The Death Of Tony Allden

By on Aug 19, 2009 in History, Latest, Non-League | 14 comments

Considering the amount of physical exertion that takes place on football pitches the length and breadth of the country each year, it is perhaps surprising that that there are so few deaths amongst those people that play the game each week. Indeed, we should be grateful for the fact that such deaths are so rare that the names of those that do die playing football live long in the memory. One of the saddest of all was the story of Tony Allden, a non-league centre-alf during the 1960s, but his sudden death during an FA Amateur Cup match in 1967 also brought the very best out of the game, including a tribute that would have been fitting for any footballer, whether professional or amateur.

Highgate United’s FA Amateur Cup run in the 1966/67 season had already raised eyebrows by the time that they reached the quarter-finals of the competition. Playing in the Worcester Combination league, the club from Shirley, just outside of Solihull in the West Midlands, had already excelled in reaching this stage of the competition, and their reward was a home match against Enfield, one of the giants of the tail end of the amateur era, and their Tythe Barn Lane ground was spruced up accordingly for the occasion with temporary stands being added to cater for the larger than average crowd of around 2,000 spectators.

The match kicked off on the 25th of February 1967 in pouring rain, and with a thunderstorm in the distance. Enfield took an early lead, but the real drama of the day occurred after twenty-seven minutes when a bolt of lightning struck the centre circle of the pitch. Several players and the referee were felled, but the Highgate United centre-half Tony Allden had been struck. The match was abandoned and Allden was taken to Solihull Hospital, but he never regained conciousness and died from his injuries at lunchtime the following day.

The match was scheduled to be replayed ten days later, but huge media interest in it – amongst other reasons – meant that Tythe Barn Lane wasn’t an appropriate venue be used and the match was switched to Villa Park. No-one fully expected that a crowd of over 31,000 would turn out for the replay, though – a remarkable tribute to a footballer that all bar a fraction of the crowd had surely never heard of – and Enfield won the replay 6-0. The result, however, was obviously not the most important aspect of the evening. Six weeks later, a testimonial match for him was played at Birmingham City’s St Andrews between a Midland All-Stars XI and an International XI. Enfield went on to win the FA Amateur Cup, beating Skelmersdale United 3-0 at Maine Road after a 0-0 draw at Wembley.

More than forty years on, Tony Allden’s name lives on in the form of the Tony Allden Memorial Cup. After his death, Highgate United donated a trophy to the Worcestershire Combination. The league changed its name in 1968 to the Midland Football Combination but the trophy has competed for every year since 1970 between the winners of the league’s Premier Division and the winners of its Challenge Cup. We should be grateful for the fact that deaths of this nature are so rare, and that those that do die on the pitch are honoured in this way. In a corner of the West Midlands, his name will not be forgotten.

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    14 Comments

  1. I was at the match at Highgate that day. As a 12 year old Enfield supporter this was the first time my parents had allowed me to go to an away match on my own – along with 6 coachloads of other members of the supporters club. As you can imagine, it was quite a traumatic experience for a boy of that age travelling without any close friends or relatives present. However, I think my parents were more traumatised that I was judging by their reaction when they met me off the coach on my return.

    None of the supporters there that day will ever forget the events that occurred, and the name of Tony Allden.

    It must have taken a lot of courage for both teams to go out and play the replay, and it was a remakable tribute that 31,000 turned out to honour his memory in that replay. Sadly, I was not one of them, as my parents understandably were unwilling to let me travel to Birmingham on a schoolday, particularly after what had happened at Highgate. Fortunately they were willing to let me travel with the supporters’ club to Maine Road to see Enfield win their first Amateur Cup in the final replay.

    Enfield must have set some sort of record in the Amateur Cup that season (at least in post-war years), as my memory is that around 75,000 attended the Wembley Final that year (mostly from Skelmersdale admittedly), and another huge crowd attended the Final Replay at Maine Road.

    Martin Day

    September 22, 2009

  2. Further to my comments above, Enfield, football and lightning were strangely and tragically linked only 3 years earlier.

    John White was an ever-present in the Spurs double-winning side of 1960-61. John White added the 1962 FA Cup and 1963 Cup Winners’ Cup to his medal haul and won 22 caps for Scotland.

    His second sporting love was golf. At Crews Hill Golf Club in Enfield in 1964 his life was tragically cut short at the age of 27 when the tree he was sheltering under during a thunderstorm was struck by lighting. I frequently walked along the path through the golf course at that time with my friends, taking our dogs for walks.

    After the two incidents above it took me a long time to overcome a fear of lightning.

    Obviously though, my trauma would have been nothing compared to the family and friends of the two players who died, and any sympathy should be reserved for them.

    Martin Day

    September 22, 2009

  3. I was only a very young lad at the time and my Dad had just started taking to Villa Park a few months earlier. I only have vague recollections of us going to the rearranged game at Villa, but it was a big big crowd and a very different type of atmosphere from the norm.

    Roger Hatfield

    March 12, 2011

  4. I went to school with Tony.A testimonial Fund match was held on March 22 1967 at St.Andrews.I still have the programme.International X1 v Midland All-Stars.

    David Buckingham

    March 31, 2011

  5. I used to play with tony when we played for the rover cars tysley in the works football league in the early 60s. me and a friend went to dale end to get a bus to the villa game, in the end we had to walk it, because they were so many fans going to the game.always thinking of you mate

    patrick freeman

    July 24, 2011

  6. I was an 8 year old Enfield supporter who had travelled to the game with my Father. He was standing in one of the makeshift stands and I was standing behind one of the goals. I will never forget that day. As soon as it happened everybody standing behind the goal surged onto the pitch and we ended up near the players who were on the ground. To this day I do not like storms as a few weeks later my school was hit by lightning.

    David Funnell

    December 21, 2011

  7. In response to the comments posted by Patrick
    Freeman July 24th 2011. I have a son and nephew who both play for Highgate United under 16′s which is also managed by my brother. As the 40th anniversary of Tony passing approaches we have been trying to gather any info as we would like to arrange a memorial service unfortunately we havn’t had much look. If you would like to get in touch we may be able to come up with something. We also have a family connection with Tony as he was my mom’s cousin but with an ever decreasing family we are just hitting brick walls. If you were also working with Tony a the rover you may have known my dad as Tony was working as an apprentice to him.
    Please get in touch it would be great to try and find people who knew him.

    Lisa Tonks

    February 12, 2012

  8. Hi All,
    I am a cousin of Tony’s (Mom’s side of family) and have been trying togather as much info about Tony as possible.Tony used tobe my Dad’s apprentice at the rover .Unfortunately we have lost touch with the family and we are trying to collate info so we can do a memorial up at highgate.(i am a board member there and run the under16′s).
    Any info on Tony would be appreciated including Tony’s ex-wife ,Susan and if anybody knows of any existing family members still alive.

    Brent Taylor

    February 13, 2012

  9. I have information about Tony and his family. Tony was my cousin, my dad’s brother’s son. I have information about what is left of Tony’s family and some old programs from the game where Tony was killed. My dad and Tony’s dad were at the game together when Tony was struck by lightning. I still remember my dad coming home and how upset he and my mother were at the news. Tony’s mother died last month and was cremated; his father died many years ago from cancer and his sister is still alive. Anyway if you post some contact details I can get in touch and let you have the information you need.

    Gary A

    May 11, 2012

  10. Hi Gary, I’m the commercial manager and programme editor for Highgate United and last season put together a commemorative booklet about Tony, I’ll gladly send you a copy, you can contact the club via highgateunited@hotmail.com – we’d love to hear from you or Tony’s sister. Do you know what happened to Sue, his wife?

    Rob F

    June 23, 2012

  11. I was also at the game on that day as a 16yr old lad selling raffle tickets for the club. My Father was Albert BATES who at this time and for many years prior was the (trainer)sponge man for Highgate.
    I was one of many on that day that was frozen to the spot when the disaster struck.I remember vividly my Father being one of the first to run onto the pitch and attempt first aid to several of the injured players Tony being amongst them.
    My Father passed away many years ago but that day and the sad loss of Tony will not be forgotten.

    John BATES

    September 20, 2012

  12. I was driving home from work this afternoon and Herman’s Hermits “A kind of hush” was playing, whenever I hear this song (which is often) I can see Tony.

    I was 17 and working as a junior secretary at Rover in the same section as Tony, I doubt he really even knew me. He was very popular and with his height stood out.

    A co worker was having afternoon tea at my home when she got a phone call from her finance giving her the news of Tony’s accident, that song was playing on the radio.

    Even after all these years it brings tears to my eyes at the loss of such a vibrant person who had been married for such a short time.

    When I got home today I googled “1967 footballer killed by lightning” and found this site. So here I am 45 years later sitting in Queensland Australia reading about a young man I worked with for a very short time – I am so pleased he is still remembered, not only by me.

    Mari Cooper (nee Suzanne Elshof)

    October 3, 2012

  13. I found this website after my Mum told me she Googled Tony’s name today (although she didn’t find this site). My Mum is Tony’s sister (so I am his niece, but we never met). Mum and I are still in touch with Susan, his wife, who remarried and has two sons (now in their 30s). My Nan sadly passed alway this year, as Gary says, after failing health and memory. I am sure, however she would have been very touched, as I’m sure my Mum is that so many people remember Tony so fondly after all these years. I am sure Mum would like to obtain a memorial brochure (although his year of birth was 1943 not 1944!) and she possibly has some items from the time we found amongst my Nan’s affects.

    Lyse E

    November 13, 2012

  14. This afternoon (25 Jan2014) I walked over to watch the local game – Enfield Town v Canvey Island (Town struggled through to a 3-3 draw in the final minutes. The weather was atrocious, driving rain pushed by ferocious winds and sheet lightening across the broad horizon. My memory went back to Tythe Barn Lane when, as a sodden 16 yr old, I witnessed the saddest event I have ever seen. I would normally have watched my own team – Moor Green – but perhaps they were not playing, or the lure of the bigger game with Highgate U persuaded me to cycle all the miles from home in that day’s dreadful weather. Being reminded of Tony Allden I Googled his name on returning home to find that, all those nigh on 50 years ago, was also a time for watching Enfield! I was seriously shocked and saddened to witness a death, and of someone innocently having a game of football, but it helped me fully understand our fragility in all circumstances. I encouraged school friends along to the replay, paying our respects to an amateur sportsman, and we were happy to swell that huge crowd all paying tribute to Tony Allden. I will always remember the unexpected flash as the bolt hit the ground and the player in the chest, although am never sure which was first, it all happened so fast. I am also glad to know his name and for his family to know he cannot be forgotten.

    Richard Thompson

    January 25, 2014

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