Tony Hateley: Footballer acclaimed for his prowess in the air who was a prolific goalscorer for Bill Shankly’s Liverpool side

The athlete was known for his less-than-perfect passing skills

“Tony Hateley, King of the Air”. The banner on the Kop was typically eloquent but it told only half the story about the big, powerful centre-forward who was scoring prolifically for Bill Shankly’s Anfield Reds in 1967-68.

The well-travelled Midlander, whose combined transfer fees of nearly £400,000 amounted to a British record by the time his League career ended in 1974, was one of the most potent headers of a football the English game has seen, but he was markedly less proficient when using his feet.

Hence a barrage of lampooning, with even one of his managers, the controversial Tommy Docherty of Chelsea, lamenting his distribution skills by declaring acidly that the striker should have addressed his passes “to whom it may concern.” But whatever his supposed limitations, Hateley, who has died after a long illness, could point to a magnificent record of around 250 goals in 500 games for his seven clubs, a tally which would elevate any modern striker to the realms of super-stardom.

Having spent his early teenage years as a centre-half, Hateley turned professional with Notts County in June 1958 and had barely broken into the side as the Magpies were demoted to the basement division in 1959. His eight goals in ten springtime outings helped to secure County’s rise to the third tier a year later, then he became reliably prolific, prompting top-flight Aston Villa to acquire his services for £25,000 in August 1963.

Now Hateley shot to national prominence, his goals – 86 of them in 148 League and cup appearances – key to keeping Villa clear of relegation over the next three seasons. In 1964-65 he scored 10 in six games as the Midlanders reached the League Cup semi-finals; even more spectacular was his four-goal broadside as Villa fought back from 5-1 down to draw 5-5 at Tottenham in March 1966.

His remarkable aerial prowess was ideal for capitalising on clever approach work by Phil Woosnam and Johnny McLeod, so Villa fans were dismayed when he was sold to Chelsea for £100,000 in October 1966, the value of his input highlighted by the team’s demotion that season. At Stamford Bridge, though, he did not prosper. Bought as a replacement for the much more skilful Peter Osgood, who had broken his leg, Hateley didn’t fit the Londoners’ slick-passing style, and although he nodded in the FA Cup semi-final winner against Leeds that season, he made scant impact in the Wembley final, which was lost 2-1 to Spurs.

Next stop, in the summer of 1967, was Liverpool, where Shankly wanted to freshen a side which had just finished trophyless after three seasons of glory. At first the £96,000 deal looked to be a winner, with Hateley plundering a stirring hat-trick in the 6-0 annihilation of Newcastle in his second home game.

Roger Hunt and Emlyn Hughes were also on the scoresheet, spawning headlines about the Reds’ “H-Bombers”, but although the newcomer enjoyed a productive season personally, with 27 goals in 52 matches, he upset the side’s balance. While Hunt profited from the spring-heeled Hateley’s frequent knockdowns, Liverpool suffered in a similar manner to Chelsea, with too many long balls being pumped at the towering target man to the detriment of the team’s pass-and-move method.

Injuries early in 1968-69 hampered him further and, recognising the mistake, Shankly recruited the much nippier Alun Evans from Wolverhampton Wanderers, and that autumn Hateley was sold to Coventry City, who were toiling to make an impact in the top division, for £80,000. Later the centre-forward, feeling disillusioned at his downward step and irked by jibes about his style of play, referred to his 11 months at Highfield Road and his subsequent tenure at Second Division Birmingham City, who bought him for £72,000 in August 1969, as “two years in the wilderness”.

But there were better days in store. In November 1970 he returned to his first club, Notts County, immediately justifying the £25,000 fee by firing 22 goals in what remained of the season, a decisive factor in Jimmy Sirrel’s men being crowned as Fourth Division champions in the spring. Lining up alongside the excellent Les Bradd, the 30-year-old Hateley continued to flourish as County rode high in the third tier, only for his contribution to be curtailed by injury in March.

In July 1972 he joined Oldham Athletic, but never fully recovered from a knee operation and figured only briefly as the Latics lifted the Third Division title in 1973-74. Thereafter Hateley served the Boston Minutemen in the US before entering English non-League circles with Bromsgrove Rovers, then Prescot Town. His son, Mark, was a similarly vigorous but eventually somewhat more stylish centre-forward, collecting 32 England caps and playing for Milan, Monaco and Rangers, among others. His grandson, Tom, is a defender-cum-midfielder who served Motherwell and Tranmere Rovers before switching to the Polish side Slask Wroclaw last month.

Anthony Hateley, footballer: born Derby 13 June 1941; played for Notts County 1958-63 and 1970-72, Aston Villa 1963-66, Chelsea 1966-67, Liverpool 1967-68, Coventry City 1968-69, Birmingham City 1969-70, Oldham Athletic 1972-74; died Preston, Lancashire 1 February 2014.

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