Tributes have today been paid to Sunderland AFC fan Ernie Jones after “the oldest member of our red and white family” passed away at the age of 103.
Ernie first started going to Black Cats games aged eight and remained a devoted supporter all of his life.
Ernie, who lived in Grindon before his death, served in the Welsh Fusiliers in the Second World War after growing up idolising club greats such as Raich Carter, Bobby Gurney and Jimmy Connor, who were all part of Sunderland’s 1930s team which claimed the league championship and the FA Cup between 1936 and 1937.
Even after he reached his century, he would still listen to the team’s games on the radio.
In recent years, the Fans Museum project had helped Ernie celebrate his birthdays at its former Monkwearmouth Station Museum site, with Ernie being congratulated by former SAFC skipper Kevin Ball.
Ernie died peacefully in his sleep at Ashbourne Lodge Care Home, off Ryhope Road, on Wednesday, following a period of ill health.
His daughter Pauline Peel, 75, said today: “He absolutely loved Sunderland AFC. He was Sunderland ‘til he died.
“He could still recite the whole team from the first match he went up to.
“Even though he was very ill in his final days, on Monday when Sunderland were playing at Peterborough he was listening on the radio.
“He also really enjoyed the birthdays he’s had at the Fans Museum. They were very special for him.”
After serving in the Welsh Fusiliers, Ernie worked at a pram factory in Pallion, the site which was eventually taken over by Rolls Royce.
He remained working there until he retired.
Michael Ganley, the founder of the Fans Museum project, said: “Ernie was an inspirational man to meet and help his family create memorable birthdays.
“We had many chats about football and it’s brought smiles to the faces of the team at the museum knowing just what we set out to achieve was working.
“He was independent and full of character. His memory I will hold forever.”
A spokeswoman for Sunderland AFC said: “We are deeply saddened to hear of Ernie’s passing and our thoughts are with his family.
“He was a truly special character, whose love for the club shone through and as the oldest member of our red and white family, he will be very much missed.”
Ernie, whose wife Florrie died over 20 years ago, leaves daughters Pauline and Dorothy Kay as well as sons Ernest, Barry and Raymond, and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Details of Ernie’s funeral will be released in due course.