By David Hennessy
Former Nuneaton Borough FC Chairman Noel Kelly has written his memoir, Little Fecker! which was launched at Attleborough Liberal Club on Tuesday March 25. The book recounts the exploits of Noel’s childhood growing up in Kilbride in Meath, emigrating to England and building up his businesses and then entertaining sports stars Muhammad Ali, George Best and Barry McGuigan.
Noel’s son Sean Kelly, who assisted his father with the writing of the first part of his two part autobiography, remembers the moment his father brought the man considered the best boxer of all time to Nuneaton Borough: “As soon as he was aware Ali was in the country, he’s always had an eye for publicity, he chased it down and got him to come to his first ever soccer match.”
The story goes that Ali was bemused to watch the full ninety minutes and then extra-time but all without a goal, saying: ‘So that’s soccer? No winner after all that time?’ Sean laughs: “That’s right on a freezing cold easter Monday I think it was. He was a lovely lovely guy, he was entertaining everyone all day and of course we saw him again when he was over in the country recently. He’s very ill now but he came over, they took him on a tour of four or five football clubs raising money for his foundation and we went to see him at Stoke City and my dad took the photograph, gave it to his wife and she put it in front of Ali and he just nodded and smiled. Very emotional, it was very nice.”
It was Henlow Grange Health Farm that Noel Kelly met another boxer, up and coming fighting Irishman Barry McGuigan with the two becoming firm friends: “They just hit it off, they got on really well and they stayed in touch. When Barry beat (Eusebio) Pedroza [to win the WBA World Title in London in 1985], my dad got a call saying: ‘Noel, please come along and join the party. We’re celebrating Barry’s victory’. We were drinking with 3,000 Irishmen until 6 in the morning, one of those nights you never forget. Barry had gone to bed after the fight but his Dad was singing to everybody.”
In 1983, the legendary George Best turned out for Nuneaton Borough in a charity football match: “That was my dad having an ear to the ground and hearing that George was about. My dad gave one of his directors a couple of hundred pound to get down to London, buy George a drink, and invite him up to Nuneaton to put a Nuneaton shirt on in a charity match. George scored one goal and set up the other in a 2-1 victory for Nuneaton.”
Noel Kelly came to England in 1952. Starting out as a pipe-fitter and welder, he started his first business in the mid 60’s. In 1974, he established and built up Coventry Industrial Pipework, a firm that had 30 staff at its peak and boasted clients such as Jaguar and Rolls Royce. In 1977,he became Chairman of Nuneaton Borough and remained in the position for ten years before losing his position in a high court battle.
When there seemed to be no future for Coventry Industrial Pipework, Noel made sure his staff who were mostly Irish were looked after: “He just basically went along to a competitor and said: ‘I’ve got the best team in town and you can have them all, I want them all to have work’. Another company took them all on and I believe a lot of them are still there.”
Noel’s son Sean is the producer of films such as The Liability, Unfinished Song, United and producer and writer of the short film, The Party’s Over. Could Little Fecker? be turned into a big movie? “I’ve spoken to a couple of people who are very keen. In fact I was introduced to a producer who said ‘I’m looking for the next Angela’s Ashes’, and I said: ‘Well you’ve come to the right man because I’ve got it, I’ve got Angela’s Ashes with a sense of humour’.
“There’s a story in the book about my dad and his friend stealing a tree. It was the winter of 46/47 and my dad’s mum was in hospital and my dad was worried that ‘if mum couldn’t come out of hospital then daddy wouldn’t come home from England for Christmas’ and they wouldn’t have a Christmas, so he said: ‘I’ve got to get the house warm so that mammy can come home. He’d fallen out with the farmer, the farmer had shot their dogs and he’d caught my dad and his friend just sitting in a tree and he fired a gun into the tree: He shot into the wrong tree but my dad’s friend fell and broke both his ankles.
“He had a running thing with the farmer, it was the farmer that called him ‘little fecker!’ more than anybody, so he decided he was going to steal the farmer’s ash tree and turn it into firewood. He told a couple of people about his plan and they made it happen overnight. They cut down a 50 foot ash tree, cut it into pieces and took it away. They buried the stump and were never caught so I’m writing a film that’s basically Angela’s Ashes meets Whiskey Galore!, the classic heist comedy, and I think there will be a lot of interest in it.”
Little Fecker! Is out now on Amazon and Kindle.