Campaigning Sunderland fan loses his fight with cancer

Author John Kelters (centre) launching the Jimmy Thorpe book with MP Stephen Hepburn (right) and Sunderland fans Steve Dean.
Author John Kelters (centre) launching the Jimmy Thorpe book with MP Stephen Hepburn (right) and Sunderland fans Steve Dean.
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A DEDICATED football fan who battled to get tragic goalkeeper Jimmy Thorpe the recognition he deserved has lost his fight with cancer.

Soccer historian John Kelters, from Washington, spearheaded a campaign to get the Sunderland shot-stopper honoured in a sporting hall of fame and a grave stone on his unmarked burial spot.

The player was one of the club’s stars of the 1930s and was heading for England honours before suffering horrific injuries in Britain’s most brutal match.

A stalwart of the team at 22, he was repeatedly kicked in the head and body by Chelsea players after he pounced on a ball during a 3-3 draw at Roker Park on February 1, 1936.

It was a result which helped Sunderland to their sixth league title, but Thorpe died in a diabetic coma four days later in Monkwearmouth Infirmary.

Subsequent investigations by the football authorities and police did not lead to any players facing charges.

Mr Keltners came to public attention when he wrote a book on the player’s short career.

Last Friday, mourners, including former Magpies’ skipper Bob Moncur, gathered for a requiem mass at St John Boste RC Church, Oxclose, Washington, to honour the dad-of-three.

Surrounded by his loving family, the 61-year-old died of cancer of the liver in St Cuthbert’s Hospice, Durham, on March 26.

Known as a great football fan and history buff, he combined the two to write a book on Thorpe, from Jarrow, who he described as the “Wayne Rooney of Jarrow”.

In 2005, with his grave in Jarrow Cemetery unmarked, John set out to win back recognition for Jimmy and restore his name to local footballing history.

Two years later, with the help of Sunderland chairman Bob Murray and Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn, there was a plaque erected at the Stadium of Light to Jimmy.

John’s son Bobby, 33, also of Washington, said: “Dad was always a great black-and-white fan, but he wrote the book because his dad started an apprenticeship with Jimmy on the same day.

“It was never a rivalry thing.”

John leaves wife Margaret, other son Stephen, daughter Susan and grandsons Ryan and Matthew.