ALBION are saddened to hear of the passing this afternoon of legendary striker Derek Kevan, aged 77. The club's thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.
The players will wear black armbands in tribute to the England international during tomorrow’s FA Cup third-round tie at QPR.
Here’s an in-depth look back at Derek's prolific career. There will also be a full tribute in the matchday programme, Albion News, at the next home game against Villa on Saturday, January 19.
Born: March 6, 1935
Died: January 4, 2013
Clubs: Bradford Park Avenue, ALBION (July 1953-March 1963), Chelsea, Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Peterborough United, Luton Town, Stockport County, Macclesfield Town, Stourbridge
Albion career: 291 games, 173 goals.
England career: 14 caps, eight goals.
By Dave Bowler
Footballing heroes come, footballing heroes go. But a few – a very, very select few – endure.
Their names, their deeds, they echo down the ages, their yesterdays helping shape our tomorrows, the grand scale of their deeds offering up milestones that those who follow them onto the sacred ground must aspire towards.
All the best on that one because, in the case of Derek Kevan, records were set that may never be emulated. Derek was a goalscorer the like of which we will surely never see again. He did not score the most goals for the club, but the ones he did score came at such a prodigious rate that even Tony Brown, Ronnie Allen, Cyrille Regis and all the rest of them trail in his wake, only WG Richardson scoring at a more rapid pace and that in a pre-war game where defences were apt to be a little more generous than in the post-1945 world.
Statistics can, of course, be made to tell all kinds of stories but in the case of Derek Tennyson Kevan, they tell nothing but the truth. The giant frame, in which was encased a single-minded determination to put the ball in the back of the net as often as possible, saw him score 173 goals for the Throstles in only 291 games, roughly one every 150 minutes, the kind of rarefied goalscoring heights that would make even a van Persie giddy.
But scoring the goals is only a part of the story. It was the way he scored them that really set him apart from the crowd, made him a true cult hero among the denizens of The Hawthorns, a figure beyond reproach, beloved of Baggies everywhere. For people of a certain age do not remember him as Derek Kevan. Just as Jeff Astle will always be ‘The King’ to those who grew up in the 60s, to those who watched their football a decade earlier, Derek was simply ‘The Tank’.
The man had a physique that hadn’t so much been developed as hewn. It was like watching a mountain suddenly grow a pair of legs and go rampaging forward. Being a defender as Kevan came towards you must have been akin to being a mouse as an Alpine avalanche swept your way, devouring everything in its path. Derek didn’t play the game, he WAS the game, he consumed it, it went on in his orbit such was his giant stature, his ferocious competitive instinct and his belligerent will to win. Such was his size, you could imagine him sitting down to dine on cow pie with Desperate Dan, only to eat the Dandy man under the table!
In his way, ‘The Tank’ was as much a cartoon character as Desperate Dan, for it was hard to conceive of anyone so robust, so fearless, so much larger than life actually existing in the real world. Kevan would bound forward, either through the middle with the ball at his feet or watching it out on the wings, fixing that steely glare on it and waiting for it to come into the penalty area where he would power on to it to thrash a header into the roof of the net or to bullet a shot through the goalkeeper and in, defenders bouncing off him as they tried to stop him in his tracks.
But of course, Kevan was much more than simple caricature. Nobody scores that number of goals through simple brute force, and nor do they represent England on 14 occasions, scoring eight goals in the process, two of those goals coming in the 1958 World Cup when he became the last Albion man to score at that exalted level. Yes, Kevan had power, but he had finesse when it was required. Of course he was strong, but he had beautiful balance that helped him ride challenges at pace. No question he was aggressive, but he could be exquisitely graceful too, placing the ball into the net as well as bludgeoning it.
In the end, though, he will always be ‘The Tank’. And when it’s quiet at The Hawthorns, you might just catch a faint rumble out there on the breeze. That’s the sound of Derek doing his job, plundering another goal, decimating another centre-half. For as he said himself: “If a defender got in the way, he had to be taken out of the way. No niceties!”
Rest easy, Derek.