Looking Back At: Keith Ellis

Keith Ellis

Date of birth: 6.11.35

Born: Sheffield

Height: 6ft 1in

Position: Centre forward

City appearances: League: 7 FA Cup: 1, goals: 1, Total: 8, goals: 1


Keith Duncan Ellis was born in Sheffield and was on the books of one of his local league clubs, Sheffield Wednesday, as an amateur from 1953 while employed as a draughtsman. He made his first team debut at the age of 19 on the 19th of March 1955 in a 2-0 home win over Preston North End. Turning professional the following month Ellis appeared in four more games in the remainder of the season scoring one goal as Wednesday finished in bottom place in the First Division. They bounced straight back into the top flight as Second Division champions but Ellis made no first team appearances in that season with the prolific Roy Shiner holding down the centre forward berth.

Wednesday finished in mid-table in their first season back in the top flight with the young reserve Ellis appearing in just six league games. He averaged a goal a game in these, however, including a hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Birmingham City in the last game of the season.

Another relegation season then followed for Wednesday as they again finished bottom of the First Division at the end of the 1957/58 season. Roy Shiner continued as first choice but Ellis filled in for him on occasion with ten league games producing another eight goals, including another two against Birmingham in a 5-3 win at Hillsborough early in the season.

Sheffield Wednesday continued their yo-yo existence as once again, now managed by later Everton boss Harry Catterick, they bounced straight back to the top flight with Shiner again prolific along with veteran ex-England international Redfern Froggatt. Keith Ellis was restricted to just three league games during the season with one goal scored.

In November 1959 Shiner moved on to Hull City and at the age of 24 Ellis began his most productive spell with Wednesday lasting over the next three years. With Froggatt also moving on in January 1960, Ellis played in 26 league and FA Cup games scoring 14 goals as Wednesday finished in fifth place and reached the FA Cup semi-final.

Ellis’s rival for the main striking slot was now the up-and-coming younger centre forward Billy Griffin, but he was the main partner up front for 20-goal Johnny Fantham as Wednesday finished the season as runners-up to Football League champions Tottenham. Ellis, in fact played in 31 league games, scoring 14 goals, plus five goals in six FA Cup games as Wednesday enjoyed another good cup run, this time to the quarter-final stage. Three of his five cup goals came in an amazing 7-2 win over Manchester United in front of a 65,000 crowd at Old Trafford.

The 1961/62 season saw another high placing of sixth, but under new manager Vic Buckingham despite starting the season with seven goals in the first five games Ellis went on to play in only 20 more league and FA Cup games, scoring just three further goals. He did have a taste of European football, though as Sheffield Wednesday took part in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, a forerunner of the UEFA Cup. Ellis played in a first round first leg match away to French club Lyon, scoring a goal in a 4-2 defeat. He was not in the side for the second leg match won 5-2 by Wednesday, nor the two legs against Roma in the second round which led to a quarter-final meeting with Barcelona. After the Owls had beaten the Spanish club 3-2 at Hillsborough Ellis was included for the game at the Nou Camp which saw a 2-0 defeat.

In the summer of 1962 Wednesday paid Bradford City the hefty fee for the time of £22,500 for David Layne and the newcomer took over as first choice centre forward with Ellis now just a reserve player. He made just one first team appearance during the season as Wednesday achieved the second of three sixth-place finishes in a row.

The 1963/64 season saw Ellis make just three more first team appearances, the last coming in October, and in March 1964 the now 28-year-old was sold to Scunthorpe United for the then fairly-substantial fee of around £9,500.

In his ten seasons with Sheffield Wednesday Ellis appeared in a total of 118 games in all competitions, scoring a very respectable 60 goals.

At the time Ellis joined them Scunthorpe were nearing the end of a six-season stay in the Second Division and were battling against relegation. Ellis managed five goals in the remaining ten games of the season but after a very brief rise to 18th place Scunthorpe finished bottom of the division.

Ellis was soon on the move again from Scunthorpe, as without making a first team appearance from the start of the following season he was transferred to Cardiff City in September 1964 in an exchange deal for later Imps midfielder Dick Scott along with a small cash adjustment

Back in the Second Division with Cardiff, Ellis played in 22 league games for them in the remainder of the season scoring a useful total of 10 goals which included a spell in which he scored four times in three games as Cardiff finished in mid-table. He also picked up a Welsh Cup winners medal, playing in the second leg of the final against Wrexham although he did not take part in the replay when the cup was actually won, his place being taken by no less a player than the legendary John Charles.

Although finishing as second-highest goalscorer in the season Ellis was released on a free transfer by Cardiff and although not yet 30 it appeared he was eyeing a career outside football, looking to take over the running of a pub in his native Sheffield.

At this time Lincoln City were at a low ebb in their history having just applied for re-election for the second time in three years. Player-manager Roy Chapman had taken charge of the team at the beginning of March 1965 following the disastrous two-months spell in charge of Con Moulson but had been unable to improve results more than minimally. He was now intent on rebuilding the side for the new season with one requirement being a new centre forward to replace the departed Bud Houghton.

Chapman had said “We certainly intend to sign a forward as soon as possible,” and several experienced players were considered. In the cases of Carlisle’s Joe Livingstone and Northampton’s Charlie Livesey the fees asked for were too high for City, in fact Livesey was to join Brighton for £7,000, and although the club were prepared to pay £5,000 for QPR’s Brian Bedford nothing came of it when ‘minor snags’ arose over the deal. Nothing also came of a move for Leyton Orient player

Dave Dunmore and Keith Ellis was then approached. He was signed on as a part-time player, declaring he would train with City each day and not put his public house interests first. Semi-professional players were not so unusual with league clubs in those days, another at the time with City being the young Jim Grummett who combined his playing duties with working at Robey’s, while two of the Imps’ most successful players of later in the decade would also be part-time, with John Kennedy and Rod Fletcher both schoolteachers.

As well as plenty of experience all the players who had been considered had good goalscoring records, and Ellis of course was another who fell into that category. He seemed an ideal choice to play alongside City’s star summer signing, the prolific-scoring Barry Hutchinson.

Things did not get off to a good start for the player, though, when he gave what was described as ‘a poor showing’ in a pre-season friendly which saw a 5-0 home defeat by Third Division Mansfield Town. A week later the league campaign opened with a 4-0 defeat at Doncaster with Ellis probably coming the nearest of any City player to getting a goal when he had a shot cleared off the line. Things were better both for the player and City with a 2-0 win at Darlington when his performance was rated as ‘much improved’ compared to the Mansfield game. Ellis was included for the next game, making his home league debut in a 2-1 defeat by Notts County, but then lost his place to 21-year-old Derek Fawell signed from Notts on a trial basis.

Ellis was then in the reserves, scoring in a 5-3 home defeat to Skegness as Fawell played in three of the next four games, scoring one goal before being released. Roy Chapman then played himself up front alongside Barry Hutchinson – “I am not a centre forward but someone has to play there” – until a game at Aldershot towards the end of October when the player-manager dropped himself from the side with City well into the lower half of the league table. Despite a 2-0 defeat Ellis acquitted himself well but was carried off the pitch near the end with a twisted ankle. However, he recovered to play in the next game at home to Newport with Chapman now in midfield. Ellis’s performance in the 1-1 draw saw Maurice Burton in the Echo enthuse that City’s centre forward problems seemed to be solved, describing Ellis as giving ‘a splendid exhibition, taking plenty of work on his shoulders and creating openings which were not accepted’.

Things seemed to be looking up for Ellis’s City career, as although the next game saw a 4-1 defeat at Torquay, he then scored what to be his only goal for the club against Third Division Barnsley in the FA Cup at Sincil Bank. In the week leading up to the game the players had spent a few days in Skegness as preparation, training at Skegness Town’s ground, playing golf and taking walks on the sands. Ellis though had to miss part of this get-away due to being on a training course in connection with the pub he was taking over the following week.

The game saw an immediate Cup exit in a 3-1 defeat with Ellis being one of the few players to come out of the game with any credit. The next game, though, a 1-0 win at Rochdale turned out to be his last when he had to go off injured 30 minutes from the end.

Ellis returned to play in some reserve games from the middle of December, and would have been in the side for the visit of Wrexham on New Year’s Day if Chapman had not been fit to play. Instead, he was in a reserve side that suffered an 8-1 defeat at Worksop. A lack of fitness prevented another possible return to the first team at Chesterfield a week later.

The centre forward position had come to be seen as a problem one again, with utility player Bunny Larkin now tried for a couple of games. With City hovering just outside the re-election zone Chapman stated that one of the players required to strengthen the team was a centre forward and towards the end of January one arrived in the shape of Joe Bonson from Brentford. With some doubts over Ellis’s fitness there was now really no way back into the side for him and he left the club in March, no doubt to run his pub.

In the darkest days of the 1960s City seemed to get in something of a rut in signing players with a good playing record behind them only to find them quickly declining to the end of their Football League careers at Sincil Bank. Keith Ellis unfortunately has to be numbered as one of these alongside the likes of Bunny Larkin, Joe Bonson (Ellis’s eventual replacement), Geoff Hudson. goalkeeper Peter Wakeham and others.

At the time of writing this, Keith Ellis, at the age of 88 has the distinction of being one of the oldest surviving former Lincoln City players

Thanks are due to Gary Parle for some of the information provided.

Keith Ellis made a total of 141 appearances in the Football League, scoring 67 goals.