A FORMER Hastings United player who was one of the first to play for the newly formed club after the war has has died at the age of 91.
John Jones, from Hollington, passed away in the Conquest Hospital on the same October 24 date that he played his testimontial match for United back in 1956.
Described by his manager Jack Tresadern as “11 stone of muscle and grit”, he was once offered a trial with Walsall Football Club and according to his boss had the ability to turn pro.
John started playing football for Hastings and St Leonards amateurs as a teenager but when war broke out in 1939 he was drafted into the Royal Electrical and Mechnical Engineers.
He was stationed in Catterick in North Yorkshire and later at Hereford.
While in Hereford he was invited for a trial at Walsall by their manager and former England goalkeeper Harry Hibbs but could not make it due to Army commitments.
After the Second World War John returned home and took a job with the John Carter haulage firm as a truck driver.
He also went back to playing for Hastings and St Leonards but in 1948 he faced a dilemma.
Hastings Council granted a lease of the Pilot Field to the newly formed Hastings United at the expense of Hastings and St Leonards.
John decided to play for the new boys and his old team went into a downward spiral.
He went on to play almost 10 years for United experiencing many highs and lows.
At Easter 1954, John’s first wife Ruth died from a heart condition just before the final of the Metropolitan League Challenge Cup Final against Dartford.
Despite his grief John managed to hold his nerve and score the winner in extra time.
Among the 4,000-strong crowd were his three daughters cheering him on. He broke down in tears after the final whistle and was hailed a hero by his team mates and the fans.
The following season John ended up behind the wheel of the team bus as management tried to cut down their overheads. After driving the team to the game he would then play in the match, look after the kit and even phone the match result through.
In 1956 he had his nose broken in a Southern League match at Bath City and lost his false teeth during a game at Exeter. United’s goalkeeper Sam Geard agreed to keep them safe in his hat by the goal posts. But after the match and in fading light they were eventually found near the penalty spot still in good condition.
On October 24, 1956 John enjoyed a testimonial match in front of 2,000 fans which raised £260 for him.
In 1965 he turned out in a testimonial for Bill Grifiths which was graced by Spurs legend Danny Blanchflower.
John carried on driving lorries until his retirement in 1985.
As a Brighton fan, son Michael took him to the new Amex Stadium in August for the first game of the season against Doncaster which fulfilled his dream to see them have a new home.
“My father loved his football and could have turned pro,” said Michael. “If he’d gone for that trial he could have had a professional career.
“He was a quiet, caring man who enjoyed being at home with his family. Some of his football tales were fascinating and he had a very interesting time on and off the pitch.
“He loved the game so much he would drive the team there and back after playing and looked after their kit.
“You can’t imagine today’s players doing anything like that. Dad was a player from a different era and both he and those times are sorely missed.”
John’s funeral will take place on Wednesday (November 9) at Church-in-the-Wood in Hollington at 11.30am.