WATCH: The touching message Manchester City star sent to dying Suffolk superfan
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Tributes to Ezra Leverett, the ‘face of Halesworth’
Halesworth’s Ezra Leverett was a human dynamo and lots of people knew him. But many will be surprised to learn his football allegiance lay nearly 250 miles from home... in Manchester.
For many years, as often as he could, season ticket holder Ezra drove the 10-hour return journey between Suffolk and Maine Road to watch his beloved Manchester City.
Sadly, in the past few years, he developed prostate cancer. It really took its toll over the past 12 months or so.
As the end drew near, and knowing he had only a few months to live, Ezra received a surprise boost that cheered him. His brother-in-law organised a message of support from Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany.
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The Belgian defender made the short video clip while with his national squad, recording a message to the Suffolk-based supporter.
He said: “Hey, Ezra. It’s Vinny. I’m here with Belgium now, with the national team. I heard you’re a lifelong City Blue. I just wanted to wish you strength and tell you that all of us are with you and grateful for your support. So, just waving (at) you from Belgium. Take care.”
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Wife Sandra, who had sometimes accompanied her husband on his treks north, said: “He cried when he listened to it. It almost overwhelmed Ezra.”
The precise details why this Suffolk-raised man supported Manchester City are not totally clear, but it seems it’s down to one-time Blues goalkeeper Bert Trautmann.
The German player took to the field for City more than 500 times between the late 1940s and mid-1960s, after arriving in England as a prisoner of war.
He broke his neck during his side’s FA Cup Final victory over Birmingham in 1956. However, he didn’t realise he’d fractured several vertebrae in a collision, and so played on.
Young Ezra didn’t play much football himself – childhood asthma put the brake on that – but he developed a passion for the game. Son Jamie says: “After that match, my dad read about him (the heroic goalie) and thought ‘I like that guy; I like that team’. So City it was.
Wife Sandra heard a slightly different slant.
“It was a family legend – and I don’t think the dates work out! – but one of his aunts lived near Maine Road and apparently as a baby he was meant to have been passed into the arms of Bert Trautmann, the goalkeeper. But I think it’s just a family myth.
“But he’d always supported them, even when they were in the lower divisions. He never wavered.” Ezra attended his last game early in 2018. “Even when he was ill, he still wanted to know the scores.”
The 72-year-old died last month, after living a full life… and then a bit more.
He was known for his energy and can-do attitude. “He would bounce out of bed at six o’clock in the morning and bounce back at one o’clock in the morning,” says daughter Jo. “Very much his view was that you get one chance at this life: be the best you can in every area of your life.”
‘Enormous zest for life’
In a nutshell, Ezra Leverett sought to make life better for people.
His legacy ranges widely and will live long. His passion for soccer saw him co-found a football club that once had dozens of youngsters playing “the beautiful game”. He used his positions as a town and district councillor to help those who needed assistance, and to bolster the fortunes of the Suffolk town where he made his home: Halesworth.
He helped stage a big annual music festival – Gig in the Park – that gave crowds a series of weekends to remember. And he threw his support behind the dream to convert a former maltings into an arts centre. It worked: The Cut today helps Halesworth punch well above its weight in the artistic firmament.
And all this on top of holding down a job.
“He was full of energy. He had this enormous zest for life,” says Sandra. “He had lots of enthusiasm and lots of organisational ability. He’s someone who’s going to be a huge loss and leave a real hole in the community.”
‘I had two lovely parents’
Ezra was born in June, 1946. Daughter Jo says he was adopted by Ezra Leverett senior and wife Kathleen, who desperately wanted children. Ezra senior was a Methodist lay preacher in Yoxford. “They weren’t particularly wealthy people but they were full of love and it was a big Leverett family, with lots of cousins. I think his mother had 11 sisters, so there were lots of aunties.”
When Ezra was about six, the couple adopted Sarah (now Dr Sarah Leverett, a psychotherapist and counsellor in Washington state, America). They grew up in the building that’s today Main’s Restaurant, in Yoxford High Street.
“The story is that dad was so excited about meeting his new sister that he ran upstairs. There’s a big round window. He was leaning against that to try to see her coming down the street and cracked the window pane from top to bottom,” says Jo. “They couldn’t really afford to replace it for quite some time, and it became a big family story.”
Ezra never yearned to find out about his birth parents. “He said he had the most wonderful parents anyone could have,” says Sandra.
“He had (potential) access to information,” says Jo. “I think it was in a shoebox in his wardrobe for quite some years, but he said ‘Absolutely not. I had two lovely parents and I don’t need any more than that’.”
Sandra says Ezra missed quite a lot of schooling because of severe asthma. He went to secondary school at Saxmundham, left at 15 and linked with the Trust Houses hotel group – training as a sommelier and working for a time in Long Melford.
In the 1960s, says Jo, her father had a wide circle of friends.
“Dad made several claims – I can’t tell you if they were true, but I’ll tell you some of them! He was the first person with long hair in Yoxford. He joined the Young Socialists and became quite a committed Labour supporter from a young age.
“He still claimed he held the (speed) record for Yoxford to Blythburgh on a Triumph Bonneville 750. He never actually told us the record. I have talked to some of his old mates who said ‘No, no, no. It wasn’t him, it was me!’”
The idea of a career in hotels seems to have faded, for Ezra joined the printing industry, going to work for Clays of Bungay.
He met his first wife at the now-gone Compasses pub at Wenhaston when they were both young. “Ezra and Regina: most unusual names in Suffolk, probably,” laughs their daughter.
The couple married at St Mary’s Church, Halesworth. Jo was born in 1969; brothers Jamie and Nicholas (known as Pix) followed.
She remembers her dad as “a total gearhead. Bikes, boats, cars. We’ve still got bikes and boats to sort out now.”
There were motorbikes around when the children were small. Jo remembers a Honda 80. “Terrifying. It was too quick; I was too small. Pix was even smaller!”
Dad was also into gadgets. “We always knew what we were getting for Christmas, whether it was Scalextric, a synthesiser, harmonium… We’d hear him testing them!”
At Clays, he climbed the ranks. “I think he started out sweeping the floors. He always said he worked his way down to management,” says Jamie.
His father headed the firm’s union members – very much a union man “but sensible. He wasn’t an ‘all-out!’ type; he was always working for constructive dialogue”.
Jo says: “He struggled with going into a management role because he didn’t want his colleagues to think he’d sold them out, but he also realised he could probably do more for them in that role than staying where he was.”
Sandra talks about his skills when buying paper. “Ezra was very good at getting deals.”
Jo says he loved books, and book-binding. “I think he understood the importance of books. I didn’t dare buy a Kindle until I knew he’d got one! ‘You’ll put me out of a job.’ He still bought lots of books, though.”
The face of Halesworth
Politics, football and helping people were the tenets of her father’s life, Jo reckons.
Ezra was the youngest serving Halesworth Urban District councillor before it transformed into Halesworth Town Council in 1974. During more than four decades of service he was chairman for two years.
In 2013 he was one of five councillors who resigned after coming under fire on social networking sites.
Ezra was also a Waveney district councillor – leader of the authority in 1990. His time with the council came to an end in 2001.
In between, he carried Labour’s hopes in the 1992 General Election. Conservative David Porter retained the Waveney seat. Ezra came second, with the Labour vote up 8.4%.
“He was a real force of nature,” says Sandra. “He believed in the Labour Party and believed in helping people. He could think on his feet.”
Jo reveals: “I had one of my rare arguments with him afterwards, because I wanted him to move to Ipswich and run again.
“I thought it would be easier for him to get in, and he said ‘You don’t understand. I’m not interested in representing Ipswich; I want to represent Waveney’.”
Jamie says: “Lots of his friends were the other side of the political divide. He’d work with anybody to help the community.”
Jo: “I’m getting a lot of people coming up and saying ‘Your dad helped me to get a council house’ or ‘Your dad helped me to procure a bit of land that meant I could build an extra bedroom and didn’t have to move.’ He was very much about the community – and not necessarily the party line.
“He just got on with it. He wasn’t a glory-hound; he was very much ‘get it done’.”
Ezra was also a governor at the local primary school for several years, and its chairman for a time.
Then there was the Halesworth and Blyth Valley Partnership committee, designed to make things happen in and around the town and “enhance the quality of life, civic pride and public participation of present and future generations”. Ezra established and chaired it.
He was treasurer and a trustee of Halesworth Playing Fields Association, too – plus organiser of Halesworth Herring Festival, a trustee of The Cut arts centre, secretary of Halesworth Community Sport and Leisure, and supporter of many other local ventures.
Ezra was also involved in the pedestrianisation of Halesworth town centre, and the opening of a skateboard park.
Then there was the Norwich Road Rangers youth football team, which he co-founded. In its heyday, the number of sides ran into double figures. Ezra did a lot of behind-the-scenes work, such as chasing funding opportunities and sponsorship, and served as treasurer. As president, he decided the home strip was in Manchester City’s red and black and the away strip was light blue.
“He was always doing what he could to improve the facilities for the youth and all ages,” says Sandra. “Someone once said to me that they thought Ezra was the face of Halesworth.”
‘A remarkable, remarkable man’
Ezra and Sandra (a now-retired primary school teacher) married in 1994. He lost his job that decade, but had the chance to take his knowledge to Halesworth Print Finishers, where he bought into the firm and became a director.
“He didn’t let his head drop but took his skills to what was then a small company and helped it grow; so he was basically an entrepreneur as well,” says Jamie.
Ezra stepped down as a director seven years ago. “To be honest, I was dreading him retiring,” says Jo. “I didn’t know how he was going to cope with all the time he’d have available, but he just filled it with all the other stuff.
“He was on every committee you could possibly shake a stick at – and he was a fantastic dad. He’s a tough act to follow – that’s what I’ve always said.
“Going out with him was impossible, because you’d be stopped every five minutes. ‘Can I just have a word with you about…’ We never got anywhere on time! He was a teller of tales, a raconteur, and a remarkable, remarkable man.”
The family also describe him as “a loving husband, father, grandfather (to five children ranging in age from 24 years to six weeks), brother and uncle”.
A funeral service to celebrate Ezra’s life is being held at St Mary’s Church, Halesworth, on February 11 at 1pm, followed by drinks at 2pm at The Cut arts centre in the town.
Anyone wishing to make donations (to The Cut and Halesworth Community Sport and Leisure) can send them via Halesworth Funeral Care (01986 872204).
“In his last few weeks we were talking and going over all the things he had achieved,” says Sandra. “I said ‘In your life, you’ve packed more in than half a dozen people could.’”
Did he realise that? “I think so. Ezra was very humble, though. He would never take credit. I have to say that throughout his lingering illness he never complained once, either.”