Club historian David Bull remembers John Sillett (pictured left, with brother Peter at Chelsea), who has died, aged 85.
John Sillett left Southampton in 1953 as a teenage member of the club’s “A” team, when his widowed mother did a deal with Chelsea manager Ted Drake, who had played for the Saints in the 1930s with her late husband Charlie, a sailor who had been fatally torpedoed, late in the War, off Land’s End.
According to John’s older brother Peter, a Southampton star who was up for sale, his mum’s deal was simple: take Peter; take John. A no-brainer for Drake, so John’s place in Chelsea’s history is secure as the junior member of a full-back partnership with Peter. Yet he will be best remembered, surely, as the ebullient manager who took Coventry City to Wembley glory with their FA Cup final defeat of Spurs in 1987.
I can vouch, however, for several of John’s visits to St Mary’s. In 2002, I accosted him as he was entering the stadium to say that I hoped to interview him for my biography, a work in progress, of Terry Paine, his long-time friend and his player-assistant manager at Hereford United when they won promotion to then Second Division in 1976. John explained that he had come to scout for the England manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson.
When I duly interviewed John at his West Midlands home, he told me of the selection committee he’d just attended. Because “Sven likes little and large,” up front, he said, the issue was who should partner Michael Owen in England’s next match. John recommended James Beattie over Emile Heskey and James got the manager’s nod. When the Paine biography was eventually published in 2008 and launched at the stadium, John grabbed the microphone to make an ad lib speech that stole the after-dinner show.
He was at St Mary’s again in April 2012, as a guest watching the Saints clinch promotion against already-relegated Coventry. When he was spotted by some away supporters who chanted his name, some adjacent Saints fans applauded. John recalled that heart-warming occasion in his foreword to Duncan Holley’s Suited and Booted, published later that year. He was a shoo-in to write the foreword as the book includes, much to John’s surprise, 12 photos of his late father. John was again on entertaining form when the book was launched with a Q&A.
I last saw John in November 2018, when he unveiled the war-memorial plaque on the wall at the stadium. The name of Charlie Sillett is, sadly, on the plaque.
JOHN CHARLES SILLETT
20th July 1936 – 29th November 2021
Photos courtesy of the Duncan Holley collection and Dave Adlem