You could sense the sadness around the club as news spread of Ted Lowery's deteriorating health. His passing has hit a close community very hard. Yes, he was 87 and, yes, his health has experienced difficulties in recent years but to not have Ted around is still hard to take.
The word 'legend' is bandied around all too often in life. In Ted Lowery's case there is no worthier person. He has done as much as anyone to enhance Fleetwood's reputation throughout football. Ted has just always been there. Who hasn't had a cup of tea made by him? Whose ear hasn't been bent by Ted's views on football then and now?
When Leicester City came to Highbury for their Third Round FA Cup tie, former Fleetwood player Jamie Vardy asked where Ted was. On hearing that he was ill, one of the biggest names in football insisted on speaking to him by phone. Ted is a man who has touched people of all ages, all abilities and all backgrounds. He has done this in the most unobtrusive of ways, with wine gums and jelly babies, a gentle manner and countless cups of tea.
Outstanding service behind the scenes for nigh on forty years has, thankfully, been recognised. He was delighted to become the club's Honorary Vice President. The Lowery Suite was named after him. In 2015 there was a Club Hero award from the Football League. At the start of the 2016-17 season, Ted led out Fleetwood and Scunthorpe United with the match ball, part of an EFL campaign to highlight the stories of all who make the EFL what it is. Ted was incredibly proud of all these accolades but, for him, it has been selfless work. He once said: 'I have put thousands and thousands of hours into this football club on a voluntary basis but I would rather have it that way.'
In more difficult times for the club, Ted was part of a dedicated band of fans who did jobs around the ground. Armed with paintbrush, shovel or hammer, he put in a few shifts at Highbury? He has mixed concrete, carried out joinery, assisted the groundsman, sold raffle tickets, even helped run the pie stall!
He was a regular at the club's training grounds, carrying out the unsung tasks that helped make the training experience a better one for the players. He would arrive early at Collins Park for the Tuesday and Thursday evening sessions back in non-league days. There were heaters to put on, changing rooms to sweep out, a kettle and soup to warm up.
His work as dressing room steward on match day was always carried out with diligence and good humour. Ted loved his football, having played as far back as 1948, but he rarely watched a full game, joking in an interview with me after 32 years of service that he had seen just one from start to finish, the FA Vase final at Wembley in 1985! In later years, he could be found in the Parkside Stand near the heart of the action but for many years before the kettle was always on in a cubby hole near the changing rooms behind the Highbury Stand.
'Everyone knew where I was. In those days both sets of players had half time cups of tea which meant making forty cups each match.'
The kettle was always on and he kept many famous mouths quenched. He always got on well with Paul Cook, currently Wigan's manager, who might get through six cups in a game. There was a ready supply of custard creams for players, their favourite biscuit according to Ted. There were also welcome cups for a variety of others who popped in, particularly in the cold weather! His base in the old stand was ideally placed to pick up any behind the scenes temper tantrums.
“There were many of those! You'd hear the studs coming down the alley behind the stand. The doors were kicked in a few times. One player took the referee's door off its hinges. His manager told me, 'That's football'. 'Not the way I understand it', I told him.”
Ted also swept the changing rooms. This was done during the warm-up, before half time and before the end of the game. It got him into trouble when one visiting manager accused him of spying as he was sweeping close to the flip charts. Ted's reply? 'I was playing football back in the 1950s. I wouldn't understand what you have on that chart even if I did look. I wouldn't mind but I was sweeping the floor with my head down.' Ted always admitted that he did what he did because the image of the club is so important in the outside world. The small details mattered to him. He gained the respect of everyone.
Ted's two trips to Wembley were highlights of his time with Fleetwood. At the victorious League Two play-off final in 2014, he was captured on television, gazing down proudly at the celebrations from the Royal Box, underneath his distinctive trilby. Twenty-nine years earlier he had his picture taken on the pitch at the old Wembley Stadium before the FA Vase final against Halesowen Town. No one bothered him back then. Eager to repeat the exercise, he met stiffer resistance. It could have proved tricky had it not been for Ted's persistence. He showed the 1985 photograph to one of the officials who passed him on to another, then he was passed on yet again. Third time lucky and Ted was finally allowed go on the turf just with a photographer. Midfield player, Stewart Murdoch, was nearby and had a camera on his phone!
“I knelt down in the same position on the centre spot and Stewart took a couple of snaps for me. I often wondered what the Burton fans thought of an old man in the centre circle having his picture taken by one of the players!”
Ted has always been proud of connections in the game that have attracted top teams to Highbury for friendly matches. Manchester United brought the FA Cup in the mid-1980s and Liverpool came with teams run by Phil Thompson and Sammy Lee. He has been able to get these contacts to support at least eight Sportsmen's Evenings.
He was a fixture at Poolfoot when I went for interviews. His first words, 'Who you after today, then?' He would suggest a couple of subjects himself, even offer me lunch! I would regularly get Ted's view on football and a history lesson as well! 'It wasn't as posh as this in the old days at Collins Park!' There was never yearning for the past, though. He was proud of his club's achievements. Before I left it was a 'Got your man?' Followed by a thumbs up. I will miss him as will people all us across our community and well beyond. We will all have our own reasons, but we will share a glow in our hearts when we think of Ted Lowery.
Ted once claimed that he did 'everything but play'. That just about sums him up.