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Team pledge to win cup final for Rita, their biggest fan

‘Tragedy brought us all closer,’ says football manager whose mother’s death shocked players

17 February, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

Team manager Paul Ferguson with dad Stuart

FOR Clerkenwell Old Boys, this week’s cup final is about more than football.

The tight-knit club are determined to win for their biggest fan, Rita Ferguson, a diehard supporter who never missed a game.

Rita, mother of the team’s manager and wife of its chairman, died suddenly last year after suffering a heart attack.

Born in Clerkenwell, she was a campaigning resident who lived on the Grove estate in Barnsbury. Her death in September hit the team hard – the league sanctioned a two-week break so they could mourn Rita’s loss.

Now, the Old Boys are back stronger than ever for their crunch match against Crouch End Rangers.

Rita Ferguson, a diehard Clerkenwell Old Boys supporter, died suddenly last year

“Since we came back in December we have been absolutely phenomenal,” said Paul, Rita’s son, who lives in Cornelia Street on the Grove estate. “I am not even nervous about Sunday. We are going to go there and come away with the trophy.-

“After the semi-final, one of the boys texted me to say: ‘We’ll do this for your old girl – we’ve got this.’

“The tragedy last year has brought us all closer together.”

Clerkenwell Old Boys, formed only three years ago, are a close-knit bunch. The core of the side, now mostly in their 30s, played for Clerkenwell Youth as boys, and many are related to each other – Paul’s son Harvey and nephew Billy Keady are teammates. More than half the team was at Rita’s funeral.

“My mum knew a lot of the boys from when they were little kids,” said Paul, 37. “She was our biggest supporter. The shirts would come back here to be washed.”

The Fergusons are a football family. Paul played for Thameford as a youth and Rita’s husband Stuart was a cup winner with Aztec 46 years ago.

The Old Boys players

Stuart is 70 on Monday, but hopes celebrations can begin after the game on Sunday when the Old Boys head to the Thornhill Arms, which sponsors the team.

Rita, a cleaner, and Stuart, a school caretaker, wed in 1969. They both worked at Robert Blair Primary School, where they lived in a building owned by the school.

They later moved to Cornelia Street and Rita became one of the founding members of the tenants’ and residents’ association. She was know for her tireless work with elderly residents, often visiting them when they were poorly. In 2008, she set up Grove Children’s After-School Club to help struggling young mothers get back to work.

“The last six months have been really tough,” said Paul. “But if we win on Sunday it will help put that behind me, and it will make all the hard work we have put in over the last three years worthwhile.”

The final of Camden Sunday League Challenge Cup, sponsored by the Tribune, is being held at Hackney Marshes at 10.30am on Sunday. (See sport preview, p27.)

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