Death of a Leeds United Fan – by Rob Atkinson

Kenneth Atkinson 7.7.1927 - 27.2.2015 Taken on my parents' wedding  day

Kenneth Atkinson 7th July 1927 – 27th February 2015
Taken on my parents’ wedding day, 1959

My Dad died in the early hours of this morning. He’d been afflicted with Alzheimer’s for the very last part of his life, and there’s that inescapable feeling that this loss is just final confirmation of what has been a gradual departure over the last few years. It’s still a shock, though – and, blogs being blogs, this is where I have to say how I feel – and make my last farewell.

Dad was a ridiculously handsome man who failed utterly to pass those fortunate genes on to me, bequeathing instead a fanatical love for Leeds United Football Club. He was Mr. LUFC to me, John Charles’ greatest fan and a dedicated match-goer through the Don Revie glory years – when I was just a small child with no interest in the game. I wondered back then what all the fuss was about, to be honest – but when he finally relented and took me to my first ever match, that was it. I was hooked for life, and the many misfortunes of the Whites, together with their sadly few triumphs, have been mine too over the past forty years. Thanks, Dad. It was somewhat of a poisoned chalice you passed on to me, but I wouldn’t be without it.

Kenneth Atkinson was much, much more than just a football fan, of course. He was at various times a National Service soldier, a fine and well-loved teacher, a wonderful gardener, a DIY God, a Bing Crosby and Gracie Fields fan who was also much addicted to military and brass band music – and of course he was a son, a brother, a father and a grandfather. He was never happier than when he was in his garden or his garage, pottering about and making things beautiful. Those last three words would be a fine epitaph for anyone, I feel.

He was a Tory too, my Dad – but that wasn’t his fault. He’d caught it off his Ma and it came down a long line of impecunious smallholders, so I never held it against him. It gave us something else to argue about when the football was just too depressing for words. He liked to display the remnants of his language skills, as well, having won prizes for them in the early forties at the Kings School, Pontefract. I once went for a job at a frozen foods head office, and he left me a note, mixed French and Latin: “Courage, mon brave, à bas les peurs. Bonne chance. Per ardua ad Fish Fingers!” His was a unique and not completely accessible sense of humour. As he got older, he’d laugh helplessly at any jokes we told him – but in years gone by, only his own witticisms really tickled him. Then, when he’d said something he thought incredibly funny, he’d sit there, tears rolling down his cheeks, throbbing with silent, painful mirth until we were all in tucks just at the sight of him. It makes me smile now, just to think of it.

As Dad got older, the Alzheimer’s condition took an ever firmer grip on him. And yet, quite late in his life, he was active and nimble of mind. He loved to tell and write about his early memories of Pontefract, his home for all the 87 years of his life, and the place from which he set off on his travels to all four corners of the earth. I published on here a piece he wrote about his childhood in Old Church in Ponte, and this shows he had a tale or two to tell – and told them well. Really, the first thing that convinced me he was losing his grip on reality was an increasing sympathy for Man U and “Fergie”, as he referred to a man I can never bring myself to acknowledge. But that probably says more about my extreme prejudice than it does about my Dad’s state of mind.

I’ve never been very good at goodbyes, but this one has been coming for a while. I’ll remember him for the things he loved – the football, the garden, his immaculate tool shed. And the people, too – his wife, my Mum, who he was crazy about for well over fifty years, his parents when they were around, we three lads, his brother and sisters, two of whom went before him, and of course his three grandchildren. I was always proud that his only grand-daughter – my daughter Kate – was born on his 66th birthday; surely the best present he ever got. I’ll leave the actual goodbye to a quote from her, earlier today:

When I think of being little, I always think of sitting with my Grandad in his beautiful garden. I can’t imagine my next birthday, because it’ll be the first in my life that isn’t his birthday too. I’ll miss his huge hands and I’ll miss his terrible French and I’ll miss his stories about teaching and travelling. Goodbye Grandad. I love you forever, and I hope you’re back in your garden now.

As someone who always raised his own flowers, I’m sure he’d not wish them now. But if anyone is moved to make a small donation to the Alzheimer’s Society, then that would be a blessing and very much appreciated.

RIP, Dad. I hope Leeds can do the decent thing and wallop Watford for you. Say hi to Don and Billy and Gary and John Charles for me, won’t you.

And last of all – à bientôt, Papa xx

72 responses to “Death of a Leeds United Fan – by Rob Atkinson

  1. Sorry for your loss Rob, he will always live in yours and your daughters heart


  2. Sorry for your loss Rob but a great piece. I lost my Dad in January this year so I know how you feel, there can’t be many worse things than losing someone you love dearly but I am sure your father was proud of you. My dad was always more of rugby league man so getting him to take me and my brother to watch at elland road was always a bit of a tactical battle and needless to say I spent more time at Headingley where I am sure my dad delighted in the fact he could lift me over the turnstile and get me in for free. Still makes me smile but thats what makes a dad those little things that keep you laughing even when you feel you shouldn’t.
    All the best Rob. Onwards and upwards.


  3. Rob Thorne

    Rob, So sorry to hear about your Dad, He sounded like a lovely man.
    You may remember my Mother-in-law is suffering from the “slow death” and she is now in a home, and recognizes not a soul, it is truly heart wrenching watching this once remarkable woman shrink before our eyes. My eldest daughter last year raised over £2000 for the Alzheimer`s Society by climbing Ben Nevis…. In the Dark! Its too late for us, and our families, but I`m certain that there will be a cure, in my life time.
    Just raising a glass to your dad mate, a lovely man.


  4. I just want to offer my heartfelt condolences to you and your family.
    It won’t help right now but, in time, the pain is replaced by memories full of the happy times.
    With best wishes


  5. The language we use daily doesn’t contain the words to fully describe how we feel at such a time.
    Sorry to read of your sad loss, and you’re right, a handsome fellow indeed. Can’t help but notice how genuinely happy your parents look on their wedding day, a sort of relaxed, carefree, natural, unworried joy, as if it were meant to be, nothing forced about the expression… Take care.


  6. One word, Beautiful.
    My condolences Rob.


  7. peacock273

    Deeply sorry about your loss. Rob.
    I lost my mum to the same terrible affliction two years ago next month and am shortly to lose my younger brother to cancer, so your piece had me in floods.
    They say it gets easier over time, but i wish it would get a move on.
    I’ll have a moment or two for your dad at ER this afternoon if that’s ok.
    Take care, MOT


    • It’s more than ok mate, I’d be thrilled and honoured. They say in the midst of life we are in death but I’ve never before realised how true that is. The support of people who have responded to the piece about my Dad has been incredibly helpful to me and I’m sure you’ve got people there for you too at a painful time and with your Mum’s sad loss still raw. I guess we just have to carry on in the knowledge that these awful events unite us and we’re never really alone. MOT and many thanks for sharing.


  8. Rob, I might disagree fundamentally with your views on football, but I found your blog very moving. I lost my mother in 1997 to a debilitating disease. The fact that it was likely to happen did not reduce the feeling of great loss. My sympathies are with you and your family at this time.


    • That’s the big thing I found out this week – expecting a loved one’s death and viewing it as potentially a merciful release DOESN’T stop it hurting like hell. It’s been a hard lesson to learn. Many thanks for your kind words.


  9. I was saddened to hear about your loss, my friend. I lost my kid brother, in 2011, and my dad in 2006. I know that there are no words to describe what you are going through, but i do have some idea how you must be feeling. When you lose somebody, it puts everything in perspective. You will never get over it but it will become easier in time. Even though i’m not a Leeds United fan, i sometimes pop in and have a read of your well written, and intelligent blog. Long may it continue.
    All the best,
    a Spurs fan.


  10. I feel your pain mate. I lost my dad to cancer in 2005 and me big brother to heart attack in 2009. He sounds like he was a belting DAD and role model to you,. I will give you the same advice as I was given by my Uncle Peter at my Dads funeral and has stood me well in the intervening years. “he will always be with you and you will hear him giving you advice at the times when you need to make the important decisions in your life” At the time I thought it was just words to comfort me in my grief but I’ve learned over the last ten years that they were the truest words ever spoken to me. I hope you will take the same advice. R.I.P Your Dad.


  11. king sniffer

    Hi Rob. I can sympathise completely with you as my Mum passed away on 1st December last year – she would have been 89 on 22nd December. All I am trying to do is look back on all the good times as much as I can, and there were a heck of a lot of them. They will always be with us in our hearts for the rest of our days, but that doesn’t always help in these early stages of grief. I just keep thinking what would she have wanted me to do now. Crack up and pine – no. She would have said “this is your time now, so go off and make the most of it”. Your article brought a tear to my eye mate. MOT – that’s all we can do now.


    • Thanks man, that means a hell of a lot. I’ve been marking time a bit, but I’m going to go for it now, and hope that, if it happens, my Dad can see.


  12. Pingback: Death of a Leeds United Fan II – by Rob Atkinson | Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything

  13. Ifan Thomas

    Hey Rob,
    Very sorry to hear about Graham’s all too early passing and the same day also your dad. It’s been many many years since I escaped Pontefract or even let past thoughts flit through my head. Your Dad was pivotal in my education, and I have many many fond memories of him… first pen (not pencil) and his delightful volcano models. He was a firm but fair hand. I thank him for that. Graham plucked way too soon, and I am shocked. I remember Graham trying to teach a talentless me guitar. I bashed out a few chords……so proud. He then told me that was “Smoke on the water” by Deep Purple. Needless to say I ditched being a musician and went into management.
    Passing on my greatest condolences.
    Best Ifan Thomas


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