A CHAMPION of junior football who gave nearly 30 years of service to local football has died following a long battle with cancer.
George King, who helped establish the Horsham Mini Minor League and was president of Horsham Sparrows FC, was diagnosed with the illness back in 2003 - being told by doctors he had less than a year to live.
However, Mr King defied the odds and survived until last month, when he died peacefully at his home in Horsham, surrounded by his family.
Hundreds of people gathered to remember Mr King, 79, at his funeral last week, with players of all ages keen to pay tribute to a man without who thousands of local youngsters would not have been given the chance to fall in love with the game.
And as well as football, there were also representatives from the Scouts, where Mr King spent many years as a scout master in Brighton, former colleagues from his time spent working on the railways and friends he had made during his time at Horsham Bowls Club, where he was club president.
Born in Brighton in 1932, Mr King attended Brighton and Hove City Grammar School where he discovered a love of classical music and scouting.
He spent time in the Forces on national service before later going on to work for British Railways in Dorking, Surrey.
It was there he met and fell in love with his beloved wife Gill, with the pair marrying in 1958 and moving to Horsham. There Mr King joined the Roffey Working Man’s club football team, while throwing himself into inter-office sport - helping to organised leagues in football, tennis, badminton, netball and table tennis.
He also became heavily involved in the trade union movement - a passion which continued when he was relocated to offices in Croydon where he became a regional representative and was later given the TSSA Service Award.
Mr King took early retirement in 1982 and it was then that he got involved with junior football in West Sussex. With two sons (Simon and Martin) both keen on playing, Mr King became a manager at Horsham Sparrows - a club he would leave an indelible mark through nearly three decades of involvement which continued up until his death - long after his sons had stopped playing.
Through his work with Horsham Sparrows, Mr King also got involved with the Horsham Mini Minor League - going on to become chairman and eventually having a cup named in his honour.
Ian Morris - a long-time friend, neighbour and fellow Horsham Sparrows stalwart - was among the first to pay tribute to the man dubbed ‘Mr Sparrows’. He said: “George had a deep love of football although he made it abundantly clear that he had no time for what he considred to be the overpaid prima donnas of the Premiership as his passion was supporting the true grass roots football being the young players of tomorrow and in particular the boys and girls of his beloved Horsham Sparrows FC.
“George has been involved with Sparrows since the mid 1970s and during that time he went to great lengths to ensure that the boys and girls were taught to play the beautiful game in a proper and sportsmanlike manner showing respect for their club, the opposition and the match officials.
“The club will continue to strive that this legacy left by someone who could truly be called Mr Sparrows is recognised and followed for as long as there is a Horsham Sparrows FC.”
And it was a sentiment echoed by Dave Wellbelove, current chairman of the Horsham and District Youth.
He said: “George was an ‘ever-present’ in youth football locally for so long, and a strong supporter of our league, and the Horsham Mini-Minor League before it, more recently as one of our small band of life members.
“George has always been one of life’s gentlemen – never afraid to voice an opinion, but always in a constructive, polite and sincere way.
“Our young people need to remain aware that they would not be playing football, were it not for the energy and commitment of the likes of George, and his colleagues from the early days of the Mini-Minor League.”
Mr King is survived by his two sons, wife Gill and five grandsons - Daniel, Freddie, Billy, Max and Toby. And, as his son Simon King explained, he managed to fulfil a lifelong ambition before his death.
He said: “One of the things dad was very keen to do was watch his grandson Daniel play football, which he did twice in the new year. “There were three generations of Sparrows that day - president, manager and player which really made his day.”
And he also remember a speech Mr King made at one of his grandson’s naming ceremony, saying: “I don’t think I have seen him happier than when sitting on the floor, dressed as a pirate and surrounded by all his grandchildren.
“We will hold many treasured memories of dad - whether it be that of a wife, son, brother, grandchild, family members, friend or colleague but I am sure they will will be united in those of a true gentlemen who would never ask what is in it for me - only what he could do for others.”