Few of those to ever witness Tony Kay in an Everton shirt would dispute that had his past not caught up with him, his place among the Everton greats would be beyond dispute. A hard, energetic wing half, he played with verve and energy and swaggered with a sense of self-belief that enthused his team-mates.
Kay possessed the talent to be Everton’s Billy Bremner or Danny Blanchflower, and longevity would surely have bestowed such a reputation upon him. But he squandered his formidable gifts with an ill-judged part in a bribery scandal that brought him a prison sentence, life ban and disgrace, simultaneously depriving Everton of their captain and leading light.
Harry Catterick signed Kay from his former club, Sheffield Wednesday, in December 1962 for £55,000 – a record fee for a wing half. At Hillsborough, Kay had been Catterick’s captain and many had expected the Everton manager to move for him earlier. His arrival was, nevertheless, timely and refocused the team on their title ambition. A tenacious yet skilful player, Kay possessed a bite in the tackle and outstanding distribution. Although Brian Harris was desperately unlucky to lose his place to the new boy, the powerful redhead was a crucial factor in Everton's successful title challenge.
AN ENGLAND CAP came at the end of the 1962/63 season, and the belief was that Alf Ramsey had earmarked Kay as his ‘hard man’ for the 1966 World Cup Finals. Within a year of joining Everton, Kay succeeded Roy Vernon as captain, and as winter became spring Everton looked a good bet to retain their league title. But as the 1963/64 season was set for its dramatic conclusion, Kay was sidelined when dramatic news broke.
On Sunday 12 April 1964, the Sunday People printed allegations that several players had received bribes to ‘throw’ games. To astonishment, Kay was named as one of them. The allegations, relating to his time at Sheffield Wednesday, were made by Jimmy Gauld, a former Everton inside forward. Gauld alleged that three Wednesday players – Kay, Peter Swan and David Layne – had thrown Wednesday’s match with Ipswich Town in December 1962 and bet against their own team. Kay reportedly told the People that he was convinced that Ipswich would win anyway. ‘It was money for old rope,’ he allegedly said. Ipswich won 2-0, but Kay was awarded man of the match and even the People noted that Kay ‘put up a fine performance’.
Everton suspended Kay immediately and he denied the comments attributed to him. But nine months later, on 26 January 1965, he was sent to prison for four months for his part in the scandal and subsequently banned for life by the Football Association. The ban was lifted in 1974, by which time his best days were long past him, and he never again played beyond amateur level. Harry Catterick was as bemused as anybody by the case. Not only had he lost one of his best players and captain for a crime committed at another club, but he had also lost the then huge £55,000 transfer fee. Although a disciplinarian himself, Catterick said that the punishments meted out by the courts and the FA were ‘far too severe for the offence’. He added, ‘I read three newspaper reports for the match in which the offence was alleged to have been committed and Kay had rave notices.’
Speaking to the Observer in 2004 Kay was asked if he regretted placing the bet. ‘I think I was harshly punished,’ he said. ‘I won only £150 from the bet, but my whole career was destroyed. They took away the game I loved and I have never really recovered from that.’ However, Everton remained close to his heart: ‘One of my happiest experiences was when I returned [in 2003] to Everton, to Goodison Park, for the club’s centenary celebrations [sic]... When I returned that day, walking out on to the pitch, I received an incredible ovation from the fans. The warmth of their reception meant everything to me, not least because I hadn’t been back to Everton for years and yet they still remembered me.’