Ken Hollyman feature

When Joss Labadie, Mickey Demetriou, Frank Nouble and co. take to the field on Saturday evening to face Premier League outfit Tottenham Hotspur, they will be aiming to break a record that has stood for over 59 years.

The Exiles, or the Ironsides as they were then known, last played Spurs way back on 9th January 1960 in another FA Cup tie.

Tottenham eventually won that game 4-0 in another ‘David vs Goliath’ tie at Somerton Park, as goals from Bobby Smith, a double from Leslie Brace and another from captain Jackie Blanchflower saw the away side safely through to the next round of the competition.

But just under a year before that game, County did find the net against today’s opponents, in a 4-1 defeat at White Hart Lane during a Fourth-Round tie on 24th January 1959.

The man to score that goal: Ken Hollyman.

And it was some goal to be the last for County against the eight-time winners of the competition.

Hollyman rifled a 40-yard strike straight into the top corner to get the Ironsides back in the game at 2-1 on the day and put them on the cusps of one of the greatest cup shocks in the history of the competition.

Spurs went on to complete a routine victory with two late finishes, but Hollyman’s goal has stood the test of time and regardless of what happens at the weekend, will be one forever etched into the history books of Newport County AFC.

So how did it feel to score that goal?

“He would have been really pleased at scoring in the FA Cup as he didn't really score many goals and to do it at White Hart Lane would have been one of the highlights of his career,” said his son Paul and granddaughter Kate.

“To be the last one to have scored against Spurs would have given him a great thrill but he most probably would have thought ‘what have they been doing all these years!!’

“It's been a long time since he scored that goal and he'd say it's about time his record was broken, and he'd feel much happier knowing that they did it by securing a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup.”

Those thoughts about Hollyman’s goal were also echoed by the Western Mail newspaper on the Monday following the game.  

“Ken Hollyman was without doubt their finest player - which just goes to show the quality of this grand duel,” reads the article from 26th January 1959.

“And to Hollyman goes the glory for his magnificent goal in the 64th minute. Jim Iley blotted his copybook by taking the ball back to his own goal and then clearing instead of passing back to the goalkeeper John Hollowbread.

“But then Iley could not have possibly known that Hollyman was to dash up past Cliff Jones to collect the clearance, move forward three paces, and then slam the ball back past Hollowbread from fully 40 yards! 

“It was a great goal right into the top of the net, still rising from that distance!  What an inspiration for County and how they showed it!”

Tom Llewellyn was one of more than 8,000 County fans who travelled down to the game in the English capital, and also concurred that it was a great occasion to be involved in, even if the scoreline was a little disappointing in the end.

“You can understand the excitement for me to go and see my favourite team from Division 3 South play Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane,” said Tom, who was 13 at the time.

“We got the train to Paddington at 6:30 before arriving in London at about 10 o’clock.

“From there, we went straight to Buckingham Palace to see The Changing of the Guard at 11am and I’m pleased to say there were loads of people sporting Black & Amber scarves, before heading to the ground early to take in all the atmosphere.

We had great tickets in the front row of the main grandstand, midway between the half way line and right-hand goal. We played towards the left-hand goal first half and I think we were one down at half time and conceded a second early in the second half.

We were playing well and had a few chances but then our magic moment came. We were attacking, and the ball was cleared into midfield where Ken Hollyman picked it up, then went forward a few yards and hit it from near the touch line from all of 40 yards.

It went like a rocket into the far corner and the Newport fans went mad. We were back in the game and for ten minutes we could have equalised following a few good chances.

“But fate changed the game for us, when twenty minutes from the end and with Newport on top, County’s centre-half Ray Wilcox was injured in a challenge with England international Bobby Smith.

“Wilcox couldn’t continue and with substitutions not being introduced yet, we were down to 10 men. Ironically, Smith scored two goals in the last 15 minutes to give Spurs what looked like a comfortable victory.

“But the 8000 plus County supporters knew that with a little more luck we could have brought them back to Somerton Park for a replay!

“The attendance at White Hart Lane that day was in excess of 50 thousand, what a day!”

The Ironsides were the second club that Hollyman signed for during a prolific career that spanned over two decades.

Born in Cardiff on 18th November 1922, Ken Hollyman showed promise as a potential star of the future during his schoolboy days with Adamsdown and Cardiff Boys.

That saw Hollyman sign with Cardiff City from Cardiff Corinthians at the age of 17 in 1939.

The outbreak of World War Two saw him volunteer with the Fleet Air Arm (Naval section responsible for operating aircraft on ships) and was posted to various locations over the course of the war, including spending 18 months in Canada and New York, where he rose to the rank of Petty Officer.  

Hollyman continued to assist Cardiff City during his four-and-a-half-year stint with the Fleet Air Arm, as even a war could not prevent him from playing the sport he loved.

One incredible story of Hollyman’s passion and desire for continuing with Cardiff City alongside his military service comes just after the completion of the war in November 1945.

Whilst waiting for his demobilisation orders (where you are stood down from the nation’s armed forces after combat,) Cardiff manager Cyril Spiers phoned Hollyman and asked him to play in a match the following day against Moscow Dynamo at Ninian Park.

As Hollyman was based in Oxford at the time, he had to hitchhike back to the stadium whilst wearing his demob suit and trilby hat, so he could participate in the match.

Hollyman made it back in time for that game, although would have been forgiven for questioning his heedless decision after the match as the Russian outfit breezed to a 10-1 victory, a result that led the match commentator to suggest “These Russians are a machine, and not an ordinary football team.”  

After WW2, he became a regular member of the Cardiff City first team in the immediate post war seasons.

Whilst playing in the Welsh capital, Hollyman was invited to Blackpool by Sir Stanley Matthews to train alongside him. Ken accepted the invitation and felt it a huge privilege to be able to train with one of the greats of the English game. 

Ken remained at Cardiff City until 1953, making 188 first team appearances, whilst scoring eight goals and helping the club climb to the 1st Division. He was also a runner-up in the Welsh Cup during the 1950/51 campaign, eventually losing a replay 3-2 to Merthyr Tydfil at the Vetch following a 1-1 draw in the original game.

Often described as ‘the complete half back,’ Ken combined speed and ball control with his renowned Ben Tozer and Mickey Demetriou-esque long-throws, one of the longest throws in football at the time.

Unlucky not to be capped by Wales, Ken was always the crowd’s favourite with his bubbly enthusiasm for the game, his cheeky skills and insatiable appetite for work in a variety of positions. 

Small in stature (5’5” and weighing just ten stone) but big in heart, Ken is fondly remembered by the older generation of Cardiff City fans and after a dozen years at Ninian Park, he joined several former teammates at Newport County AFC in 1953.

Hollyman’s profound consistency made him one of County’s greatest ever players, as he totalled 233 league and cup games, scoring four goals. 

After deciding to leave the club, he took up the position of player manager at Ton Pentre before finally hanging up his boots and started to coach youth football to pass on his knowledge of the game.

Ken was also an all-round sportsman, and became an avid player of baseball during the off-season and summer months.

He gained four international caps with the Welsh side, going on to captain his nation after being spotted whilst playing for Penylan.   

But football was always Ken’s biggest passion and his family believe he would have been proud to associate himself with the rejuvenated current side.

Paul and Kate added: “Considering the tough times they have had since [Ken retired,] he would have been really pleased to see the gut and determination they showed last season to get them out of relegation and the progression they have made to get to the position they are in at the moment.

“He would have praised the supporters throughout Newport for getting behind their team as it is with their help that they are where they are now. 

“He only ever wanted to see Newport County AFC do well and would wish them every success for the match and in the future.”

Ken Hollyman sadly passed away on 14th May 2009 aged 86.

The youngest of 13 children, Ken left behind three children, seven grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.

But Ken’s legacy still lives on within the club and a quote of his from his time with the Ironsides under Billy Lucas provides a certain amount of resonance when you compare it with Michael Flynn’s modern-day side.

He commented: “I went to the County to help them through bad times. As I see it, there isn’t much fun playing in a team of stars if the right spirit isn’t there, which is where Newport County AFC scores over many others.

“I’d say that we are all pulling together with a single purpose to put Newport County AFC in higher circles and the possibility of our achieving that ambition this year certainly cannot be ruled out.”



*Many thanks from everyone at Newport County AFC must go to Steve White (grandson in law of Ken Hollyman) for his help in collating the information about Ken's life*