There will never be another Cooey

Ken HitchcockPHILIP EVANS pays tribute to a legend at Lyme Regis Football Club

WHEN a great character departs this mortal coil, we often say: “There will never be another one like him.” If ever there was a man who deserved this reaction, it was Ken Hitchcock.

There can be no doubting that there will never be another ‘Cooey’, his affectionate nickname we always used. Always ‘Cooey’; rarely Ken.

His recent sudden death after a short illness shocked all who knew and loved him. Although nearing his 81st birthday, we thought he was indestructible.

When we heard he had been rushed to hospital and was seriously ill, our immediate thoughts were: “He’s always been a fighter, he’ll pull through”.

Our first thoughts of course, went to his family: Betty, his wife of more than 50 years, his three football-mad sons, Andrew, Gerard and Matthew, daughter Catherine and his grandchildren.

Then there was his second family – Lyme Regis Football Club, which has a great family tradition, and no family has done more over a period not far off 70 years than the Hitchcocks.

Ken started playing for the Seasiders as a teenager. When his playing days were over, he committed the rest of his life to working behind the scenes to make Lyme Regis FC one of the most successful and admired clubs in the region.

Ken was never one to serve on committees. He was a doer, not a talker, and his commitment has seen our club grow from an inadequate pitch with a small shed to change in to having some of the best facilities in local football.

After his retirement as one of Lyme Regis Town Council’s outside staff, Ken visited the Davey Fort, acting as unofficial caretaker, virtually every day of his life. No task was too trivial and he took great pride in keeping our clubhouse in pristine condition.

His importance to the club was probably underestimated because he was always present, especially on match days when he religiously followed the Lyme teams, home and away, and became a hugely popular character in local football.

He was a man of few words apart from during matches when he rarely held back in his opinion of referees. But there was never any malice in his colourful observations.

I knew Ken practically all of my life, having lived just around the corner from his family for many years.

One early memory I shall never forget. When he was in his late teens he was one of a number of young Lyme men who acquired a motorbike. On one occasion, when I was around eight or nine, he asked me if I wanted a ride on his powerful bike.

He took me a on trip around the council estate, taking corners like he was in a grand prix. It frightened me to death and I have not sat on a motorbike since.

As my brother was around the same age as Ken, I started playing knock-about football games on Anning Road playing field. If the field was too wet, we would play on Cobb beach and Ken would always be in goal set up against the Cobb walls. Often the ball went into the sea and Ken always jumped in to retrieve it.

I played my first game for Lyme Reserves when I was 14. The match was played at Donyatt and we changed in a chicken run at the back of the village pub. The landlord would remove all the hens out of the hut and place a wooden bench and a tin bath to wash in after the game. No hot showers in those days.

There were strict rules for washing – hands and face first. It poured down with rain throughout the game but two minutes before the final whistle Cooey got himself sent off which enabled him to return to the dressing room and a bath full of clean, hot water, before the rest of us.

We found him laid out in the tin bath in all his naked glory. None of us bothered with washing hands or face that day.

Over the years I have dined out on Cooey Hitchcock football stories. Ken always had a sense of fun and one incident is embedded in the folklore of Lyme Regis Football Club.

This was in the days before the creation of the Davey Fort when we played on a farmer’s field in Sidmouth Road, just over the Dorset-Devon border. I can’t remember the Sidmouth Road pitch ever being waterlogged but because it was so high up it was often cloaked in thick fog.

Cooey, as usual was in goal, but could not see the far goal. So, rumour has it, he stuffed the ball up his jumper, ran the whole length of the pitch and tapped the ball into the goal. The referee was the late Doug Pomeroy who was a stickler for the rules. It was so foggy that he did not see Cooey running the length of the pitch and the goal was attributed to Arthur Smith!

There is one more comedic incident I remember from our early playing days. We were away to Kilmington and leading by several goals. It was another awful day, driving rain throughout the game.

Cooey took a macintosh with him and, on a rare attack from Kilmington, he was sheltering in a tree behind the goal. He jumped down, took off the mac, saved the shot and returned to his dry position in the tree.

I have one other abiding memory of Ken. The club celebrated the new Millennium in the year 2000 with an all-night celebration at the Davey Fort. Ken was no dancer but I will never forget seeing him cutting a few shapes to the then popular ‘Tragedy’ by Steps at four in the morning in a line of dancers led by my eldest daughter Zoe. I wish we took a photo.

Ken was also crucially involved in the club’s 40-year twining arrangement with US Cruelly in Normandy, playing an important role in the planning of the many happy times the two clubs have enjoyed.

Ken’s service to the football club continued right up to his illness.

Like many other sporting clubs, the past two years have been very difficult, doubly so at Lyme because we were coming to the end of a four-year development plan costing nearly £140,000.

We were fortunate in getting a capital project grant of £100,000 from the town council with match funding of £36,000 having to be raised by the club on top of the £50,000 annual cost of running the club.

Ken played a huge part in helping us to meet our commitments when we opened the ground for car parking which raised £17,000 during the summer. It was a monumental achievement and his efforts on a daily basis kept our club in the black.

The Hitchcock family have become synonymous with Lyme Regis Football Club. Wife Betty, a Liverpudlian, helped run the kitchen at the Davey For many years and is still raising money for the club by running a monthly bingo session and match day raffles.

All three sons – Andrew, Gerard and Matthew – have played for the club and Gerard, a former club manager, is vice-chairman of the club committee and, as such, is involved in the day-to-day running of the clubhouse at the Davey Fort.

Former groundsman Billy White and I are now the oldest former players still connected with the club but any ideas we may have to emulate Ken’s total commitment are likely to fall short.

On Frida the club held its annual presentation night. Ken’s family insisted that the event went ahead because it would be what Ken wanted. It was not be the same without him, but it was announced that the club’s new grandstand would be officially named ‘The Ken Hitchcock ‘Cooey’ Grandstand’, and that players had clubbed together £800 to install a memorial bench at the Davey Fort in  his honour.

Ken’s funeral will be held at the East Devon Crematorium at Whimple at 12.15 pm on Monday, May 30, followed by a wake at the Davey Fort at 2pm.

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