A hero, on and off the pitch

Ray King goal keeper
Ray King goal keeper

A goalkeeping great with a love for sport, family and Northumberland has died, aged 89.

Ray King passed away on Saturday after a short illness, just one month shy of his 90th birthday.

Ray King accepts his Port Vake footba shirt from reporter Robet Brooks.

Ray King accepts his Port Vake footba shirt from reporter Robet Brooks.

The Port Vale FC legend was Northumberland born and bred. He moved from Amble to Thailand almost five years ago after the death of wife Norma.

Ray had been living with son Gary and was cremated on Monday at a Thai temple in Bangkok.

He was born in Radcliffe in August 1924 and was a proud Northumbrian, often speaking fondly of his county heritage.

Ray’s biggest legacy, perhaps, is his goalkeeping heroics for Potteries club, Port Vale.

He was part of the legendary 1953-54 team which won the Third Division (North) Championship, conceding just 21 goals all season. The side also defied the odds to reach the FA Cup semi-final that same campaign – the best season in the club’s history.

It didn’t start there though. Before this, as the Second World War loomed, his teenage goalkeeping skills were recognised by Newcastle United.

However, he would soon be wearing the regulation Army khaki, rather than the black and white stripes, after receiving his call-up papers. When peace returned, he had a spell at Leyton Orient and Ashington, before going on to wear Vale’s No.1 shirt.

He also won one cap for the England ‘B’ team and played behind-the-scenes roles at Oxford United, Luton Town, Boston United and Poole Town.

Ray wasn’t just a footballer. Gary said: “He was a good tennis player, a respectable golfer, a good snooker player, an excellent table-tennis player, a superb cricketer and his genius as a goalkeeper needs no superlatives. He was kind, gentle and a fine husband and father.”

Ray also had a passion for writing. He contributed to the Gazette, as well as other titles such as The Ambler. In his last letter to the Bangkok Post, he predicted that Germany would win the World Cup in Brazil.

He had a prodigious knowledge of football, both past and present, and was a published writer of memoirs.

Port Vale paid tribute to Ray. A club spokesman said: “Everybody at Port Vale FC is extremely sorry to hear about the passing of Ray King.

“Our thoughts at this sad time go out to his family and friends. Although many years have gone by since Ray kept goal for the Vale, he is still fondly spoken about.

“The last time he visited Vale Park was for a reunion in 2010 and he was treated like a hero and will remain so in the hearts of everybody associated with the club.”