Jim Briscoe – “Mr Stevenage”

© SFC Official Programme

© SFC Official Programme

It was with great sadness when the news of Jim Briscoe’s passing on the 27th August 2014 became known. Jim to many embodied what Stevenage FC is all about. A fantastic character, a man who was passionate about the club and its supporters. You could not be in Jim presence for long without realising what a really special bloke he was and what the club meant to him.

The Stevenage FC History website could not let Mr Stevenage’s passing go unrecorded and with the knowledge and agreement of his family we have pulled together some anecdotes about his life and of course as you would expect some touching tributes from those who knew him well.

© SFC Official Programme

© SFC Official Programme

The true mark of the man and his influence on the club is tangible, so much so that even today the East Terrace is still unofficially known by the regulars as the JBT – The Jim Briscoe Terrace. Rest easy Jim from everyone connected to the History Website.

In November 2002, Stevenage Borough as it was then known took on Luton Town FC In the LDV Vans Trophy. To mark Jim’s 80th birthday, the official match day programme for that game included an article written by the then programme editor, Stu Govier, chronicling Jim’s life and is reproduced below. Thanks to Mervyn Stokes- Geddes for the sourcing of the article;

 

“Tonight James Patrick Briscoe, SBFCSA President, ‘A Team’ founder member, Broadhall Way stalwart and now octogenarian, THIS IS YOUR LIFE!

© SFC Official Programme

© SFC Official Programme

Whether you know him well, have met him only briefly, or still to have that pleasure, be assured you will never forget the time spent in his company.
Jim is to Stevenage football what Shankley was to Liverpool or Busby to United, he lives and breathes SBFC. Phone him at home and whilst most people answer with a cheery ’hello’, not so our Jim. An adopted southerner for over 50 years and never losing his native Yorkshire accent he always answers with “Stevenage for League Football” What the unsuspecting telesales person makes of him I shudder to think, but they will certainly know more about SBFC once HE had chosen to end the call.

Born 14th October 1923 in Swinton, South Yorkshire, the younger of two brothers. Upon leaving school a career in engineering beckoned until WW2 intervened, signing up for the Fleet Air Arm he was sent on arctic convey duties. It has been suggested that the posting had certain inevitability, the Russians being the only people who could understand him.
Nevertheless whilst most folk celebrate their 21st birthday with a party, Jim spent his high up in a freezing “crow’s nest” riding the wild North Sea.

In 1940 Jim signed amateur forms for Sheffield Wednesday but as the conflict escalated most people’s lives were put on hold. His delayed debut arrived on Boxing Day 1943 in a local derby with Sheffield United. Weighing 12 stones and a towering 6’1” Jim donned the No 9 jersey for Wednesday’s short trip to Bramall Lane.

Another posting took him north of the border to Donibristle and a loan spell with Raith Rovers. Reputed to be the first Englishman to score a hattrick against Glasgow Rangers (according to a Rangers year book) Jim eventually moved on to play for the Royal Navy.

A match against the RAF at a capacity Villa Park was followed by a visit to the Olympic stadium, Amsterdam (home of Ajax) where 132,000 people watched the first international to be played in Europe since 1939. Holland v The Combined Services seems an unlikely fixture by today’s standards but these were extraordinary times.

Peacetime arrived with an offer from Portsmouth for his services but more importantly an acceptance from Mary to become Mrs Briscoe, their marriage on 26th December 1945 another “Boxing Day “debut.

© Lloyd Briscoe

© Lloyd Briscoe

Returning to Wednesday, Jim signed professional forms for the 1946/1947 season and despite scoring three goals in five consecutive starts, the form of England centre forward Redfern Frogatt kept Jim in the reserves.

On one occasion he managed to hospitalise the Swansea goalkeeper after attempting a “Nat Lofthouse” on him. Wednesday insisted that he visit the poor chap every day whilst he recovered.

I wonder if grapes were off ration by this time?

Jim’s next move, to Gainsborough Trinity had the local newspaper heralding “Best start for 30 years – 15 goals from 4 matches and Briscoe scores 9 of them”. The next match at Bradford he broke his leg and missed the rest of the season, football can be a cruel game sometimes.

An offer to play for Ramsgate (with house included) was enough to lure Jim and Mary south. Making over 200 appearances for them between 1948-1953 and breaking the Kent League scoring record twice, his 55 goals are unequalled to this day.

Between 1953 -1958 he played 100 for Margate finally hanging up his boots for a career manufacturing arcade machines.

The sea air and spare time were followed (although not too closely it would seem) by the patter of tiny feet as daughter Linda was born in 1948, followed by sons Lloyd in 1955 and Russell in 1959.

With time on his hands Jim started a football team which spawned a very successful youth club. Known as Ramsgate Sporting and with facilities that include canoeing, boxing, wrestling, football and cricket it still exists today.

Around this time, he also helped to organise dances in a local ballroom booking some of the big pop names of the era such as The Kinks, Heinz and the Rolling Stones.

In 1967 he accepted an offer from Stevenage Town Manager, Tommy Bickerstaff to become the club’s commercial manager, uprooting his family from Kent to Hertfordshire.  Jim was not to know that the club was in trouble and shortly afterwards Tommy departed for Cambridge City and the Town folded.

© Lloyd Briscoe

© Lloyd Briscoe

Rising from the ashes, Stevenage Athletic was born with Jim becoming their first Manager. Long suffering but staunchly supportive, wife Mary suddenly found herself in the position of landlady and surrogate mother to a succession of young footballers that lodged with them. Johnny Harley (eventually sold to Reading), Drew Noble (whose son David was recent £1M transfer from Arsenal to West Ham), Jack Parks, Geoff Heard and Mick Hennigan (who eventually became Howard Wilkinson’s No 2 at Sheffield Wednesday and also Leeds United Championship winning side) are just a few to have grown up with the family Briscoe.

His first interview in the Stevenage News on 20th August 1968 quotes “Mr Briscoe’s ultimate footballing ambition is to see Stevenage Athletic as an F A League team…….I just cannot imagine us not being in it with 200,000 people living here in the next 15 or 20 years” Thirty five years on and while Stevenage are closing in on the Football League place, the population growth has some way to go but Jim’s passion and enthusiasm has never wavered.

© Lloyd Briscoe

© Lloyd Briscoe

These days Managers tend to move on when replaced, but for Jim this was never an option. The day job became Marconi engineering, evenings and weekends were spent at Broadhall Way as groundsman and assistant to manager Alan Gilzean, until 1976 and Déjà vu this time saw Athletic follow Town into liquidation.

Undeterred, Jim with his infectious enthusiasm immediately set about galvanising a small group of supporters to form Stevenage Boro’. The rest as they say is history.

Passionate about sport, Jim also excelled at cricket, was a talent golfer, and even boxed whilst in the forces. He still thrives on his connection with Boro and is a proud and loving father and grandfather.
“Old footballers never die – they just shout louder “
Happy Birthday Jim and many more of them.”

As you would expect following the announcement of his passing, tributes from those that knew him the best poured in and are recorded below;

 

Lloyd Briscoe – Jim’s son (source: Official match day programme)

© SFC Official Programme

© SFC Official Programme

“It was Stevenage Town Football Club that brought dad to Stevenage in 1967, the family followed a year later.

I can distinctly remember the state of the pitch at Broadhall Way, and my new found friends from school all helping dad to push this big cast-iron roller from one end to the other on a cold winters night under those giant floodlights before an important game the very next day.

Dad was passionate about the club. He knew everyone in the area who was involved in football. I never once heard him speak badly of anyone.

Watching a game alongside him, he would always pick out positives – including those of the opposition. He could empathise, because he’d played the game at a high level.

Nothing was too much trouble, especially were football was concerned .At one stage, when I was 14, our house in Green Street was also the home for up to four young players who had recently joined the club. My brother and I were both relegated to camp beds and sleeping bags and mum ran the Kitchen like a canteen!

© SFC Official Programme

© SFC Official Programme

It broke his heart when Stevenage Athletic went under, but he had the resolve and determination to get football going again in the town. He achieved this by mustering like-minded people into a committee- the result of which 38 years later, is a Football League club.

Dad loved to be with the supporters. He would always take on- board their views and respond objectively. Stevenage for League Football was always his first words when answering the phone.

He was struck down with a stroke in 2006 and confined to a wheelchair. In 2007, Boro got to Wembley for their first time ever.  It should have been one of the happiest days in his life. Sadly, mum had died earlier that same morning- but I hadn’t the heart to tell him until we had got back to his care home after the game.

Jim was a father to my sister Linda, my brother Russell and me.  He was granddad to Adam, Sam, Michael, Laura and Melissa.
I will miss you dad. We all will”

Phil Wallace – Stevenage FC Chairman (source Official match day programme)
“Jim was a source of guidance and inspiration to me when I came to Stevenage 15 years ago, along with the other members of the A Team that are sadly no longer with us.

© SFC Official Programme

© SFC Official Programme

I never had anything but total support from Jim in our progress to the Football League. He wanted to see Stevenage FC in the Football League so badly that I felt I wanted to see that for Jim as much as myself.  His dream drove me on and it was a real moment for me when promotion was secured. He was the first person I thought about when that whistle blew at Kidderminster.

I valued the time I spent with him and his pals talking about the past and I valued the chats we had about football.  Bringing Jim into the boardroom to act as the clubs ambassador was one of my proudest moments – he was a great character and helped change the way we were viewed by other clubs.

I know that he cherished that involvement and loved every minute that he spent at the club. I’ve mentioned Jim’s pals from the past a couple of times and I know that he would want me to reinforce the fact that’s a lot of people did a lot of great work to get the club where it is now- that was the type of person he was . He was the sole surviving member of the original A Team and those guys will never be forgotten.

Our thoughts go out to Jim and his family and I personally look back with fond memories of many a laugh and joke with him. In the minutes silence a few of us will have a tear at the passing of a truly wonderful man.”

Graham Westley – Stevenage FC Manager (source: Official match day programme)

© SFC Official Programme

© SFC Official Programme

“It’s a very sad day for our club like ours when we lose such a great supporter and great man. He was part of the infantry, he put one foot in front of the other to get the club where it is.

When I was here the first time round he was at the ground every day and he didn’t care if he was washing the cups up or cutting the grass, Jim would do anything for the football club.

He was a special guy and he absolutely adored the game and gave his heart and soul to this football club so I’m sure everyone involved will be devastated.”

Bob Makin – Former Stevenage FC Managing Director (source: Official match day programme)
“He was such a lovely, warm Yorkshire gentleman and his love for the football club rubbed off on everyone else and they loved him as much as the football club.

His famous Stevenage for the Football League campaign typified him. Every time he answered the phone rather than give out his number, as was usual he simply said Stevenage for League Football.”

Clive Abrey – Stevenage FC Commercial Manager (source: Official match day programme)

© SFC Official Programme

© SFC Official Programme

“It is so sad, a lovely man who helped me immensely when I started here.

He was great fun to be with at away games, a chuffing good bloke and without him football at Stevenage wouldn’t be what it is today.
He always had time for a chat and I’ll never forget those mornings in the old tea bar/dressing rooms where he would hold court, especially when talk turned to politics!

I’m just so pleased that his catchphrase Stevenage for League Football came true and that he was around to see it.
Seeing him at Wembley when we won the FA Trophy is a sight I shall never forget, the look on his face was a sheer delight. I think he was the proudest man in the stadium that day and rightly so.

At least he can now join the other members of the A Team upstairs, I’m sure Bert, Ken, Ernie and Arthur are looking forward to chewing the fat with him again”

Lucy Cox – Stevenage Supporter (source: Borochat thread)
“Such sad news…I don’t know where to start.  I’ve known Jim since I was first involved in voluntary work at the club at the age of 14 helping get the ground ready for the summer we first won the Conference, joining in with the original A Team and listening to all their stories.

Later on I served as Boro Bear where Jim got me involved in many exciting adventures, one such was a surprise meeting with Kevin Keegan when we played Fulham in a PSF.

I left for university in 2000 and 2 years later when I had moved back to Stevenage I had a knock on my door, to my surprise it was Jim who was hoping that he had been given the correct address and that I still lived there. He was amazed that this was the same little girl he had said goodbye to on her way to university a couple of years previously.

This was a reunion that threw Jim and me into a heap load of work. Over the next few summers, we repainted the ground and the steps, did the fixture boards, designed a book for Baby Boro members, and spent Sunday after Sunday re-establishing the A Team clearing the ground after matches.

We shared moments of laughter and tears together. Jim was the second grand-dad I never had. His tales of being on the convoys in Russia during the war and how he had experienced Russian Football. – One of life’s true heroes.

The sadness of him being rushed into hospital and visiting him after his stroke. The one thing I truly regret is not getting over to visit him once he moved into his final care home due to no longer living locally and myself now having a family.

I tried to catch up with him on the North Stand If I managed to get to a game. So tonight I raise a glass to you Jim or maybe one of your super strong brews of tea. A true friend that will be sorely missed.  I hope that Adam and I will be able to carry on you’re A Team for many more years to come and keep your spirit alive.

Goodnight old boy and God bless XX”

 Rest Easy Jim – from all at Boro

Pic2  Pic3

1923 to 2014