Guest of honour - Kevin Beatttie (centre) lines up with some young footballers from Harwich and Little Oakley at a tournament at the Royal Oak

HARWICH and Parkeston chairman Tony Armstrong was a long-time friend of Kevin Beattie, from the days when the Ipswich Town legend signed for the Shrimpers and graced the Royal Oak.

Beattie died from a suspected heart attack on Sunday morning, aged just 64.

Here, Armstrong looks back on his friendship with the former England international and pays tribute to a “genuine and inspirational man”.

KEVIN was such a special, warm and down to earth person.

There were no airs and graces, despite his class and legendary status, and I was proud, lucky and honoured to call him a friend.

The news of his untimely death has left me shocked and saddened but I’ll always cherish memories of the time we spent together, looking back with enormous fondness.

Kevin was an absolute revelation during his time at Harwich.

He played in two spells, either side of a stint in Norway, and suffice to say it was a major coup. It’s not every day you see a former England international pulling on the black and white stripes and running out at the Oak.

He loved his time with us and spoke fondly of his time at the club during his first autobiography.

He even came with us to Holland, when we played in a tournament in the Netherlands.

He used to call me Rattin, after the Argentinian player Antonio Rattin who was sent off but then had to be escorted away by policemen after refusing to leave the pitch during an ill-tempered match at the 1966 World Cup.

Apparently I was similarly bad-tempered and that nickname stuck!

Kevin was one of only four or five people to use it but it’s what he always called me, right up to the current day.

I was manager of the club when he signed and, needless to say, we couldn’t quite believe it.

I remember him playing in a trial game, an in-house match, and afterwards the showers weren’t working.

Everyone was caked in mud and it was far from ideal.

I didn’t think he’d come back after that but he did!

I’ll always remember his first proper game for us, away to Wisbech Town.

An opposition chairman had rung me in the week and said we were making a huge mistake, suggesting he wouldn’t turn up and that it was all talk.

Then when our new signing wasn’t at the agreed meeting point I started to panic. I thought they might be right.

However, Kevin turned up 20 minutes before kick-off, true to his word and apologising for missing the coach.

He’d borrowed a pal’s window cleaning van and driven there himself.

The van had ladders on the top and was full of buckets but he was so determined not to let us down.

Wisbech’s fans are a vociferous lot and they gave him some stick but I remember Kevin silenced them with a left-foot screamer from 30 yards.

Their keeper didn’t get anywhere near it and it was met with applause from all corners of the ground.

Funnily enough, although Kevin was a defender by trade - one of the greatest ever – he played up front during his time with us.

I thought we could use his height and strength in attack.

Tony Hall, now director of football at Brantham Athletic, was his partner up top and I remember Tony having a record-breaking season in the Eastern Counties League.

That was because he fed off the scraps of Kevin’s knockdowns and flick-ons! Between the two of them, they were quite a pair.

I suggested giving him and Tony a £5 bonus for every goal they scored.

Kevin came up to me one day and said ‘I’m doing all the hard work and he’s getting all the money. It’s not fair’.

I had to get the two of them together and they agreed to split the money.

Gazette: Assistant manager Mike Wallace, club chairman Tony Armstrong and manager Kieron Shelley

Close friend - Harwich chairman Tony Armstrong, alongside current Shrimpers boss Kieron Shelley (right) and assistant Mike Wallace Picture: Chris Smith

In terms of payment, we gave Kevin £10 per game and he’d always spend it in the bar, as opposed to carrying out his wife’s instructions and stopping at a butchers on the way home to pick up a joint of meat for Sunday lunch.

Many a time – most weeks, in fact – he’d take a detour home via my house and raid my freezer so as not to get in trouble with the missus.

He always wanted to be the one buying the drinks and would never let you buy one for him.

And in many ways we robbed him because we’d pay him the tenner but he’d always put 50 to 100 on the gate for matches at the Oak.

I also spent time with him at Clacton, when I was manager at Old Road.

Players had walked away and turned their back on the club and there was a real issue in terms of getting a team together.

Kevin was the first person I turned to and not only did he agree to play, he was also a big draw in terms of generating interest and rebuilding the side.

Sadly, I can only remember him playing one game reserve game, because of his knee injury.

Pardon the pun but he was on his knees afterwards and I can remember him saying ‘I can’t do it anymore, Rattin’.

Even then, despite not being able to play, he still helped me in other ways, wherever possible.

Everyone knows what an exceptional talent Kevin was on the football pitch but it was his personality and character that really bowled me over and he became a great personal friend.

In fact, he became a close family friend and was an enormous support after we lost our son, Marcus, in 2006.

He was there for us and went on to support all the charity events we held for CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young).

He was incredible and never, ever wanted anything in return.

I remember organising a similar event for Help the Heroes and a former England international, who will remain nameless, wanted £2,000 for making a guest appearance. Kevin just wanted a pint at the bar afterwards.

What I liked about him was the fact he was so normal, down to earth and grounded.

He was just genuine and approachable and had time for everyone.

We kept in close contact and the last time I spoke to him was about three weeks ago, when he suggested having a drink in Ipswich.

I was so sad when I heard the news because he was such an inspiration to me and many others.

He couldn’t do enough for people. Not like many of today’s top-class players, who would no doubt walk past ordinary folk, snub them and treat them with contempt.

Kevin won nine caps – it should have been so many more – and I always remember he gave one of them to my son, Adrian.

I was away that weekend and Kevin picked him up and took him to a game at Stowmarket.

Adrian, who was only eight at the time, was mascot and left open-mouthed when Kevin handed over one of his prized England caps.

I made him give it back – it didn’t feel right keeping it - but it just goes to show what a heart of gold Kevin had.

There are so many stories.

I could go on and on and every single one would be entirely positive and complimentary.

Many, many people loved him and while news of his passing is incredibly sad and upsetting, he will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats – both on the pitch and off it.

Tony Armstrong was talking to Matt Plummer