THE local football community has been mourning the loss of one of the sport’s biggest and best known characters, after he died suddenly last Saturday, aged 64.
Tony ‘Jenno’ Jennings was an accomplished player for many years in some of the district’s best sides and had legendary status in Thornhill, where he was a popular former player and manager of Overthorpe Sports Club.
As a fast and skilful left winger, Tony, who went to St Paulinus and St John Fisher schools, and played for Thornhill Youth Club, had trials with Hull City.
Brothers John and Edward are certain he would have made it as pro, but for two freakish accidents – having kick-abouts in Rectory Park.
“When he was 15 he fully dislocated his knee,” said Edward. “They told Anthony he’d never play again, but he did – and the following year he broke both his tibia and fibula, again just having a kick-about.”
That ended Tony’s professional aspirations, but he was a key member of some excellent Ossett Trinity, Ossett Albion and Littletown teams, plus the successful Flatts Utd and Fearnside outfits.
But ‘Jenno’ was never happier than at home in Thornhill, where he played for most of the village’s teams over the years, from Thornhill Edge and Edge Top WMCs, to the Flatt Top and Overthorpe sides, loving nothing better than a derby against the former Austins works team or Thornhill Lees, in front of large crowds at either Centenary Square or Overthorpe Park. He would end up playing into his 50s.
His brothers added: “Anthony was loved by everyone that played with him and everyone that played for him – but not necessarily everyone that played against him!”
He was certainly a fiery character! His close friend, Andy Hardy, talked of his “great skill with his trusted left foot”, a prolific goalscorer who could “beat a man with a drop of a shoulder and turn defences inside out.”
Andy said: “Tony has played with thousands of lads over the years every one of them will have a story to tell about him, on or off the pitch. He was never frightened to get hurt for the cause, a little Billy Bremner, come to think of it.”
The game took on a new meaning after Tony hung up his boots, and he was asked by Paul Brook and Eric Fisher at Overthorpe Sports Club if he would take over as manager. Over the years he did everything from washing the kits and cleaning the changing rooms, to being club secretary and helping raise funds for the new pitch.
With the help of John Allpress and Andy Wood, Tony built a succession of winning sides, lifting the prestigious Wheatley Cup no less than six times over a 20-year span, including three back-to-back in 1993/94/95.
“For Thornhill, that was like Sir Alf Ramsay winning the World Cup,” said Andy Hardy.
A strict disciplinarian, he would run his players from Thornhill to Horbury, Middlestown and back to get them fit, he was a great motivator who would never ask his players to do anything he couldn’t, or wouldn’t.
“Lads would go down injured, then see Tony running on with a freezing cold sponge and the smelling salts. They’d be straight up their feet!” he continued.
“They weren’t all glory years, but Tony was never a bloke to give up. If he was short of players he’d be out knocking on doors – you weren’t safe stood at a bus stop, Tony would just ask what size boots you were. He’d have made a great politician – Tony Churchill!”
Born in Thornhill Lees before moving to Overthorpe Road in Thornhill, Tony trained as a motor mechanic after leaving St John Fisher. When he wasn’t busy with football he loved growing vegetables on his allotment and enjoyed fishing too.
Tony was taken ill about six months ago by the debilitating CIPD disease, which attacks the immune/nervous system and led to him losing a lot of weight. He passed away after suffering a heart attack at home in Overthorpe Road on Saturday morning.
He and wife Lynda had four children – Jason, Jayne, Emma and Anthony – and he also leaves four grandchildren – Harry, Molly, Olivia and Joe.
Apart from brothers John and Edward, he is also survived by sisters Anne, Agnes and Kathleen. He was predeceased by his oldest sister Mary.
The funeral will take place at St Paulinus RC Church next Friday (Oct 31st) at 10am, followed by interment at Dewsbury Cemetery.
Donations will be given to Overthorpe Sports Club’s junior football section.