Sir Jack Hayward at 90: I still adore Wolves
[gallery] Sir Jack Hayward celebrated his 90th birthday today – and raised a glass to his beloved Wolves and the city of Wolverhampton.
Wolves' president celebrated his big day at home in the Bahamas, surrounded by family and friends at an RAF-themed bash at the Sir Charles Hayward Yacht Club, named after his father, who moved to the islands in the 1950s when he moved his business from the United States.
But if Sir Jack remains as patriotic as ever, then his renowned sense of fun is also just as strong.
"I'm not walking too well – I think I need two new hips, two new knees and two new buttocks, but apart from that I feel very fit," joked Sir Jack.
"But I've got to survive so that I don't miss this big party that's been organised for me. There are going to be lots of surprises, and I'm dreading what they have got in store for me.
"I'm told there is an RAF theme and there will be flags, bunting and model aeroplanes brought in, with Second World War banners and music – The White Cliffs of Dover, that sort of thing.
"I'm told the chaperones will be following me around to limit the amount I drink so I can make a speech! They said to me 'why don't you wait another 10 years and have a good party?'
"But why not have one now? I don't know about a telegram from the Queen – I've got the knighthood already!"
While Sir Jack is ready to celebrate, thoughts of his home city are never far away.
"What time is it in 'Wolvo'?" he asks fondly. "And what's the weather like? It's about 75 degrees here. We're having a bit of rain as well, but we need it."
Not surprisingly for such an occasion, Wolverhampton connections have flown out to join him in force.
"The Baroness (Rachael Heyhoe Flint) flew in with my son Jonathan, and Babette Moxey is here too, representing Jez, who can't be here," he said.
"I'm told there is a big party of about 100 at the place the people named after my father, the Sir Charles Hayward Yacht Club."
Given Sir Jack's experiences in the RAF, for whom he served during the Second World War, first as a pilot officer in the 671 Squadron S.E. Asia Command in India before being demobilised as a flight lieutenant in 1946, it's little surprise the theme of the airborne services dominates his birthday celebrations.
And it's a connection he uses to prove he is still very much 'with us'.
"It said on the invitation that we're celebrating 'the 90th landing of Sir Jack Hayward 180018'," he recalls.
"I have always said the first sign of senility is that you can't remember your service number so thank God I can still say '1808628, sir – don't forget the sir' – that was my number when I joined, as 'Hayward – cadet under training', then later 180018 when I became a private.
"So hopefully I'm not ready for the men in white coats yet."
But while he might be remembering his days as an airman and celebrating his nine decades 4,500 miles away, thoughts of his beloved Wolves and home city are never far away. And the anecdotes and memories remain just as close to the surface.
"I still adore Wolves and I am very proud to have been born in Wolverhampton at Rosedale, Dunstall Road, Whitmore Reans – though I have still never understood why it's called Whitmore Reans," he chuckles.
"But I was born there, a quarter of a mile from Molineux, on June 14, on American Flag Day, celebrating Betsy Ross stitching the first US flag.
"Nineteen twenty-three was also the first time Wolves became a limited company – they were called Wolverhampton Wanderers (1923) Limited for many years, until they went bust years later.
"They were happy days, even though Wolverhampton Grammar School wouldn't take me, and Tettenhall College wouldn't take me either.
"You can't blame them – I couldn't read or write at the age of eight!
"Many years later, Tettenhall College asked if I would donate some money for their sports hall and I said 'you turned me down' and they wrote back saying it was the stupidest thing they had ever done. I always claimed that when we moved to London it was because my father's bicycle and sidecar business went bust, but Rachael assures me it was because my parents were so ashamed at me not getting into Tettenhall College."
Wolves will be glad they didn't turn him down when Sir Jack came knocking back in 1990 and bought the club for £2.1 million.
Sadly, his unbelievable generosity, which saw him pour around £60m of his own money into the club for the rebuilding of Molineux and investment in players, only saw one, ill-fated season in the top flight, in 2003-04 after two play-off disappointments, while a losing semi-final in 1998 was as close as they got to the FA Cup he craved.
But surely no one will begrudge him a special night after his exhaustive efforts to restore his home-town club to the top of the game.
Sir Jack, we salute you. Happy 90th birthday.
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