry Gillick, Dixie Dean, Alex Stevenson and Jackie Coulter. He played well and received praise by all.
During his home debut for the Toffees, Elie scored a smart flicked header past the Huddersfield goalkeeper, during possibly his best game.
Sadly, when international players of the calibre of Jimmy Cunliffe and Alex Stevenson were fit and available, Elie was overlooked by selectors. Ultimately, he dropped down to the reserve and A team, however he still won consecutive Lancashire League title medals in 1936/7 and 1937/8.
Elie’s brother Emile tragically died at just 28 years old from a burst appendix suffered during a football match which hit Elie hard. However, he would still travel home to Jersey to visit his remaining siblings.
On 13th April 1938 Elie Hurel made the move to Northampton Town, after Warney Cresswell departed Everton to embark on a managerial career and brought him along. During his time at the club, Elie made 12 Third Division South appearances for the Cobblers, scoring two goals.
The War Years
The outbreak of the war sadly brought Elie Hurel’s footballing career to an end. Upon the declaration, the national register listed Elie as a plasterer living at 49-50 High Street in Southampton. He signed up for duty in the Royal Engineers and served as a sapper.
During the war, Elie faced a lot of ups and downs. He parachuted into Crete, was asleep aboard a troop ship when it was hit and sunk by torpedo in the Mediterranean, clinging to the debris in the water until he was rescued, and he landed in France on D-Day.
When the Channel Islands were liberated in 1945, he returned home to be reunited with the beloved family he hadn’t seen for six years. He resumed his career as a plasterer and, in 1950, married Mary O’Halleran, an Irishwoman working as a cook-housekeeper on the island. They never had children of their own but adopted their nephew, Peter, when Elie’s sister, died shortly after childbirth.
Elie lived a quiet and peaceful life in Jersey, never boasting about his footballing days. He passed away at Jersey General hospital on Tuesday 8 April 1986, two days short of his 71st birthday. He was laid to rest with his siblings and parents at the family grave St Mathew’s Roman Catholic Churchyard in St. Lawrence.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this fascinating look at Elie Hurel, the first Jerseyman to play in the First Division, lining up alongside the iconic Dixie Dean. Don’t forget, the spectacular Dixie Dean Hotel is planned to open very soon, check our Facebook page for updates on our progress.
Special thanks to:
Toffeeweb.com and Rob Sawyer