By Matt Jenkins
---- — MARBLEHEAD — Veteran high school football official Bill Claffey was invited to be the guest speaker at the 52nd annual Marblehead-Swampscott Old-Timers event last night at the Gerry 5 Club.
It’s fair to say he never would have been invited if it hadn’t been for the late William “Esso” Haines, Marblehead’s No. 1 fan and one of the founding fathers of the Marblehead Magicians Gridiron Club.
“I met Esso first as a baseball umpire. I took the exam with the North Shore board and passed it,” Claffey said before addressing a room full of former Marblehead and Swampscott football players. “Esso mentored me. The next year he made me take the football exam. I was with him a lot and learned a lot from him.”
Claffey, a 1969 Salem High graduate, understands the tradition of Thanksgiving football rivalries here on the North Shore, but he has a different perspective. He admitted to having seen only two of his alma mater’s holiday games against Beverly, and he was reffing in both of those contests.
This year, when he puts on the stripes for the 39th holiday meeting between Ipswich and Hamilton-Wenham, it will be his 42nd time officiating a Thanksgiving Day game.
“It’s always special,” Claffey said. “In 42 years, before every game whether it’s varsity, JV or freshman, I still get butterflies. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it and I was trained well by some of the best — George MacDonald and Esso and Carl Siegel.”
Haines served as the Marblehead Magicians Gridiron Club president for many years before passing away at age 82 in July.
New Gridiron Club president Emo Harris knew many people would be remembering Esso last night, and he also wanted to keep the same spirit of the event that made it one of Haines’ favorite nights of the year.
“I’m sure there will be a heavy Esso theme tonight. Esso was a mentor to Bill and we’ll have a remembrance, but Esso wouldn’t have wanted this night to be all about him,” Harris said. “It will have a heavy Esso flavor, but it’s still about the game and the traditions and things like that. It’s about the game and the friendships.”
Getting a chance to share stories with old friends and old foes turned friends is one of the highlights of the night for all the former Marblehead and Swampscott football players.
It was a night Esso Haines enjoyed tremendously, and nothing pleased him more than helping support Marblehead football.
“It meant the world to him. All the student-athletes meant a lot to Esso,” Harris said. “He was just always involved, but this was his love. The Gridiron Club was his baby; he nurtured it and brought it along for all these years. This whole town owes him quite a bit of gratitude for all the work he put in.”
The event is always held at the Gerry 5 Club in Marblehead, but Swampscott and Marblehead alternate organizing the event.
“This is Marblehead’s year,” Harris said. “It’s always important to these guys to have this and 52 years says it all about this event.”