When you’re in school there is that one kid. Nobody touches him because his reputation for being the hardest lad in school is a thing of legend. Folklore tells of stories where he single handedly repelled 10 of the hardest lads from the rival school at a bus stop in an argument over who’s bus stop it was. Quite often these tales were based on Chinese whispers. Once you get that reputation people tend to fade into the background when they see you coming. Sometimes those reputations are entirely deserved.
Vinnie Jones, was notorious. He thrived on his notoriety and after his footballing career ended, he continued to thrive from it. Razor Ruddock had a reputation for a no holds barred approach to defending. They were geezers. Tough nuts. There’s an interesting story about Fash the Bash which may or may not be true but I like it so I will relay it to you. In a match with Nottingham Forest after the match Brian Clough went into the referee’s room with Des Walker. He was complaining about the rough-house treatment that John Fashanu had dished out to the young Des Walker. Fashanu was called in as well. He turned up in just a towel. His muscular physique intended no doubt to intimidate. He also wore flip flops. Brian Clough said to the referee that Fashanu had used his elbow on “young Desmond” before stamping on Fashanu’s flip flopped foot. The hard man was reduced by a simple action from an elderly man.
With John Kay there was no such surrender. There was no showboating about how hard he was. John Kay was just nails. The Red and White Tractor was a source of fascination for me as a young supporter. Roughly 30 seconds before he went flying in for a tackle, breaths were drawn, grown men looked away and children’s eyes were covered by protective parents. When they looked back John Kay had the ball and an opponent was lying on the floor. John Kay was not a dirty player. He was one of the most committed defenders I have ever seen in my entire life.
His antics with taxis in Exeter are a thing of legend of course but for me as a young Sunderland fan John Kay represented everything that I wanted to see in Sunderland players. The drive, the energy the chest beating pride to be playing in those stripes. He never scored for Sunderland which is an absolute crying shame because he played with everything in his soul. There was a game against Millwall when he did score but unfortunately before the ball hit the net the ref had blown the final whistle.
Going back to Fashanu and his flip flops and the lack of surrender from John Kay, we need to talk about the Leeds game. Flying down the right with his customary gusto, John Kay was the player left lying on the pitch. A supporter ran on the pitch to confront the referee and Marco sorted that out. After a long wait the stretcher was loaded up with my icon, my hero. His leg broken in two places he sat up on his stretcher and pretended it was a canoe, paddling his way off the pitch. He’s red, he’s white, he’s fucking dynamite.