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I’m UK’s oldest football fan – if Grimsby Town reach FA Cup final on my 101th birthday it’ll be the best present ever

MOST pensioners look forward to a telegram from the King and a birthday cake when they turn 100.

But Jack Hinchliffe had bigger fish to fry.

Richard Walker
Jack with son Graham and his honorary Grimsby Town shirt from the club[/caption]
Richard Walker
Come rain or shine, Jack has seen around 2,000 Grimsby Town matches[/caption]

He got the “best present” ever when his beloved Grimsby Town were promoted on the same day.

Now Jack is hoping his 101st will be just as lucky if the second division Lincolnshire underdogs can overcome Premier League high-flyers Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday in the quarter finals of the FA Cup.

Two more wins by Town on their remarkable run and it would be a Wembley FA Cup final on June 3 – the same weekend as Jack’s big day.

Jack joked: “I’ll be living in hope or dying in despair!

“I don’t drink but I might even open a bottle if we win.”

Oldest footie fan

The loyal Mariners’ supporter is Grimsby’s – and possibly Britain’s oldest – footie fan and his passion for his club knows no bounds.

He has watched around 2,000 matches since he started following Grimsby in 1948 when he left the army after the Second World War.

Come rain or shine Jack has waved his scarf at every game until he finally quit travelling the country to go to away matches at the age of 93.

He’s too frail to travel to Brighton for Sunday’s cup clash where Town take on a team 76 places above them in the leagues, and will watch on TV instead.

The former fish salesman said: “I think we can do it.  Why not? We’ve come this far.

“If we make it to Wembley the whole town will empty – and I’ll definitely want to go.”

Richard Walker
Jack at Wembley with grandson Jayden in 2016[/caption]

Grimsby only regained their full league status last year by winning the national playoffs after a potentially disastrous drop into the semi-professional National League.

But this season the bounceback has continued with a remarkable and record-breaking run of five FA Cup games when they have defeated teams higher up the leagues. 

The last time they flew so high was in the FA Cup quarter-finals in 1939 when they were a First Division side, losing 5-0 to Wolves in the semi-finals.

Thousands of fans will be taking their iconic Harry the Haddock inflatable fish to Brighton’s American Express Community Stadium.

The Mariners fans include comedian Lloyd Griffith, ex-kids entertainer Timmy Mallett and, occasionally, ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson whose Grimsby Town bobble hat often makes an appearance.

And the current PM Rishi Sunak has even thrown his weight behind the team after a fifth round victory over his team Southampton.

He said: “I now have a new team to support in the cup.”

But local celeb Jack is by far the fan’s favourite and he was last year guest of honour at a ‘legends’ night where he was thrilled to meet ex-goalie Nigel Batch, who played for Grimsby between 1976 and 1787.

The team also made Jack an honorary player with his own ‘Hinchliffe 100’ shift which he keeps on a peg in his living room.

Jack’s most exciting game yet was at Wembley in 2016 when his team beat Forest Green Rovers to return to the EFL.

A picture of him at the match with grandson Jayden, now 17, hangs proudly on his wall.

Even Boris has been spotted in a Grimsby hat while out running with his dog[/caption]
Richard Walker
Jack, aged around 50, when he worked as a fish salesman in Grimsby[/caption]

He said: “That was a great day. 

“There was nobody left on the streets of Grimsby because everyone was at the match.”

The father-of-two, grandfather of nine and great-grandad of eleven became obsessed with Grimsby when he went to see them at Blundell Park, the 124-year-old stadium in Cleethorpes where Town still play. 

Sprightly Jack makes sure he goes for a short walk on the crescent outside his house every day to make sure he’s fit enough to watch his team on the weekends.

“I don’t go to the mid-week games because you have to pay extra and I already pay between £300 and £400 for my season ticket,” he says.

And on the subject of money, he reckons today’s footballers earn far too much.

“They are greedy,” he says. “You used to get paid by the match and that was fair enough.

“But I guess as Greavsie once said ‘it’s a funny old game’”

Jack’s obsession with Grimsby started in 1939 when he left the Royal Engineers at the end of the war after taking part in tough campaigns in France, Norway, Egypt and the Middle East.

He said: “I started going because it was somewhere to go. There wasn’t much to do after the war – it was job done.

“I was quite sociable so a group of us started going.”

Jack, who had played football growing up in Filey, was in Grimsby to lay cables for the post office and ended up staying after falling in love with first wife Joyce.

He said: “Joyce used to visit the landlady me and another lad were staying with.

“I  went to the Ritz cinema in Cleethorpes with a group of five, including Joyce, and when we got to the door there was only four allowed in.

Jack with first wife Joyce, left, and second wife Kathleen
Richard Walker
Jack, far left, took his own team Haven Hotspurs to victory in 1953[/caption]

“We tossed for it and I took Joyce in. Afterwards we walked all the way back to Grimsby fish market, about three miles, and talked all the way.

“When I walked her home her mum answered the door and said ‘bring the lad in then’. I thought ‘ey, what’s going on here then,’ but she came out with a washing up bowl full of beetroot from her garden for me. I still love a beetroot sandwich.”

When Jack, then 19, and 18-year-old Joyce tied the knot they started going to games together and when baby Robert, now 71, came along, he went too.

Sadly, Joyce died of liver failure aged 58.

He went on to marry Kathleen, who died in 2004 aged 81, and had two children, taxi driver Graham, 57, and Sandra, 62, who were also ‘persuaded’ to support the Mariners.

Sandra said: “To be honest I don’t really like football but it keeps dad going and gives him something to talk about with other people.”

Granddaughter Seren Lucas, nine, has followed in her granddad’s footsteps and joined a junior team.

Jack once ran his own football team Haven Hotspur FC who won the third division championship in 1953

Despite being a massive Grimsby fan, Jack isn’t that interested in other clubs.

And he is charmingly blunt when talking about the world’s most famous players.

His favourites were Brazil sticker Pele, who died in December last year, and Hungarian Ferenc Puskas.

He says: “I liked George Best but then he took to the drink and ruined the girls.”

He saves a special mention for Raich Carter, a Hull City player, who he helped watch defeat Grimsby in 1949.

Richard Walker
Granddaughter Seren has made granddad proud playing for Grimsby[/caption]
Pele and Puskas are Jack’s all-time favourite players

Carter, who had captained his home town team Sunderland to a League Championship in 1936, was, says Jack, “the best player I’d ever seen at that time.”

Jack, who has lived through five monarchs, has four carers to help but is still sharp for his age and with a twinkle in his eye says: “The oldest person in Britain is 108 and I’m going to beat them.”

Son Graham puts his dad’s longevity down to his attitude.

“You can come in and tell dad the worst news and he just goes ‘ah, well’. He’s always been that way.”

While Jack might not make tomorrow’s match Grimsby Town knows their lucky mascot is right behind them.


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