Goodall, Ken (Kenneth George) (1947–2006), rugby player, was born 23 February 1947 at St Mary’s hospital, Leeds, England, to George Goodall, a roofer, and his wife Kathleen (née Daly). George, a Yorkshireman, had married Kathleen, from Derry, during the second world war; the family moved to Northern Ireland when Goodall was an infant. He was educated at Foyle College, Derry city, where he first encountered rugby, and played in the second row there and with Ulster schools. Playing junior rugby with City of Derry RFC from the 1965/6 season, he commenced a chemical engineering degree at Newcastle University in September 1965. Featuring in the second row, as wing-forward or as number 8, Goodall played for club and university concurrently over the next few years. He declined an England trial and offers to play for Gosforth, a leading English club.
Goodall made his Ulster debut in their 6–6 draw with Australia in December 1966. He was a surprise selection for Ireland, given his youth and inexperience, as number 8 against Australia (21 January 1967). His grandmother, a staunch unionist, draped a cloth over her television as the Irish national anthem was played before his international debut. Aged nineteen (the second-youngest Irish forward, after Karl Mullen (qv)), Goodall was commanding in a 15–8 victory, dominating the lineout. After playing as number 8 in that season’s five nations championship, Goodall was selected for the Barbarians’ Easter tour of Wales.
Touring Australia with Ireland, Goodall demonstrated his versatility by playing at wing-forward in the only test of the tour. Ireland’s 11–5 victory at Sydney Cricket Ground (13 May 1967) was Australia’s first loss to a touring ‘home nation’. Playing for the Irish Wolfhounds in August 1967, Goodall suffered a flare-up of a recurring knee ligament injury in training and underwent surgery to remove cartilage. Returning for City of Derry, and then for Ulster against Munster and Connaught in the November inter-provincial series, he was again injured and forced to withdraw from the Irish trials. He continued playing for Newcastle University and for City of Derry when possible, as number 8 or wing-forward.
Playing again as wing-forward in Ireland’s 6–16 loss to France (27 January 1968) he featured as number 8 in Ireland’s remaining Five Nations games that season. Although the form Irish back-row-forward, he was not selected for the 1968 British Lions tour to South Africa due to his university exams clashing with the first test. He had missed his exams the previous spring when he toured Australia and could not delay them again. Called up by the Lions as a replacement, Goodall played in the 37–9 victory against Eastern Transvaal on 29 June. He injured his hand five minutes into the game but played on. The multiple fractures he sustained required surgery, which ended his tour.
Goodall was selected as wing-forward for Ireland against Australia, scoring the second try in Ireland’s 10–3 victory (26 October 1968) in Dublin, his third win with Ireland over Australia in twenty-one months. He distinguished himself as Ireland’s most effective forward in victories over France and England, becoming untouchable at number 8, retaining that position for all his subsequent international caps. Commanding in the lineout, impactful off the scrum and domineering in the loose, in many respects a precursor to the all-round ability of the professional-era rugby union player, Goodall was regarded as perhaps the best back-row-forward in world rugby in 1969, certainly the best in the northern hemisphere. He was critical to Ireland’s then-record achievement of six successive international victories (February 1968–February 1969). After he injured his ankle in the away victory over Scotland – the last in the sequence – Ireland greatly missed him in their 21–11 loss to Wales in the Triple Crown decider.
It was the only international game Goodall missed in four seasons during which he maintained a gruelling playing schedule for City of Derry, Newcastle University, Ulster, Ireland and occasionally for English universities. Goodall was one of a number of especially talented Ulster players, including Mike Gibson, Syd Millar and Willie John McBride, playing for the province and Ireland. By now a certain selection for Ireland, Goodall shone in inter-provincial games, the apex of Irish domestic rugby, as Ulster shared the title in 1967 and won it outright in 1968 and 1970.
Following Ireland’s losses to France and England in the 1970 Five Nations Championship, he scored a try in the 16–11 victory against Scotland (28 February 1970). The final championship game (14 March 1970) in Lansdowne Road, against a Wales team chasing their second successive triple crown, saw Goodall score a memorable try to seal the 14–0 victory. Catching a loose clearance from Barry John, Goodall ran 50m, chipped the Welsh full-back J. P. R. Williams, collected the ball, and then won a footrace against Gareth Edwards to the line. It was one of the finest tries ever seen at Lansdowne Road and epitomised his immense athleticism and skill. Indelibly marked in a generation of Irish rugby fans' memories, the try sealed Ireland's biggest win against Wales since 1925; it was Goodall's third victory over the Welsh.
Goodall's capacity to dominate the line-out, hugely valuable within the prevailing rules of the game, was accentuated by his height, agility and innate athleticism. The use of the outside arm and lifting in line-outs was prohibited; direct kicks to touch were allowed until 1970, with the ensuing line-out taking place where the ball left the field of play; after that date, a direct kick to touch was only allowed from behind the kicking team's '22'. Goodall's mobility (6ft 3in tall, weighing over 14st) made him perhaps the best line-out jumper in the world (when international games could feature between fifty and eighty line-outs), feeding quick ball to the half-backs as Ireland accrued possession and territory. A destructive wrecking force in the loose, harnessing his strength and speed, Goodall was the standout back-row member of an imposing Irish pack, and was very much the prototype of the modern number 8. Goodall was Rugby World magazine's international player of the year for 1970, the first Irish player to receive the award.
After Goodall graduated with a science degree (June 1969), he struggled to find work in the chemical industry and took up a teaching position with Limavady Grammar School, Co. Derry. He married (23 December 1969) Wilma Lyttle, a teacher and international track and field athlete, in Waterside presbyterian church, Derry. Still aged twenty-two, he had won nineteen Irish caps. Although selected for the autumn 1970 Irish tour to Argentina, he put an end to mounting speculation by signing professional papers with English rugby league club Workington Town on 6 July 1970. There was much speculation about his signing-on fee, but it was never disclosed. He was drawn by a salary significantly higher than that earned by a teacher; he had been living with his wife in his mother’s home and struggling financially. Goodall commented soon after making the switch: 'I have no real regrets but I feel a little sorry at leaving rugby union. I hope I have not given up my chances of international rugby. Given reasonable luck I might be able to make the grade in rugby league' (Irish Independent, 7 July 1970).
Goodall started in rugby league by scoring thirteen tries in his eleven matches for Workington Town. Going on to score twenty tries in thirty-five games that season, he became the first forward to top the club’s annual scoring table. His lineout skills and capacity to dominate broken play, however, were almost useless in rugby league. Moreover, his prolific scoring made him a marked man. Taller than his fellow forwards and more vulnerable to the incessant tackling innate to rugby league, he succumbed to injury. A knee injury limited him to ten appearances during his second season, before a compressed nerve in his lower back required surgery in January 1974; after a lengthy convalescence he retired on medical advice at the end of his fourth season with the club. Playing eighty-two games over four seasons (1970–74), he added only five more tries over his final three injury-plagued seasons. Goodall worked as a physics teacher at Moorclose School while living in Workington.
He returned to Derry with his wife and young son and took up a teaching post with Faughan Valley High School where he introduced rugby union. But Goodall had committed the greatest sin possible in the eyes of the rugby union establishment; the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) and International Board rules that opposed professionalism were sacrosanct and only ever directed at one sport, rugby league. The tenets and officious culture of rugby union demanded that he be refused admittance to any rugby union ground in the decade or so after his move to rugby league. Goodall kept up friendships with former teammates and friends in the union game, and gradually the warmth in which he was held denuded the formal ostracism demanded by rugby union officialdom. Covering club rugby in Ulster with BBC Radio from the mid-1970s, he was part of the coaching staff of Irish Schools and Ulster under-21 teams (c. 2000).
In April 1989, Goodall, along with other converts to league, was formally reinstated to union by the International Rugby Board. He avidly took up his allotment of international match tickets from the IRFU, bearing no ill will towards the code. He switched codes to earn a better living for his family and had no regrets, but admitted to missing the thrill of international fixtures.
Renovating a home at Killaloo, outside Derry city, he took early retirement as vice-principal of Faughan Valley High School. He was a co-founder of Foyle Hospice and an active volunteer there. Suffering from arthritis in his later years, he died, aged fifty-nine, on 17 August 2006 in Derry after a short illness, and was buried in Ballyoan cemetery. He was survived by his wife Wilma, son Gareth and daughter Gail. His untimely death was much mourned in Derry and Ulster rugby circles, and the Ulster branch of the IRFU instituted the Ken Goodall Award for the provincial club player of the year, presented annually by the City of Derry club. Goodall was selected at number 8 on the 'greatest Ulster team' in 2005.