The man believed to be the oldest living Sunderland fan had the surprise of his life as a club legend wished him well as he turned the grand old age of 102.
Forces veteran Ernie Jones believed he was going to the Fans Museum’s new home at Monkwearmouth Station Museum to celebrate the event along with daughters Dororthy Kay and Pauline Peel.
But he was overwhelmed to see standard bearers from Sunderland’s Armed Forces Network welcome him before ex-SAFC skipper Kevin Ball passed on gifts before he cut a birthday cake.
Ernie, of Grindon, served in the Welsh Fusiliers and remembers going to Black Cats games since he was a small boy.
He told the Echo: “Today is totally out of the blue.
“I’ve had a few days celebrating my birthday at home, but this is something else.
“I must’ve been about eight when I first started going to Sunderland matches, but back then we used to run in for the last 10 minutes!
“I remember the likes of Raich Carter and Bobby Gurney in the 1930s, but my favourite player was Jimmy Connor.
“He was better than Stanley Matthews because he scored more goals than him.”
Dorothy, 72, said: “We knew there was some kind of surprise but we didn’t realise it would be this big.
“We thought he’d just be getting a cake so to see all these people here for him is great.”
Museum founder Michael Ganley helped arrange the surprise for Ernie with assistance from Veterans in Crisis’s Ger Fowler, whose members are helping to get the museum, which is packed with football memorabilia, spruced up before an anticipated opening this summer.
“Ernie has supported us from when we first put on exhibitions at the city library and he’d get the bus down then,” said Michael.
“We did an exhibition for him when he turned 100 and we wanted to do the same again in honour of him reaching 102.
“I’m proud as punch to be able to put this on for him as a present because we want to show our appreciation for him.
“With him being a veteran too, we wanted get the standard bearers here to make it extra special.”
Anyone wanting to find out about helping with the Fans Musem should email firstname.lastname@example.org.