Former Hull City, Southend and Arsenal player died on June 11
24 June ~ The death earlier this month of Ian McKechnie at the age of 73 might not have shaken the football world to its core, but English football has nonetheless lost a man who managed to both make history and create a unique piece of fan culture during a distinguished lower-division career.
McKechnie was Hull City's goalkeeper for eight seasons in the 1960s and 1970s, and a good one too. He was a masterly shot-stopper but had a flaw in his make-up which involved his command of the box and anticipation. Yet this doesn't make him unlike any other keeper who doesn't quite hit the highest heights. His uniqueness came from a pre-match ritual that happened entirely by chance.
One morning after visiting City's former ground at Boothferry Park for treatment, McKechnie spotted an orange in the window of a local fishmonger's and, on impulse, nipped in to purchase it. He began to peel and eat it as he continued his short walk home and was spotted by two teenage fans who hallooed him as he strolled by. He gave them the thumbs up and thought no more of it until, while warming up in his goalmouth during the next home game, a couple of oranges landed in his net.
McKechnie nibbled on them during the match and a citrus-flavoured craze began that lasted the remainder of his City career. At every game, literally dozens of oranges would be pelted his way pre-match and, for the most part, he tried to gather them up and take them with him.
Sub-plots emerged from this harmless bit of interaction between player and supporter – McKechnie appearing in court to speak on behalf of someone who'd been arrested after chucking an orange his way at an away game was one; another involved someone declaring their love and putting their phone number on it, and the happily-married McKechnie arranging a photocall with the local newspaper for the secret admirer in question (who turned out to be a schoolgirl and her embarrassed mum).
McKechnie lost his place in 1973 and left in 1974 after more than 250 games, having joined in 1966 from Southend, who he had moved to from Arsenal in 1965. Until he was in his early 20s, he was actually a left winger. His prowess and confidence as an outfield player came to the fore in August 1970 when he decided to take a penalty in English football's first ever competitive shootout, against Manchester United in the Watney Cup. He missed.
True to form, he had already become the first keeper to save such a penalty – from Denis Law, no less – and so twice made a bit of history in the same shootout that had already made history itself. At the end of that season, he jollied about on the wing for a bit during Chris Chilton's testimonial and scored a goal against a Leeds United side who heard while the match was ongoing that they'd just the lost the League title to Arsenal.
After leaving City, he played abroad but returned to settle in the Hull area for the rest of his life, and was always happy to tell stories of how he became forever linked with the humble orange. He worked in the hospitality area of the KC Stadium for some time, and will be hugely missed. Matthew Rudd