Neville (‘Nev’ or ‘Honest Nev’) Ahier, who has died aged 88, was a Jersey countryman with a passionate interest in horses and horseracing and sport – especially football.
He was a part of what is nowadays an almost extinct breed: an integral part of the Island’s farming and rural community, growing up with horses on the farm, taking part, from a young age, in farmers’ derbys and Point-to-points, driving a six-in-hand down Queen Street for a Coronation pageant in 1953; playing sport for his parish and being a valued contributor to parish and Island life.
Always a betting man and keen follower of racing on the television, over the years he had a stake in the ownership of around 40 horses in Jersey and in the UK. So keen was his interest in racing, that on one occasion when he was spending some time in a hospital in London, he persuaded hospital staff to drive him – in a patient transport vehicle – to Lingfield racecourse for a meeting. On another occasion, because he was not happy with the television reception on a set in his hospital ward, he sent out to buy a new set, so that he could watch the racing from his bed without the irritation of TV on-screen interference.
In the early 1980s, he acquired a bookmaker’s pitch on the rails at Les Landes racecourse and also ran the ‘Crown and Anchor’ game at meetings. He took Crown and Anchor to many Island fêtes, charitable and country events, and his name was almost synonymous with the game. He was a keen spectator at the annual inter-Island Muratti Vase football match, and in past years, when this took place in Guernsey, he would often take a cloth ‘Crown and Anchor’ game board with him on the mailboat with which to entertain the travelling football fans (quickly foldable if need be).
A great enthusiast for the annual Guernsey race meeting, he would of occasion travel there with his farm tractor to help prepare the course for the meeting.
In 2000 he acquired a betting shop in St John’s village – N Ahier and Son – which he ran for 11 years. On Grand National Day the shop was thronged with punters making their annual bet, and he and his helpers would dispense cups of tea.
Football was an equal lifelong passion. Although as a youth he played for his home parish of Trinity in goal and as centre forward he was, before too long, ‘poached’ by St Martin’s Football Club, the oldest football club in the Channel Islands; he was named the Island’s ‘most promising referee’. He maintained a lifelong relationship with the club, and in due course became its life president.
During a match in 1968 between a Jersey team and the Jersey-Scottish, which he was refereeing, he was assaulted by one of the Jersey-Scottish players, knocked unconscious and dislocated his jaw. The offending player received a £100 fine, but Mr Ahier was hospitalised for six weeks.
It is a testament both to his popularity and to the closeness and supportiveness of the parish community, that he received presents of food and meals for him and his family during the period that he had a reduced income.
Off the pitch, he was a mentor for the young players and organised carol singing, lorry rides and bingo at Springfield to raise money for the club; he was awarded the Sid Guy Award for services to football. As an after-dinner speaker, he was able to produce extempore speeches that were often highly amusing and always much appreciated – and he was an expert cardplayer at ‘Nap’.
He was also renowned for giving the odds on the likely success of candidates standing for election to the States, and was a well-known voice on BBC Radio Jersey with his ‘signature’ exhortation to listeners: ‘Come Racing! Come Racing’.
It has been said of him recently he was a true Jerseyman and a local legend – and that now, he has indeed ‘gone racing’.
Neville George Ahier was born in 1935; his parents, Horace John Ahier and his wife, Dora (née Buesnel), farmed at La Garenne, Trinity. He was the fifth child of ten: five boys and five girls.
He was educated at Westwood College, Springfield Crescent, and left school at the age of 14. He worked initially for Carlyle Le Gallais at Roselands Farm and then for Philip Ozouf (senior) at Highstead Farm, both located in St Saviour. It was at Highstead that he was delegated with looking after and showing the cattle from the 60-strong herd. He had learnt from his father how to judge cattle and he became an expert, teaching the late Marcel Houzé of Lodge Farm how to show cattle; Lodge Farm was to become an eminent Island herd.
In his later career he drove a lorry for R J Le Sueur Ltd before becoming a full-time bookmaker in his retirement.
He is survived by his partner of many years, Freda Le Put, and his children – Suzanne, Brigitte, Stephen and grandchildren Francesca, Stephen and Oliver, as well as his siblings, Daphne, Desmond, Jennifer, Alison and their families, to whom RURAL magazine extends its sympathy.
This obituary appeared in the Jersey Evening Post and is reproduced with their kind permission