Obituary: Matt Speirs, Kirk elder and football administrator

Matt Speirs
Matt Speirs
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Matthew Gregg Speirs, Kirk elder and football administrator. Born: 7 May 1933 in Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire. Died: 6 July 2019 in Somerset, aged 86

There are two great institutions in Ayrshire, the Church of Scotland and Junior Football. Matt Speirs, who has died, aged 86, after a long illness, was a giant in both.

Matt was a Kilmarnock man, born in the town, the seventh son of parents Jim and Helen, a former pupil of Kilmarnock Academy and for many years a familiar figure in the sales office of another Kilmarnock institution, the Glenfield and Kennedy engineering works.

He entered the Glenfield straight from school, and, apart from his National Service in the Royal Air Force, he never left – until shrinkage in the engineering industry forced Glenfield’s closure and Matt was made redundant.

He eschewed another Kilmarnock institution, however. Rather than going to Rugby Park, Matt got his weekly football fix a couple of miles away, at Hurlford United in the juniors.

He initially went to Blair Park as a fan, but, was invited onto the committee and became club secretary.

He later rose to the dizzy heights of being appointed Ayrshire Secretary, which meant cutting his ties with United, along with his great friend John McMurtrie, who became Ayrshire treasurer.

It is no exaggeration to say, under their stewardship, Ayrshire was the best-run region within the SJFA. Matt did a sterling job keeping the various warring factions – Cumnock and Auchinleck, Kilbirnie and Beith, Irvine Meadow and Irvine Vics, singing from the same hymn sheet as a region.

Following his redundancy, junior football became more than a pastime to Matt. He obtained the post of lottery manager for the SJFA and his work with the weekly lottery – a financial lifeline to the smaller clubs, won him admiration and friends across Scotland. He also became secretary, then president of the West of Scotland Junior FA, the umbrella body covering the Ayrshire and Central Leagues.

It was not easy for an Ayrshireman to win the confidence of the Central League clubs, but, Matt managed it. He perhaps should have become general secretary of the SJFA, but, football politics conspired against him – it was the SJFA’s loss.

If he worshipped football on a Saturday, he was an even-more devout worshipper on a Sunday. He was a life-long member of St Andrew’s North Church in Kilmarnock, rising to become an elder, then, following the amalgamation of St Andrew’s with St Marnock’s he switched his place of worship.

At the time of his death he was the senior elder of the joint congregation, a hard-working district elder, a devoted secretary and treasurer of the 
Sunday School and a regular representative to the Presbytry of Ayr and as a Commissioner to the General Assembly.

He was also a formidable fund-raiser and supporter of CHAS, the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland.

In 2008, Matt lost his devoted wife Celia, a lady who was, if anything more-loved across the junior world than her husband. At around the same time, Ayrshire and the Central League amalgamated, it was a good time for Matt to stand down.

He continued to provide an excellent results and press service for the Ayrshire local papers, but, it could be said, he had his concerns about the new West Region. He knew the big Ayrshire sides: Auchinleck Talbot, Glenafton Athletic, Beith and Kilbirnie Ladeside were more than a match for the big Glasgow sides, but, he worried for the small village sides, such as Lugar Boswell Thistle, or Annbank United.

In June of this year, he set off for his annual visit to daughter Carole and his seven grand-children in Somerset. He knew his fragile health was failing and, within a few days of arriving, he was transferred into the care of a local hospice, where he passed quietly away.

On Friday, 23 August, a Memorial Service for Matt was held in St Marnock’s in Kilmarnock. It was well-attended by the congregation and, in spite of having had little notice, several weel-kent faces from the junior world attended, to bid farewell to a giant of the junior code. Then, on the Saturday, every game in the West Region, was preceded by one minute’s silence in honour of Matt Speirs – he deserved nothing less.

Matt Vallance