Ball on pitch

London FA mourns grassroots hero James Charlton who sadly passed away aged 26

James Charlton will be deeply missed across the grassroots game
Everyone at London FA were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of James Charlton and wish to send their condolences to James’ family and friends. 
James was a referee and served in the Camden and Islington Youth League, where he was the fixture and referee secretary. He will be deeply missed across the grassroots game. 
Peter Barron at The Northern Echo shared this personal article on James’ life and the funeral service held in his hometown Darlington.

James Charlton

A church overflowed today as mourners said farewell to football superfan and much-loved community campaigner James Charlton.

The eulogy was given by PETER BARRON, family friend and former editor of The Northern Echo.

It was a send-off fit for a local hero – an “irreplaceable” young man who touched hearts nationwide because of the countless acts of kindness he managed to cram into his 26 years.

There was immeasurable sadness, of course, that James Charlton had lost his life so unexpectedly at such a young age. But a packed St Augustine’s Church, in his hometown of Darlington, was also bursting with pride at all he had achieved in his relatively short life.

It was an honour to be asked by James’s family – parents Carol and Steve, and brother and sister Robert and Katherine – to give the eulogy on their behalf and to shine a spotlight on the qualities that made him so admired.

And how fitting that the farewell to someone with such a good heart should take place in the middle of “Random Acts of Kindness Week”.

James’s achievements included being named the town’s Young Citizen of the Year, in recognition of his remarkable efforts in support of his beloved Darlington Football Club. It followed “The Quakers” being plunged into administration in 2012, and James was in the vanguard of the grass roots fight to save the club.

He organised bucket collections, sold memorabilia on a market stall, swept litter from the terraces, cleaned the dressing room after matches, and never stopped fighting the club’s corner when others were giving up hope.

At 15, he became a qualified referee, first in youth leagues on Teesside, and then in London after he moved to the capital to study biomedical science. He did it for the love of the game but also because he knew the importance of keeping young people, from diverse backgrounds, off the streets.

He volunteered for St Teresa’s Hospice, in Darlington, administered first aid with St John Ambulance, served as a student ambassador at university, and travelled to France to help refugees. Wherever he went, James was thinking of others.

The congregation heard how, while still at primary school, he had once accompanied his mother on a trip to Senegal, where the family sponsor a child. James wanted to bring back gifts for his classmates and decided to buy them traditional shell necklaces from a street market. He was expected to barter to get a good price, so he asked the woman running the stall how much the necklaces cost. He then proceeded to barter her upwards because he didn’t think she was asking enough.

“She’s got children to feed,” he explained to his mum.

Father David Russell, who led the service, described James as “a very special young man who clearly made an extraordinary impact”.

Cyndi Hughes, the Mayor of Darlington and a close family friend, added: “The service brought together people from all walks of life, backgrounds and faiths. Our shared connection was the remarkable, irreplaceable James Charlton. Our lives and our world will be poorer without him.”

Mourners also included lifelong Quakers fans, Glen and Mary Bowes – Mary proudly wearing her black and white hat and scarf for the service. The couple had worked with James in the club shop, selling merchandise.

“I remember the first bucket collection James did when we went into administration,” said Glen, who went to his first match in 1947. “We were away at Barrow and James filled a bucket in no time because of his passion and personality. The bucket was so heavy, you could hardly lift it.”

Charles Stephenson, a referee alongside James in the Camden and Islington Youth Leagues, was one of many who travelled from London to pay their respects.

“Not only was he a referee, but James was also fixtures secretary and referees’ secretary. The reaction to his passing has been very sad in London because he did so much and was so popular. You can’t replace someone like James. He was a legend – a one-off.”

As James’s coffin left the church, his favourite song – Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up – was beautifully played by musician friends: James Hughes, Andrew Gardner, Mike Mulroy, Pete Bradshaw, Sean Campbell and Maria Winter.

So much sadness, yet so much pride. And, if there is an overriding message to emerge from the tragic loss of someone so full of kindness, it is this: “We all need to be more like James.”

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