by Andy Kelly
There is one player who has written himself into Arsenal folklore even though his total competitive playing time in the first team was 110 minutes. If you ask any Arsenal fan of a certain age, you can guarantee that they will all have the same opinion of him.
That man is Ray Hankin, who will always be regarded as one of the worst players ever to play for Arsenal. Some will even go as far to say he was THE worst.
Hankin started his career at Burnley before Leeds splashed out £180,000 for him in 1976. Although he looked a big lump he did a job as was shown in 1977-78 when he scored 20 league goals. In 1980 he moved to Vancouver Whitecaps to play in the North American Soccer League where he played alongside Roger Kenyon, Trevor Whymark, Willie Johnston, Alan Ball and Pierce O’Leary (brother of David).
Back in England, during the summer of 1981 Arsenal lost Frank Stapleton to Manchester United and struggled to replace him. John Hawley was signed from Sunderland but it was plainly obvious that he was not the answer.
Then, in November, Arsenal were linked with Hankin. On the 8th Terry Neill admitted that Hankin was top of his wanted list. Neill wanted to take him on trial but Tony Waiters, Vancouver’s manager, said it would be a permanent transfer or not at all. On the 10th Neill announced that Hankin would join the following week for £300,000 but would require time to become match fit.
All in all, Hankin took part in six games for Arsenal.
On 30 November 1981 he played for the reserves at Hereford in the Football Combination. Although Arsenal lost 2-3, Hankin played the whole 90 minutes and scored his first goal for Arsenal. Unfortunately for Ray, Hereford later withdrew from the league and their record, including Hankin’s goal, was expunged.
Two days later Arsenal played Liverpool in the fourth round of the League Cup at Highbury. Hankin was named as Arsenal substitute and replaced Brian McDermott after 61 minutes. He made no impact in a dour 0-0 draw against a Liverpool team that hade been reduced to ten men when Ray Kennedy had been sent off for elbowing Peter Nicholas in the face after he’d had enough of the Arsenal midfielder constantly kicking him.
At the weekend Arsenal faced West Ham at Upton Park in the League. This was the game in which Stewart Robson made his debut. However, Hankin did not even make the bench and played in the reserves, also against West Ham, in a 1-1 draw at Highbury.
On 8 December Arsenal travelled to Liverpool for the replay of the previous week’s game. Another goalless 90 minutes saw the game go into extra-time where Liverpool went goal crazy, scoring three without reply. Hankin was, again, named substitute. He came on after 39 minutes for Peter Nicholas who felt the full force of Graeme Souness’ retribution for Nicholas’ misdemeanours the previous week.
Back in the reserves, Hankin played against Southampton at Highbury in 19 December. Arsenal won 2-1 with Hankin scoring his only officially recorded goal for the club, along with John Hawley. (Thanks to @alboy67 for pointing this one out).
The weather took its toll on football and the next time that Arsenal played was on Tuesday 29 December in a friendly against Glentoran in Northern Ireland. The Gunners won 2-0 with two goals from Paul Davis, Hankin played the full 90 minutes. I’m pretty certain that this is Hankin in this picture from the Daily Mirror – possibly the only one of Hankin in an Arsenal shirt.
The next game was against Tottenham in the FA Cup on 2 January. However, Hankin played no part in the game, Raphael Meade being preferred as substitute. After the game Terry Neill said that Hankin was still an Arsenal player even though he had not trained on the Thursday and Friday before the Tottenham game.
It was then decided that Hankin and Arsenal were not a suitable match and by the following weekend Terry Neill had turned his attention to Coventry’s Garry Thompson.
The details of Ray Hankin’s transfer are still very much a grey area. Although it was announced that Arsenal had paid £300,000 for him there appeared to have been a clause that he could return to Vancouver if things didn’t work out. Whether or not the transfer fee was paid (or returned) was never mentioned.
Much has been talked about the fabled “all time nightmare strike partnership” at Arsenal of Ray Hankin and John Hawley. In reality, the only time they played alongside each other at Arsenal was in Hankin’s three reserve team games.
Hankin returned to Vancouver Whitecaps, eventually returning to England in 1982 with Middlesbrough. He was sent off on his debut, which turned into something of a common occurrence over the next three seasons.
The thing that I can’t get to grips with, though, is how people can say he was Arsenal’s worst ever striker when he played just 110 minutes. It’s not much on which to judge a player. I never got to see him play as I was unable to get to Highbury that season. Did you see him play in any of those five games? Was he really that bad?
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