Many visitors to the FIFA World Football Museum enjoy choosing which of our lockers they want to use. But 26-year-old Richard Kenneth Armstrong may have enjoyed it a little more than most, after discovering his grandad’s name among the players featured in our locker room of legends.
While on a two-day visit to Zurich, Richard visited FIFA museum and discovered a white locker with ‘K. Armstrong’ printed on it. He asked staff whether it was dedicated to Ken Armstrong, a former England and New Zealand international who made over 450 appearances for Chelsea – and also Richard’s grandad. To his delight, it was.
Richard comes from a footballing family and, as well as his grandad, his dad, uncle and sister have all represented New Zealand at senior level. But Ken Armstrong was the man who started it off, and he only moved to New Zealand after a recommendation from his doctor…
Who was Ken Armstrong?
Ken Armstrong was born on 3 June 3 1924 and passes away on 13 June 1984. His ashes were scattered at his beloved Stanford Bridge, as befitting a Chelsea legend, but they would have been welcomed at any number of grounds half a world away, such was his lasting impact on the game in New Zealand.
Bought by Chelsea from Bradford for 100 guineas – a bargain even by the standards of the day – Armstrong would go on to make 474 appearances for the West London club including a then club record 362 league games. He was also a key figure in the club’s first league title in 1954-55.
Contentiously, at least to his own club’s fans, the dynamic and steely midfielder would win just one cap for England – a 7-2 win over Scotland at Wembley in 1955 – and was a non-travelling reserve for the England World Cup squad of 1954. However, a strange twist saw his international career continue in a far-flung corner of the British Empire.
In 1957, he emigrated to New Zealand prompted by his doctor’s warning that a chest condition could kill him unless he sought warmer climes.
Gisborne beckoned, then Auckland at a time when New Zealand was still a frontier in football terms and over the next few decades he would play a large role in revolutionising the game.
At first, Armstrong’s sheer quality as a player stood out for clubs like Eastern Union, North Shore United, Eastern Suburbs and Mount Wellington.
He won four Chatham Cup finals in six years and became a dual international, earning nine caps for his adopted country as player/coach.
At domestic level, his coaching earned another cup title and a pair of national league crowns with a Mount Wellington and in addition to the stint at the helm of the men’s national team from 1958-62, Armstrong would also later take the coaching reins of the New Zealand women’ side in 1980.
He had an even greater influence over the game in New Zealand as a ‘national coach of coaches’ and his surname became even more closely linked to New Zealand with his sons Ron and Brian following in his studmarks earning 33 and 9 caps respectively. In 2009 Ron’s daughter Bridgette would also pull on a white shirt for a senior international debut, just like her grandfather had done, for England, 54 years prior.
Despite his father’s achievements, Ron Armstrong remembers him as “a pretty humble man who didn’t want to blow his own trumpet.”
“He just quietly went about his work,” he told FIFA World Football Museum.
“When we came over in the late 50s football in New Zealand had a long way to go. It changed massively over the next 10 to 20 years, and I think Dad left a big mark of improvement but there were other influential coaches involved as well.”
“As a player, he was exceptional. That was one phase of his career and the next was coaching. I learnt all I knew from him as did the rest of my family. Moreover, there are many people that keep on coming up to me to say ‘your dad was a great coach and I learnt so much from him’ which is quite humbling to hear.”
If a relative of yours makes an appearance anywhere in the FIFA World Football Museum we would love to hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
The images of Ken Armstrong playing for Chelsea FC in this article are from Wikipedia where they are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution license. If you are the owner of these photographs please get in touch.