In memory of a beloved father and footballing legend
My dear dad, Ralph Morris, died in September 2019, aged 91, after suffering deteriorating health for several years. It’s always sad to see someone you love tangibly diminish day by day, lose their independence and grow increasingly frustrated with their failing bodies, but the onset of age and infirmity perhaps had a particular poignancy for Dad.
He was a gifted footballer in his younger years. During his National Service in Malaya in the late 1940s, he represented RAF Butterworth, playing with distinction all over the peninsula, garnering press reports and silverware when perhaps he should occasionally have been looking at his radar screen.
Back in England, Dad played for renowned London amateur club Dulwich Hamlet. He starred at full-back for over 100 games until a knee injury in the 1953/54 season forced him to give up the game prematurely, just as he was being talked about as a potential England Amateur player.
Dad married Mum at Elm Road Church, Beckenham on 7th March, 1953. The ceremony was performed by the Reverend Ron Cowley – Dad’s full-back partner at Dulwich Hamlet – which unsurprisingly generated quite a bit of newspaper coverage.
In 2019, the care home where Dad spent the last few months of his long and otherwise happy life, asked if there was anything left on his ‘bucket list’ that they could help him to achieve. He said he would love to step out onto the hallowed Champion Hill turf in south-east London one last time… even if it might be with the aid of a walking frame and not quite with the same fitness level as the last occasion.
Dulwich Hamlet FC pulled out all the stops to honour their old warrior, and Dad was scheduled to meet the teams in the dressing rooms, and lead them out through the tunnel. Sadly, Dad died just before this could happen, but on 2nd November 2019, the National League South league game between the mighty Hamlet and Bath City was dedicated to Dad’s memory. Family and friends were entertained in the Directors’ Box, the programme notes included some of Dad’s achievements and most notable moments for the club, grandson Steve led the teams out on to the pitch, and a minute’s silence in honour of Dad was observed by everyone before kick-off.
I wanted to give something back to the club, in recognition of providing Dad with such a moving tribute and for – so nearly – fulfilling his last wish.
I’m planning to walk the Portuguese Coastal Camino, all 262 km of it, from Porto in Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It will be my own personal pilgrimage, in quiet contemplation of a wonderful father, but I’m also using it to try and raise some funds for the club and community who played such an important part in Dad’s life.
I’ve set up a fundraising website, including a short film shot on location in south-east London, about Dad, the club and its local community. Any funds raised will be used for specific community projects, rather than for the football club, and will hopefully be a fitting legacy in Dad’s name.
Depending on the amount of money raised, we’re currently looking at a couple of exciting new initiatives, aimed at opposite ends of the age spectrum. One would allow Dulwich Hamlet players (from both the men’s and women’s 1st XI teams) to coach young players in local schools, before a term-end competition. The other, perhaps more interesting for Silver Travellers, would be to set up a local walking football team and tournament. I’m going to write a separate article about the relatively new phenomenon of walking football, but it’s essentially a brilliant way for people of, erm, more mature years to carry on playing the beautiful game.
Again, depending on the amount of money donated, we hope that both these new initiatives will continue for more than one year and become lasting legacies in the name of Ralph Morris.
Some Silver Travellers may know me as Literary Editor of the Silver Travel Book Club. I’ve already managed to do some homework on the Camino, thanks to diving into The Camino Made Easy (Reflections of a Parador Pilgrim) by Olivia Pittet. Look out for this as our chosen Book Club read in the near future.
I’m currently planning to start walking the Camino at the end of September, although this is naturally subject to travel advice and the evolving Covid-19 health crisis.
Have you walked the Camino de Santiago, either the traditional route from France, the Portuguese route or any of the other alternatives? I would love to hear any tips! My self-guided trip has been organised by Camino Ways, and in view of my advancing years and need for sleep, I confess to choosing the option to stay in small B&Bs, rather than the pilgrim-packed communal options. I’m sure Dad would have given me permission.
Silver Travel Book Cub sponsor, HF Holidays, also offer their own Camino holiday, a guided option covering 70 miles in 7 days. This is the last section of the full 1,000-year-old traditional trail from France. Start in Sarria and walk to Santiago de Compostela, and this also lets you rest your weary head in comfortable small guest houses and hotels, rather than the more austere pilgrim paradors.
If you would like to contribute anything to my attempt to secure a lasting legacy for Dad back in south-east London, I would be hugely grateful. Go to the fundraising website here.