Tributes for beloved Brentwood coach and founder of Romford's Byron Red Star FC
PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:57 23 July 2019
An 81-year-old Brentwood man who encouraged thousands of youngsters to take up football by starting a Romford football league has died.
Norman French, originally from Byron Way near Gallows Corner, founded the popular Byron Red Star FC club.
After battling lung cancer for two and a half years, Norman was able to celebrate the Byron club's 50th anniversary in 2018, before he died from his illness on Tuesday, July 16.
His son Chris French described him as a hardworking man who strived to give young people a purpose.
Chris told the Recorder: "My dad saw so many young boys living on the council estate with not a lot to do and not much in the way of facilities. "He thought it would be a good idea to show them some of the rules of football and how important it is to be part of a team.
"He ended up creating a league with a few other like-minded people in the Havering area."
With some sew-on red stars that Norman's wife Jennie bought in Romford Market for the all-white PE kit, Norman began the Red Star FC club in 1968.
The life-long Arsenal fan went on to create a highly successful junior league in Essex and organise numerous tournaments as well as tours to Europe.
"[The club has] gone through so many generations," said Chris.
"The number of tributes that has come in is incredible.
"Clive Allen, who played for Spurs, used to play with my dad, and Frank Lampard met him.
"Quite a few of my dad's players went on to be professional players in America.
"He was hugely loved by everyone at the club."
Simon Tobin, a former trainee of Norman's, has coached football in California for 33 years and says Norman is his inspiration.
He described Norman as the "most gracious football coach a young man could ever wish for".
"I want every young player to experience the same love and excitement for the game as I did when I donned my first Byron Red Star jersey in 1971," said Simon in a tribute message to Norman.
"Your kindness, generosity of spirit and devotion to young people's lives has been a beacon for me, as I remember my formative footballing years as the best time of my life.
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"I wish I could be there to honour your life, as I am sure there will be many others whose lives you touched."
Mark Watson, chairman of Byron Red Star FC, said: "It is the end of an era.
"Norman was our founder, president, mentor and friend who was an inspiration to everyone he encountered.
"Norman was an absolute legend who introduced thousands of people in some form or another to football.
"He's had a lasting positive impact on more people than he would ever have imagined when he started Byron and his legacy lives on through the club.
"He will be sadly missed by everyone who knew him and the wider youth football community.
"On behalf of everyone from Byron Red Star FC we pass on our deepest sympathy to his family.
"Norman you will be missed but never forgotten."
In 2011 Norman won the prestigious BBC London's Unsung Hero award.
Chris said: "In late 60s to early 70s we had players who couldn't afford football boots.
"My dad would quietly go out and buy the boots for those players.
"He wasn't too thrilled with me when I nominated him for the BBC award.
"He never had any ego. It just gave him great pleasure to coach."
A proud moment for the father-of-two was when he carried the Olympic torch through the streets of Rainham in 2012.
Chris shared how Norman took the job very seriously and even tried to lose some weight before the short run.
"It was a huge moment for him," said Chris.
"Friends and family were chanting his name as he ran. It was fantastic."
A service will take place on Friday, August 2 at 12.30pm at Bentley Crematorium in Brentwood, followed by a get-together at Old Brentwood RFC in Pilgrims Hatch.