John Greenfield, or Dad as I prefer to call him, was not what you would describe as a stereotypical ‘football person’. Those that knew him from many years ago, and indeed even myself, were hugely, but pleasantly surprised to see him get immersed in the day to day activities surrounding a football club, and all that can entail. I think that is in a way a huge testament to those people involved in running the club at that time that he felt happy to work for, and with, those individuals who had the same common aim – to keep the football club running and improve upon the facilities at the ground.
Unfortunately, as with many working relationships, this trust could break down, and ultimately in his later years he cut himself off from the club entirely, due to a combination of ill-health and a dislike and miss-trust for those running Wivenhoe Town.
In the beginning I suppose when I think back it was my fault really. Sons are often to blame, but it was my involvement initially, which gradually lured him into the all-enveloping monster that can be called a non-league football club.
Having started to watch games at Broad Lane in the late 1980’s I gradually made the switch from a long-term love affair with the professional game and Ipswich Town FC in particular. Dad and I were both season ticket holders of many years at Portman Road, but I had become disillusioned with the attitude of the Football Club hierarchy who just wanted fans to turn up on match day, empty their wallets at the ground and go home quietly – regardless of the team’s performance. Despite what all football clubs’ say in the media about supporters being vitally important to them, we all know that is garbage. It’s corporate ‘support’ that they all crave.
So we both started watching Wivenhoe home games in the late 1980’s, taking up a strategic vantage point between the two opposing dugouts on the half-way line. This was not a new angle for us to view matches as, being keen ground-hoppers in those days we had long decided this was a great place to see and hear the action – especially if the game itself was a bit rubbish. There was invariably sufficient ‘entertainment’ coming from the dugouts to warrant the admission fee alone.
In the days of Paul Price, John Lacy & Co. the games were worth watching and the crowds relatively large, but it was when the club fell on hard times that I got more involved at the club, and then Dad, followed eventually some years later by my late brother Phil. So at some point in time all the Greenfield menfolk became involved in the fabric of Wivenhoe Town FC.
Initially I had taken an interest in the Club Shop – run in those days by Phil Reeve in the large portakabin on the far side of the ground beside the main stand (it remains there to this day), and gradually took over the running of it to allow Phil to get involved in the more general running of the club. With time Dad started to help out and from then on the seeds had been sown. The shop’s stock of football programmes rapidly grew, mostly due to his ground hopping exploits, exchanging programmes with various clubs and he became somewhat adept at hoovering up match day progs. from the Boardroom and Dressing Room on away games. In fact it got to the stage during our Isthmian League days that local dealers and people who ran shops at other clubs regularly called in at a Wivenhoe home game to swop and buy stock from us, so extensive was the range we had.
Both of us were then co-opted onto the Football Club Committee and were present at committee meetings to witness the ‘goings on’ behind the scenes, which at times were a bit of an eye-opener. Sometimes it could be best not to know what was actually going on !
I think it was at this time he decided that he would help out the Supporters Club. There was a small, but flourishing Supporters Club, galvanised by the aim of helping to keep the club running, which tasked itself with raising sufficient money to pay for all the coaches for First Team away trips. This was a not inconsiderable sum – in excess of £3000 a season if my memory serves me, and Dad was deemed to be sufficiently trustworthy to hold the purse strings as Treasurer, a role he held for many years until the Supporters Club folded. I know he felt almost a personal responsibility for raising the money needed, and that the club providing coaches for the players to travel in was an obligation that needed to be managed and financed properly, but his role in connection with coach travel wasn’t restricted to just help raising money….
He loved away trips, which were an entertaining day out, if not fraught with some degree of mild potential disaster. His favourite seat was up near the coach driver, a few of whom he would spend time chatting to during the journey and got to know quite well. One or two of the more awkward characters he didn’t take a shine to though, referring to them as an “arsehole” when they were safely out of earshot. Between the banter and shenanigans going on at the back of the coach and Ollie Sanders never-ending films which were often shown (rarely to their conclusion though…), he also, due to his close proximity to the driver, had to take on the unenviable task of navigating the coach to our final destination. On most occasions our regular drivers knew where they were heading ,but certain individuals – who clearly made it known they were going to be ‘unhelpful’ (probably because they didn’t want the job of escorting a bus full of rowdy players to a football game), needed directions almost as soon as we had left Broad Lane. I’m certain these individuals were the ones he classed as “arseholes”. I remember one driver who thought we were going to Harrow, when in fact we were heading for Harlow !
Now the navigator’s role was one which carried much responsibility and indeed pressure, as the team needed to be at the ground at a certain time before kick-off. Navigating through busy traffic in unfamiliar roads, with the clock ticking, a grumpy unhelpful driver and those on board fretting about getting to the ground, it was a job no one else really wanted.
Once at the ground he would often be asked to accompany the Chairman at the time into the hosts Boardroom, as the main man probably didn’t fancy going in alone and equally didn’t fancy taking in any of the other riff-raff who had travelled and were busy drinking in the Clubhouse.
Two stories stick in my memory from those away days. One involved the team’s kit, which I believe Dad should have made sure was taken off the coach when we got back to Wivenhoe. Whatever, no one checked it had been, probably because there was a function on in the clubhouse and we wanted to get into what was the Back Bar in those days, for a little drink or two. Unfortunately when he called into Cedric’s the following Monday to pay for the coach trip and retrieve the now festering kit, he was given the bad news that the bus we had used – and our Team Kit, had gone on an excursion to France the previous day ! We joked at the time that although out team had no chance of getting into Europe the club’s playing kit had made it. There was certainly no danger of anyone stealing the kit bag as the smell oozing from it would have put any potential thief off.
The second involved the time when Colin Hill took over the team and travelled on the coach with us for his first away game. Now Mr Hill had a reputation of being a little bit volatile and hot tempered, so we cautiously engaged in conversation with him during the journey, not wanting to antagonise him, but equally wanted to hear what he had to say about taking over as manager and listen out for any interesting snippets of information he might let slip. I’ll never forget Dad’s comment when we got off the bus and were discussing Mr Hill, he said something along the lines of…”I looked at his eyes…I think he’s a bit mad.” No comment.
He was equally succinct on a ground hopping trip with me and JB to Dereham Town I think it was, when he made a sweeping judgemental call on the locals who had been less than welcoming, “I don’t like these people, they’re from Norfolk.” Enough said.
Dad had helped forge a great working relationship with Cedrics, who he ensured were paid on the Monday after every away game, which wasn’t always the case in previous years. He also ensured that the coach was cleared of rubbish once we had returned to Wivenhoe, not wanting to leave all the empty cans and bottles rolling around at the back of the bus for the driver to clear up.
Upon his retirement from work Dad found more time to spend up at the Football Club and took on the mantle of Stadium Manager, often being called up to the club during the week to let various people into the ground to work or do deliveries.
He took on many jobs around the ground, but I’m sure his favourite was having a fire to burn rubbish. In those days we never had a waste collection bin so we had to get rid of all the rubbish generated at the club the best we could, which wasn’t easy, or at times pleasant. He’d spend many a morning tossing all forms of burnable waste onto an ever increasing pile of smouldering rubbish, often sending plumes of black smoke into the surrounding fields and across the main road. Cans and bottles were stacked in the back of his car to be re-cycled. Nothing was safe from being hossed onto one of his fires – I distinctly remember a manky old mattress (don’t ask me how that got to the club !), being eased onto the flames only to send a cloud of thick smoke drifting onto the main road, causing quite a dangerous situation. Dousing the fire with water even caused more of a problem and a minor panic, although he didn’t seem too perturbed by the fact the blaze was situated near to the gas main that passes through the stadium !
He hated to see a mess or the clubhouse or ground untidy and would often comment at an away ground about an unsightly mess that caught his eye. I’m sure he had an equal dislike of the various stray cats that used to take up home in the outbuildings that used to be on site, once they knew that someone at the club would regularly feed them. I think if they had paid their way so to speak by keeping down the mice, rabbits and rats he wouldn’t have minded so much, but all they seemed to do was shit on the pitch in the re-seeded areas during the summer. That and smelly, empty cat food cans being left around the place did not help endear him to the animals!
Back in those days the Supporters Club used to arrange annual supporters five a-side tournaments at the Club which helped raised lots of money for both the Supporters Club and the Football Club itself, and again Dad was involved the best he could, often doing the jobs that got over-looked and over the years he grew into a role over-seeing work-parties as ill-health restricted what he could physically do himself.
Over the years he took on his own personal projects, one of which was the single handed dismantling of a caravan which someone had (un)kindly dumped at the ground. It might have taken him two years of chipping away at the thing, but he did eventually get the whole caravan broken up and disposed of.
I recall him assisting Phil Reeve one summer both during the day and various evenings to replace and put in the seats currently in the main stand, which took weeks, but was cheaper than getting someone in to do it.
They even worked during a reserve team game one evening, waiting for breaks in the play before drilling and hammering new seats into position.
Various Chairmen and women took to regularly using him as a sounding board for various ideas or problems that cropped up, in many ways I suppose he was a ‘father-figure’ in that he had been around the club for many years and had an opinion that people were willing to listened to and consider.
One chairman in particular proved to be his greatest adversary in his role as Stadium Manager. To preserve his anonymity I’ll refer to him as ‘Kevin’. On his arrival at the ground on a match-day ‘Kevin’ would stride through the entire clubhouse switching on every single light, television and electrical appliance the club owned, closely followed by my muttering Dad, who promptly switched them all off again. In deed one Saturday afternoon in June in the close season the pair of them were discovered almost wrestling in the bar area as Dad tried to prevent ‘Kevin’ from needlessly turning on the tannoy system. The two of them succeeded in shattering the peace on the neighbouring housing estate as the speakers in the ground crackled into life during the ‘discussion’, with Dad to be heard saying “give me that bloody microphone”, which was swiftly followed by a ‘BOOM’ sound as the microphone connected with ‘Kevin’s’ head before the tannoy went dead again. Great memories.
When The Supporters built the Tea Hut (later to be demolished as part of the Carl Callan master-plan), he took an active part in its building and was often off buying concrete slabs so we could construct a decent path and standing area in front of it. Again he held the purse strings for this project, ensuring everything was paid for.
Dad could be found at the club daily during the summer months finding various jobs to do and he loved the family feel around the place at that time, along with the fact that he knew his efforts were being appreciated.
The Committee regularly arranged a barbeque in the ground at the end of the summer to thank supporters for their efforts, and it was gestures such as this that he enjoyed- that and the general feeling that we were all in it together, trying to keep the club going.
In time he was asked to be President of the Football Club, which was a role he reluctantly accepted, not being a person who likes the limelight. Entertaining visiting officials was not his cup of tea, if you pardon the pun, as he didn’t get on with the more officious individuals who came with visiting clubs or those from bigger clubs, that tended to look down on ‘little Wivenhoe’ and making small talk for the sake of it with people he didn’t know wasn’t for him.
After a match he could be regularly found in the dressing rooms tidying up the mess made, and in time, along with my brother Phil (below right), they both took on the job of cleaning the clubhouse after games and functions, which could be long, hard work after an Eighteenth Birthday Party I can assure you.
I remember the seeing in of the New Millennium at the club as we held a party to celebrate and both Dad and myself, along with a couple of others, slept overnight in various parts of the clubhouse, so we could tidy up the following day – and sleep off the excesses of the previous evening.
My brother Phil, who was even more reserved than Dad, very slowly became more at ease with people at the club as time went on, to the extent that he took over on the turnstile on match-days for over three seasons, gaining a reputation for ensuring all that entered the ground had to pay up, until ill-health prevented him from carrying on. He wasn’t really interested in the actual football, but took a pride in the Club and I remember him being quite upset and annoyed when the two of them discovered there had been a break-in at the club over a Bank Holiday weekend. Although a very private person Phil gradually came out of his shell becoming comfortable with those people involved at the club at that time, helping out during the close seasons with painting jobs and generally mucking in with anything that needed doing around the place.
Dad on the other hand loved his football, going to any lengths to see a game, and genuinely loved it when ‘little Wivenhoe’ put one over opposition who took themselves too seriously or looked down their noses at us. Whilst I fully immersed myself in the ways of the SOB’s, he wasn’t quite so happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with the ‘singers & shouters’, just keeping a polite distance from where he chuckled at some of the banter flying about, without directly being part of it. I suppose as Club President he felt best not to.
Phil was unfortunately no longer with us when the Football Club had its fight for survival in the ‘post-Carter days’, but Dad was, and I know he was very unhappy at the whole episode – to the extent that eventually he cut off all ties with the club as he felt somewhat ostracised by the new people taking charge. The family feel that had been such a big part of why he loved being involved with Wivenhoe Town had gone, and he disliked those then running it, who he couldn’t work with. That, and his declining health, meant he cut all ties with the club.
I’m sure though had both been still with us today they would have revelled in the success the team is having at the moment. Thinking back to all the time and effort both men put in during their years with the Football Club, they as much as anyone would have appreciated and enjoyed the good times as much as anyone.