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Tony Johnson Brooklands IoM27.2.1949 – 25.5.2020

The name of Anthony William Johnson was never likely to be found in hockey’s national record books, and his portrait was never destined for any Hall of Fame, but Tony Johnson was undoubtedly one of those unsung heroes and club legends upon whom our great sport depends.

Born on 27 February 1949 in Birkenhead, Tony played hockey at school and then moved into club hockey with the Dunlop works team in Liverpool. His sporting interests extended to cricket and football, and he founded the ‘Noctorum Dynamos’ team that played in the Birkenhead Sunday League 6th Division.

After attending Flintshire College of Technology in north Wales, he moved to Manchester and played at Bowden HC for a season before joining Brooklands HC in 1972. Tony was soon a key member of his new club, running the ‘Crusaders’ Sunday team and becoming a long-standing captain of the 4th XI.

He was also a founder member, organiser, captain and ‘general life and soul’ of The Goblins – a touring side from Brooklands and Golborne HC in Warrington – that went to the Whitsun Festival in the Isle of Man from 1976.

Apart from being a big part of his sporting life, Brooklands Hockey Club also introduced Tony to his bride-to-be who was working on the clubhouse bar. However, because he played hockey on Saturdays and Sundays, went to training sessions and Committee meetings, played five-a-side football and ran the ‘Sweet Chariot’ mobile disco, Pip didn’t see too much of him … and his relationship was not helped by the occasion when he returned home with broken ribs after a late-night table tennis match in the clubhouse.

Tony moved to Nottingham in 1984 and joined West Bridgford HC, by which time he was the father of two young children with a third to follow soon afterwards. While he accepted that Pip’s interest in hockey was limited (at best!), Tony did hope that the children would share his passion for the sport. However after some junior hockey coaching he graciously accepted that Mike was more interested in football, while Samantha and Rebecca preferred dancing. And despite his best efforts, Tony had to reluctantly concede that his children would also never share his passion for country walking.

During 35 years at West Bridgford HC Tony was Captain of the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th teams for a total of eleven seasons, Club President, and the only person to win the ‘Contribution to the Social Life of the Club’ award on more than one occasion.

He was always willing to umpire matches and, unless one of his other interests intervened, Tony could be found near or behind the clubhouse bar every Saturday, where his luxuriant shock of dark hair led to the nickname ‘Wiggy’. He also brought his appetite for touring to the East Midlands by establishing and organising The Wimps, a team of West Bridgford men and Lincoln ladies that went to the Isle of Man for eleven years.

When West Bridgford moved to a new ground opposite his house Tony was a natural choice for Ground Secretary, responsible for cancelling matches in adverse weather. He held this post for more than 15 seasons, and suspicions that pitch inspections took place from the window of his son’s second-floor bedroom were merely a rumour.

With extensive business contacts among sports equipment suppliers, Tony offered to order the balls, shirts and goalkeeping kit for the Club – all of which added to the clutter in a busy house. In true ‘Del Trotter’ style, Mercian Sports were paid in reject Meccano (for which Tony’s company was the UK distributor) over a period of ten years, leaving Mike Smith with one of the largest private collections of this model construction system in the country!

Tony’s educational supplies company also acquired a business competitor and their stock, which included a large number of hockey sticks that he started selling to clubmates at West Bridgford. However this line of business ground to a halt when one batch of sticks proved to be faulty, and the remainder were donated to a charity that provided sports goods to under-privileged children in Africa.

Affectionately remembered by a Brooklands team-mate as “a lumbering but effective full back”, Tony achieved notoriety for heading shots off the goal line on two occasions – although to little avail, as both subsequent penalty strokes were scored. In his later years at West Bridgford he could be found near to the opposition’s goal for much of the game, earning the nickname ‘Tap-In Tony’ for his positional acumen and unerring ability to score from all of one or two yards.

With an email address of “TJhockeyman”, Tony’s sporting preference was no secret. And although hockey, family and business would have been more than enough to fill up his life, he still found time to pursue other passions that included old cars, French holidays – where he and Pip bought a house – fine food, real ale, live music, country walking and big dogs; he was also a life-long supporter of Tranmere Rovers and an enthusiastic spectator of cricket and rugby union.

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2015, Tony faced this challenge with typical good humour and a positive attitude; and despite the impact of chemotherapy he continued playing hockey whenever his health permitted, with the result that many people were unaware of his condition. In August 2019 he completed the 192-mile Coast-to-Coast walk with three clubmates from West Bridgford, and he appeared regularly for the 10th XI and continued to umpire until late November 2019.

Remaining positive and cheerful to the very end, Tony passed away on 25 May 2020, leaving many lives and the sport of hockey a much poorer place. Two of the many warm tributes sum up a special man who will be sorely missed:
“Tony was not the best hockey player, far from the best umpire, but one of the very best men I had the pleasure to meet.”

“He was also one of those people who if you asked him to do something then he found it difficult to say no. A nicer guy you would be hard pushed to find.”

Steve LeMottee

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