Tributes to ‘complete footballer’ Beattie

BBC Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kevin Beattie won nine caps for England

Former team-mates and opponents have been paying tribute to ex-Ipswich and England defender Kevin Beattie, who has died from a suspected heart attack.

Former England captain Terry Butcher said he was “devastated” by the death of the 64-year-old.

“He was my hero and my inspiration,” Butcher said. “You try to model yourself on him but it was impossible – he was the complete footballer.”

George Burley, who won the FA Cup with Beattie, said he was “a legend”.

Beattie was born in Carlisle and moved to Ipswich when he was 15, going on to make 296 starts for the club, scoring 32 goals. He was a PFA Young Player of the Year, represented England nine times and also won the Uefa Cup under Sir Bobby Robson.

He is widely considered by fans and former players of Ipswich to be the club’s best-ever player.

Beattie Image Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kevin Beattie, back row with arm raised, won the FA Cup with Ipswich Town in 1978

Sir Bobby, who died in 2009, said Beattie was the “best defensive player that this country has produced”.

In his autobiography, Sir Bobby said he signed Beattie after scout Ron Gray described him as a “colossus” with a “neck like a bull”.

Butcher said he first watched Beattie as a fan and idolised him throughout his career.

“I used to watch him from the terraces and marvel at his strength and ability,” Butcher told BBC Radio Suffolk.

“He used to hurt people by simple tackles but he wasn’t vicious, he was one of the loveliest men you’d meet on the pitch as well – he was a gentleman. But he was strong and wanted to win.”

Beattie’s career was hampered by injuries and it was all but over when he left Ipswich at the age of 28.

“He put his body on the line, and in the end his injuries helped other people, myself included, get in the team,” Butcher said. “But you didn’t want to get in the team because I just used to love watching him play.

“He had spring-like legs. His spring and timing was immaculate. When he went up to head the ball, nobody else was going to win it.

“When he used to shoot with his left foot it was like an Exocet.”

Image caption Kevin Beattie continued to live in Ipswich, caring for his wife
Captain Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Beattie was known for his aerial ability and strong left foot

George Burley said Beattie’s athleticism and determination to win meant “nobody could play against him”.

“He was quicker than anybody, stronger; he was fantastic in the air, he had a left foot that was like a sledgehammer – he virtually scored from the halfway line in one game,” Burley said.

“And as a fella, Kev was one of these lads where if anyone was struggling, he’d come help you. If somebody needed £2 for a taxi, ‘I’ll give you it’, anything like that.

“If anybody wanted something they’d go to Kevin, and Kevin took it all on himself and really enjoyed doing that. He was that type of lad.”

complete footballer Image copyright Mark Murphy
Image caption Kevin Beattie was a regular on BBC Radio Suffolk and was on air on Saturday

Allan Hunter, whose partnership with Beattie earned them the nicknames “Bacon and Eggs” from Sir Bobby, said his former team-mate was a “fantastic fella and a fantastic player”.

“He was the greatest thing I ever played with, and that includes George Best,” the former Northern Ireland international said.

Mick Mills, who captained the FA Cup-winning side, said Beattie’s death was a “desperately sad moment”.

“There’s no doubt we’ve lost our best player,” Mills said. “The team was littered with good players, but I think everyone would say he was our best one.

“Not only was he a great player, if you wanted someone who was absolutely perfect for the dressing room, Kevin Beattie was your man. He was a laugh-a-minute and if there was any tomfoolery going on, he was part of it.”

Roger Osborne, who scored the only goal in the FA Cup final against Arsenal, said it had been an “honour” to share the pitch with Beattie.

“Beat was quite annoying, really, because everything came so easy for him,” Osborne said. “Us poorer players had to train really hard and work to keep our fitness. Beat used to stroll in and took it all for granted.

“He was just stronger, fitter and better than anyone else. He didn’t have to try.”

defensive player Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ipswich beat West Brom to reach the FA Cup final in 1978

John Wark, part of the FA Cup and Uefa Cup-winning sides, said Beattie, lovingly called “Monster” by his team-mates, was “the best-ever” player for Ipswich.

“We had a lot of other great players but Beat was the one they couldn’t get by in the European games,” he said. “His downfall was his injuries.”

Former opponents and more recent players also paid tribute to Beattie, with ex-Manchester United, England and Millwall winger Gordon Hill calling him “a true gentleman and fantastic centre-half”.

And ex-Ipswich captain and Republic of Ireland midfielder Matt Holland called him “one of the greatest” Town players of all time.

Beattie was loved by fans and fellow professionals for his personality as much as his playing ability, with many of his team-mates describing him as a joker. Other stories paint him as a slightly hapless character, with Sir Bobby saying “trouble seemed to find him easily”.

In his autobiography, Sir Bobby recalled how Beattie once threw a can of petrol on a bonfire that had failed to light. From his hospital bed, Beattie told his manager he was “all right” and that he would be able to play the following day, but it turned out he was absent for the next five months.

“He was blessed and cursed at the same time,” Sir Bobby wrote. “Blessed with talent and cursed by bad luck.”

Beattie broke his arm in what proved to be his last match for Ipswich, a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City in the semi-final of the FA Cup in 1981.

He had short spells with Middlesbrough and Colchester after leaving Ipswich, but returned to the town to live after retiring. He led a modest life, caring for his wife Maggie, who has multiple sclerosis, in a council-owned bungalow.

In 2012, speaking shortly after he admitted falsely claiming benefits, Beattie said more could be done to help former players who had fallen on hard times.

He also reflected on whether injections to help him recover quickly from injuries had shortened his career.

“Football is the love of my life,” he said. “I’ve let myself down in a way, saying yes to injections and stuff like that. But I’ve got my memories and you can’t take that away.”

Mark Murphy’s Breakfast show on BBC Radio Suffolk was dedicated to Kevin Beattie and featured tributes from several former team-mates as well as fans. You can listen again via the iPlayer.

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