ONE of the most respected adminstrators in non-league football, Myra Stephens has decided to call it a day after nearly 40 years of voluntary service to the game.
Myra began her involvement back in 1974 cooking sausages and burgers on a gas stove at the Saffrons. Since then, she has fulfilled duties of secretary, match secretary and fixtures secretary at Eastbourne Town, Eastbourne United and Langney Sports/Eastbourne Borough.
Her spell at the Saffrons was brief following the breakdown of merger talks between Town and United in 1975. She subsequently moved with her late husband Jim to the Oval where they were a dynamic driving force behind a team that became known as the all-conquering Boon Babes, managed by the late Gerry Boon.
Myra was secretary and Jim chairman as United scaled the heights during the late seventies and early eighties, finishing high in the Isthmian League, defeating Hastings United in the FA Cup in front of a crowd of 3,000 plus and then going on to reach the last eight of the FA Vase before going out to Billericay.
In those days, a third Stephens was a prominent figure at the Oval as the perfect dead ball kicking of son Peter provided many a goal for prolific scorer John Kemp.
But eventually things started to go downhill at the Oval and in 1994 Myra was invited to take over the secretarial reins at Langney Sports, where her administrative skills were to form a vital cog in the wheel that was to see The Sports become Eastbourne Borough and climb to the dizzy heights of the Conference Premier.
Throughout her time in the game Myra has gained a reputation for her total efficiency. Whatever happened on the field, there was never a rule broken off it.
During her days at the Oval there were 7am duties on match days to meet the referee for a ground inspections, helping to fork the ground to get it match fit for kick-off and even washing the players’ kit.
“I have always believed that either you do a job properly or you do not do it at all,” she said. “I would never allow a team to play an ineligible player or a player to play under a false name. That’s not me. If it was my job to do, I did it, it’s as simple as that.”
In continuing her behind-the-scenes activities at Priory Lane Myra has often had to overcome adversity including the deteriorating health and subsequent death of husband Jim four years’ ago.
She also coped superbly, thanks to the invaluable help of her successor Jan Field, with the added workload which promotion to the Conference Premier inevitably produced.
But her own health niggles have helped her reach the decision to retire from admin work as, amazingly, she looks forward to celebrating her 80th birthday next February. “I am going to miss it like hell,” she admitted. “But having made the decision I am sticking by it.
“I have a fantastic family and I am very, very grateful for all the support I get from them. I have six children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren and without the football commitments I will be able to spend more time with them. I am just sorry Jim is not around to see them growing up.” Myra leaves office with just one ambition unfulfilled. She has never reached Wembley with a club she has served, although United went close back in 1978.
Not that Myra will be deserting Priory Lane. She will continue to support the team, sit on the committee and make those life-saving half-time cups of tea to the delight, no doubt , of the local press reporters.
How does she see the future of the club of which she was recently made a life vice-president? “They have the ambition to get back in the Conference Premier and ultimately have full-time football, but for that to happen I believe they need attendances to reach at least the 3,000 mark.
“It is a good club and there are people who have been there a lot longer than me but you need some youngsters coming through to do the admin work.
“On the field I think the academy may make a big difference, although I do not think there will be a reserve team next season and there will be one under-18 team instead of two.”
But at the moment Myra is content to look forward to a new season with more freedom to devote to her family.
She is also planning a children’s party at Stone Cross to celebrate her 80th birthday in February. Football followers throughout the non-league game will send their best wishes to a remarkable woman as she takes a back seat
A true volunteer who has devoted a life-time to the game without receiving a penny piece in return.
“I have never been interested in receiving money, I just love football.” she said.
What a pity those sentiments cannot be echoed by a few more people at the top of the game.