TRIBUTES flooded in following the death of former Heybridge Swifts chairman Gary White, earlier this month.

Mr White served as chairman of Swifts for almost seven years, before his departure was announced in January last year.

He played a leading role in the revamping of Swifts’ home ground Scraley Road.

Jody Brown managed Swifts on two separate occasions and served under Mr White's chairmanship - here, he pays a heartfelt tribute to his friend.

IT'S hard to know what exactly to say, but having been manager of Heybridge Swifts of two separate occasions, and worked with Gary closely I feel a certain responsibility to pay tribute to him both as a person, a chairman, and as positive part of the community.

When Gary was introduced to me back in 2015 by then chairman Craig Riches, I immediately felt his love of football across all levels.

A keen non league fan, particularly Heybridge, but also a season ticket holder at West Ham. He had a remarkable memory for players, games, goals, etc.

I also noted he listened more than he spoke, and he treated everybody with such respect, never reacting negatively to even the most challenging of situations.

The club was at an extremely low ebb back then, with the committee toying with the idea of taking relegation to the Essex Senior League, to enable it to afford to continue running.

The club were fighting relegation, struggling to pay even the very small playing

budget it had committed to, and the facilities were in disrepair. We were aware of crippling tax bill, crowds were at an all-time low, morale within the club wasn’t great and quite frankly had it continued that way for much longer, who knows where the club would be today.


Shortly after my return to the club, Gary became chairman and oversaw a dramatic turnaround.

Firstly we fended off relegation, and throughout that time he remained calmed and supportive - a quality he had in abundance.

The first signs of what was to come was perhaps the wonderful night, at Dagenham and Redbridge in the Essex Senior Cup final, the club's first and only appearance in the final.

The team pushed a side two levels above them all the way narrowly losing 1-0, but the atmosphere created by the supporters gave us a taste of what could be achieved if we all came together.

But there was no overnight transformation, it was a project and the aim was sustainable growth, not crazy investment, short term fixes, or rash decisions.

Gary recognised there were a number of good people at the club and around the club, and although on field we continued to struggle, he was introducing new business and sponsorship into the club and the boardroom.

He was working to bring the youth club closer to the senior club and brought their chairman Steve into work closely with him and the senior club.

Gradually the club became stronger financially, there were new people being introduced into the club and the facilities were being improved bit by bit.


The culture was changing. It was a collective effort, but Gary had been the man to facilitate and encourage it.

Despite only staying up on the final day, you could sense things were changing at the club.

The next season approached, and pre season was so up beat, so positive, and Gary's support in terms of giving free board to some Spanish and South American players we were trialling, and making a little more money available after the recent years of real struggle was imperative to that.

That year, Gary’s second as chairman, was a special one. Record breaking in multiple on-field statistics, crowds tripled, even quadrupled, the youth teams were such a big part of it, and for the first time in the two periods I’d managed the club - it was beginning to feel as one, not only internally, but within the community too.

Having enjoyed so many successes in national cup competitions, including a trip to face Exeter City in the FA Cup, the club were awarded the National Game award for cup team of the year. The club had never felt so together its national exposure hit an all time high.

Multiple play off appearances would follow, including a deserved play-off final victory over local rivals Maldon and Tiptree. Unfortunately, due to pyramid restructuring, the club were not rewarded with promotion they had deserved - somewhat of a set back in the eyes of many.

Gary took it on his stride and together with others they made sure that the club continued to grow on and off the field.

Attendances, community use of the facilities, youth team participation and performance prospered, managers with elite level experience were now being attracted to the club, and the reputation of the club locally and within the football pyramid had been massively elevated.


The club we see today, with its thriving bar and hospitality facility, its all-weather playing surface, its rebuilt changing rooms, strong committee, positive and proactive relationship with its youth teams and the wider community, as well as it’s ability to attract sponsorship and enterprise is unrecognisable to the one which I managed to the play-offs back in 2014.

By 2015/16, it was in a mess and even more of a dramatic improvement was going to be needed to turn around the club's fortunes.

That was the start of Gary's tenure as chairman, from which point they had seen year on year growth both on and off the field, a fact which should never be taken for granted or undervalued.

By no means did Gary do this on his own, and so many people deserve credit too.

Very recently I had been at lunch with Gary and he was reminiscing about those early years, the adversity we overcame and the successes we enjoyed - as always he was giving all the credit to other people. He was always this way.

One of the many qualities he held was that rare trait of wanting to see others succeed, for no personal gain, not just his people at Heybridge Swifts, or within his family and social circle - but all people.

This was illustrated in many ways, the business advice hubs and networking events he would organise, his mentoring projects with schools, his willingness to share feedback and good practice with others, and of course his many years as a volunteer treasurer, chairman, and supporter of Heybridge Swifts.

I remember after the game at Exeter, we came together in a tight circle on the field beneath our fans, and the words we shared on the field and again that night at the hotel. We spoke of those two seasons and all the highs, but not forgetting the adversity faced either.

We spoke how the legacy it would leave at the club would bond us all for life. We’ve been reminded of that bond recently. Gary was a huge part of that success and that bond, and he was and still is held in such high esteem by so many of us.

When I let the players and staff from 2016/17/18 know of his untimely passing, the outpouring of emotion, gratitude, and positive memories of Gary were overwhelming and serve as a great measure of the impact he had on so many of us.

Many years ago now, Gary and I had sat together to plan a strategy to evolve and grow the football club.

I gave Gary a book written about the New Zealand All Blacks, both from a business and from a sporting perspective. It centred on building community, togetherness, positive culture, and ultimately striving to leave the shirt, the business, the team or the organisation in a better place than you found it.

The book was called ‘Legacy’ and I sincerely hope that Gary was aware of the legacy he had helped to create at Heybridge Swifts.

He always had an appreciation of the past, ex players, coaches, chairmen, and supporters.

He always had time for these people and did his uppermost to make sure they were always welcomed back to the club.

He did a lovely interview when I eventually left the club in 2018, and he also paid tremendous tribute to Swifts legend and former chairman Mick Gibson when he passed away. He was always going the extra mile to show his and the club's appreciation.

I remember Mick himself saying to me “Gary’s a good man, and the best chairman this club has had since me”. That was a great compliment coming from a man like Mick, who had given his life to the football club, and had seen it all, the good the bad and the indifferent.

As a final note, and I say this because Gary had often spoken with me about mental health and the greater awareness needed. I know he’d support this message. Talk to people, listen, be kind, try to understand, be supportive, and certainly never kick a person when they’re down.

We have lost a good man, a man that was better than most I’ve met in more than 20 years working in football. A feeling echoed by so many.

He had a beautiful family, that were also such a big part of the football club during those years, and when I think of Gary, I will always think of Jane, his wife, being there by his side, welcoming us and our families, Steve his brother with him supporting us from the stands, and of course his two daughters Katie and Lucy supporting their dad and his passion - Heybridge Swifts.

All of our thoughts are with them.

Gary will be remembered, and missed by so many of us.