A fervent follower of the Ports and a dedicated family man

Two club greats, Philip Major (back) and Brian Strain (right), took the chance before Saturday's anniversary meal to catch up with Clifford Chambers (left) and Jack Gilpin.INPT20-708''PTFOOTBALLPFC13
Two club greats, Philip Major (back) and Brian Strain (right), took the chance before Saturday's anniversary meal to catch up with Clifford Chambers (left) and Jack Gilpin.INPT20-708''PTFOOTBALLPFC13

Portadown in general – and Portadown football in particular - has lost a great character with the death of Jack Gilpin, who passed away in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Jack (90) had been unwell for some time. But his death came suddenly and unexpectedly when he died peacefully in the early hours of Thursday morning with his devoted son (and only child) John at his bedside.

Jack had an infectious and unselfish attitude to life, even though he suffered great heartache in his childhood. His mother Frances-Sarah died when Jack was just two, and his father Christy was killed by a drunk driver when Jack was eight.

His parents had seven children – Jimmy, Jack, Tommy, Mary, Dorrie, Millie and Edna. Christy re-married and there were two more daughters, Jean and Mary.

Owing to the personal tragedies, Mary, the eldest, took on the responsibility of raising the family, and Jack regarded Mary and her husband Bill Forsyth as his parents. They were brought up in Henry Street in Edgarstown, when everyone knew everyone else, the front door was always open, and it was a truly integrated area.

He went to school at the Hart Memorial, and went on to serve his time as a bricklayer. He spent his entire career with local contractors, apart from a few years during World War Two when he worked at the Belfast shipyard.

Playing football was a main passion of the young Jack Gilpin. He played full-back and sometimes as a winger, being on the books of Irish League teams like Ards, Crusaders, Portadown and Glentoran.

He played with Glentoran Seconds when Billy Bingham and Bertie Peacock were young hopefuls - he was making quite a name for himself as a tough tackling full-back with an explosive shot. Jack attracted the attention of Airdrieonians, then in the Scottish First Division, as well as West Brom from the Second Division in England.

However, he had, in the meantime, fallen in love with the former Meta Livingstone, who didn’t fancy moving to GB. They were married and settled initially in Eden Avenue and then in Eden Crescent where they spent the rest of their married life.

John was their only child – they would have liked more, but it wasn’t to be. They were compensated in later life when John and May married – she became the daughter they never had. And their joy was compounded when their first grandchild Alana was born, followed by William. Jack adored his grandchildren, and although they now live in London, he kept in regular touch with them.

His life fell apart in 1983 when Meta passed away, but his family rallied round, and with their love and care, he lived a fulfilling life for another 22 years. And he was given a great lift in 2003 when John and May moved next door.

In the meantime, he retained his great love for football, primarily with Portadown Football Club. He followed the Ports right up to his late 80s until health issues stopped him from going regularly.

Saturday was Jack’s day when he would be up early in town selling raffle tickets. He was chairman of the social club for many years and worked tireless in many ways, including voluntary work around Shamrock Park.

Jack’s other teams were Rangers, Manchester City and Northern Ireland. He would go regularly to Old Firm games with Celtic at the New Year as he and Meta had a lot of friends in Scotland. He was at the game when the Ibrox disaster happened in 1971 and 66 people died.

Jack was a long-serving member of the Orange and Black Loyal Orders and had been through the chair in the Masonic. He was also a talented singer, and particularly loved Scottish songs. He and Meta were also keen ballroom dancers and went to venues like Carleton Street and The Savoy.

On July 15 this year, Jack reached the grand old age of 90. To mark the occasion, the family organised a birthday party for him at Seagoe Parish Centre where many friends and relatives came to share the occasion with him. It brought so much joy to him, meeting people he hadn’t seen for a while.

The service of thanksgiving at Seagoe Parish Church on Saturday was conducted by the curate, Canon Raj Sathyaraj, with committal in the adjoining churchyard. Portadown manager Ronnie McFall, officials and former players were among the mourners.

Donations in lieu of flowers are to - Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke Association, c/o K G Cheevers and Son, Funeral Directors, 28 Dobbin Street, Armagh, BT61 7QQ.