By Connor Steel
Photograph from Fleetlands FC showing George Mason
FLEETLANDS FC will pay their own tributes to a ‘living’ club legend next weekend with a charity veterans tournament in his name; an event that is often held in memory.
But what makes this one different is that the man himself will be the guest of honour celebrating his 40-year career at the club, and has no desire to retire in the short term future.
Billed as the George Mason Jubilee Award, the tournament will take place at Fleetland’s Lederle Lane Stadium on the Gosport / Fareham border next Saturday (July 24) with times and fixtures due to be released later this week.
The four teams will feature sides from Gosport Borough, Portsmouth, Locks Heath and Fleetlands; with past / present players and managers of the ‘Coptermen’ coming together in a show of celebratory appreciation.
For example the current Fleetlands FC manager Rich Bessey will manage the Portsmouth veterans team in the tournament, whilst former coach Kenny Evans will manage the Coptermen’s side and has done brilliant work in organising the event next weekend.
The Gosport team will be overseen by another former representative in the form of Steve King, with details of the Locks Heath contingent yet to be confirmed.
The tournament is set to mark the 40th year that George Mason has been associated with Fleetlands FC and indeed the wider non-league scene in Hampshire. Starting off as a volunteer secretary after settling in Gosport (originally from Scotland), Mason has progressed his way through the ranks and is said to have done every available role with Fleetlands at some point in his career. Furthermore he has held numerous different board positions during his time at Ledlerle Lane and is now life president, with the club only 24 years old in existence when he joined in about 1971.
George Mason’s services to local non-league football are also a special and interesting read.
In 2007 he paid a huge lead role in the foundation of the Hampshire Premier League (still president today) in order to simplify local divisions and offered an easier opportunity for semi-amateur clubs to progress up the English Football League, whilst also creating a pathway for more competitive football at their level.
Fleetlands FC were also one of the founding clubs of the league and still play in the division today, with promotion to the Wessex League Division One a realistic target after being third last season before the league was cancelled.
Speaking to the Portsmouth News, current Fleetlands chairman Iain Sellstrom stated that the day provided a fitting occasion to offer a small thanks to a special member of the Hampshire non-league family. Other off-the-pitch celebrations are planned alongside the tournament.
He said: “It’s a bit of a day of recognition for George and everything he’s done for the club.
“A lot of people who’ve played or managed through Fleetlands at some point want to get involved to say thank you. I think he’s had every job within Fleetlands, he might have started as secretary, but he’s had every job”.
“It’s fantastic. When I left Gosport Borough I had two or three offers of clubs to go to and Fleetlands was probably the lowest out of all the clubs. But I picked it because it was a club that needed someone. George knew he was getting on in years and he didn’t have the ability to drive it like it needed, and he was a big part of me joining Fleetlands.
“If I’m brutally honest, it’s probably the past six months how much George means to me personally because every time I’ve had a problem, or something I couldn’t find the answer to or I needed something, George knew the answer or knew where to go.
“He’s just been such a cornerstone to everything that’s gone on at the club down the years.
“He’s [George] very, very special to Fleetlands, but he’s very special to non-league football in general. What he’s done for Hampshire and non-league clubs, everyone loves and respects George, it’s much deeper than just Fleetlands – but his big love in Fleetlands.”