An accident or destiny? After 38 years with Boston United, an emotional John Blackwell prepares to stand down

John Blackwell.
John Blackwell.

John Blackwell first began working for Boston United, as he puts it, by accident.

But 38 years on, you could argue that it was his fate and destiny to serve at York Street, where has become as much of a fixture within the club as the goalpost at either end of the pitch.

John Blackwell, pictured with his wife Maureen and kitman Jason Hatfield.

John Blackwell, pictured with his wife Maureen and kitman Jason Hatfield.

Last week, on John’s 68th birthday, it was announced that in May he would be stepping down from the club after almost four decades of service.

Taking up the honorary title of club president means John won’t be turning his back on the club - “I couldn’t, it’s been a huge part of my life,” he says - but he believes it may well be time to step down as general manager as the club looks towards life in a new out-of-town stadium.

“It’s an end of an era isn’t it,” an emotional John said. “It’s 38 years and I’ve really enjoyed it.

“I still enjoy it. But the thing that’s been worrying me more than anything is moving to the new stadium and all the IT stuff that’ll be done there.

John Blackwell.

John Blackwell.

“I am an old fashioned secretary. I’m old school, but it’s got me through 38 years.”

John first became involved with the club when he was approached by then-manager Jim Smith.

At the time, John was secretary of Boston Saturday and Sunday league sides Real Towell and Towell FC.

Smith wanted to borrow Towell’s Tunnard’s Park ground for a pre-season friendly, but a break out of molehills led to a late cancellation and an exchange between the pair.

“We had a few words and after that he asked me to work at Boston United,” John remembered.

“He wanted me to help run the reserves and youth team. It was a bit of an accident really.”

John didn’t hesitate in saying yes. And he gave the same answer when asked to stand in as secretary on a temporary basis, the chance to take a break from his father’s painting and decorating business, which John admits ‘I didn’t really enjoy that much’.

When the job became available on a full-time basis, the new club secretary happily packed away those brushes and became one of the most recognisable faces in Boston United’s history.

The past 38 years have seen John give more to the club than most employers would dare ask.

He, wife Maureen, an employee of 20 years, and kit man Jason Hatfield - who John describes as ‘like a son’ - can be found at the club almost seven days each and every week, as well as dedicating evenings to the cause as well.

In fact, John - a father to daughters Katie and Lisa- has signed on every single player bar one during his time with the Pilgrims.

He couldn’t undertake that task because being by Lisa’s side as she underwent open-heart surgery was obviously more important, even to a man as committed as John.

“I’ve only missed four games in 38 years,” he continued.

“Two were because of Lisa having open heart surgery.

“One was England versus Wales under 15s at York Street where I had to stop to run the international. The fourth was away at Fisher Athletic on a Monday and I had to run the tote.”

The grounds visited, friends made and moments enjoyed are too many to recall, but John does have two outstanding memories.

He said: “One was going to Wembley in 1985 for the FA Trophy final, sitting in the Royal Box is not something many people get to do.

“The second one is going to play Hayes on that Sunday when we had to win to go into the Football League.

“We won 2-0 and being a secretary in the Football League was a big achievement for the club, probably we were the smallest town in the league those days.”

A busy working life has seen John also sit on the Conference Management Committee for nine years and the Northern Premier League Committee for a further five.

Right now, John is continuing with his day job but pausing to reflect on the numerous emails, faxes and text messages, wishing him well from rival clubs, former players and contacts in the game.

But what will he do come May?

“I like to be busy,” John added.

“Hopefully I can still be at the club helping out in a different way.”

Is there any urge to go full circle and get those paintbrushes out again?

“No,” he replied, with a grateful shake of the head.

News of John stepping down coincides with the appointment of Mike Hardy in the role of chief executive.

Mr Hardy is the former managing director of Longhurst and Havelok Homes.

Chairman David Newton said: “We are delighted to have Mike onboard.

“His role will encompass not only Boston United Football Club but will also work to further grow and develop the community programme.”