RIP Big Paul - Bognor football community mourns a giant
The youth football community in Bognor is in shock after the death of Paul Harris.
'Big Paul' has been described as a giant of football and as the man who founded and was the driving force behind Predators FC, he will be missed by many.
He helped the club expand from having one boys' team to running multiple sides, including senior and girls' teams, and lobbied hard with others for the club to get its own home, which became known as the Predadome.
Tributes have been led by Cllr David Edwards, who wrote the following heartfelt tribute...
"I first met Paul Harris on a cold night in October 2001. My eldest boy announced he wanted to join a football team, so we went down to King Georges Field in Felpham and saw some boys training. The guy in charge was a mountain of a man and listening to him speak was amazing. The kids hung on his every word and then they proceeded to go off and do what he had been explaining to them.
"I wandered over and asked him if it would be okay for Alex to join in. He smiled a big, broad smile and said “Of course”. That was the beginning of a fabulous friendship with this man mountain, through ten years of Youth football with both my sons and even one game for my daughter! That night, Alex and I became part of the Predators family.
"Over the years, it became very clear that we had made the perfect choice. Predators had a vision, best explained by the acronym PACE – Patience, Attitude, Commitment and Enthusiasm. It was never about how good or bad you were at football. Everyone, regardless of ability got the chance to play football. It was always a happy place for my boys, and particularly for Alex.
"When he started, he didn’t know which part of the ball to kick. When he finished his last season in Youth football, he was top goal scorer and Manager’s Player of the Year. He moved straight from Youth football into Senior football before he eventually left to go to University. He would never have got this opportunity elsewhere, and Paul Harris was the major factor in that happening.
"Paul constantly lifted spirits with words of encouragement, always ready with a shoulder to lean on, and full of good advice. It wasn’t just for the kids either, he was there for me during two bouts of illness I suffered, keeping me motivated and cheerful…”Come on LaaLaa, if you need a chat you know I’m here” and he really was. I have a lot to thank him for!
"Everybody loved Big Paul, I couldn’t begin to count the number of kids he has influenced over the years. Predators Football Club grew from one Youth team in 1994 to 12 boys’ teams, a girls team and 2 adult teams. The club grew because of the way it was run, and with Big Paul at the helm it was always positive, nothing could stop the man achieving his dream of having their own place to call home. After some negotiation with Chichester University, Predators finally had their own place in 2010. We were finally able to welcome people to the Predadome!
"At the end of every season, he would be out organising Awards Evenings for all the teams, making sure all the players received something for putting the effort in. I have a roomful of trophies awarded to both my boys for their time with Predators FC. Awards Evening was also a chance for the parents to see what Predators was all about…some were even treated to some rather dubious entertainment. There is a Song For A Legend still on YouTube, Paul loved that, and it was a pleasure for me to have done it.
"Away from football, Big Paul enjoyed being with his family, and helping anyone he could. Family was everything to him, and over the last few years, his grandchildren brought him much joy. Paul also did a lot of fundraising. He ran the London Marathon raising money for charity, no mean feat for anyone, let alone someone with dodgy knees!
"He organised fun days for the kids at the Predadome, raising money for Downs Syndrome, he had the kids team running along the Prom with buckets collecting for charity… I could go on and on. For him, it was all about giving everyone a go. He gave everything he could and never wanted anything in return.
"I presented him with the Felpham Parish Council Chairman’s Award for services to Youth Football in 2016, got him to the awards ceremony under false pretences and the look on his face when I presented it to him was priceless!
"Big Paul Harris is described by many people as a giant of a man, a legend, a top bloke etc etc…to me and many others he was a friend, and above all, he was, and always will be “The Gaffer”. RIP Paul Harris