As I sit in my hometown club’s local sports club after Ammanford AFC’s matches, I know I am in for a treat when the club secretary John Thomas comes and sits next to me. Doc, as he is known, is sure to provide me with a classic story, and when he pats down his hair and puts his pint down to begin his story, I know I’m in for something special.
Every club has their own stalwart who does everything in their power for the club and for my club, Ammanford AFC, that is John Thomas, known to everyone as John Doc.
Doc is a local legend. The man who is the Welsh League’s longest serving fixture secretary, as he has spent over 50 years as the secretary of Ammanford football club, in its many forms simply is Mr Ammanford. Managers have come and gone, the club’s identity has changed, but John always remains. It is a true testament to his commitment.
In the many conversations we have had, it is clear Ammanford means an awful lot to him. As a supporter of the club for four years, I feel a sense of attachment to the club, so for a man who’s been associated with the club for over half a century, it is impossible for me to comprehend the impact he’s had on the club.
John always recalls to me the great times the club has experienced with Ioan Rees and Phil Fisher upfront, when Swansea and Cardiff City both played their football in the top tier of Welsh football. When young players now receive treatment on the field, in an era when conditioning and pitches have supposedly improved, he always repeats the same story of how Ioan Rees played twenty seasons of football and never missed a game through injury. He does not stand for this diving and going off for a slight niggle.
A light hearted, dedicated and committed fellow John is always optimistic about his club. He preaches tactics on the sidelines to the younger players, celebrates goals with the aura and energy of a youngster with a spring in his step, and even boasts about his own goalscoring days. When asked about the best goal he ever scored, John will always inform us of how he once took a corner, ran into the box and headed it in with ease, before celebrating in style. The story may be slightly exaggerated, I’m sure of it.
On the sidelines, Doc is fiery and impatient, but no one can ever question his commitment to the club. He ensures the stability of the club, and can be found sorting out the match day programmes during the week, sorting the corner flags on Saturdays and organising the match day experience on a week to week basis. For a man in his seventies, this is the epitome of his commitment to the club. He has seen how clubs have folded over time, but John will be there week in week out to support his local side without fail. Even when abroad on his holidays, Doc won’t calm until he’s found out if Ammanford have won their game. He lives and breathes Ammanford.
A preacher of club stability, the one blip in recent seasons was Ammanford’s dual with the FAW along with Cwmbran Celtic over relegation, despite finishing outside the relegation zone. In an unfavourable situation, against the footballing authority of Wales, John was far from despondent. He remarked, when asked if we’d stay up that he was “99% sure we’d stay up”. Needless to say, John was a little off the mark as the club was relegated. Since the club has been promoted back to their original division, it’s something we can now laugh about. But, whilst other clubs would have rolled over he fought tooth and nail with others to ensure we were given a hearing and allowed to stay in what he thought was the club’s rightful division. He preaches how “clubs have come and gone, but we will always stay” and the proof is in the pudding. Ammanford have never been outside the Welsh Leagues in their existence and have never had to reform due to financial issues, as far as I’m aware.
Sitting in Ammanford cricket club, Ammanford football club’s HQ, I know sipping my Coke that John is no doubt set to provide me with a story or anecdote that will have me bending over laughing. I’ve only been involved with the club for three full seasons, but it has been one full of laughs and joy with Doc around. With his jokes and stories, I’m sure he could probably make a fairly decent living as a compere or on the after dinner circuit despite the fact he may not be as well known as your Dean Saunders or your John Hartson. Win or lose, John makes my Saturday a joy.
Every club is sure to have their own club stalwart who puts their all into their club. Standing on the gate, on the sidelines, in the clubhouse, everyone can spot the fellow whose happiness on a weekend depends on his club’s results. When a visitor drops their £3 at the gate, you know you make his Saturday a little easier, the survival of the club a little easier. There is a special feeling attached to being a supporter of a local football club, knowing you’re making your club happy.
Every club may have their own version of John Doc, their own club stalwart. but only Ammanford AFC are truly blessed to have the John Doc.