Top 25 Cult Heroes 1954-1979: Number 4

Ken Price – ‘Fighter for the cause’

Ken! – clap, clap-clap, clap-clap – Price! – clap, clap-clap, clap-clap – Ken! – clap, clap-clap, clap-clap – Price! – clap, clap-clap, clap-clap (repeat until palms hurt).  What a chant that was – warlike, primeval – you could imagine them chanting it in the gladiator arena in front of Nero. It was perfect for the man it honoured.

Gerry Summers signed Ken Price from Southend in December 1976 for £2,000. Summers tended to splash the cash a bit, but he got a bargain with Ken. A strong, bustling striker just over 6’ tall, he was all muscle, and really would have looked the part in some Hollywood epic set in Roman times. He could certainly put himself about on the field, and handle himself off it. Just the sort of bloke you’d want with you when you’re wearing your Gills scarf and celebrating another win in some New Cross pub full of rabid knuckle-draggers.

Ken was the perfect foil for the tricky and diminutive Danny Westwood (the fleet-footed striker of programme-speak), and full of powerful running to respond to Damien Richardson’s promptings. He could score by bundling the ball over the line in a goal-mouth melee, climb high to bullet a header, or crash in a powerful shot from long range. He scored 78 goals in 247 appearances before he was sold to Reading for £15,000 in January 1983, and in his Gills career we saw the lot.

There was Ken the powerful header – no better illustrated than with his last goal for us, in November 1982 in the League Cup Tie against Spurs. Ken’s towering header at the far post from Dick Tydeman’s corner saw Ray Clemence start the list of England goalkeepers beaten all ends up at the Rainham End.

Then there was Ken the fighter – no better shown than in the bitter, infamous clashes with Swindon in 1979. With Danny Westwood scandalously sent off in the home game, it was Ken who quite literally took the fight to the visitors. Booked for flattening McHale, he then went looking for Aizlewood, and sorted him out. As the referee reached for the red card, help was on hand in the shape of a right hook from a middle-aged supporter. Caring Ken was the first to help the referee up, and he stayed on. The return at the County Ground saw a fight break out afterwards in the players tunnel, and Ken, Dean White and two others were taken to Swindon Police station ‘to help with their enquiries’. A two day trial at Swindon Crown Court in January 1980 eventually saw Ken and Dean cleared of assault, but it was a close run thing. What should be the punishment for kicking seven bells out of McHale and Swindon’s trainer? Becoming Ken Price OBE at the very least, I reckon.

And of course there was late April 1979, and Ken’s finest moments. In the last but one home game, Gills were playing leaders Shrewsbury – win this one and we’ll do it! Fifteen thousand, the biggest league crowd for 14 years, packed in to see a dour, tense struggle. With the game going into injury time Shrewsbury had got the point they wanted, when out of nowhere Ken smashed a twenty yarder across goal which beat the keeper all ends up and flew into the top corner. The place went mad – but there was more.
Shrewsbury threw everything forward, and in the counterattack Tony Funnell and Ken were clean through. Tony took the ball down the left, drew the keeper, and rolled it to Ken, who only had to touch it over the line. That was too easy – he thrashed it for all he was worth, nearly lifting the net off, then ran round the side of the goal, his face contorted in a victory scream, his arm aloft and fist punching the air as the Rainham End cascaded onto the pitch around him.

It was the greatest picture of Gills In Triumph until Wembley topped it. What a memory! It was the last kick of the game, and it ignited spontaneous and wild celebrations all over Priestfield. Everybody believed we’d done it. The Men of Kent had finally battered down the gates to the promised land, and Ken was leading them through.

Ken! – clap, clap-clap, clap-clap – Price! – clap, clap-clap, clap-clap – Ken! – clap, clap-clap, clap-clap – Price! – clap, clap-clap, clap-clap

Mean. Moody. Magnificent!!!

 

Eccles

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