Goodbye to Tony and Town and thanks for the lessons in life

Tony Hateley: Far-post predator who showed class off the field
Tony Hateley: Far-post predator who showed class off the field
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A legendary header of a football died this weekend, one week after a less than legendary football club came close to its end.

Tony Hateley, father of England’s Mark and former Notts County, Liverpool and Chelsea striker passed away at the age of 72 after a long illness.

Eastwood Town, born 1953, has debts so heavy the local council locked the gates last week, the club’s future in the balance.

Our condolences to the Hateley family and a thanks from me to both parties for lessons learned.

Here’s the story. Young men can tend to make total tools of themselves, a normal youth can turn into a bit of a git, and back again, in the blink of an eye.

We see it every week in every league - Fabien Brandy and Giles Coke know the feeling - and we see older, more experienced men shake their heads in despair.

I’m shaking mine now.

It was, I think, the summer of 1976 and a pre-season game at Eastwood Town, then Midland League champions.

Tony Hateley was 36 and retired as a pro but he wanted a game. I was a 21-year-old hopeful at non-league level. We heard at training on the Thursday that ‘Big Tone’ was going to be involved.

So I walked into the L-shaped Eastwood dressing room at 2.15 on match day, Adidas bag in hand, cocky barb on lips.

“Where’s is he then, where’s the legend?” sneered I, in complete ignorance.

“Round the corner, you prat,” whispered a mortified team-mate.

Ignoring the horror in my guts I rounded the corner to where the big man was getting a massage and offered to shake his hand. He looked up, winked and shook my hand probably realising I was dying inside.

A man who had played for Bill Shankly in front of the Kop at Anfield and for Tommy Docherty at Chelsea was big enough to let a callow nobody off the hook when he could have gutted me.

I went on as sub later in the game. Hateley was not the player he had been but I saw him leap, hang in the air and head a ball at close quarters.

It was genuinely awesome.

We didn’t see much of him after that day but he, like Eastwood town, left his mark on football history and on one grateful young man who learned lifelonglong lessons from both.