The founder and driving force behind a football club rooted in its local community is determined to ensure it is around for many more years as it celebrates its 50th birthday.

John Elliott formed Oxhey Jets FC on June 1, 1972 from a boys brigade team to give a group of Under-12 players the chance to play competitive football.

From those small beginnings, Jets have grown significantly to run a number of adult and youth teams from their Boundary Stadium home in Altham Way, with the first team preparing for a new challenge in the Combined Counties League after being moved out of the Spartan South Midlands League following a reorganisation of the non-league pyramid.

John’s philosophy has always been that Jets are more than a football club, providing help and support to the South Oxhey community whenever possible, and he is adamant this must continue as he works to ensure it has a sustainable future.

“If I was starting the whole clock again I’d still do it again,” he reflected. “Yes, if you could take out take out the obvious bad periods and the down times and the bereavements and stuff like that, but I don’t regret it, which is nice because I’m not sitting here at the end of 50 years and thinking why did I bother.

“The important thing for me is to make sure there’s a sustainable Oxhey Jets after us. That has really become the focus because I can’t see the point of giving up 50-plus years and then it all folds.

“I recently felt not very well from Covid and it made me think we’ve got to put the club on a footing that it can carry on and that’s what I’m starting to do. Already for next season we’re starting to spread out the jobs because there’s too much of the club that revolves around me.

“We are trying to find the right people and sponsors to get everything in place to make the club sustainable. The football is really important but the club has got to continue at all costs.”

Watford Observer:

John Elliott with his British Empire Medal

The 67-year-old was awarded a British Empire Medal in 2013 for services to young people and the South Oxhey community and, speaking to the Watford Observer then, he recalled how Jets were formed.

“I was only going to do it for one year, the plan was one season,” he said. “I’d been in the Boys Brigade myself but I got in a bit of trouble, that’s how Jets started because there were so many kids up at the church and it was in the days when you couldn’t have Sunday football and a couple of our lads met the vicar down at the local shops. He said ‘hello, you weren’t at church this week’, and instead of just saying ‘I wasn’t well’ or something, one said ‘it wasn’t my turn on John’s rota’.

“I got hauled into the office about having a rota that they only had to go to church one week in four and I said ‘okay, I’ll just pack up and go and start a football team’. I went round to the local pub, The Jet, they bought us the first kit and that was season it was meant to be.”

Watford Observer:

The very early days of Jets in 1972

Fittingly, the landlord and landlady of The Jet in 1972, Dave and Lorna Mills, are set to attend the club’s traditional end-of-season presentation on the River Thames in London next week as the 50th birthday celebrations continue. Before then, the club is hosting a combined party and celebrations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee on Saturday.

Asked about his highlights of the past 50 years, the club’s general manager responded: “There’s probably three or four moments that I’ll never forget. Winning that first championship in the County League, beating Barnet (in the Herts Senior Cup in 2005) will always be up there and strangely enough for completely different reasons Kingstonian last season.”

Jets’ preparations for an FA Cup tie against a side two tiers higher in the non-league pyramid were plunged into disarray when several players followed a former manager out of the exit door. The club, though managed to piece together a side and pulled off a remarkable 2-2 draw before losing the replay 8-1.

Watford Observer:

The County League title-winning team

John is also proud of the annual Remembrance match the club stage. This is held in memory of Private Tom Lake, a former Jets player who was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2011, and he confirmed the Coldstream Guards are again due to provide the opposition for this year’s fixture after doing so in 2021.

“What I’m most proud of is that after 50 years the club is still there,” John continued. “It’s very rare now that you get any club that seems to have a long life under the same people. People come and go and they change things at clubs with hundreds of years of history, and they’re not the same clubs.

“This is still the family-based club that it started off as on day one and that’s something I like. It’s not all about the winning of football matches and winning of trophies, but that does help obviously.”

Watford Observer:

Jets' former players include TV star Bradley Walsh. He is pictured receiving the Under-18 top goalscorer's trophy for the 1976/77 season

With the assistance of Three Rivers District Council and Watford Rural Parish Council, the club and John have been helped by the goodwill of businesses and individuals and the invaluable support of volunteers throughout the past 50 years.

There is one man who has been part of Jets since the beginning who John is particularly keen to praise for his continued support and loyalty.

He said: “There’s one person that does deserves singling out in the 50 years of Jets and that’s Dave Fuller. He lives in Biggleswade, comes all this way down, but he’s been there for the whole 50. Whether it’s the VAT returns, the licensing or all the league administration, he is a massive part of Oxhey Jets. It’s behind the scenes, he’s quite often doing all this work at home, but he’s still there.”

A change of leagues brings new challenges next season, including the prospect of playing new opponents, something John is looking forward to.

“There’s eight or nine local games because you’ve got North Greenford, Wembley etc still in the same league (after also being moved), but you’re also heading off to places like Windsor and Reading. In many ways for the new season, for the 50th, it’s going to be refreshing.

“They’ve got a North and South Division so you could end up heading down to places like Fleet for a cup match, so I’m quite looking forward to it.

“I’m proud of what Jets have done as a club. I love it when I’m walking around the estate and see kids wearing their Oxhey Jets shirts. For me that means the world because it’s come out of nothing, it is self-built, so it wasn’t that we’ve got this big name that people have handed over to us. We started on day one with nothing, not even the kit.”