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News > Obits > Tony Stirratt - Eulogy by Rich Berry

Tony Stirratt - Eulogy by Rich Berry

14 Jun 2024
Written by Cait Spencer

Tony Stirratt – The True Old Bristolian

It is a huge privilege to stand here today to pay tribute to Tony, a man that I had the utmost respect for.

For those of you not in the know, Tony was an Old Bristolian. By that, I don’t mean an old fella from the locality of Bristol, but a former pupil of Bristol Grammar School. Tony attended the school from the age of 8 in 1942 until 1952 when he left at 18 to do his national service before going up to Oxford in 1954. The school clearly had a huge impact on him as he was to stay associated with it all his life through the Old Bristolians Society & Sports Club.

Whilst Tony was still at the school, the then Headmaster, John Garrett, was asked if he had any ideas on how to commemorate the lives of the 142 fallen Old Boys from the wars. Mr Garrett rather liked the idea of a theatre on site, but this proved too costly. The Old Bristolians Society suggested much more affordable memorial gates, which still hang at the school today. It was also suggested that the three athletic associations of cricket, hockey & rugby might come together and look for ground to play on and that this ground might be a lasting memorial to the fallen. Up until this point they had all been rather nomadic. 

Whilst still at school, both Tony & his older brother Peter had played cricket & hockey for the Old Bristolians clubs. So, when Dickie Coleman spied the 17 acres of ploughed field just behind Ashton Court estate and it was purchased through the sale of the Old Bristolians Club in Frederick Place, both young men were enlisted to join the stone-picking parties to make the ground ready for use. Tony told me he and Peter cycled from central Bristol along with fellow Old Bs to carry out the work. The photos in the clubhouse show them in their shirts & ties sat on huge mounds of stone enjoying flagons of cider after a hard day’s work.

And their efforts were not in vain, as the ground was first used for hockey & rugby in 1951 before being officially opened in 1952 as a war memorial.

By the time Tony had come down from Oxford, the Memorial Playing Fields owned by the society, were being run by a small committee known as the Old Bristolians Sports Club, with members from each section. The Sports Club were in need of a secretary and a fresh-faced, innocent young Mr Stirratt was their man. He served from 1958 until 1970.

In his own words written for his grand & great grandchildren he said:

“I was secretary for twelve years, until 1970, when I became chairman for the first time, I did three lots of being chairman, total time of twenty-six years. In my first stint I did, 1970 until about '76, then I managed to find some other madman to take it on. “

At this time, it was clear that the clubhouse building was in danger of being blown away, having been built by a Prattons as a temporary building 25 years previously.

As a child myself I remember Tony & Elizabeth always being at Failand, working to repair some part of the clubhouse that was falling down. It was so past its sell by date that you could literally put your hand or foot through the walls as it was made of a board that had gone soft over time. We needed a new clubhouse, so Tony got a club member to draw up some plans, the problem was the cost. In his usual resourceful manner, he discovered that Ashton Court Country Club were keen to build an outdoor pool. We had 3 acres of land at the far end of the ground that were not in use adjacent to the country club. The deal was done, and the clubhouse built. He then set about raising £20000 to furnish and kit it out, whilst getting lots of members to come paint or labour to get it finished. The new clubhouse opened in 1976.

The next fifteen years saw the club struggle financially, with groundman costs and a bar that was impacted by a number of factors, one being the distance from town. It was Tony who came rallying to help once again, convincing the society to loan the sports club some money and then putting plans in place to help it manage financially. He also came up with crazy ideas at this time to increase bar & clubhouse use. He reminded me recently that the only time we ever disagreed was when he thought that putting in Petanque/Boules rink would increase our revenue income.

His next big impact came when hockey on grass became obsolete and a move to artificial pitches became the necessary direction of travel. I think it is fair to say that without Tony’s intervention here, the Old Bristolians sports club we have today would not exist. So, in late 1997 Tony was appraised that for hockey to continue at Failand we would need an Artificial Turf Pitch that would cost in the region of £320000. The prospect of it being sited at the Memorial Playing Field was a non-starter as it would see the demise of one of the other sports. So, Tony approached the school via the Governors. Peter, Tony’s brother was on the board and they agreed that it made sense to halve the cost of a new ATP and to share with the Old B’s. Having got an agreement in principal and the school also agreeing to the siting on their land across the road from the memorial playing field, Tony now set about raising the £156,000 necessary to fund OBs half. He soon hit a stumbling block as the National Lottery turned him down, they thought us in Tony’s words too snobby and not a worthy cause. Undeterred, Tony wrote to Society members appealing for support. Old Bristolian’s far and wide contributed a total of £100,000 a further £50000 came by way of a loan from a bequest fund. And in October 1999 the first game was played. Tony in his inimitable self-deprecating way was highly embarrassed and humbled when the sign was unveiled, and the pitch was named the Stirratt Pitch. And today nearly 25 years on the Old Bristolians hockey club goes from strength to strength running 12 teams and having a thriving junior section.

Today the Old Bristolians Sports Club is a LTD company with 3 directors of which I am one. We are unique in the South West of England in terms of our size and combination of sports. We are no longer an Old Boys club with nearly 750 mini & junior players across the three sports as well as the adult sides all of which are in good health. This is all a legacy of Tony’s hard work in previous years.

So why am I here telling you of Tony’s commitment and dedication to the Old Bristolians Sports Club? Well, partly because the ever-organised Mr Stirratt said it would be so, but also because back in the 90’s Tony had a plaque erected on the clubhouse listing all the names of the fallen, from conflicts in the second half of the 20th century ranging from Korea to Afghanistan. This is something that awakened in me the need to preserve their memories by organising an annual remembrance service at the club. This was something that I know Tony really valued. So, in the same way that we remember those named Old Boys listed on the plaque for their ultimate sacrifice, we will remember Tony for his commitment to a cause that enables them to be remembered. God bless my friend and mentor. Sleep well knowing that your legacy means that hundreds of young sportsmen & women, boys & girls are able to represent the name Old Bristolians because of your hard work and endeavour.

Rich Berry

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