Octogenarian Jack Wolfenden celebrated his 80th birthday in typical fashion – working at The Harry Williams Riverside Stadium, home of his beloved Ramsbottom United Football Club.
Passing the milestone on Christmas Eve, Jack was in his usual place before the home Evo-Stik League fixture against Salford City on Boxing Day, outside the ground greeting supporters and selling the matchday programme.
This programme was something special, for unknown to him, the club had arranged for a photo of Jack to be on the front cover, ensuring that everyone knew about the club stalwart.
Once the programmes were sold out, Jack would take up his next role, that of ball boy, probably the oldest in the country, as he retrieved balls kicked out of play, and on many occasions out of the stadium.
Outside of matchdays, Jack can usually be found at the ground doing whatever is necessary to keep the place looking spic and span as usual. Marking the pitch, splashing the paint and any other odd jobs that are required to keep the stadium in peak condition, Jack is always willing to help.
I doubt when he first approached the Chairman, almost 34 years ago, that he thought he would still be an integral part of the club all these years later.
“I turned up before a cup tie all those years ago to ask if there was anything that needed doing”, recollects Jack, “and after being told there was, I am still here!”
The stadium is unrecognisable from those early days when the club played in local league football. From humble beginnings, the ground is now recognised as one of the finest at this level of football in the county.
Chairman Harry Williams, who himself works tirelessly in every facet of the club, credits Jack with much of the work. “Jack deserves praise for helping to keep this ground one of the cleanest in the league”, he says.
Evidence of this occurred just before Christmas. The team were playing away at Bamber Bridge, but realising that the club had two home games over Christmas, Jack decided to stay behind and sweep the leaves away from all the walkways and terraces to ensure that the stadium looked its usual pristine self for the supporters.
Jack confessed to making one concession to reaching 80. “On certain days when the weather is bad, instead of cycling to the ground, I now sometimes catch the bus”, he admitted!
Jack’s dedication to Ramsbottom United is best summed up by the Chairman. “If we had another six Jack Wolfenden’s, we’d be in the Conference!”, he proclaimed.
Despite reaching an age when most people would be happy to stay at home and relax, we can still expect to see Jack down at the Harry Williams Riverside Stadium most days, and certainly to be the first face upon arrival on matchdays.