Harrogate man who devoted life to grassroots football dies aged 74

Joe Billington (s)
Joe Billington (s)

A Harrogate man who devoted his life to building grassroots football across the district has died at the age of 74.

Joe Billington spent the majority of his footballing life Pannal Sports, joining the club in 1976 before spending 17 years as manager, three years as chairman and 20 years as secretary of the junior club.

However, Joe’s footballing career first started in 1955, when he first turned out for Blundell AFC in Liverpool at the age of 14, before taking up roles of assistant treasurer, secretary and chairman.

Joe made the move to Harrogate in 1976 and the footballing stalwart made a lasting impression across the district; acting as treasurer of the Knaresborough Sunday League, the Girls League and then 25 years as treasurer of the Harrogate and District Junior League.

During this time, Joe still managed to play for Pannal Sports’ open age team, before finally hanging up his boots in 1998 for Regent Wanderers at the age of 57.

His incredible contribution did not go unnoticed. Earlier this year Joe received the FA’s 50-Year award for his outstanding services to football and was made a life member of Harrogate FA eight years ago.

Nick Viles, the club’s current junior club chairman said: “The whole club is deeply saddened by the loss of Joe. Joe was key to the club’s development and he will continue to influence how the club runs. Joe’s incredible 40 year contribution to the club and local grass roots football is unlikely ever to be equalled.”

Greg Darcy, Pannal Sports Open Age teams’ chairman said: “Joe also made a huge impact on senior football both as a player, running the open age club and with his role at the local FA.

"Even though he nearly made it in the professional game, his natural modesty and focus on others made it hard to get him to talk about his successes on and off the pitch.

“The Open Age teams have lost a true inspiration, a role model and a good friend. Pannal Sports is Joe’s legacy.”

Pannal Sports is hoping to announce an agreement with Harrogate Borough Council to create a home for the club.