By Keith Brookman
Better known to Rovers supporters as Jackie, John Harry Pitt, one of the stalwarts of the team of the 1950’s, was born 100 years ago today in Willenhall, Staffordshire.
Though not a Bristolian by birth, he devoted his career to just one club and wore the blue and white quartered shirts of Bristol Rovers in 467 league matches, a figure bettered by only two players; his contemporary Harry Bamford, also born in 1920, and Stuart Taylor.
The Second World War robbed him of six years of his career, so his overall total of games might have been far greater. On the books of West Bromwich Albion, as an amateur, in 1937/38 he also appeared for Bath City and, briefly, Aberavon.
On the recommendation of Rovers’ Chief Scout Fred Hyde, he signed for Rovers in July 1946, before manager Brough Fletcher had even seen him play. At the age of 26 he made his debut for the club in the first game of the 1946/47 season, a 2-2 draw against Reading at Eastville.
Jackie was to become a consistent and lively performer, tenacious in the tackle, thoughtful and determined with an eye to setting up chances for those around him. Although only 5’ 8” tall and weighing just 10st 10lbs, he more than made up for his short stature by turning in wholehearted performances whenever he pulled on a Rovers shirt.
The one sending off in his distinguished career came against local rivals Bristol City when he and City’s Ernie Peacock received their marching orders for fighting in a Second Division derby.
The two accepted their punishment and left the pitch arm in arm, thus capturing the mood of the time. Football hadn’t quite moved on into an era that would see the abolition of the maximum wage for players and the popularity of the game enhanced by saturated television coverage.
He appeared in every game of Rovers magnificent FA Cup run of 1950/51 which ended, after 11 ties, in a quarter final defeat by First Division Newcastle United and played in every game of the Third Division Championship winning side of 1952/53. He was also ever present in three other seasons; 1947/48, 1951/52 and 1954/55.
Captain of the side for three seasons, from 1955 to 1958, his manager Bert Tann felt that he felt Pitt was good enough to have played for England.
His final game in a Rovers shirt came in February 1958 in a 3-1 win against Ipswich Town and at the age of 37 years and 257 days. Only eight players have played for Rovers at an older age.
His Rovers career wasn’t over, though, as he worked on the groundstaff at Eastville for a number of years, coaching some of the club’s younger players. He then made the transition to groundsman and remained in that role at Eastville for 28 years until the club moved to groundshare with Bath City, at Twerton Park, in 1986.
Jackie moved to Bath as well and, for a while, tended the Twerton Park turf. He was awarded a testimonial match against FA Cup holders Wimbledon in 1988 and celebrated his 70th birthday at Wembley, watching Rovers in the Leyland Daf Trophy Final against Tranmere Rovers.
One of the most popular players to play for Bristol Rovers, Jackie Pitt passed away in Blackberry Hospital, Bristol, on 17th August 2004 at the age of 84.
With the assistance of Stephen Byrne, I wrote much of this article back in 2004 when a special tribute was paid to Jackie in the programme for the game against Southend United. His great friend, Derek Rees and his family kindly allowed access to these photos and more, and it’s a pleasure to be able to pay tribute to a great player once again, on the occasion of his birth 100 years ago.