Obituary: Ian Hector McKechnie, footballer

Born: 4 October, 1941, in Bellshill. Died: 11 June, 2015, in Hull, aged 73.

Scottish footballer who played for Arsenal and Hull City, and whose name is associated with a unique piece of fan culture. Picture: Colorsport

Ian McKechnie, who has died at the age of 73, was a Scottish footballer who spent almost his entire career in England, playing more than 350 games for Arsenal, Southend United and Hull City in the 1960s and 70s.

As befitted a member of the goalkeepers’ union, he was a colourful character whose outgoing nature and accomplished custodian’s skills made him a fans’ favourite. At Hull City, where he spent most of his career, not only did he make history but he was also responsible for a unique piece of fan culture with which his name is always associated.

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Unwittingly, he started a cult craze among Hull fans of throwing oranges into his goalmouth before kick-off and at half time. This began after two young fans, with whom he exchanged greetings, spotted him one day in the street near Boothferry Park, Hull’s ground at the time, eating an orange.

At the next home match, a couple of oranges were thrown into his net; he peeled and ate them during the game. From that point on, the craze grew and continued for years with Hull fans regularly throwing hundreds of oranges towards his goal in tribute to the popular keeper.

At times it reached epidemic proportions as at one game against Wolves when about 600 oranges cascaded on to the pitch at half time, necessitating a late second-half kick-off as the whole ground staff was deployed with bags and brushes to remove them. Thereafter, the PA was forced to announce: “Thank you for the support but Ian McKechnie has gone off oranges!”

He made history when he became the first keeper to save a penalty in a competitive shoot-out. The occasion was a semi-final of the Watney Cup on 5 August, 1970 against Manchester United at Boothferry Park in front of 34,007 fans after Fifa had introduced penalty shoot-outs that summer.

At the end of regulation time the score was 1-1 and in the ensuing shoot-out George Best scored against him before he saved Denis Law’s spot kick. Then, to complete “a treble” of “firsts” for a goalkeeper in the one game, he elected to take the fifth penalty kick himself to see Hull through to the sudden death stage. Unfortunately, he missed.

Born in Bellshill, he was raised in Lenzie and Chryston. While playing for Glasgow amateur side Letham Thistle, he was signed by Arsenal as an outside left in September 1958 but was later converted to a goalkeeper by Arsenal manager George Swindin after showing potential in goals during a practice match.

Due to stiff competition in that position during his six years at Highbury – rivals at different times included the legendary Welsh international Jack Kelsey, Northern Ireland international Jack McClelland, and a young Bob Wilson – he struggled to establish himself, despite acquiring a good reputation as a shot stopper.

As a result he only managed to play 25 first-team games when teammates included fellow Scots Ian Ure and Johnny MacLeod as well as Joe Baker and George Eastham.

While with the Gunners he played for a London Youth X1 alongside Terry Venables and in a closed-door game against England in 1961 prior to the Home Internationals. He also played against Real Madrid at Highbury in 1962.

Unable to secure a regular first-team place, in 1964 he moved on to Southend United, then in the old Third Division, where he played 62 games before moving in 1966 to Hull City, where he would go on to play 255 games over the next eight years.

Throughout that time Hull were a good Second Division [now the Championship] side, often playing to 30,000-strong crowds with their highest finish during his time there being fifth. Former Hull teammate Ken Wagstaff recalled: “Ian was a super guy who was also a very good keeper. He had a resemblance to Frankie Vaughan and always gave us a song or a turn on the team bus returning from away games.”

Tributes on social media described “Keckers” being “as large as life, great with the fans and a wonderful keeper”. Reference was also made to a game against Leicester City in 1970/71 in which he played “a blinder” and how the great Peter Shilton in the opposing goal ran the length of the pitch at full time to congratulate him on his superb performance.

In an interview a few years ago, McKechnie fondly remembered his days at Hull. “The fans were very good to me, I never got much criticism. I liked their wit a lot.

“I remember one guy in the stand would always go on at me for kicking the ball far downfield instead of throwing it out. He kept on at me till eventually I relented and threw it out to a teammate standing next to the touchline.

“He then let the ball go under his foot and out of play, prompting the fan in the stand to shout, ‘Oh, just kick the bloody thing!’”

He remained a proud Scot and recalled how in 1969 he began to wear an SNP badge, gifted to him by his brother, on his goalie’s top, partly to wind up his English teammates.

“It was not the best idea for someone diving around in a goalmouth. I was stabbed twice by the pin on the badge and then it got dented after a fierce shot till manager Cliff Britton banned me from wearing it!”

In 1974 he went to the USA to play a season for the Boston Minutemen, where he was rated one of the top keepers in the league. After that he wound down his career with a season each at non-league Goole Town and Scarborough before hanging up his boots in 1977.

He had a short spell managing Sligo Rovers in Ireland and latterly was a popular figure at matchday hospitality at Hull’s KC Stadium.

He continued to live near Hull, where it is understood he died after a heart attack.