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Much-loved Shropshire sportsman dies at 66

By Rob Smith | Shrewsbury | News | Published:

A much-loved family man from Shropshire who poured his spare time into working for a boys' football team has died.

Robert Hand

Robert Hand died in December, aged 66, after battling a lung condition for three years, and the lifelong sportsman is fondly remembered for spending more than a decade coaching Newport's Nova United Football Club youth teams.

And the former factory worker went an extra mile at the club, cutting the pitch in his spare time and even buying a mowing tractor out of his own pocket to ensure the team could play every week.

Robert, born in Shrewsbury and raised in Market Drayton, volunteered at the club in 1990 when his son Christopher began playing, and from there began a coaching relationship with the club that lasted into the 21st century.

His involvement with the club grew when Christopher's brother Kyle joined the team, and Robert soon established himself as a familiar face at Nova United.

He had to step back from his football duties after suffering lung problems, and in 2015 he was diagnosed with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

He died suddenly at home last month.

This week Robert's daughter reflected on the legacy of her father, who grew up in Market Drayton the son of a builder and a cleaner.

Passion

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Sarah Heeley said: "He was always doing something with Nova, whether that be training the team, Sunday football matches or being a groundsman making sure that the pitches were cut regularly for the teams to play on.

"He loved being part of the community and being involved, especially with football – that was his passion. He was always playing football with us in the garden when we were kids."

Robert worked in factories across Shropshire including the former Palethorpes site in Market Drayton and the Saint-Gobain facility in Telford.

Sarah said: "Dad went to the Grove School in Market Drayton, he enjoyed cookery classes at school but his real passion was sports, in particular football and racing.

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"Later on he loved going fishing and I remember on many occasions sitting down the canal with him fishing.

"He loved his fishing and even managed to go about four or five times last year prior to his surgery.

"He was always looking for great fishing pools and regularly fished at Howle Pool."

After he left school, Robert worked at Palethorpes in Market Drayton as a sausage maker for four or five years.

Sarah said: "From there he moved to Phoenix Rubber in Pipe Gate where he worked as a factory worker. He spent 25 years working there until the company closed down and dad was made redundant.

"Following his redundancy he did agency and contract work, he also worked at KRM doing painting and decorating which he really enjoyed.

"He was always doing odd jobs at home as well as helping out my nan following our granddad's death.

"He then moved to Saint-Gobain in Ketley, where he worked as a factory worker until he retired in October 2017 due to his health."

Family

Robert met Gill in 1978 when he was marshalling at a race in Woodseaves, and they married in Newport in 1980. They then had Sarah in 1983, Chris in 1985 and Kyle in 1993.

The family had previously lived in Telford but moved to Newport soon after Christopher's birth.

It was there that the sporty Robert became involved with Nova United.

Sarah reminisced about one memorable holiday with her family: "When I got married in Cyprus in October 2013, we hired a wedding bus to take us around Paphos.

"We were going around the streets of Paphos and dad was standing up with a beer in his hand enjoying himself.

"There were a load of branches overhanging the road, one of the branches hit my dad in the face and he had tree branches for eyelashes.

"He looked a bit shocked and said 'I've lost my glasses'. Everyone was looking for them and I asked the driver if we could go around again as dad had lost his glasses.

"The driver agreed and we made our way back to where the tree was. When we got there everyone was searching for these glasses – I looked up in the tree and there was my dad's glasses just hanging in a tree branch.

"We thought they had been smashed, he was very lucky to find them undamaged.

"Dad was never very good with his glasses: on one occasion he left them on the roof of his car and when he drove down the A41 from Hinstock his glasses went flying off, and a lorry drove over them and smashed them into pieces."

One of the men who met Robert through his work at Nova United was Kevin Hooper, who began helping out at the club after taking his son to train.

Kevin said: "27 years ago I took my son Sam to Shuker Fields to Nova training and met Rob for the first time, working on his own with a large group of six to nine year olds.

"After a couple of weeks I asked if he wanted any help and the rest as they say is history.

"In addition to training on Saturdays and matches on Sunday, Rob would spend much of his spare time on the back of a tractor towing gang mowers and doing all the groundsman duties necessary to keep the pitches in good order.

"Rob was a lovely man, well liked and respected by all at Nova, particularly the lads who played in his teams. He will be sadly missed.

"Gill, and his family are in our thoughts."

Rob Smith

By Rob Smith
Reporter

Senior reporter for the Shropshire Star based at Ketley in Telford.

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