Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Gillian Jenkins

Gillian in 1993, ahead of the 
FA Cup Final against Arsenal.
With much sadness, I write following the untimely passing of my friend and London Owls legend Gillian Jenkins who died, quite unexpectedly, last Thursday 17 April. I don't pretend to have known her better than others amongst the London Owls membership over the years but she and I went back a long way -  to the early eighties in fact - which probably means that I knew her for longer than most. We would travel together from Southend to meet up with our fellow Wednesdayites at Kings Cross for our executive coach travel to games all around the country.

Gillian was tiny - teeny tiny in fact - but she was a feisty little thing and could more than stand her ground when it came to holding her beer and delivering mickey-take to her predominantly male travelling companions. She was funny and loud, sometimes mouthy, always loyal and reliable and she had a heart of gold. 

If memory serves me correctly, Gillian had no historic connections with Sheffield and I think I am right in saying that whilst growing up as a youngster in Norfolk, her Dad took her to watch the Owls play at Norwich and that is how her love affair with Sheffield Wednesday began. 

The early to mid eighties was a great time to be following the Owls as the club progressed steadily, season by season, culminating in promotion back to Division 1 in the 1983/84 season. Promotion (pipped to the Champions spot by Chelsea) was secured on the final day of the season with a 2-0 away win at Cardiff City which was a particularly memorable day including the party on the coach as we travelled back to London, albeit Gillian had to remain circumspect on the alcohol front as she was heavily pregnant with daughter Toni at the time.

Other memorable trips, once back in the First division, included matches at Manchester United and Manchester City where the Manchester police, on both occasions, mistook our executive coach for the team coach. On the first of these two occasions, the coach was escorted right to the players entrance at Old Trafford where the senior officer then boarded the coach to welcome the team, only to be confronted by Gillian sitting in the front seat, decked out in blue and white ribbons. "She's the centre forward" came a cry from the back.

These were heady times, travelling in style and supporting a successful football team with the London Owls - a great crowd of people - and Gillian was very much a central character in all this.     

I disappeared off the London Owls scene towards the end of that decade, my tending to drive to matches before moving abroad for three years and hence my meet-ups with Gillian became fewer and further between. However I was back in Southend in time for the 1993 cup runs and together with Gillian and Darren Reynolds (another Southend-based Wednesdayite), we drove to Hillsborough for the FA Cup 5th round tie against Southend United which took on extra significance for us because (obviously) it was our home town team we were up against. Having won the match 2-0, we were back in Southend for 8.00 pm and headed to The Railway pub for celebratory beers. The pub started to fill with Southend supporters now also having returned from Sheffield. Gillian went to the duke box, selected Singing the Blues, and proceeded to dance through the pub - Wednesday scarf aloft - like a mad thing. She took a bit of stick but she gave it back and more.

I last saw her at Wembley for last year's play-off final when we met up, together with Darren, to enjoy what turned out to be one of those rare, truly memorable days in the life of a football supporter. It would have been incomprehensible to imagine that I would be writing these words less than a year later.

The Wednesday family has lost a good friend. Gillian's partner Graham and daughter Toni have lost much more and my heart goes out to them. Fly high Gillian Jenkins, my diminutive friend. You will be sadly missed but the laughs we enjoyed will live forever.