The 102-year-old former Stockport County player George Haigh says the opening of the club’s museum will bring a much-needed boost.
The Hatters legend was celebrating his birthday last Thursday night and is believed to be the second-oldest living former professional footballer.
The museum has been put together by the Help the Hatters Group, a group of supporters who have spent the last year giving Edgeley Park’s Legends Lounge a new look, installing memorabilia and artefacts which celebrate County’s 134-year history.
“The creation of the museum and being able to bring maybe 80 or 90 schoolchildren a week here is the culmination of all this,” said John Fitzpatrick, chairman of Help the Hatters.
“We want this to become one of the attractions of Stockport, to go alongside The Hat Museum, Staircase House, and Bramall Hall.”
Born in Reddish on June 29, 1915, George made his professional debut for the Hatters in 1936 but his time at the club was curtailed three years later with the onset of World War II.
He subsequently joined the RAF as a PT instructor, and played for the services team while based at RAF Morecambe.
As well as County, George also appeared for Rochdale (where he faced his toughest opponent in Stanley Matthews) and Lancaster City during his playing career, but it is his time at Edgeley Park which he remembers most fondly.
Despite his age, George still travels up from his Oxfordshire home to attend several County games each year, and told MM that he believes the museum is a fantastic addition to the club.
“It’s going to be wonderful. It’s going to be a big improvement to the club. It’s something that they have needed for a long time,” he said.
“It will help the club along in the future and I hope to have another photograph taken here again in 12 months’ time.”
It is now just over six years since the Hatters lost their Football League status. Four years ago, they slipped even further down the footballing pyramid after relegation to the Vanarama National League North.
With over 1,500 season tickets sold ahead of the upcoming campaign, the pressure is on manager Jim Gannon and his players to improve on last season’s eighth-place finish and return the club to the fifth tier of English football.
Yet George is convinced that today’s game is much easier than it was back in his day.
“If I was playing today, it would be dead easy. In my day, as a centre-half, it was very, very hard. It would be easier to play now that what it was then,” he said.
It is believed that former Bury and Leicester City player Arthur Hoyle Smith is the only living former professional older than George, beating him to the honour by just one month.
Before we allowed George to head off to the pub around the corner for a celebratory birthday drink with adoring County supporters, MM seized the opportunity to ask him what the secret to such longevity was.
“You’re as old as what you feel at the time,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re 80, 90 or 100, it’s in the mind.”