Interview: Johnny Key

Daniel Smith spoke to 81-year-old, former Fulham winger Johnny Key, to look back at his time at the club. Key played 181 games, scoring 37 goals between 1958-1966 during an iconic era for the Whites in the top flight…

DS – Growing up, did you have any role models in football during the 1940’s/1950’s and which team did you support?

JK – Having been brought up in Chelsea I always supported Chelsea and one of my heroes was Roy Bentley who was Captain of Chelsea when they won the league. He later became a teammate of mine at Fulham.

DS – How did you get the opportunity to sign for Fulham?

JK – I went for a trial before I did my national service, played in junior matches and worked my way up. I didn’t play many reserve games. When I finished my National Service I got put straight into the team and carried on from there.

DS – Do you remember your debut and how it went?

JK – Yes, the debut was against Yeovil Town at home in the Cup. I was doing my National Service and was home on Christmas leave. The debut came out the below, I hadn’t even played a reserve game but Tosh was injured and I was told I was playing in that game.  I was outside left which I don’t like, and a position I never played in again since, but I did score in a 4-0 win.

DS – What was your favourite match for Fulham?

JK – Probably playing away at Manchester United when we were leading 3-2 with a couple of minutes to go. Unfortunately, Bobby Charlton equalised with a couple of minutes to go to make it 3-3, and also a 4-1 win at home against Spurs where I scored two. I would pick those two games out as they were exciting matches to be a part of and I remember playing well in them both!

DS – What was your favourite Fulham goal?

JK – It’s hard to pick out one as it was so long ago, but probably the second goal against Spurs in the 4-1 win. As a winger I never normally scored, I created goals but I didn’t score that many, so scoring two in that game was memorable.

DS – Who were your closest friends at the club?

JK – Fred Callaghan, Pat O’Connell, Reg Stratton and Tony Macedo.

DS – Do you still keep in touch with other players and their families, if so, who?

JK – My wife and I had lunch with Pat O’Connell and his wife only yesterday, and I have always kept in touch with Fred over the years, who was the one I spent the most time with socially during our playing days. Tony Macedo and I still exchange Christmas cards and keep in touch that way as he is living in Australia now. Sadly Reg Stratton passed away a few months ago.

DS – Have you got any stories you can share about your time at Fulham?

JK – We were playing Leeds away and we were sitting in the hotel in Leeds and had just finished lunch, and Jimmy Langley who had previously played for Leeds decided he wanted to stretch his legs and walk to the ground because it wasn’t far away. He was given permission by the manager and two of us decided we would do it with him, so off we went and the coach went passed us with all the other players on and we waved at them as they went by. Jimmy told us after a while he had got lost and didn’t have a clue where we were, he said everything had changed since he had been there, but we saw the crowd making their way, so we followed the crowd, but when we got to the stadium it was the Rugby League stadium, and it was about twenty to three, and our kick off was three o clock! We’re now panicking and couldn’t get a cab, so we tried to wave down a car and pay somebody some money to drive us to the stadium, and this old lady came along and we hijacked her car and got in, and she suddenly became Stirling Moss! She turned right around a corner, nearly knocking someone over crossing the road, we screeched up to Elland Road, about three or four minutes before kick-off time with our manager out the front pulling his hair out, rushed in, threw our kit on, went out and we were under siege the whole game but broke away four times and won 4-0!!

DS – Who were the strong characters in the dressing room

JK – Tosh!!! Tosh was a great character and a great laugh!

DS – All of your Fulham career was in the top flight, how do you think you would have done playing in the Premier League and how much as the game changed?

JK – The reason I can’t really answer the first part of the question is because the game has changed so much. It’s far more physical, players are fitter but also people touch each other, elbow each other, pull each other around, we never did that in my day, so I’m not sure it would be great to play these days. I prefer to play when I did.

DS – I’ve been told to ask a question about 1963 onwards. You weren’t a regular…in and out of the team. Was it due to a niggling injury, the manager, or just strong competition for places at that time?

JK – They signed Scottish International Graham Leggatt who played in the same position as me, so there was competition for the place. He went on an International break, so I took his place and played well so they decided to keep me in the team, so then poor Graham was shoved around the forward line to play in different positions, which he was able to do so that I could keep my place on the wing.

DS – Were you disappointed to leave Fulham or did you need a fresh start with Coventry City?

JK – Definitely needed a fresh start which I got at Coventry. It was a whole new ball game. A different way of training, a different way of life and came at the right time for me. It also gave me the opportunity to work with my former teammate Jimmy Hill, who was the manager at Coventry City where we went on to win the Division 2 Championship and gain promotion.

DS – Is there still a family connection with the club?

JK – Very much so, mainly through my Grandaughter Zoe, who is my daughter’s eldest and my eldest Grandchild. Zoe’s dad has also been a Fulham fan all his life and actually attended the game and kept the programme that announced Zoe’s mums birth in it, in 1960!

With Fulham on both sides of the family, she didn’t have much choice and began attending Fulham matches from an early age, getting a season ticket as a teenager, which she still has today. My children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren all follow Fulham and their results and attend games when they can. Zoe and I speak regularly with our synopsis of Fulham matches, alongside tracking where we are in our family fantasy football league! We were all delighted following the promotion win back in May which both my Grandaughters attended.

Zoe also worked for Fulham for 9 years in the Commercial department selling events and hospitality, and signed her contract with the club exactly 50 years after I did! She enjoyed her time at Fulham as much as I did, and it gave us the opportunity to experience things together such as the unveiling of the Johnny Haynes statue and match days with my former teammates, along with Zoe organising my 70th Birthday Party for me at the Cottage.

DS – And finally Johnny, pie or pasty, which filling?

JK – Pie please! Steak and Kidney!