Ken was a great player and a great man

Kenny Johnson with pictures taken in his heyday playing for Pools. Picture by DAN PHILLIPS. D20330
Kenny Johnson with pictures taken in his heyday playing for Pools. Picture by DAN PHILLIPS. D20330
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IT was the most bitter sweet of days when we assembled for the last goodbye to Pools legend Ken Johnson last Tuesday.

The first thing that struck me was that it was a perfect day for a football match – clear, crisp and calm.

You will have read the flood of tributes in your Mail already, and there were many more at the funeral and throughout the day.

The highlight of the service was a simply superb eulogy by Sam Mosely, President of Hartlepool Rotary Club.

As an old friend and golfing partner of Ken, Sam had some lovely stories and he pitched it perfectly, with great humour and very touching moments too.

Another phrase which will live with me for a long time came from the Reverend Paul Allinson, who conducted the service.

He said that Ken had enjoyed “a life well lived” and that summed it up perfectly.

Both Sam and Paul described Ken and his wife Olwen as “the Posh and Becks of their day” and they were spot on.

If Ken had been playing today, he would have been a multi-millionaire like David Beckham too.

He could score goals for fun at a time when pitches were heavy and tackles were furious.

The kind of two-footed flying tackle that gets a red card these days was accepted in a man’s game when Ken starred as a player.

I was lucky enough to see Ken play in the old Third Division North days and have been honoured to have him as a friend for many years.

As you probably know, his association with football continued for a long time and he was never happier than when encouraging youngsters, especially in his native Seaton.

He always felt lucky to have played the game he loved for a living, and, as Sam reminded us in his great speech, he played at the top level during his time in the army.

That spell included the most unlikely sight of a Seaton lad turning out for Hong Kong!

Until his health started to fail him, he was always a welcoming face on match days in the hospitality section and loved to tell stories of the way football used to be.

Ken once showed me one of his old contracts which stipulated that any young lady “walking out” with a player should be presented to the board of directors so that they could judge if she was suitable.

A few Premiership clubs might like to reprint a few contracts like that for use today!

Olwen, the lady that Ken walked out with, and was married to for over half a century, has been a tower of strength since his passing and I know that Ken would have been immensely proud of her.

One lovely touch on the “programme” for the service was the inclusion of a couple of great photos of Ken in his youth.

One showed him with a cheery smile arriving for training, and the other had him in full flow at his beloved Victoria Ground, terrorizing another defence.

It was good to see several of the young players from the current Pools at Holy Trinity and they were visibly moved at the loss of a good friend and mentor.

The church is one of Hartlepool’s hidden treasures and very much part of Ken’s life with his christening, confirmation and wedding all taking place there.

There will never be another Ken Johnson. He was superb as a player, a supreme gentleman, and one of Hartlepool’s favourite sons.

He did, indeed, have a life well lived.