By Isaac Seelochan
The chairman of a Nottinghamshire grassroots football club is celebrating nearly 40 years at the helm.
Neil Johnson has been in charge of Kimberley Miners Welfare Football Club (KMWFC) for 38 seasons.
The 66-year-old has been involved with the club since he joined as a player aged 14 and continued to play for them until his early 50s.
Neil took over the job in 1982 from the previous chairman Fred Johnson, his dad.
But now Neil is looking for someone to fill his boots and take over the most senior role at the club.
He said: “Over the last five years I’ve asked if anyone would like the job, but nobody’s put their name forward.
“We may play at a much higher or lower level but as long as the club continues – that’s what I’m interested in.
“I want to see the club progress beyond me.”
Ann Johnson, 66, has been married to Neil for 36 years – almost the entirety of his tenure as chairman.
The couple grew up together as childhood friends with Ann’s mother being the secretary to Neil’s dad when he was chairman.
Ann thinks highly of Neil’s work over the years, which has required a lot of sacrifices.
She said: “I think he’s done brilliantly well.
“It takes a lot of hard work to run the club and he’s very highly thought of by everyone in the community.”
The club is named after the mining welfares which were created across the country as a way of supporting the lives of colliery workers.
They were popular places to socialise and play sport as the mining industry boomed at the beginning of the 20th Century.
As well as football clubs, welfares across the country included cricket pitches, swimming baths and even libraries.
Nottingham has several football clubs named after the mining welfare in prominent mining areas across the city, including Calverton, Gedling and Rainworth.
But coal mining declined rapidly towards the end of the century. Nottinghamshire’s last coal mine closed its doors in 2015.
KMWFC were formed in 1926 – the same year as the General Strike – and just 12 months later the miners welfare in Kimberley opened.
Neil’s father Fred became chairman of the club in 1954 and lasted almost 30 years before handing the baton down to Neil in the early 80s.
Neil has experienced plenty of highs during his lengthy tenure but believes building the changing rooms at the club’s old ground is the most notable accomplishment.
The players previously had to change at a house several hundred yards away before the new facilities were built in the mid-90s.
He said: “Using material from the old Calverton Cricket Club changing rooms, we built new facilities at the Digby Street ground.
“We got several chaps to help us carry everything to Kimberley with the cost being around £15,000, half of which was given to us by the FA.
“I coughed up the rest!”
KMWFC now play at the Stag Ground with the first team playing in the East Midlands Counties Football League – the tenth tier of the football pyramid.
The club has been hit hard like everyone else by the pandemic, with Neil admitting that not being allowed to have fans into the ground is a significant blow for the club.
He said: “Not having fans has had a detrimental effect on our money supply.
“We need fans to cover the costs of running the club with things like the tea bar doing well on matchdays being a great help.”
He added: “We’ve played two games behind closed doors but now the government have allowed us to have 150 fans in.
“Last weekend against Belper we had around 80 fans so we’re in a fairly good place, but we do need the fans in order to continue.”