John Mercer gets a surprise on his birthday as Paul Scally visits loyal fan in person.
On Friday June 18 lifelong Gillingham supporter, John Mercer, became 89 years young. And five days later, on June 23, he and wife Shelagh celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.
Both feats are certainly worth considerable applause, and Chairman Paul Scally certainly thought so, surprising the couple at their home in Whitstable on the morning of John’s birthday with a replica shirt, and card, signed by the players and management staff.
John watched his first Gills game shortly after the second World War having helped put together the safety barriers at the old Gillingham end (now the Rainham End) under the watchful eye of former boss, Archie Clark.
Having provided some work free of charge, John was given a complimentary season ticket and began to attend games with his father-in-law, already a huge fan. After that, the rest is history!
Speaking to the club website, in the presence of wife Shelagh, who herself was handed some flowers, and the Chairman, he said:
“I remember being told that there’s a guy from Gillingham who has some pipe he wants threaded, so I said “okay.” I was asked to do it for free when I had a spare moment; a lorry load of pipe arrived and it was the safety barriers on the terraces at the Gillingham End!
“Archie Clark was there and he said he would give me a complimentary season ticket and my father-in-law was a Labour councillor in Gillingham at the time and was an avid fan.
“When we got them, we stood on the terraces and he was over the moon; he couldn’t wait to go.”
Although John was unable to recall his very first game, the list of players he has watched from the sidelines rolled right off the tongue, from Brian Yeo to Bob Taylor.
He added: “I can’t really remember my first game, but I can remember the team was more or less the same every week. Jimmy Boswell, Charlie Marks, Ron Lewin, Hughie Russell. I remember all of them.
“I can remember John Simpson too. I worked for the gas board [during the 50’s] at the time and in the off season John was down there and they were putting up a new gas holder and they had to put shuttering down, and he was operating the steam hammer. All you had to do was pull a lever!
“I remember Brian Yeo, so many goals! Ron Saunders, Tony Cascarino, Steve Bruce, Les Riggs, Ted West, Keith Peacock, Robert Taylor. I always remember a Canadian lad called Errol Crossan who played wide right, he was a blonde lad. Terry Cochrane, a very good player.
“I can remember Charlie Marks a lot; there was a penalty which actually broke the net! Boswell, the centre-half, he was a tower of strength. Hughie Russell and Ron Saunders were my two favourites.”
John met his wife Shelagh at a dance hall in Watling Street and they got married in June 1956. Although Shelagh was a regular attender at Priestfield with her Dad, she hasn’t been to a game for quite some time. However, she was at the infamous Manchester City Wembley Final.
She said: “My father used to go every week, which was handy. We got married when I was 20. I haven’t been really since I’ve been married! I went to Wembley because it was a special occasion, but life took over. My brother was in the Army and when he used to come home on leave he used to play for Gillingham. He played centre-half, James Heard was his name.”
John was a season ticket holder in the Gordon Road Stand for years, but switched to the Medway Stand fairly recently, although a hip operation has prevented him from getting to regular fixtures.
He said: “I was a season ticket holder right up until last season. I couldn’t get up the steps, which I thought I could get over quickly. I suppose I was a season ticket holder for about 40 years; I used to sit in the Gordon Road, and this was before my son, Lawrence, was interested.
“However, the sun was always shining on the other side… they used to call us the coffin dodgers! We then got tickets on the other side, to be in the sun.
“When you think of all the years I’ve been going, there have been good times and bad times, but we’ve always been a team that tried.”
John recalls meeting the Chairman on a previous occasion in a pub close to the ground, and is forever grateful to Paul Scally for taking over the club when it was on the brink of liquidation in the summer of 1995.
He added: “I was actually in the Cricketers in Gillingham and he was standing with a group of people; it was a spur of the moment thing, perhaps quite rude, and I went up to thank him for everything he did for the club, in terms of the transformation of the ground. He was nice, and I wanted to thank him for his efforts. Without him, the club may not be here today.”
Everyone at the club would like to congratulate John and Shelagh on their 65th wedding anniversary, and we hope to see them again in the near future.