What A Match!

New Slant On Coping With Three In A Marriage

Graham and Jane Hawkins – the smiles reflect a happy life together.

Graham Hawkins left behind a football-loving wife and two sons, one of whom has made his living from the game for around 25 years.

But the task of compiling the book about his life, domestic team and career has been taken up by the family member who never saw him play or manage and met him only once.

Kirstie Hawkins is a chartered accountant who immediately cast doubt in print over her suitability for a responsibility like the one she took on as a double act of kindness as well as out of personal curiosity.

She married into football rather than being born into it in the way her husband Richard, the Hawkins’ youngest son, was. He has been a sports scentist at Manchester United since 2008, having previously worked for the FA, Albion and Sheffield United.

“I am not a football writer and have not spent my life watching, talking and dreaming football,” says the occasional Sheffield Wednesday watcher. “I am late to the game.

“Before meeting Richard, I had an interest somewhat more elevated than the average 40-something female but I recognise that this falls a long way short of the qualifications required to write a book on the topic.” You wouldn’t know it from reading A Marriage Made In Football; The Story of Graham and Jane Hawkins.

This is the author’s first published book and a very worthy one at that, considering she has yet to bring a conclusion to the novel she has had on the go for three years.

It is much more than a detailed account of how a blond Black Country boy made history by becoming the first man to support Wolves, then play for them, manage them and finally scout for them. No-one has been able to put such entries on his CV since either.

The level of research is outstanding but what sets the publication apart are the closer observations that only family can provide. So what was the inspiration for her to step up and pay such a handsome tribute to her in-laws, in particular a man she met only once before he passed away in September, 2016?

“I was always curious about Jane and Graham’s marriage,” she adds. “They had met when they were both sweet 16 and remained happy and in love throughout. That’s no small feat.

Kirstie Hawkins with her own football husband, Richard.

“I’d clocked a small wooden plaque hanging in Jane’s kitchen with the message: ‘Every love story is beautiful but ours is my favourite’ and wanted to understand how that sentiment could last a lifetime.”

Having met Richard a few months before he lost his father, she was keen to know how the union – formalised through wedding bells in the summer of 1967 when Hawkins was allowed to fly home early from Wolves’ triumphant participation in the first of two tournaments in America – survived the long separations, weekend working, Christmas Day training and the sundry other obstacles the game throws up.

There was even a period of several weeks when Jane and their sons were here while the main bread-winner was coaching in Bahrain; as usual, they came through smiling and a wonderful story continued to unfold.

There are numerous gentle recollections, like how the couple moved into a new-build dormer bungalow near the sea at Lytham soon after the player’s transfer to Preston – and found that his former Molineux colleague Ken Knighton would be the next door neighbour. Also on the same estate were team-mates Archie Gemmill and the long-time Albion winger Clive Clark.

Talking of the Baggies, their 1967-68 FA Cup journey was significant in Graham’s life. He went off injured five minutes into his North End debut in a third-round tie at QPR and then had his tonsils out the night before the final between Albion and Everton, leaving Jane to briefly worry whether his voice would ever return.

“Thankfully, her fears proved unfounded and the TV was set up just in time for kick-off,” the 198-page paperback reveals. “The same Jeff Astle who had run rampant on Graham’s Wolves debut won the Cup for West Brom with an extra-time goal. Well-known for shouting at footballers on the TV, it was probably one of Graham’s quieter games.”

Wolves fans of the 1960s will remember Hawkins as a fresh-faced youngster and he was still only 21 when given the captaincy at Deepdale. But he found the responsibility affected his form and asked to be returned to the regular ranks.

‘A Marriage Made In Football’ paints a picture of tough times along the way, like when his departure from Port Vale came amid great acrimony and when the dream ticket at Wolves – a hugely unexpected post-Receivership promotion with him in charge on 1982-83 – was followed by a nightmare follow-up and the sack 12 months later.

During his playing days, the couple were committed to trying to build a nice home on wages not too far removed from the average man. It was his opportunities and lifestyle that placed him in another world. When they went with friends to Ibiza on their first foreign holiday in 1968, it was a maiden flight for three of the four but Graham was already a frequent flier, having been to the West Indies and North America with Wolves – trips dwarfed when he then went with Knighton in an FA squad on a five-match tour of the Far East and New Zealand in the summer of 1969.

That was the year Jane went with him to watch the Manchester City v Leicester FA Cup final despite being heavily pregnant with eldest son Ian – Dad-to-be’s subsequent time on the other side of the world lobbing another potential hand grenade into life at home.

It was Alan Ball Snr, who could apparently get through a packet of 20 cigarettes in a team meeting, who reinstated Hawkins as Preston captain. They won the Third Division title but didn’t rely on his penalties. He once missed three in a pre-season game against Groningen.

We learn that life wasn’t as enjoyable under Ball’s successor, Bobby Charlton, and the defender moved to Blackburn in 1974 after six years on the other side of the M6. In his time at Ewood Park, there was another early return from overseas duty, a trip to Gibraltar being curtailed for him by the awful news that his mother was in her final days back in Wolverhampton.

So what of those acts of kindness from the author? Well, she is donating the profits from her book to Head For Change, a charity supporting players – like Hawkins’ former Blackburn friend and team-mate Tony Parkes – who are seriously affected by dementia. And there is one other reason why she set about this project.

A front cover to be proud of – one that also shows off the artistic skills of Louise Cobbold.

“When the country went into lockdown in March, 2020, I worried about Jane,” Kirstie writes. “Months of solitude loomed for her. She had coped valiantly after losing her husband but, with the country facing a killer pandemic, she would be home alone indefinitely.”

Engaging her for major input into the book was something for the widow to focus on while she lost personal contact with a wide circle of friends that includes the former Stoke players (and some wives) who meet for Tuesday morning walks around Trentham Gardens.

Kirstie underlined her go-getter side by then enrolling on a course run by author Chris Green and learning how to publish her book herself through Amazon. It retails at £12 and is available by clicking on https://www.amazon.co.uk/Marriage-Made-Football-Graham-Hawkins/dp/B0B95ZCBYJ/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?crid=3VNK8W2KDMJIE&keywords=a+marriage+made+in+football&qid=1661847709&sprefix=%2Caps%2C52&sr=8-1

Our final word goes to Jane, who said: “I have loved my life and to relive it through Kirstie’s book has been wonderful.” That’s something else Graham would have cherished.

*The funeral of one of Hawkins’ 1960s Molineux colleagues, Roger Grice, will take place at Gornal Wood Crematorium a week on Friday (September 9) at 12.15pm. The wake is at Summerhill Social Club, St John’s Road, Tipton.