Goodbye and thank you Mr Boston United! John Blackwell - the man who helped save the Pilgrims - is preparing to retire after 38 years at York Street

John Blackwell.
John Blackwell.

“I’ve always said once you sign for Boston United you never forget it, and you always come back,” said John Blackwell, reflecting on the many players he has seen come and go during his near-four decades at York Street.

“This has happened for years and years.”

But on Tuesday it is Blackwell’s turn to bid farewell to the club as he retires from his current role of general manager after 38 years of service to the Pilgrims.

Eventful would be an understatement when describing his tenure.

Blackwell - known as Mr Boston United - has seen the Pilgrims go from non-league giants to becoming a Football League club, only to return after a rollercoaster five years.

There has been an FA Trophy final at Wembley, times when Blackwell has been named as an unused substitute, a memorable FA Cup stalemate at big guns Derby County and a forgettable series of visits to Southwark Crown Court, where his alleged part in the club’s fraud case was dismissed by the judge.

Over the past 38 years Blackwell has been there, seen it all, even signing on all but two players in that time.

But to many fans, his most important contribution of all was hosting the public meeting which saved the club from going into liquidation.

On Father’s Day 2007, with creditors closing in, Blackwell and Barrie Pierpoint, helping the club with its bid to enter a CVA at the time, both spoke emotionally at a public meeting which 800 fans attended.

Among them was David Newton, the owner of Chestnut Homes, the club’s shirt sponsor at that time.

What he witnessed at that meeting convinced Newton to take over the reins of Boston United and steady the Pilgrims’ ship.

“It’s one of my proudest times at Boston United,” reflects Blackwell, who, like fellow club employees at that time, was working without a wage.

“That is one of the special days. The club had nearly gone and everybody was saying ‘what are we going to do?’

“I wanted to organise a public meeting and the people in charge were against it.

“I pleaded with Jim Rodwell (club chairman at the time) for a public meeting. He said ‘it won’t work, but if you want to do it you can do it’.

“Before it started I was walking round the car park and ran into David Newton.

“We shook hands and he said ‘I’ve just come to have a look’. Soon after David had saved the club, that’s a special point.”

Other highlights Blackwell points to are that memorable day at Hayes when a 2-0 victory saw the Pilgrims promoted to the Football League, and 1985’s FATrophy defeat to Wealdstone beneath the famous Twin Towers.

“I remember the bus turning into Hayes high street, I’ve never seen so may people in amber and black,” Blackwell added.

“We all know what happened that day. The ground was nearly all Boston United, the club has special fans and they’ve always been like that.”

Although Blackwell took his seat at Wembley for that 2-1 defeat, he admits that he missed the goal which secured a place in the final... due to nerves.

“We were at home to Altrincham and it was 2-2. I couldn’t stand it any longer so I walked out of the ground and into the car park,” he reflected. “I saw Dr Taffinder, who was the club doctor at the time, and he said he couldn’t stand it either.

“All of a sudden there was such a cheer and we both ran into the ground through the gate. Bob Lee had just scored. That was a special occasion, even if we were in the car park when the goal was scored.”

On Tuesday Blackwell’s employment with the club comes to an end, but his feelings for the club won’t stop there.

While his wife Maureen will continue to work in the club offices, Blackwell will become the Pilgrims’ president.

“This is a special club,” Blackwell added.

“It’s been a massive part of our lives.”

As Blackwell says of those players who have been and gone - many of whom recently returned from across the country to pay tribute at a farewell party - ‘you never forget it’.

The Standard will be bringing you more of John’s Boston United memories over the upcoming weeks.