Kenny Johnson: A club legend and a gentleman

TO Hartlepool United's fans he was the club's record goalscorer. To many of the town's budding young footballers during the 70s, 80s and 90s, he was someone intent on making you a better player.

To everyone else who had the privilege of knowing Kenny Johnson, he was an absolute gentleman, who will be sadly missed across Hartlepool and beyond following his death this week.

Kenny is unlikely to have known too much about the merits of Facebook and Twitter, but the heart-warming messages that flooded in to the social networking sites on Thursday highlighted the extent of the feelings shown towards him.

Whether it was on his weekly shopping spree to Tesco, serving up fish and chips in the shop he used to own or merely talking football at Victoria Park as he watched his beloved Pools, he touched hearts with his kind-hearted nature.

I was one of many teenagers to have played under him for Seaton Carew Holy Trinity Youths. I was his striker and he would regularly offer up tips to becoming a better player.

The whole of that team had the utmost respect for him, as he would turn up week in, week out, in wind and rain to put something back in to the game he loved, having moved from that Juniors team to Pools in 1949.

Over the years there were plenty more young men to have had the privilege to play under him. One man that knew Kenny was Middlesbrough's assistant manager, Mark Venus.

Venus used to play for Johnson's Seaton team in its hey day along with his brothers and the Pools legend has always remained a close friend of his family.

"It's just so sad, he was an absolute gentleman, who just loved his football and enjoyed life," said Venus. "I played under him, both of my brothers - Ian and Mike - played for his team and there were loads more.

"If you lived in Seaton, you liked football then you tended to play for his team. Even players from across the town would come to play for him. Everyone thought Kenny was an exceptional person and he has always been a true friend of our family. He will be sadly missed."

Such comments sum up what everyone thought of Kenny. He was much more than just Hartlepool's record goalscorer.

"He was a gem," said Hartlepool United's chief executive Russ Green yesterday. "I got to know him and his family personally, I used to take DVDs up for him to watch. It's so sad.

"He had strong opinions on the game and he always just wanted to stop and chat to everyone that wanted to talk to him. It's a great loss to the town."

Kenny was 80 when he died. His career at Victoria Park lasted 15 years, scoring 106 goals in 413 appearances for the club before leaving in 1964.

His footballing ability made him a Hartlepool United legend - but he was a real local hero too.

Kenny was one of the first names to have found his way on to the club's centenary wall as a mark of respect for the service he gave to Hartlepool United between 1949-64.

And if there was ever any chance of a statue being constructed outside Victoria Park, then surely Kenny Johnson would have be high on the list of contenders.

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