Introducing Mr. John Dennett, MBE

Thu 12th January 2023 | Ashville
By Jay Cooper

So the story goes, the Dennett’s, John and Joyce, moved in together in the late 1940’s, and it was Joyce who encouraged her husband to found a junior football team. The two of them did just that in 1949, naming the side after the street they lived on at the time – Ashville Road, in Wallasey. Seventy-four years later, Ashville FC are still very much alive and kicking, as is John Dennett himself, and as 2022 became 2023, John was awarded an MBE in the New Years’ Honours list – the first list under the reign of King Charles III.

Quite the achievement, and certainly one that John has earned, not necessarily solely for founding Ashville. John is also a veteran. He joined the Royal Navy aged 17, in 1942, which you don’t need to be a keen historian to know places his early years of service right in the middle of World War II, when no one was sure who was going to come out on top. It was the contribution made by John and several other young men at the time who served for the tireless Royal Navy that would eventually sway the conflict in favour of the Allies. John was part of several notable landings made by the Navy throughout the war effort, particularly the famous landings at Normandy in occupied France in June 1944 – an event that would come to be known as D-Day.

This was all pre-Ashville, of course, and it was also all pre-John’s marriage to Joyce, which wouldn’t come until after he had left the Navy in 1947. The story that it was Joyce’s suggestion for the two of them to found their own football team is one that was told to me by Ashville’s current club secretary, Allan Skillen. I had a charming conversation with him earlier this week.

“I’ve done everything in amateur football, really. I was at secretary at Vauxhall a few years ago and decided I'd had enough of staying in the same place - I wanted to choose my game and go and watch it at amateur football. Pete Reynolds, the chairman at Ashville, messaged me before this season started to tell me, “we’ve just joined the NWCFL, we need someone with experience, can you come on board?” I hadn’t done a role in a while so I thought it over and eventually took on the new challenge.”

He’s someone that knows John better than most. Despite only coming into the role as Ashville club secretary in 2022, he recalled meeting John when he was a referee at amateur level. “I imagine I probably upset him with a few decisions, and he’s not a man that keeps quiet about that kind of thing!”

He knows him well, but not enough to see through his poker face regarding his MBE award. Allan only found out that John was going to receive the award when the Honours list came out. "I didn't know until it was announced, it was kept private until it came out in the Honours list, and John himself kept it quiet until New Years Eve. He has a family guardian who’s also involved with the club, Anthony. and he was the one who broke the news to us, so when I heard, I thought "he could’ve told me, I'd have kept that quiet!”

Congratulations were certainly in order once it became public knowledge, and it wasn’t just those involved at Ashville who sent their best wishes. Cheadle Town faced the Villa in NWCFL action as 2023 dawned, and a special mention was made in their matchday programme. They detailed the story of the Dennett’s founding the club and extended their congratulations to John for his award – nice touch.

To a lot of other people, being a war veteran and founding a football club for their legacy would be enough to satisfy their desire for work – John Dennett is not one of those people. In my conversation with Allan, he told me that “John’s football mad, even now at 98, and always has been. He has a flat is above the social club at Villa Park (Ashville’s Villa Park, that is, not Aston Villa’s).” For someone so devoted to the club, that ease of access is a blessing, but it also doubles as a convenience for John for physical reasons. Unfortunately, around 3 months ago, John suffered from a stroke, but has still powered through, at age 98, what would have anyone at any age seriously worried, which is awesome if nothing else. However, it has left him largely confined to a wheelchair – not that that stops him on game day. “Anthony is his main guardian, so at the games, Anthony will push him around in his wheelchair.”

And don’t get me wrong, he’s more than just a fan on the side-lines. When it comes to the goings-on at Ashville, as Allan put it, “you’d be hard done by to keep anything from him! He doesn’t miss games, he’s still club president, he’s still at most meetings, and everyone loves having him around. If there’s something going on at the club that he doesn't know about, he’ll be asking at the next meeting ‘why didn’t you let me know?”

This doesn’t just apply to the first team either. According to Allan, “John is involved at every level of the club”. Ashville are more than just a senior squad, with a reserves side and a youth system that stretches all the way down to age 8, but once consistency that applies to all the teams is that John is there in some capacity, “really involved with all those teams, looking at the progression they’re making and everything.”

His involvement with the club is recognised on a much wider scale than just at board level too. Being there on game day means being there in amongst the fans and local community, which John knows full well, as he is a fan and very much a part of the community himself. Allan has noticed this too, telling me that “when new people come to games, they all want to speak to him at the ground, and he’s always quite happy to speak to someone. I've never heard him say a bad word about anyone really.”

You’d imagine someone with his story would have a million and one incredible stories of his own to tell you, and, from what I’ve been told, it seems like it would be so easy to get lost in the tales he can tell. Allan mentioned being able to sit there for hours having just one conversation with John, and the conversation doesn’t even need to be about football, either. As well as being club president of Ashville, John is also Branch President of the City of Liverpool branch for the Royal British Legion, which is quite apt for a veteran, and has also travelled the world away from active service with wife Joyce.

That said, there isn’t much in John’s life that brings him more joy than the beautiful game. Allan told me a brilliant short story of the car journey he shared with John as the pair travelled to an away game recently. Over the phone, they were told that Ashville’s Reserves side had defeated their local rivals in league action, and this sparked quite the reaction from John. As Allan put it, “he was punching the air and celebrating in the car with me.”

With this being Ashville’s first season as a NWCFL side, and with them currently sitting comfortably in 13th place, hopefully there’ll plenty more for John to celebrate throughout the rest of the season and beyond, and as a bonus, he can do all that whilst wearing a well-earned MBE on his chest. Congratulations again, John Dennett, MBE!


Image credit: La Vida Liverpool, John Dennett: The 96-year old founder of Ashville FC

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