‘You must be mad?’ he shouts, the long goatee and curly hair resting on his broad shoulders unmistakable, even from a distance. Brian ‘Killer’ Kilcline is waiting for me on the platform. It is lunchtime in the Cornish town of St Austell. Come bedtime, we would have drunk tea in his ‘hobbit hole’ house, drank beer at a wake, played with his bow and arrow and discussed his plans for a garden zip-wire. And he thinks my eight-hour train journey is mad?
Coventry City’s 1987 FA Cup-winning captain is new around here. We are trying to find a way from the station to the land he has bought, bouncing down cobbled one-way streets in his pickup truck, rattling back up them in the wrong direction 30 seconds later. He never did conform. The goth brooch woven into his beard suggests little has changed.
So, what’s the new house like? ‘Wait and see,’ he says, dust and dirt on his hulking hands and unlaced boots. His wife, Lynn, texts to ask if I’m good at digging. No. Shovel in hand, she waves as we squeeze down the country lane to their latest ‘project’.
The Kilclines live in the West Yorkshire village where Last of the Summer Wine was set, own and maintain several rental properties and recently sold the holiday home they had renovated in Portugal, complete with drawbridge that Lynn would begin to crank when it was time for Brian to leave the nearby bar.
This here is the replacement.
Former Newcastle defender Brian ‘Killer’ Kilcline invited Mail Sport’s Craig Hope into his ‘hobbit hole’ in St Austell, Cornwall
Coventry City’s 1987 FA Cup-winning captain and wife Lynn (right) laid bare their unique lifestyle in the south-west of England
‘Welcome to the outdoor spa area,’ says Lynn, atop a muddy bank, nothing more than a small pond and statue of a naked mermaid in front of her.
‘This is now the swimming pool. There were 20 newts in it yesterday and one very bad-tempered frog. We had to serve them an eviction notice!’
Then, there it is, guarded by the lush forestry of the hills that rise behind it, the world’s least likely dwelling for a tree giant of a centre-half. ‘Our hobbit hole!’ announces Kilcline, now 61, with youthful wonder. But this isn’t unlikely at all, really, this is Kilcline.
We duck through a wood-panelled door, met by a bed big enough only for Bilbo Baggins. Kilcline, more like the wizard Gandalf, is 6ft 3ins tall.
‘Before you state the obvious, it extends so Brian can sleep,’ says Lynn. ‘Either that or I put him in the little shed outside, if he misbehaves.’
Come midnight, Kilcline may well be looking for the keys to that shed. Lynn once put washing-up liquid in his dinner. ‘Bit frothy,’ he says. ‘But I didn’t complain, because I’d cooked it!’
The site’s main house is 20 yards away and in need of a complete makeover. ‘Ah, that can wait,’ says Kilcline. ‘This is the fun part. The journey is better than the destination. We’re in no hurry to leave this.’
Built only eight weeks ago, he fitted the hobbit hole interior – wonderful, wacky and with a cushion that declares: ‘Bonkers’. On the wall hangs some feathered arrows. Near them, a long bow. Outside, a target.
A keen archer, Sherwood-born former Notts County player Kilcline enjoys channelling his inner Robin Hood with his bow
He never did conform – and the goth brooch woven into his long grey beard (pictured) suggests little has changed about him
‘We saw a French guy on a horse in Portugal,’ says Lynn. ‘He was mental. Dressed in full Mongolian clothing. He had his bow and arrow and we asked for a go. Brian was missing and missing. He then moves back. The guy said, “Brian, you can’t hit it from here, why you move back?” Brian says, “I will hit it!” The Frenchman says, “God… what a cock!”.’
So, did you hit the target? ‘Oh God yes!’ says Kilcline, ‘eventually. I was born in Sherwood in Nottingham, Robin Hood country, I should be bloody good at it!’
He has since joined an archery club in Yorkshire. ‘I used to go to the pub and talk about girls and nightclubs. Now, we sit in a shed, drink tea and I listen to the old boys talk about their hip replacements! They know I played football, but we rarely mention it. I never introduce myself as a footballer, either. People either like me or not for who I am.’
Football can wait for now, too. We’re off on a tour of the plot. ‘The Cornish Alps,’ he says, approaching the enormous, hillside Pines. ‘Lynn wants me to put a zip-wire and tree-house here.’ Why?
‘To take the p***. If it makes us laugh, we’ll do it. We’re like two kids. It was scary coming down here, because you don’t know anyone. We came down for my birthday to Tintagel Castle, I was running around like King Arthur, I love all that. Then we found this, it felt meant to be. And why not? When I finished the concrete work yesterday, my arms were f***ing killing me. But I loved it. You’ve got to keep your mind and body active.’
His frame is as strapping now as it was when battering, and bettering, the likes of Billy Whitehurst, John Fashanu and even Eric Cantona – ‘I nearly ripped his f***ing head off, he did my team-mate John Moncur with a stamp, that was naughty.’
Kilcline worked as a builder’s labourer when he finished playing at 35, earning £60 per week for 18 months. ‘It wasn’t about money, I was learning the trade. When you stop learning in life, you might as well give up.’
He and Lynn have climbed into the dry pond. Why not? He mimics the front crawl. Given you’re never sure what the next 10 minutes will bring here, this is perhaps a silly question – but where will they be in 10 years?
PICTURED: Kilcline poses happily alongside his wife Lynn in what she calls their developing ‘outdoor spa area’ in St Austell
Kilcline and Lynn are planning to build a pool on their grounds, with Lynn saying it had 20 newts and a frog in it the other day
The Kilclines own and maintain several rental properties and recently sold the holiday home they had renovated in Portugal, complete with drawbridge that Lynn would crank when it was time for Brian to leave the nearby bar – this is the replacement
‘I don’t know, and that’s what I like,’ says Kilcline. ‘We live for today. I have some glorious moments in my past, but if you harp on about them all the time… I just don’t.’
To summarise, then – he made his debut for Notts County aged 18 in 1980, spent seven years in the First Division with Coventry, was Kevin Keegan’s first signing at Newcastle in 1992, helping save the club from relegation to Division Three before skippering them to the Premier League, and later played for Swindon in the top-flight, marrying Lynn in 1994 the day after the team’s Christmas party.
She found him collapsed, ‘mortal drunk’ and wearing cowboy boots outside Swindon train station. Still, she said ‘yes’ the next day. They were living on a canal boat at the time.
Back in the hobbit hole and over a cup of tea – although it’s now early evening and Kilcline has mentioned a beer by the sea – the couple share tales from travelling, adventures captured by Lynn in her published book, ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Rucksack’.
‘Remember the pick pocket in Russia?’ begins Kilcline. ‘I spun and grabbed him. We took him to a restaurant, sat him down and asked, “Why?” He said he had no money. So we bought him tea and vodka and let him go.’
They were in Thailand the night before the tsunami in 2004. ‘We were lucky,’ he says. ‘It was our anniversary, so we’d gone to a remote island. We later tried to find some young people we’d met, right where the tsunami hit, but… no sign.’
Kilcline coached a team in Indonesia in return for a better hotel rate, was recognised by two Coventry fans in some Vietnam War tunnels and played in a charity match in Nepal where ‘it all kicked off and a fella had his eye slashed out’.
It feels like a good time for that pint.
Built only eight weeks ago, he fitted the hobbit hole interior – wonderful, wacky and with a cushion that declares: ‘Bonkers’
Kilcline (back row, middle) enjoyed a long and storied career beginning with four years at hometown clubs Notts County
We park the truck in Charlestown, where pirate-like boats bop in the stone-walled harbour overlooking the Channel. The one-hour parking ticket – Kilcline has promised Lynn he’s showing us one pub and then driving home – is later upgraded to 24 hours. ‘Lynn will drop me back off in the morning,’ he surmises.
Outside the Pier House Hotel, talk finally turns to football. I’ve travelled here because Coventry are back at Wembley in the Championship play-off final on Saturday. I was with Kilcline and Lynn recently in Newcastle, at a 30-year anniversary dinner for Kevin Keegan’s promotion team. And, from that, came this.
I’ve brought a picture from the Newcastle Chronicle in 1993, when Kilcline presented me with my kit as part of that year’s academy intake. I didn’t make it, but I’m intrigued to know how he did. An unlikely footballer – fair comment?
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘It wasn’t until my final school year that anyone noticed me. We played in a cup final at the City Ground. I met Brian Clough, I’d scored two in a 3-2 win and he said, “You’re not a bad player”.’
It was Notts County, though, who took a chance. ‘I was lucky, because of injuries to others, I went from a striker who couldn’t score in the youth team to a centre-half playing every week in the first team within a year.’
‘Killer’ was born on his first afternoon at County. ‘I’d cleaned out four trialists and got the nickname. But manager Jimmy Sirrel wasn’t happy. He later said to the press, “We’ve got to change it, any suggestions?” The best that came back was “Curly Wurly”, because of my hair. Curly f***ing Wurly? I wasn’t having that.’
Come 25, he was leading out Coventry at Wembley against Tottenham in the FA Cup final. What does he remember? ‘The tackle,’ he says of his reckless lunge on Gary Mabbutt. It forced Kilcline off in the 89th minute at 2-2. Mabbutt scored an own goal in extra-time and Kilcline lifted the only major trophy in Coventry’s history.
‘It nearly finished me, that tackle. I got a blood clot. They put a hole in my thigh to drain it. It’s the only f***ing game I played where I couldn’t drink afterwards!’
Kilcline lifted the FA Cup as Coventry City captain in 1987 after beating Tottenham – the Sky Blues face Luton Town in the Championship play-off final at Wembley on Saturday afternoon
He will find a pub in St Austell to watch the game against Luton on Saturday. ‘I’m more into football now than I have been for a long time. My old clubs have been unbelievable. Newcastle are flying, Coventry are at Wembley, Notts County are back in the Football League, Halifax have won the FA Trophy…’
For now, though, we must find one more pub in Charlestown. The taxis say a one-hour wait and so, in Kilcline’s words, why not?
The Rashleigh Arms is busy, so we sit in the back bar. A barman approaches. ‘Forgive me, I know nothing about football, but one of you used to play for Newcastle? The thing is, the family in the front bar have just lost their dad, a huge Newcastle fan, and tonight is for him. They would love to meet you?’
Ian Stephenson was 62, a lifelong Newcastle fan. Four of his children are here. They have with them his Newcastle shirt.
It is sad, and there are tears, but the appearance of Kilcline – signing the jersey, taking photographs and sharing a drink – brings with it a roomful of smiles. As one of Ian’s sons says, ‘Without Brian’s signing, who knows if the club would be what it is today?’
We should have known there was a Newcastle link when we walked into the pub. They were playing Local Hero, the music the players run out to at St James’ Park, 450 miles from here.
The taxi arrives and we wind back through to St Austell. What music will they play at your funeral, Brian?
‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Monty Python, from Life of Brian. That’s me.’
And what will the headstone say?
‘He did some f***ing mad things, but he always did it with a smile.’
We drop him at the bottom of the lane leading to the hobbit hole, his bearded silhouette disappearing between the hedges. The following morning, Lynn sends a text.
‘Anyone who knows us will now be praying for Brian, as they know how much I will make him suffer for this unacceptable behaviour. I shall begin by allowing him to take a nice walk to fetch his car. He’s always very keen to “get his steps in”.’
They might be playing Monty Python sooner than he ever thought.