A lifelong Bristol Rovers supporter celebrated her 102nd birthday today (Thursday, June 13) with a rather special surprise.
Lilly Hoskins, who has lived at the St Monica Trust-run Cote Lane retirement village, Westbury-on-Trym since February, was expecting to spend her special day with her nieces and extended family – completely unaware of the fact Gas legends Harold Jarman and Tom Stanton were waiting to wish her a very happy birthday.
Since her arrival at the home Lilly, who is now Cote Lane’s oldest resident, has become a popular presence among her neighbours and carers alike – known for wearing her Rovers shirt and giving passers-by the thumbs up as they walk past her room.
Lilly’s big birthday surprise was organised by care assistant Sandra Lane, who has worked at the home for 13 years and stumbled upon the resident’s love of Rovers entirely by chance.
“I usually work downstairs, and Lilly lives upstairs, so to be honest I didn’t really know her,” Sandra explained.
“I was helping out on a shift downstairs a little while ago, and was with Lilly when I noticed the Bristol Rovers shirt hanging in her wardrobe. I started asking her about it, and she told me that she had been a fan all her life and still wore the shirt quite often.
“As everyone does, I completely fell in love with her and as I knew it was her birthday coming up, wanted to organise something special that she would really enjoy with a Rovers theme.”
Sandra set to work trying to make her idea a reality, using Facebook to try and reach out to fan groups who could help, which lead to one of her posts being picked up by Stanton, who made 168 league appearances over eight seasons from 1968 to 1976.
He got in touch with Sandra, and set about putting together a signed card and a few very special presents on behalf of the Bristol Rovers Former Players Association.
Tom said: “I thought we might be able to get together a signed card or something like that, but I never thought it would grow to the extent it has.”
What started out as a bid to get Lilly a card with some of her favourite player’s signatures gradually evolved into a signed Rovers shirt, book, scarf, and a personalised cake, as well as a visit from Tom and fellow Rovers great Jarman, who played for the Gas between 1959 and 1973.
“To think of the memories Lilly must have, not only of the club but of Bristol is just unbelievable to imagine – only last week we were honouring the D-Day veterans and she saw all of that, lived through it, it’s astonishing really.
“It’s important that we honour the fans who have been through it all with us, Lilly is a fantastic supporter and the fact she has kept on wearing her shirt at 102 is fantastic.
“She was clearly surprised and hasn’t stopped smiling since we arrived – it’s been great to see and a real honour to get to meet her on such a special occaision.”
Harold echoed Tom’s sentiments, saying: “It’s unbelievable really, what a life she must have lived and to still be loyal to Rovers after all these years is an incredible commitment.
“It’s wonderful to see a female supporter at this age still so passionate about the team – especially with her generation you could expect to see men who had supported the club all their lives, but to see and hear about how enthusiastic Lilly has been throughout her life had been brilliant.
“It’s just a small thing, the least we could do really to say thank you for her dedication and celebrate such a special birthday.”
According to her nieces, who were as Lilly’s love for Bristol Rovers, according to her family, started with her mother who was a keen supporter herself.
Lilly, who was born in 1917, grew up attending matches at the historic former home of Rovers, Eastville Stadium, and continued to return to the stands week in, week out, for many decades.
At 102 she may not be able to get to as many games as she once did, but she still talks fondly of the time spent watching her beloved team and, of course, still regularly wears her shirt.
Lilly’s niece Valerie Tippet, who had come to visit her aunt with husband Alan, said that the family themselves only learnt of the surprise moments before they met the players.
She said: “The staff here are just absolutely wonderful, they go above and beyond to bring so much happiness to the lives of residents – we can’t believe the difference we have seen in Lilly since she has been in here.
“We had no idea and just thought it would be a quiet day, but she has not stopped smiling the entire time and is absolutely loving all the fuss.
“We can’t thank Sandra and the team enough, what they have done is so special.”
Valerie’s sister Barbara Russett was also visiting along with her husband Will, and described growing up attending Rovers games with her aunt.
She said: “She’s always been a fan, and it’s just lovely that after all these years of support they have gone out of their way to really make her birthday one to remember.
“I occasionally went to games with her as a child, and to see her still wearing her shirt and being so excited by it all is just lovely.
“She used to go with a friend who was a City supporter and they got round it by going to a Rovers match one week and a City game the next all through the season – but she’s always been a loyal Rovers fan at heart.”