Last December, we reported the death of an electronic friend, a fellow-Sunderland supporter known from the Blackcats e-mail forum for both his allegiance to our club and his sharp wit. George Pitcher‘s widow, Kathy, now feels able to share a little more about the life of the Newcastle-born, Sunderland-mad man she loved – the ‘red sheep’ of the family as he put it himself – starting with an illustration of George’s passion for the game and mention of another tragedy that struck the family in the same year his own illness was diagnosed …
“When George and I arranged our second date, he only turned up because England hadn’t got through to the next round of a Cup. I realised then that football would always be his first love and this was a story he repeated often to great amusement.
“But after 31 years of marriage that was all it was: a story.
“George moved to Edinburgh in the 1970s where he followed Heart of Midlothian. But they could never compete with his love of Sunderland.
“We met in 1982, married in 1983 and had four lovely boys. The only bad days were when Hearts played Hibernian as I was a lifelong Hibs supporter. Probably the equivalent of Sunderland-Newcastle ties.
“Our son Brian committed suicide in January 2014 while living in Norway. This came as a great shock [and] I think George never got over it. He took a seizure in April and was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was operated on but they couldn’t remove all of it; he was to receive 12 sessions of radiotherapy and would hopefully get 12 months.
“But he took another seizure and was very unwell so managed only five sessions. Chemo was offered which he turned down. He spent the last 11 weeks in a Hospice, but still managed to keep up with the football on Sky sports via his laptop.
“He took a further seizure the week before he died which I think was the final blow and he couldn’t fight it any longer. We’ve just past Brian and George’s birthdays so that was another sad time for us all. Although George never believed in the afterlife I’d like to think that wherever he is he’s watching Sunderland and cheering at the good results. With my best wishes and good luck for the upcoming season.
It was Kathy’s wish that I should reproduce that poignant mixture of heartbreaking reality and whimsical reminiscence.
It reached me via Facebook and I replied: “That is very moving, Kathy, and a demonstration of how cruel life can be, for you to endure two tragedies so soon after each other. One small consolation must be the forbearance and good humour he clearly showed even as the end neared.”
Kathy felt sure George would have been honoured for her thoughts and recollections to appear at a Sunderland site.
In further exchanges she recalled their final holiday together, Tunisia in 2013. “When one of the waiters realised George was a Geordie,” Kathy wrote, “he thought he must support Newcastle. Gasp, horror, George put him right – and for the rest of the holiday he addressed George as Sunderland.”
Gentle prompting produced another anecdote:
One of the first memories I have of George going down for a match which was against Newcastle. He was making a weekend of it as his friend’s daughter and son-in-law (Newcastle supporter) had got them tickets albeit for the wrong end. He didn’t know George was a Sunderland fan until George appeared wearing his Sunderland top!!
This is how Salut! Sunderland noted George’s death. It appeared at https://safc.blog/2014/12/rip-george-pitcher-red-sheep-of-the-family/ on December 21 2014, the day Sunderland went to St James’ Park and beat Newcastle 1-0.
Here is an extract:
It seems particularly pertinent to choose today to post a brief tribute to a Sunderland supporter who was born in Newcastle. Rest in peace, George …
In our age of electronic communication, it is quite possible to know other people a little, or even a lot, without ever having met or spoken to them.
So it is with the Blackcats e-mail list, a disparate group of Sunderland fans scattered to assorted corners of the world. When names pop up, I can identify a few fellow supporters I have known for years, a few I am on nodding terms with and many more I have never met.
George Pitcher was in that last category. His name would appear from time to time, with comments on some or other aspect of Sunderland AFC’s activities or on some off-piste topic raised to lighten the tone. I last saw his name there in June, when he joined a discussion about pre-season friendlies.
He signed off with his name followed by (“in his hospital bed”). No further information, certainly nothing to indicate he was gravely ill or about to become so. But last week, his wife added this sad message at Facebook:
“I am making this post on behalf of my husband, George, to let his Facebook friends know that he passed away on Sunday 14th in St Colombus Hospice.” George, who had been business development manager for Publishing Technology plc, was only 61.
In Salut! Sunderland‘s series on the Mackem Diaspora, George had offered this self-description, repeated here from Blackcats:
Well, I’m Newcastle born and bred and the red sheep of my family. First went to Roker Park with my mother’s cousin in 61 or 62 to see the lads against Swansea Town (as they were then). Was an intermittent attendee during the 1960s and joined the RAF in 1970. On escaping in 1974, returned to Newcastle (Heddon on the Wall, actually) until I moved to Edinburgh in 1979.
I have been a season ticket holder while in Edinburgh, prior to getting married, but have not been anything like as often as I would have liked since then. I have to admit that apart from friendlies in Edinburgh (don’t think I’ve missed one since 79), the last time I saw a home game it was the final league game at Roker Park against Everton. I am hoping to make my first pilgrimage to the SoL later this year, with my second eldest son, as his treat to return the compliment after I took him to Barcelona in December (not much difference, eh?). [Sadly, this was a reference to Brian. The visit never took place – Ed]
These messages appeared at Facebook:
* From Cathie: “George and I worked together on Heron at Stirling University. I remember his dry wit and friendship to all of us with great fondness. I am thinking of you and all his family.”
* Brian Cobb: “I am a friend of George’s from his RAF days. I remember him as an intelligent man with a sharp wit. He was very knowledgeable and passionate about aviation, music and Sunderland Football club … Rest in peace, George. You left us too soon.”
To which were then added these comments from two Salut! readers, both of whom also frequent Blackcats:
Ols (Mick Allcock):
I never met George either, but likewise enjoyed interacting with him over the last 20 or so years. Thank you for posting this, as some of us didn’t know. My thoughts and prayers go out to Kathy and George’s family, and I would like to think he’s enjoying a smile today.
Very sad news. Ols’s thoughts are very much seconded here. I remember George as a regular contributor to our list back in the mid 90s. I used to enjoy the banter with him and knew that there was some good humour and excellent craic when there was a mail which was always signed off as “George in Edinburgh”. My thoughts are with George’s family and friends. The Mackem family lost one of their very own. Rest in peace our red and white brother.
Salut! Sunderland endorses those thoughts and thanks Kathy for bringing George back to life for us.