A statement from Ben Snowdon, Cumberland FA CEO
Our Chairman, Fred Conway
Having to share the devastating news of the passing of Cumberland FA chair, Fred Conway, the most common response has been one of shock with people saying that they were only recently speaking with him, or had recently been in his company, or had received a message from him about something to do with football etc.
These statements not only demonstrate the tragic, untimely and unexpected nature of his passing, but also go some way to show the depth of his work within, and his passion for, grassroots football within Cumberland.
It is no understatement to say that Fred Conway’s life has been based around football and more specifically football within Cumberland. As with most people his love of the game had been developed from his time playing. Described as tenacious but talented player, his love affair with the game started when he began playing for the Boys Brigade before moving to Cockermouth Albion Under 18’s where he won the Derwent Valley Junior League. His career then moved onto playing within the Wearside league for Marchon on a Saturday and he also had a successful spell at Calder Lions, and then Egremont Athletic in the Sunday League.
It was during his time at Egremont Athletic where he took his first steps into management. After this team folded he moved to St Bees to guide them through their most successful period within Sunday League football. Then Fred moved to Mirehouse AFC where he oversaw their domination of Sunday League football, including 3 back to back Sunday County Cups in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Well known for his strong opinions, he was never going to sit back quietly and let others lead, and so when, in the 1980s, an opportunity arose to join the Egremont & District Sunday League Committee he took it. Before long he was the chair and then also the Secretary of the league, where he has remained, in various capacities until today. The respect in which he was held meant that at various times he has also been involved with The Workington & District Sunday League (chair), West Cumbria Youth Football League (chair) and remained chair of The Cumberland County League.
In the mid-80s Fred passed the basic referee course and registered as a referee. Whilst, due to his commitments within other footballing roles, his time within refereeing was probably shorter than he’d have liked, it was clearly an area of the game that he enjoyed and this passion meant that he remained active within the refereeing fraternity attending meetings, overseeing central appointments including senior county cup games and also mentoring various young referees across the county.
In the late 1990s Fred was elected onto the Cumberland County FA council. He subsequently served on various committees including discipline, regulations, referees and youth, where he vice chair. This was an area of football that was very close to his heart and in particular he was very keen on Under 18’s representative football. This led to him managing various sides during two spells as manager, including the most successful side in recent history, who reached the Final of the Northern Counties competition, which was hugely impressive achievement when you consider the scale and size of the counties we were competing against.
In 2004 he was nominated and subsequently voted in as Chair of The County FA. Around 2018 he was elected by members of all Northern County FAs as the President of The Association of Northern Counties. More recently, in 2020, he was chosen as the County FAs representative to The FA where he sat as a member of FA council and was appointed onto various national football committees including facilities and more recently football development.
However, it was his position as Chair of Cumberland FA of which he was most proud, and he would often be heard telling new members of the County that the Cumberland FA badge meant more to him than anything else.
Although this was not technically true as, although he may not have said it as often, it was his family that remained his number one priority. Whether it be his late mother or the huge character that was his late father, his brother, his nephews, his cousins or his partner Vicky. Family was the only thing that beat football, well most of the time!!
This is because, and he would hate us for telling you this secret, but Fred was like a boiled sweet, or maybe even a locket sweet, with a hard shell but soft centre.
You always knew where you stood with Fred. He was opinionated, often stubborn and always straight to the point. He, as a close friend of his said, often liked to play the role of ‘bad cop’. So you might not have always liked, nor agreed, with what he said, but you knew what he said he meant and believed would be in the best interests of the game.
This was the persona he would probably like you to have of him. However the comments and emotions displayed across social media, following his passing, highlight this soft centre, as he just wanted to help and do the best for people. Whether that be developing staff members, mentoring young referees, assisting and advising on appointments, attending games in an observational capacity, offering advice to club secretaries or supporting leagues with issues. He had, or more specifically made, time for everyone who asked for his help and never, despite the status of some of the positions he held, forgot about where he had come from and the numerous people who had helped him along the way.
He was unique, which is why he will be irreplaceable.
People often talk about legacy, but this word has more recently become synonymous with false promises and failures following events etc. This was not Fred. He was ‘Ronseal’ – he did what it said on the tin. So maybe it’s better to talk about and consider his contribution to the game and how much he did and achieved in so many facets of the sport.
We might also consider his succession and the foundations on which we have to continue to build upon and work together to make a difference to the game and in the county we, and most definitely Fred, loved.
The All Blacks rugby union team talk about spending their time and efforts, whilst representing New Zealand, in trying to ensure that they leave the shirt in a better place for the next person who wears it. Whilst it may be more fitting, in terms of Fred, to look at the Cumberland FA badge, it is without doubt that he leaves that badge, the one that he cared so deeply about and was so proud to represent, in a better place. For that we are eternally grateful and, between you me and the gatepost, that’s not bad, for how he commonly and tongue in cheek, referred to himself, ‘a thick store-man’.
Mr Chairman. You will be missed but most of all, on behalf of grassroots football and Cumberland FA, Thank you.