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Feature article: Remembering Tony Kellow

10 April 2017

Tony's brother Phil talks to the Grecian about record-breaking sibling


Tony – the club’s record goalscorer with 150 to his name – has been sadly missed by everyone at Exeter City following his passing on February 20, 2011, at the age of 58. 

Signed from Falmouth Town in 1976, Tony was a talismanic frontman for the Grecians. He helped the club to promotion to the third tier of English football in his first season and then played a massive part in a remarkable FA Cup run that took the Grecians to the quarter-finals of the competition in the 1980/81 campaign. 

SIMON LARKINS caught up with Phil Kellow, Tony’s younger brother, to chat to him about what life was like growing up with Tony and what he can remember about the great striker’s football career. Below is the article that when in the matchday programme THE GRECIAN on Saturday.

THE GRECIAN: Hello Phil and welcome back to St James Park. What was life like growing up with Tony and when do you first get the sense that he might be able to make it as a professional footballer?

PHIL: I had six brothers and Tony was not the oldest, but sporting-wise he stood out more than anybody. In a small village (Budock Water) he became a bit of a celebrity quite quickly. He got a trade behind him (as an electrician) but he was heavily involved with the local Budock Rangers youth club where he helped out as a coach. Budock had six footballing sides – from under-10s to under-18s – and Tony used to coach everyone there. He then started playing local football for Falmouth Docks and did very well. He started making a name for himself then and I was looking up to him at that point. I was so proud of him and mum and dad and the whole family were as well. 

THE GRECIAN: I suppose from coaching the game at a very young age, Tony got a good idea early on what it would take to make it as a professional.

PHIL: Yes, you could see what a rising star he was. He proved that from going to Falmouth Docks to Penzance, where he won the league title with Dave Wadd and some good players down there. I think he scored against Falmouth Town in a cup final. Falmouth were in a higher league at the time and Tony went and joined them from Penzance. He formed a great partnership with ex-Plymouth Argyle player Gerry Scott and they were scoring 60 or 70 goals between them a season, if not more. So, Plymouth Argyle came knocking for Tony. Tony Waters was in charge of Argyle then and he invited him up for a trial and I don’t know what happened but they didn’t take him on. It was more fool them as he went to Exeter and what he did there speaks for itself. He was a big, physical centre-forward, who was very quick and very good with his head. However, he could be very gentle. He had a very nice touch on the ball and he was a very good team player as well.

THE GRECIAN: As you say, Tony started to get noticed when he scored plenty of goals for Falmouth Town and they were a formidable non-league side in those days.

PHIL: Yes, people used to say they were the best in the west at the time. They played in the Rothmans Western League – which was a very good standard of football – and Tony was top scorer in that for five years on the trot. Then when he transferred from Falmouth Town to Exeter there was a small fee (£12,000) which helped Falmouth Town out big time and pushed Tony into the limelight a bit more.

THE GRECIAN: Can you remember anything about Tony’s transfer from Falmouth to Exeter and what it meant to people locally?

PHIL: Yes, it was like winning the World Cup really. It was one of those things that you think is never going to happen to a local boy but Tony was that little bit special and you could see that he was going to make it. In the village now we have got a stone with a plaque on it that has all his goals and all his achievements recorded on it forever more. The village is very, very proud of him.

THE GRECIAN: Yes, because Tony is obviously regarded as one of Exeter City’s greatest ever players, but it is the same for Falmouth Town and Cornwall as well.

PHIL: Yes, it is a big thing for the area. What players from this end of the country have to be is something special. This is because they have got to push aside some of these other lads from the local areas and the big cities. It is a pity that Tony didn’t go a little bit earlier in life – he got a trade behind him first as an electrician down the down the docks. I am not sure when it happened – he might have been at Exeter at the time – but Tony had an approach from a Turkish side at one point to go and play over in their division one at the time. I can’t quite remember which side it was, but he didn’t go and he stayed with Exeter and what a great time he had with the club. It was like second home to him.

THE GRECIAN: Am I right in thinking you also had a trial at Exeter City while Tony was there. What was that experience like?

PHIL: Yes, that is right. I was very lucky. I had just started out – I was 15 at the time and playing at Penzance. I was quite quick, so I played on the wing and I got invited up to Exeter City by Bobby Saxton who was manager then. The trial came about because we played Tiverton Town in the preliminary round of the FA Cup and drew with them 2-2 down at Penzance. So we went for a replay the following week at Ladysmead and Bobby came down and watched the match. He invited me up for the week and I stayed with my brother. I was lucky enough to play one game – another was cancelled because of wet weather – in the Wales & West League against Cardiff at St James Park under the lights. It was a great experience for me to play where my brother played and I was lucky enough to score a couple of goals and we won 3-2. However, unluckily for me, it was one of those seasons where – in that type of division where Bobby Saxton was in charge – they needed big, physical players. That was the style and they thought, at the time, that the smaller players wouldn’t fit in. So, I wasn’t take on and Tony was a little bit upset. However, the manager at the time knew what he was doing and he put the club first. It was good though and enjoyed my week there. I trained with the team every day, at the Cliff Hill training ground, with people like John Delve. They were superb with me and made me feel welcome. It was a special time for me. 

THE GRECIAN: Did you get to see Tony play that much during his time at St James Park and if so what games stick out in your mind?

PHIL: We saw quite a few games, especially the big cup runs. The family travelled up and Tony got us some tickets for the Tottenham game, the match against Leicester and a few of the matches at home against the likes of Plymouth Argyle. So, we saw quite a few games and it is a lovely little ground. The people are always so welcoming up there. When Tony was up there it was a good time and he invited up, not just family, but his friends from the area as well. We would all go up and watch him over a weekend and meet up and discuss old times. 

THE GRECIAN: Tony is probably best known for his hat-trick against Leicester City in the FA Cup. Is that the story you tell the most when speaking about him to the children and grandchildren? 

PHIL: Yes, I think so. It was the game that stands out the most. It was on the TV as well and it was a proud moment to see him playing. I think he played with a bit of an injury that game as well. People didn’t know that when he started the game, but he was terrific in that match. The whole team was. It was great for the city of Exeter, the team and all the people who put the effort in. 

THE GRECIAN: There is a story that Tony Kellow almost signed for Nottingham Forest when he was at Blackpool. Brian Clough came in for him, but the move didn’t come off because the Blackpool board refused to sell. Do you remember that at all?

PHIL: Yes, that’s right. In hindsight Blackpool should have taken the offer as they brought Alan Ball in as manager and he didn’t like the style or the way Tony played. He didn’t want your old-fashioned centre forward. He wanted younger, fitter, quicker players and Tony went back to Exeter. Alan Ball then followed him to Exeter, which didn’t work out too kindly for Tony. I wish he had moved to Nottingham Forest when Brian Clough came in for him. It would have been another dream move for him because I think if you look at the strikers around, even in the Premier League now, some of them wouldn’t lace Tony’s boots to be honest.

THE GRECIAN: I suppose it shows just what a talented player Tony was because Brain Clough, and his assistant Peter Taylor, were a very good judge of a player.

PHIL: Yes of course, he (Brian Clough) wouldn’t go out and buy any pig in a poke for millions because he had to. He bought Trevor Francis – the first million-pound player – and he scored the winning goal against Malmö in the European Cup final. He never wasted money. He always got the best out of the players he bought in and I think had Tony joined Forest he could have gone on again from that. It was a bit of a shame that Blackpool didn’t accept the offer, but what a great time Tony had.

THE GRECIAN: Moving on to Newport game. How pleasing will it be to get the family up to St James Park and reminisce about Tony’s achievements?

PHIL: Well, we have been planning this for a while. When the guys came down for Tony’s funeral we nearly went the year after and then the year after that. Obviously, things get pushed back with other things coming in, but my oldest son Steven has organised the trip. His boy is crazy on football – he is only six – and he wanted to watch where uncle Tony played football. So we have got 22 of the family coming up. We have got a tour of the ground, we are going to have a pre-match meal and the grandchildren are going to be the flag bearers – as the players come out – so it is going to be a special day for the whole family. It will also be an opportunity for us to say thank you to Exeter City for looking after Tony when he was up there and coming down to Budock Water and supporting him when he passed away. It will be an emotional day for all of us, I would have thought.  

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