Andy King: Jefferson Lake says football has lost one its great characters

FONDLY REMEMBERED - former Cobblers assistant manager Andy King (Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds, Sharon Lucey and Kelly Cooper)
FONDLY REMEMBERED - former Cobblers assistant manager Andy King (Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds, Sharon Lucey and Kelly Cooper)

Former Chronicle & Echo football writer Jefferson Lake pays tribute to Andy King, who died on Wednesday aged just 58.

The former Cobblers assistant manager and caretaker boss worked at Sixfields from November, 2011 until January, 2014, with King being in charge of first team affairs for five games following the sacking of Aidy Boothroyd in December, 2013.

Lake was the Chron’s Cobblers man throughout King’s time at Sixfields, and here pays tribute to a man he describes as one the game’s ‘great characters’, and a ‘a great bloke’.

Jefferson Lake’s tribute to Andy King

Football lost one of its great characters this week when former Cobblers assistant manager and caretaker boss Andy King passed away.

The sharp-witted and charismatic coach was 58 when he suffered a heart attack at his home on Wednesday, casting an immediate veil of sadness over the sport.

King, who was assistant at Sixfields to Aidy Boothroyd between November 2011 and December 2013, will forever be associated with Everton, a club with whom he enjoys near-legendary status and for whom he made 248 appearances and scored 69 goals.

The most famous is the one which settled a Merseyside derby in 1978, a superbly-struck volley at Goodison Park which ended a seven-year drought of victories for the blue half of the city against their red rivals.

The goal even had its own joke – “Could you tell me where King’s drive is please?” Would be the question, in the manner of a request for directions. “In the back of Ray Clemence’s net,” was the answer.

Everton released a club obituary when the news of his passing was confirmed yesterday describing King as ‘a skilful, free-spirited goalscoring midfielder’ and a ‘crowd pleaser’ who delighted the Goodison faithful in two spells.

Such was his reputation on Merseyside both as a player and as a man that even Liverpool legend Phil Thompson paid tribute to him, describing him as “a great guy and a talented footballer.”

King played for nine more clubs after leaving the Toffees and managed at Mansfield, Swindon Town and Grays Athletic in between a coaching role at Sunderland and several posts on the scouting network.

He was scouting for Colchester United when the call came from Boothroyd to make him his number two at Sixfields, a wise head to complement the enthusiastic but still relatively young talents of the former Watford and Coventry boss.

The appointment always struck me as slightly strange.

As personalities, the two are so different it is difficult to see how any kind of working arrangement could have been successful, but it was for a long period in the second half of that first season and the entirety of the second.

While Boothroyd was measured and highly polished in his dealings with the press, portraying a personality which was interesting without ever revealing too much human emotion, King was the absolute opposite, a bundle of passion whether on the touchline or in a press conference.

It was a recipe for great fun.

Kingy (it seems wrong to call him anything else) was always likely to provide some form of entertainment in those meetings with the media, always ready to give a juicy quote and say something which he – with a twinkle in his eye – knew he should not.

On one occasion, I took my daughters with me to a presser and he offered them some of his sweets. They shyly refused and he nodded. “Of course not,” he said. “You’re probably thinking ‘who’s this silly old man?’”

At another, in the Sixfields study centre, a dog barked in an adjoining room.

Quick as a flash, he turned to a member of one of the club staff and said: “Is that your girlfriend?”

On another occasion, he was recounting a story from a scouting mission he had been on that week. “Who were you watching?” A reporter asked. Kingy smiled and looked around. “You must think I’m stupid,” came his reply, perhaps with an added expletive.

But there was more to him than jokes with the media.

He was a legitimate ‘football man’, someone who loved the game and whose fully-fledged status as a member of the old school can be identified by his use of ‘the boy’ to precede the surname of anyone he was discussing. I think even Aidy himself got called ‘the boy Boothroyd’ once or twice.

Categorising someone as a ‘football man’ is very overused these days. People throw it at anyone connected with the game and of course most managers seemingly qualify because they earn their living by being exactly that, when in reality most are just as keen to be discussing horse racing or golf as they are association football.

It was never so with Kingy. He knew everything that was happening with everybody in the game. He knew every player, every coach, every agent, every club and every ground. He probably knew every kit man and tea lady too.

They can’t have failed to have noticed him – as well as being a great laugh he was always warm, friendly and very charismatic.

All you need to know about how he was received in dressing rooms came in the avalanche of tweets from former players, both at Northampton and elsewhere, who worked alongside him. Kelvin Langmead described the news of his death as ‘heartbreaking’.

I always got the impression his role as assistant manager was more like that of a counsel or a priest, someone the players could talk to when it seemed Boothroyd was too aloof. In that way he perhaps perfectly bridged the gap between the man at the top and the players doing the work.

The Cobblers job could have been his in January 2014 had he wanted it but he decided he did not, and Chris Wilder was brought in.

Conversations about what might have been had things turned out differently are totally irrelevant.

Instead he returned to the scouting game, taking the top role at Milton Keynes Dons, for whom he was working at the time of his sudden passing this week.

The last time I saw him was at Cambridge United last season, on his way to the directors’ lounge to say hello to David Cardoza at half-time.

That was classic Kingy – MK Dons were not in the market for a player from either team but it was a game, on a Friday night with no others, and so he went along just to be where he belonged – at a football match, watching players, making mental notes and rubbing shoulders with football people, be they other scouts, reporters or club owners.

Everton fans will no doubt remember him as a player, and as a scorer of bragging rights-securing goals in derbies.

Others will know him as a manager, a coach, a raconteur, a scout.

To me he will always be just a great bloke. And a real joy to be around.