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Pensioner makes debut for England at age of 79 – and is cheered on by his dad

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John Shannon’s 104-year-old dad cheered him on from the sidelines when he took part in England’s first over-70s side against Wales. John was joined by other pensioners who want to play the beautiful game

John Shannon’s dad John Sr was there so see his son make his England debut

At 79, John Shannon had his dream come true when he made his debut for England’s first over-70s side in a 3-0 win against Wales – cheered on by his 104-year-old father.

Having first proudly watched his lad from the touchline seven decades ago, John Senior was there again yesterday to see him make history.

The Arsenal-supporting Second World War veteran said: “It was a fantastic game, they played some wonderful stuff. I do enjoy being on the side watching him play.

“It makes me very proud to see my son playing for England.”

West Ham fan John Junior, who was the oldest of the 22 England and Wales players in the inaugural NHS Challenge Trophy, said: “Everyone always asks after Dad, asking if he will be at the next game.



John Shannon Jnr in action against Wales
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Image:

Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)




“He’s given me criticism over the years for other things in life but never criticises my footballing abilities.

“I love playing matches. The standard is just as good as other age groups, albeit maybe a bit slower.”

John Snr of Harrogate, North Yorks, who spent three years behind enemy lines in Belgium during the war, first watched his son play in school matches in the 1950s, before the youngster switched to athletics.

He began watching him again in his 90s, when John Jr, from Cambridge, was playing over-60s football, and was named the FA’s Supporter of the Year in 2017, at the age of 101.

England’s player-manager Ken Pollock, 73, said: “The Shannons epitomise everything about what we stand for as a national team and as a sport. They’re father and son, aged 104 and 79, watching and playing.

“There’s no finer testament to the benefits of our game than can be found in their match-day attendance.”



Wales were no match for the England team who won the game 3-0
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Image:

Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)




Although over-70s have played walking football internationals, this was the first game with normal rules for England and Wales. The indoor game, at England’s St George’s Park headquarters in Burton, Staffs, was sanctioned by the FA.

Unlike walking football it was played at speed with fierce tackles and crunching challenges – though ex-Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher made sure things did not get too heated between the fierce rivals. The game was arranged to promote exercise for the over-70s.

Ken added: “The pandemic has shown the importance of physical fitness. Statistically, exercise has been a preventative and curative agent for older people. To mark this, we called the cup The NHS Challenge Trophy, to reflect our gratitude for their work over the last 18 months.”

The over-70s side evolved from earlier over-50s and over-55s teams, which began competing in 2009.

Newcomers from across England took part in trials before being selected for the Three Lions.



Pictured here is 79-year-old John Shannon Jnr cheered on by his dad, John Shannon Snr, aged 104
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Image:

Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)




Ken, from Pevensey Bay, Dorset, is the oldest player in his Sunday non-league side Grove Grovellers.

And he loved lining up alongside players of his own age to represent his country. He told the Mirror: “The game isn’t much different in my 70s to what it was like in my younger years. The tackles still fly in, there is still the same competitiveness.

“It’s still the same injuries, the hamstrings and the calf tears. It’s actually easier to play longer now-adays. Injuries can be diagnosed earlier and treatment is better.”

Other players in yesterday’s game included Everton fan Mike Unwin, 70, a retired primary school head from West Kirby, Merseyside.

Holly Murdoch, general manager at St George’s Park, said: “We hope this inspires the older generation to dust off their boots and get playing again.”

England won the game 3-0.

John Snr, who lives in Harrogate, North Yorks, spent three years behind enemy lines in Belgium during World War II.



John Shannon’s dad said seeing his 79-year-old son make his England debut was one of his ‘proudest moments’ as a parent
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Image:

Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)




His son made his England debut aged 72, something John Snr described as his “proudest moment” as a parent.

John Snr was crowned the FA’s ‘Supporter of the Year’ in 2017, when aged 101, for his devotion to football.

He first started watching his son play matches for his school in the 1950s, before the youngster switched to athletics.

John Snr only began watching him again when he was in his 90s, by which time John Jnr was playing over-60s football.

The Arsenal fan told the Mirror after yesterday’s match: “It was a fantastic game, they played some wonderful stuff.



John Snr, who spent time behind enemy lines, said he enjoyed watching his son play
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Image:

Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)




“I do enjoy being on the side watching him play. It makes me very proud to see my son playing for England.”

West Ham-supporting John Jnr, from Cambridge, added: “Everyone always asks after dad, asking if he will be at the next game.

“He’s given me criticism over the years for other things in life but never criticises my footballing abilities.

“I love playing matches. The standard is just as good as other age groups, albeit maybe a bit slower.”


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