Three men who played key roles in Jimmy Hill's Sky Blue revolution in the 1960s have sadly passed away in the last week. Former players Peter Hill, aged 83, and Ken Hale, 75, and Alan Leather, the club secretary from 1966-1968, died aged 83.
Ken Hale was born in Northumberland at Blyth in September 1939 & joined Everton as an apprentice on leaving school in 1955. His stay on Merseyside was short & he soon returned home when Newcastle, the club he had supported as a boy, wanted to sign him. A talented goal-scoring inside-forward, Ken made his first team debut at White Hart Lane as an eighteen-year old at Christmas 1957. He combined his football career with an apprenticeship as an electrician with the National Coal board. Competition for places at St James' Park was tough however and in four seasons he made only eight appearances in First Division games, scoring two goals. It was only in 1961-62, after Newcastle had been relegated to Division Two that Ken got a longer run in the first team scoring seven goals in 11 games playing alongside luminaries such as Ivor Allchurch & Ken Leek. Joe Harvey took over as manager of Newcastle in 1962 & although Ken had scored six goals in 11 games (including two past former City 'keeper Arthur Lightening making his debut for Middlesbrough) Harvey was happy to let him join the Sky Blues for £10,000 just before Christmas. In total he scored 16 goals in 35 games for the Magpies.
When he arrived at Highfield Road one City player already knew Ken well – Mick Kearns had played in the same British Army representative side whilst doing their National Service. Ken & Mick went on a tour of the Far East with the Army & Ken played for a very strong Army XI against City in early 1962.
Blond-haired Ken made his bow for City at Notts County on 15 December 1962, replacing Hugh Barr in a 1-1 draw, but his appearances were restricted by an Achilles injury in that weather-battered season that saw the Sky Blues reach the FA Cup sixth round. On his home debut the following week he scored City’s second goal against Colchester but the game was abandoned at half-time because of fog & the goal didn’t count. He scored his first ‘official’ goal in the home win over Barnsley 'a booming shot' and scored the late equaliser (a ‘screamer’ according to Nemo in the Coventry Telegraph) in the 1-1 draw at Portsmouth in the fourth round. The following season Hale was first-choice at inside-forward and netted 16 league goals, 13 of them before the turn of the year, as City marched to the Third Division title. His understanding with winger Willie Humphries and centre-forward George Hudson seemed telepathic at times & he was undoubtedly one of the best players in the division that season.1964-65 team picture
In Division Two Ken did not look out of place and netted nine goals in 32 games as City consolidated their position in the higher league and in January 1965 he was the architect of City's remarkable 5-4 victory over Newcastle, the then league leaders. He scored a penalty & had a hand in most of the goals against his favourite team. In 1965-66 his form dipped & along with Ernie Machin he became a target of unwarranted barracking from some sections of the Highfield Road crowd. Jimmy Hill stood by him however and Ken returned to the side & scored a ‘stunning’ goal against West Brom in the League Cup. The arrival of Ray Pointer signalled the end of his Coventry career and on transfer deadline day in March 1966 (the same day George Hudson was sold to Northampton) Ken joined Oxford United for £8,000, after 111 appearances and 33 goals.
In three seasons at the Manor Ground Ken made 72 appearances and scored 13 goals, played alongside Ron Atkinson & was in the U's 1967-68 Third Division championship side. He joined Darlington in May 1968 & made almost 200 appearances for the Quakers over five seasons before joining Halifax as a player-coach. In 1974 he was appointed manager of Hartlepool where he stayed for 2 ½ years.
After retiring from football Ken & his wife Joan bought a newsagent's business in Sunderland & later he went to work as an administrator in the NHS. They had two sons & a daughter with eight grandchildren. Ken was tragically struck down with Alzheimer's a number of years ago & died peacefully on Monday.
Jimmy Hill brought Alan Leather to the club in October 1966 & he stayed in the role for two years. He played as an amateur for Enfield & Tufnell Park in the 1950s before becoming a football administrator first with the South East Counties League, and later as assistant secretary with Tottenham Hotspur during their golden period of the early 60s. In 1966 he was seconded to the World Cup organisation & was liaison officer to the successful England team. He replaced Paul Oliver as secretary at Highfield Road & during his time with the Sky Blues he saw the side win promotion to Division 1 as well as overseeing the building of two new stands & an increase in season ticket sales from 5,500 to 11,000. After the Main Stand burnt down in March 1968 Alan rallied the troops & somehow got the ground in a fit state for the visit of Manchester United ten days later dealing with all of the ticketing and other challenges with a cool head. The game, in front of City’s second biggest crowd of all-time of 47,111, went like clockwork thanks to Alan’s administrative skills.Alan Leather
Alan however never really settled in the Midlands and in 1968 the club released him & soon afterwards he became secretary at Crystal Palace with whom he had a long and successful career. He was the Honorary Secretary of the Football Secretaries & Managers Association, a fore-runner of the modern day League Manager's Association, of which he remained an enthusiastic member until his death.
I will write about Peter Hill’s career next week.