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Tributes paid to former Grantham Town chairman

Grantham Town have announced that former club chairman Tony Balfe sadly passed away on Friday July 24.

Leading the tributes this week were club secretary Pat Nixon and another former club chairman, Roger Booth.

Mr Balfe came on board with the club during the late 1980s and, according to Pat, "under his leadership the club was saved from almost certain closure".

Tony Balfe (left) pictured welcoming Martin O'Neill to Grantham Town's London Road ground in 1987. (39508559)
Tony Balfe (left) pictured welcoming Martin O'Neill to Grantham Town's London Road ground in 1987. (39508559)

Mr Booth recalled the day Mr Balfe took the reins at the club: "As usual, things were in turmoil at the then London Road [ground] and a crisis meeting had been called at the Gregory Arms at Harlaxton.

"Tony lived in the village and on his way home called in to see what was going on – and left the meeting as chairman!

“Tony came from a very passionate footballing family and as a young man he was a very good amateur player. His love of football was how he came to be chairman at Grantham.

"As part of that role he was responsible for giving a certain Martin O’Neill his first manager’s job.”

With no little work from fellow club director Kevin Green, the Gingerbreads got their man and O'Neill flew back from America to take charge for the first away game of the 1987-88 season at Merthyr Tydfil.

O'Neill transformed the team and, with his considerable contacts, was able to pepper the squad with former Football League stars, such as Alan Kennedy, John Robertson, Terry Curran and Mick McGuire.

O'Neill also signed Gary Crosby from Lincoln City who would go on to earn Grantham their largest ever transfer fee receipt when Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest paid £20,000 for him.

Pat remembers the O'Neill days only too well and recalled early memories of Mr Balfe with fond remembrance.

Pat said: "He took the bold step of bringing in Martin O’Neill as manager, a move which galvanised interest around the town in the club.

"I remember very well my first real contact with Tony. It was a Friday afternoon when the phone rang in the drawing office at Kontak where I was working. It was Tony and he asked me if I was interested in becoming secretary at the club. That was over 32 years ago.

"Tony was a gentleman and I really enjoyed working at the club with him and, although times were tough, we had a great time.

"It was during his time as chairman, following a difficult meeting, and Tony was quite despondent. I said 'come on chaps, keep smiling', and those two words have stuck. And every time I saw Tony he would always say 'keep smiling'.

"When Tony stood down as chairman and left the club, we remained good friends and would always chat about the old days at the club whenever we bumped into one another. And I would often remind him that he was responsible for me being at the club.

"There are several people who over the years have saved our club, and Tony was one of them. He will be greatly missed, and my thoughts are with his wife Carol and the rest of his family."

Mr Booth added his condolences and he too has fond memories of a great colleague and friend: “I was sorry to hear the sad news that former chairman Tony Balfe has passed away.

"Tony was a very good friend of mine for around 60 years, one of the most honest and dependable people I knew.

"Tony always conducted himself in a right and proper manner, but those who knew him well remember his very dry sense of humour.

"My deepest sympathy goes out to his wife Carol and family and he will be sadly missed by many people.”

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