TWO weeks ago I met John Kennedy to speak about his love for Cork City and to mark his 30-year anniversary of organising buses for away games.
Little did I know it would be the last time I would ever get to meet or speak with him after his sudden passing on Friday.
John epitomised everything good about sport. Wanting kids involved in sport and giving them role models to look up to was something John relished.
He would always be the first to greet you at the Cross, and always with a smile. I always admired his enthusiasm, great spirit and his energy, especially amongst kids.
Sometimes people wondered how he had the patience to have that energy to do his jobs week in week out while also organising buses for the away fans. A truly remarkable individual.
He held many roles within the club from selling tickets and programmes to directing people to the gates to doing community events and visits. But more noticeably in recent years, he ran the family enclosure section and away buses for supporters, and what a job he did.
John, along with the late Noelle Feeney, were the face of Cork City FC and were the ones responsible for making the club famous through their involvement with the club and the link they made between the community.
He would always get to the ground early, do all the jobs that many others wouldn’t dare tackle. Whether it was getting all the flags prepared, minding the kids, getting sweets for the kids, the legendary figure at the Cross did all those so-called small jobs and he did them with a smile.
Over the years while attending or working on games, I have seen John collect money for charities at the gate with a big bucket, he was involved in committees, he was beating drums with kids, he was responsible for giving the team that 12th man when needed through his vocal support, but never once did he ever look for glory or praise. He did it for the love of the club.
People like John are one in a million. Nobody wants to do the small jobs that John did, but he did them with a smile, such was his love for people and his love for promoting his beloved Cork City.
Facebook and Twitter have been in meltdown since hearing of John’s untimely death. There has been an outpour of tributes from all sports people and clubs all over the country, and all with a similar sentiment of how truly a remarkable, kind hearted man John was.
Board member Garreth Fleming was devastated.
“I was devastated to hear the terrible news about John, an absolute tragic accident,” said Fleming. "I cannot imagine how his family are feeling at this time, my deepest sympathies to them. John was a symbol of everything positive about the league of Ireland.
"There is no way he will be replaced. His enthusiasm and energy were boundless and no matter how busy he was, he would always find a way to make things happen and fulfil any request. I had a professional relationship with John as well as a shared love of CCFC and when we met we would always end up talking about 'The Club' even when we assured each other we wouldn’t. His passion for the club was infectious. He is a massive loss to the club, the league and the entire community.”
There is no doubt that John will be irreplaceable at the club. Here is what he had to say about his love for the club.
“Cork City is a huge part of my life and now through these difficult times during this pandemic there is a big piece absent. It's great to have the games streamed but it is not the same. I love been at the ground cheering on the lads.
“I started out with the club as a match night volunteer in 1990. I had many roles from selling tickets and programmes to directing people to the gates but early on with the help of people like Noelle (RIP) and Brian Lennox I began to do community events and visits. This fitted in perfectly with my own job as a youth worker with Ógra Chorcaí Cork Youth Association.
“Noelle and I used to drive to places like Passage West Children's Home, the children's wards in the CUH and the Mercy Hospitals, Marymount, as well as different youth and community groups. This is a role I love and have been doing now for 30 years.
“In 2000 we set up the Family Enclosure. This was the brainchild of Brian Lennox. This was a place for families to come and enjoy a positive safe atmosphere. We have flags and drums and singing at every home game. I also had the privilege of serving on the board of management of FORAS for six years.
“I was the coordinator in the Evening Echo Family Enclosure for 15 years but was very happy to pass that role onto Pat Sisk in recent years.
"Each week we welcome schoolboys or schoolgirls teams as well as youth and community groups. For some this is their first experience of Cork City FC and indeed Turner's Cross. We have a team of dedicated volunteers who help ensure everyone has a good time and we create a positive atmosphere with the drums, flags and singing.
"The real joy is seeing many of these new young fans return time and again with their families. It is also great to see grandparents coming with their grandkids.
"I think the team appreciates it and many players turn to applaud the FE at the end of each game.”
Indeed the players, and many teams who have visited the ground over the years, did appreciate everything he did.
He was a fantastic person, a great individual and a superb clubman. He was always so kind and always had a good word for everyone. He genuinely was the face of the club and I think it would be a fitting tribute to him to name the family enclosure after him.