It is with great sadness that the Club have learnt of the passing of much respected lifelong Hitchin Town supporter John Gray.
John had followed his home town club since childhood and was a regular supporter both home and away for many years as well as a keen volunteer selling programmes, 50/50 draw tickets and serving as Supporters Club Membership Secretary. He was also a regular match ball sponsor. Hitchin Town Football Club became a family affair for the Gray’s with his son, Brian and grandchildren also attending games.
John was a big supporter of non league football and was a well known face on the local football scene. He also followed Luton Town and was a season ticket holder at both clubs for many years.
In his younger years John was a keen sportsman, playing football for St Ippolyts and cricket for Preston and Wrestlingworth. After finishing his National Service, he joined International Computers and Tabulators, later ICL, spending many years working at 1/3 factory in Blackhorse Road, Letchworth alongside former Hitchin Town Secretary, Cyril Buck.
In recent years John’s health deteriorated restricting his visits to Top Field. However he continued his love affair with non league football by becoming an Administrator for the Non League Matters website, updating results and league tables.
John leaves Wendy, his wife of 57 years, children Brian and Alison, and grandchildren Francesca, Daniel and Toby.
Funeral details will be advised in due course.
Manager Mark Burke described John as:
”A legend of a supporter and an invaluable volunteer at the club. He was always so positive and a real gentleman. He will be sadly missed and I am so pleased we were able to send him on his way with a victory on Saturday’.”
From my personal point of view John has always been there as a committed Hitchin Town supporter and he would often share with me his memories of the Club before I started out as a supporter myself. He was always worth listening to and while he held old school values he did move with the times. Reading various messages posted in tribute to John the one constant factor is how everybody thought he was a real gentleman and a genuine nice person. Everybody respected John and you would never hear a bad word about him. As a volunteer he was so valuable. When he was selling programmes he was very successful and more often than not would sell out as he had a great sales technique. Needless to say the money would be neatly bagged and would always balance to the penny.
When his health began to deteriorate he carried on selling programmes as long as he could because he did not want to let the Club down. You could see sometimes he was struggling but he was determined to do his job. When he eventually had to give up he still tried to get to as many games as possible. I often sat with him and he would let me know the difficulties his deteriorating health was causing him. It was a real blessing to him that North Herts Radio started commentating on our games as he could more easily follow our progress from home and it was so pleasing that his son Brian was one of the commentators. He told me how much he enjoyed the commentaries.
Brian has told me how John was very helpful when the Supporters Trust was launched. Brian felt John was like an unofficial ambassador for the Trust as he persuaded supporters to join. But that showed the respect we all had for John. He did have a good sense of humour and we often got involved in banter with him over his sponsorship of own goals. There would often be discussions over the validity of whether it was an own goal or not with John joining in but he always ended up paying over his fiver! It was ironic on Saturday that our second goal was the subject of discussion as to whether it was an own goal or not and supporters behind the goal not knowing how poorly John was were saying they would look forward to him having to pay up.
Brian said that he was able to listen to the last fifteen minutes of the commentary of Hitchin’s game on Saturday with John from his hospital bed – a happy memory that will live with him and his sister for ever.
John was also a great cricket supporter and Tony Smith of Preston Cricket Club said John was a player and secretary for them in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Tony remembers John was always on hand to plug the gaps and issue encouragement of better times ahead at a time when Preston were close to folding and said that Preston owe him a great debt of gratitude.
Ex-players and other clubs have been quick to pay their respects to John and the family have been touched with the response. At the Banbury game on Saturday 8th February the Gray family will be attending and sponsoring the match ball and there will be a memorial for John with a minutes applause before the game.
BY ROY IZZARD