Scoring a Centenary! . . . . . . . .
Britain’s oldest female football fan has been rewarded for her loyalty with her own corporate box — at the age of 100. Sprightly Kitty Thorne has attended nearly every Bristol Rovers home game since 1954, when she travelled to her first match by steam train. At the time Winston Churchill was Prime Minister and meat rationing had just ended.
Since then she has made the 52- mile round trip from her home in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, on around 1,500 occasions to see her team in action. She says her love of Rovers keeps her alive along with strong coffee and corned beef sandwiches. Now Kitty’s loyalty has been recognised with a corporate box at the club’s Memorial Stadium until the end of the season.
Kitty said: “Football is my life, and Rovers is my club. I love coming here. It’s what I look forward to. I’ll keep coming to games as long as I can. The first game I went to had me hooked. I fell in love with the noise and the atmosphere. The whole experience was amazing.”
Kitty was born in Woking, Surrey, but was evacuated from London to Trowbridge in 1939 along with her husband Les. On 23rd October 1954 Kitty and Les took their son Peter, then aged nine, to watch their first ever Rovers game. Boarding a steam train from Trowbridge, the family travelled to Stapleton Road station in Bristol, before making the short walk to the Eastville ground, the club’s spiritual home. Rovers beat Leeds United 5- 1 in front of 24,000 fans and Kitty fell in love with the game.
The family began driving to games in 1957 when Les, an aircraft fitter, bought a 1939 Ford Popular. Even after Les died from a stroke in 1959, aged just 46, Kitty continued travelling to Rovers matches by train, always taking Peter with her.
Her claim to fame is she was once “on the bench versus Manchester United”, during a League Cup match in 1972. After she fell ill during the game, police officers escorted her from the packed stands and allowed her to sit pitch- side on a bench with the St. John Ambulance staff while she recovered.
Kitty, who worked at a dairy factory in Trowbridge, first became a season ticket holder in 1975 when Rovers still played their home games at Eastville. She stayed loyal when the club moved to Bath City’s Twerton Park ground in 1986, and followed them back to Bristol when they returned in 1996 to share the Memorial Stadium in Horfield with Bristol Rugby Club.
Kitty has remained a season ticket holder in the West Stand, rarely missing a Saturday home game, and until recently always enjoyed a corned beef sandwich and flask of coffee at half time. The dedicated pensioner, who has no grandchildren and turned 100 on 2nd January, has stuck with Rovers through thick and thin. She has seen them play in finals at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium and at Wembley Stadium. She was at the game at home to Mansfield in May last year when the club lost its league status for the first time since 1920. “I shed a tear that day,” she said. “It was so sad. I love this club. It’s a friendly warm club, a family club and for that to happen was awful.” When asked how modern football differs from the game she fell in love with six decades ago, she said: “It’s very different now. Back then you could get to know the players, they were all local boys, you could chat to them.”
Kitty pulled no punches about the state of English football at the moment. “We have a poor national team, because there are too many overseas players in our league. We need to give our lads more of a chance,” she said.
Her son Peter, 70, a retired postman, said: “Mum is Rovers through and through. Nothing will stop her coming to games. She is as passionate about the team now as she ever has been and she isn’t afraid to tear them off a strip if they aren’t playing well.”
Rovers chairman Nick Higgs said: “Our fans are incredibly loyal and Kitty epitomises this. To have been to the number of games she has is a remarkable achievement, and we hope she will keep coming along to watch the team for a long time to come. Huge numbers of our supporters travel long distances on match days, but not many can say they have travelled by steam train to get to a game.”