OBITUARY: Irish League stalwart Jack Gilpin had boyhood marred by tragedy

Jack Gilpin had a long association with Portadown Football Club
Jack Gilpin had a long association with Portadown Football Club

Jack Gilpin played for a surprising array of Irish League squads, and could have enjoyed a career in the leagues of the UK mainland.

After his playing days were over, he remained a fixture of his native town’s club until well into his later years.

He was born on July 15, 1925 in Portadown’s Henry Street, and remained in the town for the rest of his life.

He was faced with two terrible bereavements while still a boy.

In the first of them, Jack’s mother Frances-Sarah died when he was aged two; something his son John Gilpin believes happened during the birth of one of his brothers.

Jack’s father Christie was then killed himself six years later by a drunk driver.

“There were almost literally no cars about in those days – it was 1933,” said John.

His elder sister Mary raised him and the rest of the family, and he regarded her as a mother figure through the rest of his life.

Football was a major force in his life; he excelled at it, and went on to play with a remarkable number of prominent clubs: Crusaders, Glentoran, Ards and Portadown.

It was the latter team with which he had the strongest connection, and he remained involved with the club well into his latter years.

He could have had a career on the mainland UK too.

Both West Bromwich Albion and Scottish club squad Airdrieonians expressed an interest in signing him.

However, he had married Margaret Livingstone (known as Meta) in 1950, and she was reluctant to move.

“Basically he’d met my mum and she wouldn’t leave here,” said John. “She would’ve been a home bird.”

He worked throughout his life as a bricklayer, having left school at 14. He retired at roughly age 68.

In his spare time he was heavily involved in the loyal orders, being a member of both Ballygargan LOL107 and RBP503 – as well as three or four Masonic lodges through the years.

But sport remained the dominant interest in his life, and he became chairman of Portadown FC social club, continuing to follow matches until well into his 80s (and only stopping because the cold got too much).

“It’s what he lived for,” said John.

“Every Saturday morning he was up buzzing about.”

He was also a Rangers supporter, and had attended the fateful Celtic game at Ibrox Park in 1971 in which 66 people were killed following a major crush (although he was a safe distance from the melee).

Club secretary Bill Emerson said: “He was a very dedicated follower of the Ports and was involved in a whole range of activities, and still attended matches, until very recently.

“He was very, very highly thought of.”

He had suffered a heart attack in 1996, and his son said it was “quite an achievement” that he had managed to reach the age of 90.

He died in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital on September 3 of pneumonia.

His funeral was two days later at Seagoe Parish Church (CoI), where he had formerly sung in the choir.

He was buried in the churchyard.

He is survived by son John, daughter-in-law May Gilpin, and grandchildren Alana and William.