Wing half Ken Rea was one of a generation of footballers versed in the realities of civvy street, combining his passion for football – and Everton – with working life as an apprentice mechanical engineer.
Signed as a 15 year old amateur in 1950, Rea worked through the week in factories – training on Tuesday and Thursday evenings – and played on Saturday for the A team. A former Liverpool Schoolboy he had rejected the overtures of Liverpool because, he told this author in 2011, ‘Everton was where I wanted to be.’ Only after completing national service with the army did he sign professional forms and not until he had been associated with the club for six years did he make his debut.
His break came in the summer of 1956 when he travelled with the first team on Everton's six-week tour of the United States and played in most of the games. On his return new manager Ian Buchan gave him a run in the side. ‘When things were going bad Buchan gave me a go in the first team,’ he said ‘It was great playing for the first team, it was the thing I'd always wanted to do and I had my chance. Cyril Lello was getting a bit older. I played until I got dropped.’
‘Though a gifted passer who offered subtle service to his forwards, he rarely asserted himself in the tackle and was a ponderous runner, doubtless being handicapped by the injuries that dogged him throughout his professional career,’ opined the football historian, Ivan Ponting.
Indeed the recurrent injuries hindered his progress and after Buchan's departure in 1958 chances were harder to come by. Rea dropped down to non-league football with Runcorn and returned to work on civvy street.
‘I missed all the lads,' Rea said, when asked if he had any regrets. 'It was such a great club Everton, the lads that were there. I still see them now - Tony McNamara, we've just lost Tommy Jones - who was one of us - and Don Donavan.'