A moving tribute has been paid to Paul Harris, the founder of Predators Football Club, who has died aged 59.
Bognor resident Mr Harris has been hailed for his impact on youth football by councillor Dave Edwards.
Long-term friend Mr Edwards said: “I find myself writing yet another tribute to a dear friend taken far too early. He was a true friend and I will miss him. Local Youth Football has lost a true gentleman, and a giant of the game.
“I first met Paul Harris on a cold night in October 2001. My eldest boy announced he wanted to join a football team, so we went down to King Georges Field in Felpham and saw some boys training. The guy in charge was a mountain of a man and listening to him speak was amazing.
“The kids hung on his every word and then they proceeded to go off and do what he had been explaining to them. I asked him if it would be okay for Alex to join in. He smiled a big, broad smile and said “Of course”.
“That was the beginning of a fabulous friendship with this man mountain, through ten years of youth football with both my sons and even one game for my daughter! That night, Alex and I became part of the Predators family.”
Mr Edwards praised Paul’s influence on the youngsters who joined the Predators.
He said: “Over the years, it became very clear that we had made the perfect choice. Predators had a vision, best explained by the acronym PACE – Patience, Attitude, Commitment and Enthusiasm. It was never about how good or bad you were at football. Everyone, regardless of ability got the chance to play football. It was always a happy place for my boys, and particularly for Alex.
“When he started, he didn’t know which part of the ball to kick. When he finished his last season in youth football, he was top goal scorer and Manager’s Player of the Year. He moved straight from youth football into senior football before he eventually left to go to university. He would never have got this opportunity elsewhere, and Paul Harris was the major factor in that happening.
“Paul constantly lifted spirits with words of encouragement, always ready with a shoulder to lean on, and full of good advice.
“It wasn’t just for the kids either, he was there for me during two bouts of illness I suffered, keeping me motivated and cheerful… “Come on LaaLaa, if you need a chat you know I’m here” and he really was. I have a lot to thank him for!”
Mr Edwards added: “Everybody loved Big Paul, I couldn’t begin to count the number of kids he has influenced over the years. Predators Football Club grew from one youth team in 1994 to 12 boys’ teams, a girls team and two adult teams.
“The club grew because of the way it was run, and with Big Paul at the helm it was always positive, nothing could stop the man achieving his dream of having their own place to call home. After some negotiation with Chichester University, Predators finally had their own place in 2010. We were finally able to welcome people to the Predadome!
“At the end of every season, he would out organising Awards Evenings for all the teams, making sure all the players received something for putting the effort in. I have a roomful of trophies awarded to both my boys for their time with Predators FC. Awards Evening was also a chance for the parents to see what Predators was all about…some were even treated to some rather dubious entertainment. There is a Song For A Legend still on YouTube, Paul loved that, and it was a pleasure for me to have done it.
“Away from football, Big Paul enjoyed being with his family, and helping anyone he could. Family was everything to him, and over the last few years, his grandchildren brought him much joy. Paul also did a lot of fundraising.
“He ran the London Marathon raising money for charity, no mean feat for anyone, let alone someone with dodgy knees! He organised fun days for the kids at the Predadome, raising money for Down’s Syndrome, he had the kids team running along the Prom with buckets collecting for charity… I could go on and on.
“For him, it was all about giving everyone a go. He gave everything he could and never wanted anything in return. I presented him with the Felpham Parish Council Chairman’s Award for services to Youth Football in 2016, got him to the awards ceremony under false pretences and the look on his face when I presented it to him was priceless!
“Big Paul Harris is described by many people as a giant of a man, a legend, a top bloke etc etc…to me and many others he was a friend, and above all, he was, and always will be “The Gaffer”.”
There will be a family funeral on September 1 with an invitation-only gathering afterwards.
Written by Cllr David Edwards