If you talk to anyone who is familiar with local football in Shropshire over the last 50 years, they will be aware of the name Derek Stokes! Derek was a renowned classic central defender with skills that graced the game. Derek achieved many football accolades including representing Shropshire and won numerous competitions and titles, in a career playing for his beloved St. Martins FC, a career, that started as a ambitious 14 year old, incredibly playing senior football as a young teenager and concluded as a dedicated ‘Club Manager’ who was prepared to play when required at the age of 60. Derek’s dedication to St. Martins FC included every possible role, from player, manager, treasurer, secretary to marking the pitch out and washing the kit.
Derek’s efforts were justifiably recognised at county level when the Shropshire FA presented him with a ‘Fifty Year Long Service Award’ in 2011 however, Derek was well known for many other positive reasons. Derek was the very first “Unsung Hero” of St Martins. Nominations were asked for and voting arranged through the then Parish Council’s ‘Newsletter’ and an overwhelming result confirming Derek as the St Martins “Unsung Hero” 2013.The Chair of the Parish Council at the time, ‘Sue Schofield’ described Derek as; “A man who inspired many” and remembered Derek as ‘one of those characters’ that anyone new to the village got to hear about very quickly.
Derek pictured at the centre of the photo with his mining colleagues.
Derek was proud to have been a ‘Senior Electrical Engineer’ at Ifton Mine, and was a respected, and inspirational ‘work colleague’ at the Mine so shared the Miner’s spirit of togetherness, a spirit that resonated in various other arenas. He was still playing competitive tennis for example, in his 60s, a passion that he shared with his beloved wife Sue.
His sons Martin and Simon were proud of Derek’s achievements alongside Jane and Sian, who Derek affectionately called their waifs and stray’s, all united in their pride and deep affection for Derek and Sue. Alongside friends they remember how ultra competitive Derek would be! Always determined to win when playing any game but never swore whilst competing, even in the most extreme circumstances he remained calm whilst those around him, particularly the opposition, lost their cool. This calmness was a priceless asset that benefited Derek and those close to him, all of his life.
Derek’s brother ‘Travis’ was a formidable fellow footballer, strengthening the St, Martins F.C. defence with powerful tackling at fullback, he and Derek were an impressive defensive combination. As an Ex-Miner, Travis shared the Miner’s ‘spirit of cooperation’, a spirit that was utilised in combination with Derek on and of the football field.
Derek epitomised ‘commitment’ investing 100% to the cause, and that cause, was often ‘St. Martins F.C’ however, he played in the ‘Shropshire Sunday League Cup’ for the ‘George FC’ but he justified this deviation because the games were played on a Sunday and importantly he agreed to play for the ‘George FC’ because he was asked to play by his friend Terry Stedman. Derek cared for his friends and in return, his friends cared about him, a fact personified by the huge number of people who attended Derek’s funeral.
Derek captured busy at work but typically smiling.
Although Derek won many sporting accolades and received justified acclaim for his massive investment into football, Derek would not seek the limelight and his modest temperament never sought that acclaim. Derek’s confidence in playing football however was not replicated as a spectator of his beloved ‘St. Martins FC’. As a spectator; he would often look away from the pitch when the team were not performing at their best. It was always an experience when Derek was trying to find the numerous venues that ‘St. Martin’s F.C’ played in the ‘West Midland League’ and whenever he stopped to ask someone the way, inevitably the wrong person would be asked so the wrong directions would be followed resulting in an inadvertent tour of the West Midlands before actually finding the correct venue.
Derek had a broad sense of humour however, so he would always laugh about the missed direction and point to the fact that, he always found the football ground eventually, and experienced the fascination of the West Midland urban sprawl and country-side as a result of the miss-direction. That was Derek, who never shied away from life’s challenges, who had a distinct appetite for those challenges but was able to smile and start again on the occasions when the direction toward those challenges wavered. In short, Derek embraced life; he and his wife ‘Sue’ both loved their family, the variation of their life which involved running their own gardening business, love of sport and ongoing friendships. Derek and Sue’s investment into life resulted in life embracing them, a fact typified by the relationship they have both shared with their family and friends, a love captured perhaps by their pet-dog ‘Abi’ who is still grieving following Derek’s death.
Derek pictured receiving the coveted Ethlestone Cup on behalf of St. Martins FC.
Derek would be proud of the fact that St. Martins F.C, are now playing at the highest level of the club’s 100 year-plus history as they compete in their first season in the ‘North West Counties League Division One (South)’ (20018-19). He would be amazed at the fact that the club have already topped the league and maintained a place in the top four of this league at the start of the season (20018-19). He would be even more surprised at the fact that if the club finishes the season in the top four they will play in the FA Cup next season. St. Martins FC is on the brink of amazing developments both on and off the field but none of these developments would be possible without the efforts and inspiration of Derek Stokes.
THANK YOU DEREK!
Written by: Les Williams (Vice Chairman of St Martins Football Club