Sunday, 21 October 2012

Hall of Fame - Ken Tucker

On and off the field, Merthyr Tydfil's Ken Tucker has been Mr Football.

From playing while a pupil in Twynyrodyn Junior School to his present position with The Football Association of Wales, he has had a major involvement in the sport throughout his life.

In school he was a contemporary of the late actor Philip Madoc, or Jones as he was then.

Ken played for Merthyr Tydfil still in his teens and then went to Aston Villa in 1954 until 1956 when he was sold to Cardiff City.

At the time there were several players at Ninian Park who later went on to lace up their boots for the Martyrs. They included goalkeeper Graham Vearncombe, defender Johnny Williams, (who still watches Merthyr Town) strikers Gerry Hitchens, Brian Jenkins and Neil O'Halloran and winger Brayley Reynolds. Also with City at the time was the legendary Trevor Ford who starred for Wales.

Also with The Bluebirds in that era were two footballers from Troedyrhiw, Dennis Callan and Islwyn Jones.

But they were tough times for The Bluebirds and they were relegated from the then Division One in 1956-57.

Ken, who played on the right wing, as it was then, moved on to Shrewsbury in 1957, making nearly 50 first-team appearances and netting eight goals. The side gained promotion and three years ago Shrewsbury held a night of nostalgia, which Ken attended, to mark the 50th anniversary of their achievement.

After his spell with the Shropshire club, Ken was transferred to Northampton, making 10 appearances and scoring three goals.

Hereford United was his next club before he returned to Merthyr Tydfil whose glory years were well behind them in the mid 1960s.

There was the time in 1963 when the big freeze meant no football for six weeks.Players had to train at the nearby, now derelict, YMCA. The first match after the weather let up saw Merthyr lose 2-1 at the Park in a friendly with Swansea Town. The gate was 420. Ken scored Merthyr's goal with one of the Swansea marksmen being Mike Hayes who later signed for The Martyrs.

There was a relegation fight for Merthyr but on May 11 they beat Cambridge City 3-1 with Ken Tucker netting twice, both after throw-ins by the tough Frankie Collins. The attendance was 780.

But during Ken's return to his home-town club, The Martyrs enjoyed a brief resurgence when former Swansea Town defender the late Harry Griffiths took over as player-manager at Penydarren Park.

Several former Football League players were signed up and encouraging early-season results saw the gates soar to more than 3,000.

Vearncombe, Keith Fry, Brian Jenkins and former Newcastle star Reg Davies joined the club.

Their FA Cup run saw them travel to Swindon Town but despite a brave display, they crashed 5-1.

Some of the signings even made their homes in Merthyr. But later gates fell again and despite a money-making scheme under a commercial manager, there were cash problems when it was found a large debt was owed to a local firm which angered the directors when they found out.

When Ken Tucker hung his boots up, he had a spell as manager before a long stint as secretary when he was always available to update the local Press on club activities, even if coming home late after a Board meeting which often had to deal with many vital matters as Merthyr struggled for survival over many years in the latter 1960s and 1970s.

Ken was kept busy with his full-time Civil Service job with the Social Security.

And for some of those years, the club relied on some local up and coming players.

Then in January 1972, Merthyr pulled off quite a coup with Swansea born John Charles, who had wowed fans in Italy, taking over as player manager.Maldwyn Davies, bingo hall manager, was club chairman at the time. And for a while ambitious Maldwyn was also the manager of Merthyr even though he had never played football himself. Results, however, were not too impressive. And gates had slumped to as low as 196.

.And someone new was needed to run the team. Ken has said since:"Maldwyn knew John Charles was available and so his signing was just a formality."

Talks took place in Maldwyn Davies' house overlooking the ground.

Charles,who had just left Hereford, was taken on at £40 a week, a small amount to the Gentle Giant but a lot of money which represented a gamble for the club as Ken recalled at the time.

The first game for Charles was against Barnet. The gate went up but Merthyr crashed and Charles failed to prevent the team being relegated that season.

And Ken was still with the club in the secretary's role when another revival came as John Reddy took over the club which saw Lyn Jones as manager spearhead the Martyrs to Welsh Cup success and the memorable European adventures with Italian side Atalanta at a time when English clubs were banned from Cup games in Europe.

When Ken Tucker left Merthyr Tydfil FC he looked after lots of local clubs in his capacity as secretary of The Welsh League.Then it was on to play an important role in The Football Association of Wales which he is still continuing to do.

He was opposed to a Great Britain team, wanting to maintain Wales' identity.

I don't think Ken Tucker will ever cease to blow the whistle on his life-long love for football.

And his name will go down in Merthyr Tydfil and Wales as a key man in the sport over many years and in many capacities.