The following article appeared in the Cambridge United programme for the game against Basingstoke Town on Saturday, 7 November 2015.
Every one of us has regrets. Near the end of a life, and especially if that end is premature, those regrets sometimes start to weigh heavily.
At the end of July, Coconuts received an email from Australia, in which Kathryn Ayers wrote of her concern for her father Jim. ‘He has been told he only has weeks to live,’ she said.
‘He played in your reserve team when he was approximately 15 years old. His major regret is not continuing after he was ruled out for a year due to an eye injury sustained while playing. It is one of the few times he has been brought to tears.
‘I purchased a team shirt with his name on it and the lady in the store mentioned your site when I asked if it was likely that there would be any records of his time there.’
Part of Coconuts’ brief is an attempt to bring the extended U’s family closer together. We wrote to New South Wales, promising to find out as much as we could. Kathryn’s reply gave us an insight into her dad’s life.
Jim was born on 3 February 1948 in Gillingham, where his Royal Navy submariner father was based. The family’s move to Barton Mills put Jim reasonably close to the Abbey and, leaving school at the age of 15, he began to make a name for himself. Then came the eye injury.
‘After being told he needed a year off due to the eye injury he began working for an auto electrician,’ recalled Kathryn. ‘He came to Australia on a ship when he was 21, not long after stopping football, and met my mother, Shirley, on the ship. He then went to work in the mines in the Kimberleys [north-west Australia] before becoming an auto electrician here.’
Coconuts historian Andrew Bennett dug out a U’s Youth team programme from 26 November 1963, which showed Jim playing at centre half against Posh. We pointed Kathryn to parts of 100yearsofcoconuts.co.uk that her dad might enjoy, and we put her in touch with the man who had welcomed him into the United fold: Peter Reeve.
‘Dad has really enjoyed browsing your website and was absolutely gobsmacked when he saw the [programme] you sent,’ wrote Kathryn on August 6. ‘He couldn't believe anyone would’ve kept this.’
On September 22: ‘I received an email from Peter today. It was lovely and Dad and Mum were both brought to tears, it meant that much to him. Dad is doing reasonably well – he is fighting on and continuing to surprise doctors! Keeping my fingers crossed for a miracle.’
Peter remembers Jim as a quiet, respectful and honest young man, always giving of his best. ‘He was very reliable and popular with all the lads. He enjoyed his football and was proud to be playing at the club: every manager’s dream …
‘Hopefully there are some of his teammates still around whose own memories will be triggered if they get to read the article in the programme.’
Kathryn wrote on November 1: ‘I wanted to let you know that Dad passed away on the morning of October 29. Thank you again for all your help and support.’
We feel as if we got to know Jim over the last three months of his life. He, Kathryn and Shirley are family.