Ken Wagstaff at 70: Hull City legend remembers his Boothferry Park heyday
I'M NOT looking forward to it, that's a fact," said a smiling Ken Wagstaff, feigning dread ahead of his 70th birthday celebrations this weekend.
"I wouldn't change my life for anybody's. It's been fantastic."
Hull City supporters will nod in full agreement. For over a decade Wagstaff was the poster boy of Boothferry Park, his goalscoring record the stuff of legend.
Eleven seasons with the Tigers delivered 197 goals in 434 appearances. Only Chris Chilton, the other half of City's iconic double act during the late 1960s, can eclipse his haul in the club's 108-year history.
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Thirty seven years after his final appearance in City colours, Wagstaff's black and amber halo has not lost its shine. History, in fact, only adds a polish.
"I can't forget what I did and what I used to do for the football club because people don't let me forget," says Wagstaff, relaxing at his Sutton home.
"We live in a marvellous city and it's nice to be still remembered by the supporters. Even the young ones.
"What happens in this game of football is that fathers and mothers tell their children all about the players they saw when they were growing up. It's passed on from one generation to the next.
"I'll go out and half the people that recognise me won't have even been born when I was playing. To be appreciated like that is always nice."
According to a centenary poll announced in 2005, Wagstaff is the greatest ever Tiger.
A modern crop, led by Windass, Ashbee, Barmby and Dawson, have since compiled a strong case to rival his position atop of City's history tree, but for the elder generations nothing can be witnessed that will ever alter their faith in the one called Waggy.
In Boothferry Park's golden era, Wagstaff was the predator with the Midas touch. A goalscoring king in regal times.
After signing from Mansfield Town for £40,000 on November 12, 1964, five consecutive seasons up to 1968-69 saw him surpass the 20-goal mark.
Wagstaff needed just 180 league and cup appearances to reach a century of goals for the Tigers and fell just three short of a double ton when playing his last in November 1975.
City, you suspect, will never see his like again. And therein lies Wagstaff's enduring appeal.
"I don't know why the people of Hull took to me so much," he said. "Maybe it is because of all the goals.
"The biggest reason people remember that side in the 1960s so fondly is because it was entertaining.
"There was excitement. When we attacked the whole crowd stood up because they expected us to score."
Wagstaff, his peers will proclaim, was born to score goals.
Raised in the mining village of Langwith on the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire border, a 16-year-old Wagstaff was first spotted playing junior football by Raich Carter, a City great who shaped his path.
Four years at Field Mill, three of them under Carter's rule, saw Wagstaff net 93 goals in 181 appearances by the age of 21. Interest was as inevitable as it was intense in 1964, but it was Carter's close relationship with City chairman Harold Needler that pushed the young Wagstaff towards East Yorkshire.
"Raich looked after me all my life and it was him that set it all up," he said. "I wasn't sure where Hull was.
"Raich made a huge impression on me. I will always remember something he did with me when I was 17. He said I wasn't training one day and told me to come with him.
"He took me to a special school and there were kids in wheelchairs with one leg or missing an arm.
"He said 'Take a good look at them because to be born healthy is the greatest gift you'll ever have. To have the gift you've got, never waste it.' That's stayed with me all my life."
The message served Wagstaff well. A one-time club-record fee of £40,000 was anything but a burden and after scoring on his City debut in a 3-1 win over Exeter, he would end his first season with 23 goals in 25 league games.
A remarkable side was being assembled by manager Cliff Britton in 1964-65. As well as the home-grown Chilton, who had plundered 80 goals in his previous four seasons with the Tigers, Ian Butler and Ken Houghton arrived to form the most revered attacking line in the club's history.
The 1964-65 season ended with bitter disappointment as City lost out on promotion to Wagstaff's former club Mansfield, but the response was emphatic when winning the Division Three title 12 months later.
Wagstaff's 31 goals contributed to a breath-taking team haul of 129 in 55 league and cup games. Even Chelsea, littered with star names, were given a fright by Wagstaff and company in the FA Cup sixth round before eventually winning a Boothferry Park replay.
City's progress plateaued in Division Two but the exploits of Chilton and Wagstaff flickered on until the turn of the decade. The secret?
"When I got in the penalty area I'd never panic," said Wagstaff. "It's all in the mechanisms of the brain.
"I would never score many 25-yard goals, they were all in the area.
"I think I only scored four headers out of all my goals and most of them were with my right foot.
"People would ask what I did all game. Most of the time I didn't look interested. But if a chance came along, I'd back myself to score."
While City enjoyed their highest post-war standing in 1970-71 when Terry Neill guided his side to fifth in Division Two, Wagstaff's powers were beginning to wane.
The exit of Chilton to Coventry in 1971 broke up the attacking dream team and when injuries took their toll, only one of his final four seasons saw Wagstaff reach double figures.
A final appearance in City colours came on November 22, 1975 in a 1-0 win over Portsmouth. Wagstaff was two days short of his 33rd birthday but forced into retirement.
A spell coaching in Australia and with City under John Kaye offered an extended career in football. But in Wagstaff's words, he would "lose his temper too easily when players couldn't do what I asked."
Hull has been home for Wagstaff for almost 50 years and he now enjoys a peaceful retirement in Sutton. Charity work for the Daisy Appeal and Dove House Hospice keeps him busy.
"I've had a super life," said Wagstaff. "I had the Golden Ball pub for 11 years and then bought the Marlborough Club with my dear wife Eileen and had that for 14 years.
"We let that go when Eileen was taken ill and died in August 2007. She was a super girl. It's not the same without her.
"Do I like Hull? I love Hull because it gave me a fantastic wife and daughter, Francesca, and soon I'll have my first grandchild.
"I love the people of Hull and I love them all the more now because they still remember me."