Never a Dull Moment With One-Off Beattie
Sunday, 16th Sep 2018 23:24
Mel Henderson, Town's public relations officer during the 1970s and early 1980s, pays tribute to Blues legend Kevin Beattie, who died earlier today.
There was never a dull moment when Kevin Beattie was around.
He was a one-off, a player blessed with God-given talents that saw him run faster, leap higher and tackle stronger than virtually every opponent who crossed his path.
Actually, scrub that word ‘virtually’. I’ve racked my brains and I can’t think of one single player who ever got the better of him for either club or country because he was so dominant in every single aspect of the game, and I was fortunate to see the majority of his appearances in Town colours.
He was a gentle giant, a powerhouse defender with the heart of an ox on match days, but nothing more fearsome than a mischievous rascal in his civvies.
I’m sure Sir Bobby Robson would endorse that view. He loved him like a father loves a son and when he was managing England and referred to Paul Gascoigne as ‘daft as a brush’ he was not blind to the similarities between the highly gifted pair.
Rarely has such a leading figure showered a player with so much praise as Sir Bobby did when referring to Beattie. This extract from his autobiography Farewell but not Goodbye, published in 2005, speaks volumes.
He wrote: “George Best aside, I rate Kevin Beattie as the best player these islands produced in 25 years. George was special, as were Bobby Charlton and Denis Law from the same era, Duncan Edwards was colossal, strong and a destroyer, but Beattie had pace as well. He just had pure, natural ability.”
That is some accolade from Sir Bobby, although every time he extolled Beattie’s virtues he could not prevent himself from reflecting on what might have been had injuries not impacted on his all-too-brief, but nevertheless extremely memorable, playing career to the huge extent they did.
He made 307 appearances for the club and scored 32 goals, and he also won nine England caps. A decent career in anyone’s book. But Beattie wasn’t just anyone – he was special – and but for what he called his ‘dodgy knees’ he would have clocked up many more games.
Back in the day, there was even talk of Beattie surpassing Bobby Moore’s tally of 108 games for his country, so naturally did the demands of professional football come for him and so early were his talents recognised at the highest level.
Instead, tragically, he was basically finished at an age, 28, when he should have been at his peak. Typically, he attempted comebacks at Colchester, Middlesbrough and, ultimately, Barnet before bowing to the inevitable.
I knew him well. We were even near neighbours for a while after I joined the club in 1974 as public relations officer and I lost count of the number of times he reprimanded me for calling him Kevin. ‘I’m Beat,’ he would say, and it’s a fact that few people called him Kevin, which was actually his middle name because he was actually named Thomas after his father.
I cannot write a tribute to him without recalling an amazing tale that says everything about Beattie, both the footballer and the man, and the way he chose to live his life.
He was no saint – that is not a secret – but Roy Keane once famously said at an Ipswich press conference ‘I don’t see any halos in here’ and after his first home game in charge he could be found locked in conversation with an ex-player and particular favourite of his. Of course, Beat.
Return with me to April 1975, to Anfield, home of Liverpool, the club Beattie rejected because they did not send a representative to greet him at Lime Street station a few years earlier, which prompted the boy from Carlisle to simply jump on the next train back home.
Ipswich took advantage of his availability and the rest, as they say, is history, although it might have taken a very different route had Beattie not had his arm twisted to appear in the great Bill Shankly’s testimonial game on the particular night in question.
Beat, shall we say, was a tad reluctant to make the long trip to Merseyside as the previous evening he had joined a large Portman Road contingent at the official opening of team-mate Ian Collard’s new restaurant in Felixstowe.
Nursing a hangover, he felt he had no option but to withdraw – until, that is, news of his intention reached manager Robson, who was adamant he should attend as arranged and take his place in Don Revie’s England squad, who were Liverpool’s opponents for Shankly’s grand farewell.
The trouble was, Bobby was heading to Southampton right there and then, as he had agreed to take a team down for Terry Paine’s testimonial, and the bus was sitting outside, its engine running. ‘Nip up and see him, will you? And take Ron [Gray, the chief scout] with you – try to talk some sense into him. And tell him what I’ll do to him if he doesn’t listen.’
So Ron and I drove up to Beat’s house, where we found him at his stubborn best. ‘I’m not going to Liverpool, ring them and tell them I’m injured,’ he said. At which point Ron, another gentle giant, belied his age by pinning Beat up against the wall of his lounge and telling him, in no uncertain terms, that he most definitely was heading to Anfield. ‘And,’ he said, turning to me, ‘you’re going with him.’
Initially, I was stunned, but if I’m honest I quite fancied the idea of attending Bill Shankly’s testimonial game and Beat, sensing Ron was in no mood to argue, reluctantly agreed. A bag packed, we were soon on our way and Ron dropped us off at the station.
We boarded the first train to London but, unfortunately, we arrived at Euston too late to catch our intended train to Liverpool. There was only one thing for it, since Beat was going to be late for the rendezvous at Lime Street. I found a call box, rang through to the hotel venue and was quickly chatting to Don Revie.
‘Don’t worry, just catch the next one and Bill and I will be waiting for you,’ he said. ‘The hotel where we’re having a bite to eat is right next door to the station. Look forward to seeing you later.’
Sure enough, as we approached the hotel the two giants of English football were waiting at the door and it was at this point that Shankly uttered the words ‘Hello son, not signing you was my biggest mistake as a manager.’ They escorted us through to a private room, where Revie’s men were sat eating, and Beat and I joined them.
Then it was a case of boarding a bus for Anfield. I was given my ticket – directors’ box no less – and from there everything went like clockwork.
You can probably imagine how the Anfield faithful reacted as the great man addressed them at the end of the game before embarking on an emotional lap of honour. It was a pleasure to witness such an historic scene.
We were booked on the sleeper back to London and when I met up with Beat he said we were going to a restaurant with Liverpool pair Phil Thompson and Steve Heighway. Beat knew Thompson well because they had been in the England youth team together and they were clearly big pals.
I ordered a taxi to take us to Lime Street and when we got there Beat slipped his hand in his jacket pocket and pulled out a small envelope he said Shankly had given to all the players who had participated in his testimonial game.
He ripped it open and there was £50 in cash inside. He duly summoned a rail worker who was stocking the buffet car and asked him for a carton of 24 cans of lager, which he delivered to our compartment. Several cans were consumed before the train had even departed and it wasn’t too long before I admitted defeat and climbed up to the top bunk.
Come the morning, as the train crawled into Euston, I awoke to a scene of devastation. Empty cans everywhere and the star of the show snoring his head off. At this rate, I began to worry if he would be fit enough to complete the last leg of the journey.
I needn’t have worried. I woke him up and he was immediately buzzing, quickly dressing and ready for the next chapter of our little adventure. A full English was first on the agenda and then we were off on the Tube to Liverpool Street, making a quick visit to the bar for further refreshments before climbing on board.
Beat was signing autographs – no selfies in those days – all the way home, his many admirers completely oblivious to the sequence of events that had gone before. That applied to Revie and Shankly as well, of course, and it was significant in the former’s case as he had only recently awarded Beat his first cap against Cyprus and a no-show – testimonial or not – could quite easily have changed the course of history.
Beat, I’ll never forget you, and thanks for letting me be part of the ride.
Photo: Action Images
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