John Birkett (1998)

JOHN BIRKETT: A Tribute by Andy Skeels

THIS issue of Iron Filings should have been John Birkett’s second as editor.

Only a matter of a few days ago, he called me to say that he was planning to get cracking on it so that we could put an issue out as soon as possible after the end of the season.

That was the Friday. Little more than 48 hours later, he was dead, having suddenly, and unexpectedly, lost his battle against cancer at the age of just 46 on Sunday, May 17.

John had only been diagnosed as having cancer at Christmas.

Despite the shock, initially, the long-term signs were encouraging and, as John himself wrote in the March edition of Iron Filings: “The prognosis is not bad and I should see most of you towards the end of the season at Leyton so you can see the bald head and missing beard.”

Sadly, he never got the opportunity. John took a turn for the worse shortly before the Orient game and didn’t make it to Brisbane Road.

Not one to let anyone down, however, he still managed to phone the Bricklayers Arms from his hospital bed to let everyone know that he wouldn’t be coming.

Although, long term, things did not seem too good by that stage, no-one was prepared for the speed of his passing. It came as a real shock to hear of his death – and I’m sure everyone in the London branch felt the same way.

John had been the longest-serving chairman of SULSESC, a job he tackled with great enthusiasm and gusto.

The position of Iron Filings editor had rather been dumped on him towards the end of last year, only a couple of months before he was taken ill.

It is a reflection of his enthusiasm that he still managed to put out an edition in March, despite his personal problems.

While every SULSESC member who knew John will feel his loss, perhaps his death will be most keenly felt amongst the London branch darts team.

A stalwart of the side since its formation, John’s cry of “sorry!” every time another of his wayward arrows landed in the treble 18 will be sorely missed.

He took great delight in the fact that he hit a winning double in the match against Middlesbrough earlier this season – so let’s hope that’s a contribution towards another championship success when we tackle Ipswich in the title decider.

As many people have said, darts matches will never be the same again.

And neither will trips to United games.

John was a regular traveller and must have averaged more than 20 or 25 matches a season. We will certainly miss him doing his ‘James Alexander-Gordon’ with the Third Division results via his Walkman on the way back to the station after a game.

Get-togethers at his house before games at Orient were an integral part of the SULSESC social calendar and who now will be able to visit Brisbane Road without thinking of John?

His passion for the Iron remained undiminished to the end (he even asked us to ring him in hospital on his mobile after the Orient game to let him know the result) – and I’m sure he’ll be up there somewhere next season with a smile on his face as he looks down on the rest of us suffering yet another display of total ineptitude from

the Iron at Glanford Park.

It would be nice to think that United might actually win promotion next season for John but, whether they do or not, we will all be raising a point (of the most expensive lager naturally) at the AGM in memory of JB, our friend and one of life’s nice guys.

John playing golf at Rottingdean on one of the SULSESC summer days out to Brighton