John Harding obituary

Other lives: Lecturer in Arabic who was also a talented amateur footballer for Corinthian-Casuals

My friend John Harding, who has died aged 84, was a talented footballer who played over the years for Oxford University, Combined Services, Kettering Town, Dulwich Hamlet, Corinthian-Casuals and the England amateur team. Off the field he was a lecturer in Arabic, and he once combined his skills to spend a three-year period in Saudi Arabia developing football there in conjunction with the former player and Match of the Day presenter Jimmy Hill.

John was born one of five children in Liverpool to John Sr, an electrician, and Mary (nee Hughes), a housewife. He went to St Francis Xavier catholic school in the city, where he won a classics scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford, spending his first year, as he put it, losing his Liverpool accent but not his support for Liverpool football club.

At Oxford he was chosen to play at left-back for the university football team, of which he was captain in 1958. While still at Oxford he won the first of four amateur international caps for England and also played for the British Universities and for Pegasus, the combined Oxford and Cambridge side. After leaving Oxford he went to Loughborough College for teacher training, then briefly taught Latin, Greek and sport at Windsor grammar school in Berkshire.

In 1962 he joined the Royal Army Education Corps as a commissioned officer teaching junior soldiers the three Rs, and served with them for 15 years. During that time he played football for the army, often as captain, and for the Combined Services, while also turning out for 10 seasons with semi-professional Kettering Town.

While in the army he was sent to the University of Durham to learn Arabic, and it was after leaving the services in 1977 as a major that he went to Saudi Arabia on a three-year contract, acting as Hill’s football assistant and Arabic fixer as they tried to build enthusiasm and knowledge for the game in the country.

Back in London in 1980, John lectured in Arabic at Soas London University, and also taught Arabic part-time at Westminster school. He continued playing football on his return, first with Dulwich Hamlet and then for Corinthian-Casuals, in particular their veterans’ team that won the AFA Veterans’ Cup five years in a row. He also went on tours with the vets to South Africa, Moscow, China and Brazil.

John retired from work in 2016, aged 80. He is survived by his second wife, Valerie (nee North), whom he married in 2014, his daughter, Sarah, from his first marriage, to Pamela Ellis, which ended in divorce, and his siblings David, Alan and Marie. Marcus, the son of his first marriage, died in 2019.

David Harrison

The GuardianTramp

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