We may, as Norwich City supporters, disagree about many aspects of the club: its players, management, administration and ownership.
Yet one matter which should, I would very much hope, have us all upstanding as one in overall agreement is the sheer quality of goalkeepers we have been able to enjoy at Carrow Road and further afield over the years.
John Ruddy currently holds the position at the club and with, at the time of writing, 187 senior appearances made for us since he joined the club from Everton in 2010, is well on his way to becoming both as well-known and established in that position at the club as many of his illustrious predecessors.
The names alight from the tongue like Wes Hoolahan dancing on ice.
Ken Nethercott, for example, was not the tallest of keepers at just 5’ 11” but one who made up for any perceived lack of inches with mile after mile of outright courage and the sort of on-field anticipation you would more normally expect of a creative number 10 rather than the last line of defence.
Kevin Keelan, equally fearless, a firebrand, an acrobat, an entertainer and a gentleman. Many will still argue that he remains the finest proponent of the goalkeeping arts ever to have graced our club.
And, a personal choice here, Chris Woods. For me, the man who still holds the distinction of making the best save I have ever seen, if not in all my time of watching football, then almost certainly by a Norwich goalkeeper.
It was in a game against Luton Town at Kenilworth Road in April 1982, one that the Canaries won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Dave Bennett. It was also a game we would have drawn had it not been for Woods displaying a combination of agility, anticipation and sheer strength as he flipped backwards in order to deflect a last minute volley from David Moss around the far post with his fingertips.
And look, I’ve always had a soft spot for Norwich goalkeepers and could wax lyrical here about them for several pages. But that’s not why I am here today.
I’m here to pay a small but heartfelt tribute to just one of them.
Sandy Kennon, as we will all have now heard, passed away earlier this week at the age of 81.
Neil Sandilands Kennon was born in Johannesburg in November 1933 but swiftly became Sandy after his middle name. He was the youngest of thirteen children.
Being born in South Africa naturally meant that, from a young age, Sandy was both exposed to, and expected to play, rugby union and he did for a while, playing as a fairly accomplished full back for his rugby playing school.
After her left school, Sandy showed the early signs of the versatility which would mark him out throughout his life by first working as a riveter at a dockside before working as a salesman in a gentleman’s outfitters – two career choices that seem as disparate then as they do now. Yet he was accomplished at both.
That versatility soon translated into sport where Sandy, going against both the grain and expectation, took up football, initially as a centre-half before reverting to becoming a goalkeeper at Umbilo FC, his first senior club who were based in Durban.
Even then however, Sandy seemed to doubt he’d have much of a future at that club, as he later admitted that he thought that both his Scottish-born father and at least three of his brothers were better goalkeepers than he was.
Yet he prevailed and grew into the game swiftly. So much so that in 1949 Charlton Athletic offered him a playing contract only for his father to intercede, claiming that at just sixteen Sandy was too young to accept the offer and all that would have gone with it.
That might have been it, and for a while it seemed as if that would be the case, until in 1956, having played in two games for a Rhodesia side against an FA XI that include future Norwich City manager John Bond, Sandy signed for Huddersfield for a contract offer of just £1 a week. His footballing talents would eventually be nurtured there by a certain Bill Shankly who became Huddersfield manager shortly after Kennon signed for the club.
Sandy made 78 appearances for the Terriers, later claiming that he fell out with Shankly over a perceived reticence to play and perform in the cold, wet and muddy conditions of an English winter, which ultimately led to his departure from the club. This led to him being signed by Archie Macaulay for Norwich as cover for the then undisputed number one at the club, Nethercott on February 5th 1959, initially on trial before signing on a permanent basis a month later.
He didn’t have to wait too long for his Norwich debut that came in the club’s FA Cup quarter-final reply against Sheffield United at Carrow Road in front of 38,000 people. The noise and expectation on the day were so high that Kennon went on to admit that Barry Butler, directly behind him in the Norwich line-up as they ran out for kick-off, had to forcibly shove him onto the pitch; worrying enough for Kennon but probably far more so for Butler and his colleagues who might have been wondering quite what they had let themselves in for.
Yet they needn’t have worried with Kennon making just the one error, fumbling a cross that had given United the chance to get back into the game at 2-1 before proving to be resolute and defiant from then on in. That one mistake, it would seem, helped to ease his nerves – he’d made it, the game went on regardless, the pressure was now off. As it was Norwich who went 3-1 up in the 71st minute, going on to win the game 3-2.
Kennon had arrived and had proven himself in the most pressurised and tempestuous of settings. Nethercott was now out for the season but Kennon had performed well enough to show both his manager and team-mates that he would be a more than worthy deputy; it was not only his performance in that game that was the benchmark for his abilities but the way he had recovered from the sort of error that might have broken a lesser man and goalkeeper.
His league debut for the club followed three days later in a 3-1 win over Southampton at Carrow Road and he retained his place for the rest of that season making 20 appearances in all for the club before playing in all but one of the Canaries 48 league and cup games in the 1959/60 season, his place being taken by Brian Ronson in the one game he missed.
That was Ronson’s one and only game for the club, Ken Nethercott having left the club that pre-season meaning that Kennon was now the club’s number one choice, with he and his team-mates celebrating promotion to Division Two at the end of it; the Canaries finishing in second place, two points behind Southampton.
Sandy was an ever-present the following season (1960/61), one that saw them miss out on promotion to Division One by a margin of nine points. Disappointing? Yes. But what a season it was.
So too was the 1961/62 campaign that followed, one that might have been disappointing from a league perspective – City finished in 17th place – but they at least had the satisfaction of knocking eventual Division One Champions Ipswich Town out of the FA Cup as well as collecting the club’s first major honour when the Canaries beat Rochdale over two legs to win the 1962 League Cup.
An FA Cup semi-final, a promotion and now a League Cup winners’ medal for Sandy – and all in just over three years.
It’s a trio of achievements no other Norwich City goalkeeper can call their own – although some have come mighty close!
Sandy Kennon went onto make a total of 255 senior appearances for Norwich City with his last game for the club coming on November 4th 1964 in a 3-0 defeat at Workington in a League Cup fourth round game.
Hardly an auspicious way to make your Canary farewell but, with Kevin Keelan now at the club and having already shown his potential and brilliance in just a handful of first-team appearances, Kennon was now suffering the same, inevitable football fate that he himself had laid upon Ken Nethercott; that of being quietly phased out of contention by the young upstart making his way onwards and inextricably upwards in the game.
He went on to join Colchester United where, according to Kennon, he was soon able to garnish popularity amongst the U’s fans by saving all the penalties that Duncan Forbes, a man who would later go on to be a Norwich legend himself, invariably gave away.
A brief spell at Lowestoft Town followed before Sandy retired from the game in 1970, choosing to enter the world of business rather than stay in football as a manager or coach.
A fine goalkeeper and a good and honourable man who, amongst all of the excitement of Norwich’s run to the FA Cup semi-finals in 1959 had said of Wembley and the opportunity to play in an FA Cup Final, “… of course, I’d like to play there, but let me have the glory. Ggive Ken Nethercott the medal. He deserves it.”
As you deserve to be remembered as one of our finest Sandy.
Thankyou for being one of us.
Stewart Lewis says
Very nice, Ed. A lot of detail I wasn’t aware of, including “give Ken the medal”.
I know it wasn’t a full history of City keepers, but since you mentioned a number of them (I share your admiration for Chris Woods), then perhaps Bryan Gunn should have had a passing nod.
Like Sandy Kennon, he stood out for both playing and personal qualities. His contribution to Norwich should never be defined by his unfortunate time as manager.
Gary Gowers says
Super stuff Ed. Club have announced that the Kennon family will be present for the minute’s applause tomorrow, which is a nice touch.
colin m says
Great piece. RIP ‘NSK’ legend.
Ben K says
Agreed re Gunn – a goalkeeping legend. I’m not old enough to remember Kennon, although my Dad has told me stories of the 59ers to the point where I feel like I witnessed it all, including the ‘Bly Bly Babes’ headline, with him.
Bob in Diss says
I can’t help think of those days in black and white so appreciate you ‘colouring in’ some key moments from that first golden era of the club in a fitting tribute.
There are some great player quotes (inc. Kennon) from that time in a cracking book just released – “Talk of the City – A History of Norwich City in 1000 quotes” by David Cuffley. Well worth a read.
Dorset Canary says
Another interesting article Ed.That run to the semi final as a third division south team was the reason that NCFC became my team and for the fact that they played in yellow and green rather than the normal, at that time black and white,red and white red.
What a nice piece Ed!
Sandy was a true gentleman who I was fortunate to meet through my sponsorship role at the club.
He was giant of a man and we often gave him the “rowdy” group of sponsors on a match day because as a host he was able to handle all types of people in different ways as he always had the respect from the fans.
I was also lucky enough to play golf with Sandy on several occasions and really enjoyed those moments.
He really loved Norwich City FC and the club and fans really loved him, I’m sure we will hear that today, I have asked a friend to clap twice as hard as normal as I can’t be there!
My thoughts are with Norma and the family!
RIP Sandy Kennon
Thanks Gunny. Lovely memories, regret never getting the chance to meet Sandy, what a character he unquestionably was.
Thinking that a piece about Mr Gunn is probably due, given that its fast approaching 30 years next year since we signed him from Aberdeen!
Watch this space!
PETER RICHES says
Just a few years back i was invited by my boyhood hero round to his house in Wroxham where i spent the afternoon with Sandy and his wife Norma. I had managed to get in touch with him and asked if he could find a moment to sign a scrapbook i had kept , over his time at Norwich, i was invited to his house expecting to meet him at his door and for him to sign the said book but no there was Norma to meet me and invited me in to meet the man himself, he met me with a firm handshake and a smile that lit up the room. I arrived at 12-30 left at 4-30, Sandy poured over every article in the book re living memories with clarity, every picture and article was duly signed, this was followed by pictures taken in his back garden. A day i will treasure for the rest of my life. RIP Sandy Kennon.A LEGEND AND A TRUE FRIEND. GOD BLESS