THE news of the untimely death of local footballing legend, Jon Clifford, last Saturday night, has sent shockwaves through the Derry and North-West area. The Tristar Boys’ Club founder passing away in Altnagelvin Hospital. He was 58.
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
Affectionately known to the youth of the city in bygone years as “Big Ugg,” Jon’s entire life was totally focused on a boys club he built from nothing based in the Bogside. Youth and underage football was always his priority in life and there are few who would not immediately recognise the sight of him pounding the streets of Derry, with his rucksack perched on his back, during the mid-1970’s into the 1980’s.
“Ugg” founded his club back in 1974 having assisted former team, Westpark, and his loyalty and leadership of Tristar remained with him until his death last weekend.
Thanks to Jon, so many young players from throughout the Derry area, found themselves involved in competitive football from a very young age. And thanks to his tenacity and determination, so many young players found a release in representing the club through what had been the particularly difficult times of the city’s well documented “Troubles.”
An ebullient character with an infectious personality, Jon Clifford attracted youth players from every area of Derry - not just the Bogside where Tristar was born.
Players from the then newly constructed Shantallow areas, Creggan and, indeed, the Waterside, joined him to spend their youth careers with a club he managed so successfully.
Indeed, he always made those youngsters representing Tristar feel very important by quietly hand-delivering postcard messages, informing the players of a forthcoming fixture, venue and the time to report. In fact, he walked the length and breadth of Derry to deliver such notification, asking for nothing but their presence on match days.
And “Ugg” epitomised the phrase “voluntary worker,” never asking for anything in return when providing a youth service to which he dedicated his entire life.
After a period of 38 unbroken years, Jon’s leadership qualities continues to place Tristar Boys to the forefront of the local sport and each year new young players have been eager to join his ranks from the tender age of 10 years.
A life-long non-drinker and non-smoker, Jon may not have married, but he certainly helped fashion the characters of so many of his young players into good citizens, those youngsters back in the mid-70’s having since sent their own children to learn from their former mentor from Abbot’s Walk.
He was also an accomplished quiz buff in Derry, having not only enjoyed competing in local pub competitions, but he also acted as an excellent quizmaster, particularly when attempting to raise funds for his boys’ club on an annual basis.
Despite the “Troubles,” Jon was probably one of the first local youth leaders to engage in cross-community football competitions. He led teams to East Belfast at the height of the political difficulties, the parents of those children feeling safe and content to leave their siblings in his charge.
Unfortunately, Jon contracted COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), a lung condition which very few knew anything about until he encountered great breathing difficulties. It then became clear that he would not be in a position to continue his life-long service to Derry’s youth community.
That said, before his death he organised a committee of former Tristar members who have since stepped up to the plate and taken over the duties which he had undertaken for so many years.
Requiring a lung transplant, Jon was actually rushed to Newcastle last week when an organ became available, only to meet with bitter disappointment on his arrival in the North-East of England, when learning that the organ was not compatible.
Refusing to throw in the towel, his dying wish, was that the 10th anniversary Anthony Martin Memorial Cup - an Under-11 competition in memory of one of his former young players - would proceed despite his deteriorating condition. That competition was successfully staged on Sunday last in the Magee Sports Pavilion in Duncreggan Road, his Tristar Committee following out his instructions to the letter.
The return of Derry City to senior football in 1985 was also warmly welcomed by the “big man,” especially when he noted some of his former protégés donning the “Candy Striped” jersey over the years.
He actually emerged the club’s leading steward for a period and with Jon, everything was either black and white. He “shot from the hip” and, on occasions, found himself at the centre of major controversy.
Indeed, when placed in charge of the Glentoran Stand at the Brandywell, the late and former F.A.I. Chief Executive, Mr. Fran Fields, climbed the steps prior to a high profile match. When approached by Jon who would inspect his ticket, Mr. Fields asked him: “Do you know who I am?”
To which Jon replied: “As far as I’m concerned sir, you are a man without a ticket and without one you will not be getting in here!”
His absence in Derry & District Youth football will be unquantifiable, but his loss to Tristar Boys will prove to be devastating.
Jon will be laid to rest following Requiem Mass in St. Columba’s Church, Long Tower, at 11.30 a.m. today and the profound sympathy of the Derry and North-West footballing fraternity is extended to the Clifford family circle.
May he rest in peace.