Hero Hector! Sparkling display has fans whooping.
Durban grabs the goals, but £40,000 new boy is man of the match.
They cheered him off the pitch, then they waited half-an-hour and cheered him out of the ground, jostling to pat him on the back. And no wonder, for nobody could have asked more of a player on his debut than £40,000 Kevin Hector provided at the Baseball Ground on Saturday’.
Headline from the Derby Evening Telegraph, 26 September 1966.
On Saturday 10 September 1966, Derby County signed a player who was to become one of the most popular in their history. Kevin Hector had a reputation as one of the best goalscorers in the league and had made 167 consecutive appearances for Bradford Park Avenue, scoring 113 goals before joining the Rams. Derby manager Tim Ward had been trying to persuade the board to provide the funds to buy Hector for six months on the recommendation of chief scout Sammy Crooks. It took a poor start to the season, one point from the first six games, before the board agreed to the transfer and it came as a surprise to supporters when the size of the fee was disclosed. The £40,000 Derby paid was easily a record for the Rams, beating the previous record of £24,500 which had stood since 1949 when Johnny Morris was signed from Manchester United. It was also the highest fee ever paid for a Fourth Division player at the time.
Hector had a quiet debut at Crystal Palace on 17 September when Derby lost 2-1. The first glimpse most Derby supporters had of him was his home debut against Huddersfield on 24 September, and the positive impact he made in this game was the start of a lengthy and successful career at the Baseball Ground.
On the morning of the game the Rams were lying bottom of the Second Division with only 3 points from 8 games whereas Huddersfield were in eighth position. The Rams started badly and Leighton gave Huddersfield the lead after only five minutes. Derby soon settled down however and after 25 minutes Hector darted onto a pass from Buxton, fought off a determined challenge and flashed a low shot into the back of the net. It was a goal of stunning quality and the Rams fans, starved of success for so long, roared their approval.
By now Hector had started to set the game alight with a series of dazzling runs and the supporters began to realise that at last they had a player of true ability. But while the Rams looked brisk in attack they still looked uncertain in defence and in the 35th minute Dobson converted a penalty following a trip by Saxton to give Huddersfield a 2-1 lead. It took Derby only three minutes to draw level and Hector was again involved, earning a free kick on the edge of the Huddersfield penalty area. Durban took the free kick and flighted a delightful shot under the bar to make the score 2-2. After 43 minutes Hector laid on the Rams third goal when he turned the ball back to Durban who crashed a shot through a crowd of players and into the net.
In the second half, the Rams were completely dominating the game with Hector time and again causing problems for the Huddersfield defence. In the 77th minute Alan Durban headed home Gordon Hughes’ centre to complete his hat trick and make the score 4-2. Chanting broke out for Hector every time he touched the ball but despite Derby’s dominance they were still vulnerable in defence. In the final minute Leighton headed in for Huddersfield to make the final score 4-3 to Derby. At the final whistle the crowd knew they had seen a star performance and cheered Hector off the pitch. From this game onwards, Kevin Hector had a special place in the hearts of Rams supporters and despite the quality players to arrive during his career at the Baseball Ground, he was always known as ‘King Kevin’.
Derby: Matthews, Richardson, Daniel, Webster, Saxton, Waller, Hughes, Hector, Buxton, Durban, Hodgson
Huddersfield: Oldfield, Atkins, Catlin, Meagan, Coddington, Ellam, Hellawell, Dinsdale, Leighton, Quigley, Dobson
The official programme makes no mention of the record signing of Hector other than his inclusion in the team lineup at number 8. Derby programmes from this season, and the 1960s in general, were basic issues mostly containing advertising with very little reading content. Further information can be found in The Derby County Story where Kevin Hector is quoted as saying:
‘Just before I came to Derby County in the September, throughout the summer Manchester City had been interested in me and Malcolm Allison had phoned me once or twice to see how I felt about going to Maine Road. My hopes were built up for going to Manchester, but something happened behind the scenes there and we heard nothing from them when the season started in August. I think the main stumbling-block was the price that Bradford were after. It probably scared a few teams away. I started the 1966-67 season well and scored a few goals. I think Derby came to watch me a few times in that short time and I think it was then that they made their minds up that the asking price, which was around £35,000 to £40,000, was worth going for. When I arrived at the Baseball Ground, I think they were expecting a strapping six-foot centre-forward. And when they saw me, at five-foot eight, they thought, ‘How does he get all his goals?’ I think as soon as they saw I’d got a little bit of pace and took players on, it excited them.’
The Rams finished the 1966/1967 season in 17th place and Tim Ward was informed that his contract would not be renewed after the penultimate game in May. The directors selected the team for the last match of the season against Plymouth Argyle at the Baseball Ground.
Kevin Hector made a total of 588 appearances for the Rams, scoring 201 goals. No player has made more appearances and only the great Steve Boomer has scored more goals.
Kevin Hector in action (Universal Pictorial Press Agency, February 1968). Press photo courtesy of Steve McGhee.
This article has been adapted from issue 1 of Moz Curtin’s Derby County Programme Collectors Review, February 1987. It appeared in issue 16 of Derby County Memories (March 2017).