Morton Leslie Hollis was born in Sompting on 29th April 1928. His nickname “Morty” was given to him by Harry Bloom, who was Morty’s predecessor as chairman of the football club.
He came from a family of market gardeners and his father owned a greengrocer’s shop in the Downlands Parade of shops on the Upper Brighton Road. Morty’s main business was the growing and marketing of watercress, which he did from a base near Chichester. This occupation meant that he had to set off to the watercress beds early each morning to collect the crop, then to distribute it to the various markets, such as Portsmouth and Brighton. In the winter he would make and sell Christmas wreaths.
Morty first went to watch a Worthing match in 1944 and, as has happened to many of us, he was instantly hooked. He often talked of the massive crowds of the 1950s, when the club would complain if fewer than a thousand turned up for a reserve match!
By the 1960s he was involved with the supporters’ club and it was through this that he became a mainstay of the club itself. In the late 1950s a limited company had taken over the club, putting in investment to build the clubhouse and changing rooms that front Woodside Road. By 1967, however, they had overstretched themselves and were struggling financially. Cost-cutting had reduced maintenance on the ground and one day, incensed by the state of the pitch, Morty broke into the ground to cut the grass.
A meeting was arranged at the end of the 1966-67 season, following relegation from the Athenian League Premier Division. Morty and his friends from the supporters’ club attended, expecting to have to volunteer to help out with the day-to-day running of the club. Imagine their surprise when, at the end of the meeting, they were handed the keys and told that they would now be in charge!
Morty recounted that he believed the directors thought that the club would fold and that the new committee, of which he had been made chairman, would take the blame. However, despite relegation in their first season, they kept the club going as a members’ club for the next 30 years.
Morty continued to cut, reseed and generally nurture the pitch up to when the artificial pitch was laid. He and his fellow committee members would undertake the painting, ground repairs and improvements and any other tasks that were needed to keep the club going. It was even rumoured that Morty would scale the floodlight pylons to replace a bulb, if necessary…
One of his proudest moments was the erection of floodlights in 1977, which enabled our entry into the Isthmian League. In 1981 he took the bold decision to hire our first full-time manager, Barry Lloyd, with the intention of getting us into the Isthmian Premier Division before our centenary year, which we achieved with a couple of years to spare.
A low point was the destruction of the stand by fire in 1985, but Morty even managed to find some humour in this. Apparently, he had been gardening on the morning after the fire and then decided to go to the bank to deposit some cash, despite still wearing his scruffy gardening clothes. Dilys, his wife, complained but Morty knew better, saying “It won’t take long and no-one will see me”. As he left the bank someone came up to him to tell him about the fire, so he immediately went to Woodside Road, where he was met by an ITV camera crew. That evening, there was Morty on the local ITV news, being interviewed by Fred Dinenage, and still wearing his dirty gardening gear!
In later years Morty has been president of the club and was the friendly face of Worthing as far as many other clubs around the south of England are concerned; having been involved with the Rebels for nearly 80 years, securing his other nickname: Mr Worthing.