As the world of Non League Football mourns the passing of Tony Kempster, a pioneer of online news for the grassroots game, Caroline Barker remembers a true gentleman and a friend.
A champion of the Non League game, Tony Kempster
By Caroline Barker
The Non League Football Show
"A proper statto" and a "footballing legend". Tony Kempster was, to many, a pioneer for the world of Non League Football, but to me he was so much more; a friend, a confidant of grassroots woes and a smile.
I first met Tony two years ago at the start of the very first Non League Show season.
When I say met, I mean like many others, I spoke to him over an email (we'd go onto share a meal or two, many league re-structurings later). His work, of course, had well preceded him and his English football website was a haven for fans who craved all the information they could get.
So where did it all begin? Tony didn't just talk the talk, he played non league football and was a referee. His love of football was born out of his dad playing for Ruislip Town in the Hellenic League.
Where it all began
His first football game as a spectator was a far more lofty affair. It was Watford against the then mighty Gateshead in 1959 and he then began following Tottenham home and away in the 1960s.
Student life and then marriage to his lovely wife Anne took over and he became more and more interested in Non League football. The real push, as with many fans, came with the Sky revolution of the 1990s where Tony once and for all turned his back on the professional game.
Tony had always dabbled in computers and over a decade ago decided to merge his two passions, Non League football and technology, to create the ultimate destination for information and conversation - his English Football site.
After retiring from his job at Rowntree's (now Nestle), Tony decided to make it his quest to solve a continual bugbear of grassroots fans up and down the country - the annual restructuring of the leagues.
TONY KEMPSTER RIP
Tony Kempster was, to many, a pioneer for the world of Non League Football, but to me he was so much more; a friend, a confidant of grassroots woes and a smile
With a little more time on his hands, (as much as his charity work and signalling work on the North York Moors railway would allow) Tony became a regular contact with leagues up and down the country and the FA.
For weeks leading up to the end of the season, fans from around the world went to the site for his views on who would end up where.
First place for Non League information
It was the information and the attention to detail that set Tony's site apart from other non league portals.
As a rule Tony would aim to get his results up before anyone else and, in an age where Non League Football was barely getting to grips with technology, Tony's site often became the first port of call for fans.
Towards the end of last year, Tony's efforts were finally rewarded with a visit to his beloved York City to pick up an accolade from the Football Supporters Federation for Services to Supporters.
Tony with his Football Supporters Federation award
The award is given each year to people who have performed an outstanding service to the benefit of football fans. Nothing could have summed Tony up better.
He was an innovator, who unlike many of us refused to call himself a non league geek, and in fact he was keen to be seen as a "normal bloke just doing what I enjoy".
From league officials, to our national governing body, to the fans isolated from the news in far flung corners of the world, Tony was far from a "normal bloke".
He was nothing short of an inspiration and a gentleman. His wit, generosity and those all important stats will continue to live on in the legacy he created.
A true friend not just to me, but the whole of football.
As Non League football bids farewell to Tony Kempster at his funeral in York on Tuesday, his family have asked that any donations should go towards his favourite charities; MacMillan Cancer Support, York Against Cancer, the British Red Cross and the Tyne & Wear Autistic Association Donations can be made by visiting www.justgiving.comand search for 'Tony Kempster'
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