West Yorkshire great-grandad makes Sunday League football debut on his 80th birthday

A superfit pensioner is hoping to enter the record books after he laced up his football boots on his 80th birthday - and is believed to be the UK's oldest Sunday League player.

By Rebecca Marano
Monday, 10th May 2021, 12:21 pm
Updated Monday, 10th May 2021, 12:27 pm
Sprightly John Wootton made his debut for College FC on his 80th birthday.
Sprightly John Wootton made his debut for College FC on his 80th birthday.

Sprightly John Wootton made his debut for College FC on Sunday (May 9) when he came off the bench against top of the league Kirklands Reserves.

He marked his Wakefield and District Sunday League debut at the ripe old age of 80 in a winning performance which ended 3-2 for the home side.

The defensive stalwart made one successful pass, a tackle, and even took a little tumble during his seven minute cameo at the end of the match.

John Wootton, his son Jonny and grandson Matty.

The octogenarian had not played competitive football in 40 years and said it was the ‘best birthday’ he could have dreamed of.

Donning the number five, the Liverpool and Barnsley supporter said it was an ‘unbelievable day’ which ended with a couple pints of draught ale with his family at the pub.

John, a dad-of-four, grandad-of-13 and great grandad-of-nine, played alongside his grandson Matty Wootton, 22, who is the team’s skipper.

While John’s son Jonathan ‘Jonny’ Wotton, 48, managed the team on the sidelines to complete the family affair.

When John was 17 he was offered a trial at Wolverhampton Wanderers

John, from Wakefield, said: “It’s been such a lovely day.

“It has been an unbelievable day, I never expected anything like this.

“I came on as a sub in the last five minutes, and everyone kept passing me the ball but I kept telling them not to.

“I had a few touches, a throw in. Someone sent me a through ball and I actually ran after it. It was nice.

“This is the best gift I’ve ever received, nothing will ever top this.”

When John was 17 he was offered a trial at Wolverhampton Wanderers in a season where the Wolves finished top of the Football League First Division.

But his parents pushed him to continue his heating engineering apprenticeship as the sport had a £20 maximum wage cap.

John said he last played a competitive match roughly 40 years ago, but has kept himself fit through the years and carved out an impressive athletics career after being crowned over 50s Yorkshire champion for the 800m and 1500m events.

More recently, he travelled the world as the coach of Team Great Britain’s athletes with learning difficulties.

His wife of 40 years Jean sadly lost her battle with cancer aged 57 in 2001, but he said that sports gave him a ‘purpose in life’ after her death.

The retired council worker said: “Days like today just go to show how incredible sports can be.

“I’m quite old you see, so I can’t do what I used to, but that’s the beauty of the sport.

“It was a brilliant day nonetheless and it was so special to have family come and watch.”

Jonathan Wootton, who was shouting instructions from the touchline, said he was worried for his dad as it looked like he had torn a hamstring during one of his fizzing sprints.

But thankfully the left back, who he compared to a mix between Leeds United’s Luke Ayling and former Arsenal captain Tony Adams, was fine to continue.

Jonny said: “It’s been just an amazing day, it’s been so special.

“I was a bit worried when I saw him running and holding his hamstring, went for a throw-in and had what looked like a foul throw.

“We’re in our local pub now, our family is here, everyone is celebrating. It’s been a magical day which couldn’t be more perfect.”

John’s grandson Matty, who captained the team from the midfield, said he was impressed with the performance.

He said: “He played well, he is very fit for age if I’m being honest. He did take a bit of a tumble, but he got on the ball.

“He was a really good player back in the day so he’s got a great football brain.

“He has always given me advice on how to play the game, I really look up to him.”