Family remembers sport-loving Dennis 'who could talk to anyone'

Dennis Ilsley from Whittlesey with family

Dennis Ilsley (right) with wife Janice and stepson Jordan. - Credit: Family

The stepson of a sport-loving man has paid tribute to a person who “was overwhelmingly friendly and could talk to anyone”. 

Dennis Ilsley was known for his time in local football in and around Whittlesey, as well as spending over 30 years in food manufacturing at the town’s McCain Foods factory. 

His stepson Jordan said: “He could talk to anyone and was overwhelmingly friendly.” 

Dennis died at the age of 60 in December. 

Born in Watford, Hertfordshire, Dennis moved to Whittlesey with his family in 1970, where he attended Sir Harry Smith Community College. 

Whittlesey man Dennis Ilsley with family

Dennis Ilsley moved to the Fens with his family from Watford in 1970 and attended Sir Harry Smith Community College in Whittlesey. - Credit: Family

His father Stan became groundsman at one of the town’s sports clubs, which helped Dennis’ love for sport, primarily football, grow. 

“I think his football career developed from being at school and playing for local teams,” said Janice. 

Most Read

“He had trials at Norwich’s youth team but that didn’t come to much.” 

Whittlesey man Dennis Ilsley played and coached football

Dennis was known for his playing and coaching career on the local football scene in and around Whittlesey. - Credit: Family

Dennis Ilsley during his football playing days

Dennis was known for his playing and coaching career on the local football scene in and around Whittlesey. - Credit: Family

Dennis represented the school football team and, before trials at Norwich City, played for Whittlesey United and in Peterborough United’s youth setup. 

As his playing days came to an end, Dennis, who has two brothers, moved into football coaching where he had many supporters. 

“I met him in November 1999 and his football career had come to an end,” Janice said. 

Whittlesey man Dennis Ilsley with family

Dennis (centre) with Janice and stepson Jordan. - Credit: Family

“He was then doing some coaching for local youth teams; he embraced football and enjoyed playing it as well as the social side, too.” 

Darts was another activity Dennis played often while tending to a beer at the Straw Bear, Dons or Bricklayers Arms pubs in Whittlesey. 

Outside of sport, the film fanatic left school to join Hotpoint but it was at McCain Foods where he spent over three decades.

Whittlesey man Dennis Ilsley and wife Janice

Dennis and Janice were known as 'boomerangers' as they regularly returned to the Greek island of Skiathos on holiday. - Credit: Family

Whittlesey man Dennis Ilsley on holiday

Dennis' wife Janice described her husband as "a kind-natured and generous person". - Credit: Family

He also enjoyed visiting the Greek island of Skiathos with Janice, where they were known as ‘boomerangers’ due to regularly returning there for holidays. 

“We loved the island; we tried going a couple times a year if we could,” she said. 

A lover of camping and rambling, Dennis would sometimes walk up to 100 miles in a week. 

Whittlesey man Dennis Ilsley and stepson Jordan

Dennis and stepson Jordan, who described his stepfather as "overwhelmingly friendly". - Credit: Family

Whittlesey man Dennis Ilsley with wife Janice

Dennis and Janice with their pet dog. Dennis was a lover of camping and rambling, too. - Credit: Family

And his character was one that many grew fond of over time. 

“He always had something to talk about; you could not go out without him stopping to talk to someone,” said Jordan. 

Janice added: “He was a kind-natured and generous person.

“A lot of friends have said he’s left a big hole in their lives.” 

Dennis Ilsley of Whittlesey outside in Fenland

Dennis grew his love for walking having walked up to 100 miles in one week around March. - Credit: Family

Whittlesey man Dennis Ilsley with cat

One of Dennis' favourite places to visit was the Greek island of Skiathos, as well as loving his sport. - Credit: Family