Mobilise The TankTHE Tank. Rarely has a footballer been so perfectly nicknamed as Derek Tennyson Kevan. The poetry of his middle name certainly didn’t sit right on the beam broad shoulders of this footballing force of nature, the kind of centre forward on whom comic books were based. But The Tank? Yes, that was him.
You could imagine Kevan waking up on a Saturday morning, devouring a couple of cow pies, Desperate Dan fashion, then slinging his boots over his shoulder and striding out to The Hawthorns to knock seven bells out of a centre-half, helping himself to a hat-trick before repairing to the local for an ale or two.
The archetypal English centre-forward in many ways, Derek Kevan was a simple, straightforward footballer, much as he was as a man. Not for Kevan the coaching manual that simply made the beautiful game unnecessarily complicated.
If the ball was there to be won, he went and won it. And once he’d got it, the only place he was interested in putting it was the back of the net. That was the point, wasn’t it?
Defenders? As he puts it so memorably, “If they were in the way, they had to be got out of the way”.
A quiet, gentle man in conversation, even long after his playing days were over, the giant grew a couple of feet taller whenever he talked of the Albion or pitched up at The Hawthorns, brimming with nostalgia but, above all, with pride in his association with this great football club.
And that pride is not misplaced, for Kevan has a goals per game ratio that outstrips even Astle, even Allen, even Bomber, the apprentice who used to clean his boots.
That record attracted the attention of the England selectors who, after another failure at he 1954 World Cup were looking for gems to take to Sweden in 1958. Kevan’s England debut came against the Scots. England, a goal behind and an hour gone when Derek struck the equaliser. Duncan Edwards finished the job late on, and England had defeated the Auld Enemy.
A tasty England side was building that year, but Munich snuffed it out, Taylor, Byrne and Edwards gone. Kevan tried to help fill the void, scoring twice in a 4-0 demolition of the Scots, but the heart had gone out of it.
England prepared for the tournament by losing 5-0 in Yugoslavia, then drew their way to elimination in the tournament itself. Four games, four goals, two of them from Kevan.
Yet when England returned home, he was all but discarded, returning only fitfully to wear the three lions, scoring in North and Central America on an English tour there in 1959.
But there were compensations. Meeting the great Soviet goalkeeper Lev Yashin and becoming friendly with that giant of the game was reward enough, for he only befriended an opponent he truly respected.
And if you had the respect of Yashin, what do caps and medals matter anyway?