Report by Connor Steel
Photograph by Sam Stephenson, The News
IT WAS an end of an era for Fleetlands FC as they announced the tragic death of club legend and president George Mason on Thursday, July 29.
The emotional statement by club chairman Ian Sellstrom came just days after a football tournament to mark George’s 30-year service to the Coptermen was held at Lederle Lane last Saturday.
He joined Fleetlands three decades ago as a club volunteer, proving to be a key asset as they rose through the Hampshire ranks of the non-league football pyramid.
During his long career, he had held every position in the management structure at Lederle Lane, with the years of service honoured when George was appointed president later on in life.
The Coptermen’s main stalwart also provided excellent support and raised awareness of grassroots football, helping to found the Hampshire Premier League format in 2008.
The sad news was made public on Thursday afternoon after George passed away it is believed following a lengthy battle with terminal illness.
A lengthy statement posted on the club’s Twitter page and dated July 27, acknowledged and celebrated the career of George Mason at Lederle Lane, thanking the stalwart for his desire to see Fleetlands FC succeed and praising his ability to connect with everybody who attended matches or was involved in non-league football.
‘Fleetlands FC will forever be indebted to George, a loss so great that we will never see his like again’
Sellstrom ended with his moving, personal tribute: “Fleetlands Football Club will forever be indebted to George, a loss so great that we will never see his like again.”
Fellow non-league clubs across the region have also paid their own tributes in response, with Moneyfields FC showing support in a short statement saying: “George was one of the nicest men in football, he was also an all round great person and will be a massive loss to the local football scene. RIP George.”
Fareham Town also commented: “George was a giant of local football. Thoughts and condolences from all at Fareham Town.”
It is understood that the Wessex League and Hampshire Leagues will hold a minute’s silence before all games kicking off next Tuesday as a mark of respect following requests from clubs touched by the news. However, that has still to be officially confirmed.
Fittingly, the death was announced just days after a veterans tournament was held last Saturday with Gosport, Locks Heath, Portsmouth and Fleetlands themselves assembling teams to play for the George Mason Jubilee Trophy.
This four-side fixture featured former Coptermen alongside local heroes, which included many from all decades of the legend’s career. A social event was scheduled for after the on-pitch action.
After an exciting, goal-studded spectacular, the winner proved to be decided in the second-to-last game between Portsmouth and Gosport outfits, managed by current Fleetlands boss Rich Bessey and Steve King respectively.
With Gosport looking comfortable, 2-1 ahead and just minutes left to play, the Portsmouth Veterans equalised through a diving header by 63-year-old Howard Dove in a special moment for the crowd at the home of Fleetlands.
Dove is a current coach of the Coptermen and has been a feature of their pre-season campaign over recent weeks, as well as being a long-time close friend of George. He had joined Fleetlands after the life president but proved to be just as important in taking on numerous tasks around Lederle Lane. These included the painting of the club dressing rooms and refurbishment of the clubhouse facilities over recent years as the Hampshire Premier League outfit look to keep up with their rivals.
The winner for Portsmouth Veterans was scored by former Bognor Regis player Ben Johnson with an angled effort that saw his team being crowned the maiden Jubilee Trophy champions. The final game between Fleetlands FC and Locks Heath proved to be a dead rubber with neither able to reach the top.
But the results didn’t seem to matter with everybody enjoying the occasion that will now become a yearly event in George’s honour.
Current Fleetlands manager Bessey was delighted with the fun day and outlined his joy in an interview with The News (other photographs also available). He was pleased that so many people had turned up to celebrate a rare achievement, with the social event being the first to be held at Lederle Lane since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns that were eased on July 19.
He told the Portsmouth-based daily: “It was a fantastic day. There were tears, there was laughter, lots of drink. Family of George and family of our lot – everyone had family and friends.
“The weather held out, there were some great goals, there were players not lasting the game, there were people going in positions they’ve never played, friends of old, people new who are at the club – and my team won it so we’re really happy!”
Aside from brilliant football and a chance for socialising throughout the afternoon, the final bonus was a total of £2,000 being raised from the tournament. It will be used by Fleetlands FC to carry out club tasks such as upgrades and to help stabilise finances after both the 2019 / 2020 campaigns were ended prematurely by the FA under Government guidance over the last 18 months.
More details of funeral arrangements or any Fleetlands club memorials will be available in due course.