Memory Lane: Tom Hitchcock

Over the years, there have been many examples of sons following in their dad’s footsteps in the world of professional football. There are plenty of ‘two generationers’ who have worn Rovers’ or City’s colours, such as Alan and Gary Williams, Ray, Gary and Kevin Mabbutt, John and Paul Petts and Joe and Andrew Jordan, to name but a few.

Outside of Bristol, the likes of Harry and Jamie Redknapp, Dean and Josh Windass and Steve and Alex Bruce spring to mind.

And another name to add to that footballing family tree is Hitchcock. Not to be confused with the master of suspense on the big screen, I’m talking about the combination of dad Kevin and son Tom Hitchcock.

City fans with long memories will recall that goalkeeper Kevin, whose career took in Mansfield Town, Chelsea and Northampton, was the man who kept out two Bristol City spot-kicks (look away now Gordon Owen and David Moyes) in the 1986-87 Freight Rover Final at Wembley, as his Mansfield team triumphed in the penalty shoot-out.

I really rated the manager, John Ward, and one of Rovers’ players who stood out for me was Ellis Harrison. He was very young but you could see he would do well.

“That was a little bit before my time,” said son Tom, who pointed out that his dad’s winning heroics actually took place five years before he was born!

Originally with Watford’s academy, Tom switched to Blackburn Rovers when the family moved north.

“Mark Hughes was manager at the time and the club really looked after me, I know they had high hopes for my future,” Tom told me.

Loan to Argyle

Tom Hitchcock during his time with Plymouth Argyle. PICTURE Neal Simpson – EMPICS
Eager to advance their young prospect’s career, the club sent Tom down to the West Country, loaning him out to Plymouth Argyle.

“It was the ideal opportunity to get first-team experience and, under manager Peter Reid, it went well to start with,” he said. “Then the club hit severe financial problems and it all got a bit messy. A lot of the lads weren’t getting paid, though I was still getting my wages from Blackburn.”

Tom made his Pilgrims debut in a 1-1 draw at Shrewsbury at the start of the 2011-12 season and would go on to make ten appearances, his last for the financial crippled club, a defeat at Crawley in the October, before returning to Lancashire.

But, unable to make the break-through at Ewood Park, Tom had his contract cancelled by mutual consent and followed manager Hughes to Queens Park Rangers.

Back to the West Country

Fast forward a year or so and Tom, still trying to get into the Rangers side, had a belated Christmas present when newly appointed Bristol Rovers manager John Ward moved to bring him to the West Country on loan, as he set about steering the Gas away from the danger zone.

“That move was definitely good for me. I was young and learning all the time,” pointed out Tom, who made his Pirates debut against, of all teams, Plymouth Argyle – Rovers winning 2-1.

“It was a good time in my career. I was living in an apartment by the harbour in the city centre, which was nice. I settled in well.

“I really rated the manager, John Ward, and one of Rovers’ players who stood out for me was Ellis Harrison. He was very young but you could see he would do well. And there were some great characters at the club, like Lee Brown and John-Joe O’Toole, who was my ‘roomie’ on away trips.”

It was towards the end of his four months at Rovers that Tom notched his first senior goal, the winner in a home game with Wimbledon, and he would add two more before the season’s end, returning to Loftus Road with 17 games for the Gas under his belt.

Debut for QPR

The following season, Tom finally made his debut for QPR, scoring a late winner against Ipswich Town. But it would be one of only two games he would play for the club.

“They’d just won promotion to the Prem and I knew my first-team chances would be limited, so Harry (Redknapp), by then QPR manager, arranged a loan to Crewe.”

Although the Alex were struggling at the wrong end of the table, Tom still finished up with a healthy return of three goals from six games, before switching, on another temporary transfer, to Rotherham United.

Tom Hitchcock celebrates scoring a hat-trick in his Rotherham United days.

“That was good, going from a club fighting relegation to one chasing promotion. And I got my first hat-trick there, a 4-3 win over Gillingham. I’ve still got the match-ball,” he said.

Released by QPR at the end of the 2013-14 season, Tom signed for Milton Keynes Dons, but is the first to admit, the move didn’t work out, with a loan to Fleetwood Town just a few months after signing. “I had a dream start at Fleetwood with a goal three minutes into my debut,” recalled Tom.

Next up, a loan to Stevenage, but, on this occasion, definitely not a dream start, as he was sent off on his debut. But, overall, Tom enjoyed his time at the club.

“The manager was Teddy Sherringham, a striker I’d always looked up to, and I took it as a huge compliment that he wanted me,” explained Tom. “I used to love the way he played and if you can’t learn from the likes of Teddy Sherringham, there’s something wrong.”

In February 2016, after 11 appearances (two goals) for Stevenage, Tom returned for a second spell at Crewe, where he would make another seven appearances for the Alex.

Non League and future plans

Today with his son Harley in Bedfordshire
In August last year, his contract with MK Dons was terminated by mutual consent and Tom found himself without a club.

“At one stage it looked like I’d be joining Swindon Town, but they couldn’t free any money up in their budget. And that’s the trouble these days, the market is so tight with financial constraints and it’s all about budgets and not football.”

Feeling the need to take time out from the game, Tom kept himself fit by training at Birmingham City, where his dad Kevin was goalkeeping coach. But, with so many clubs struggling financially, Tom was at a loose end. “It had all gone a bit downhill and I ended up joining non-League Boreham Wood, but that didn’t really work out,” he explained.

Last September, he moved on to Vanarama National League South side Chelmsford City, but has not written off the chance of getting back into the League.

“The plan is to get my head down and score some goals,” said Tom. “As far as the longer term picture is concerned, I don’t know, though I’d definitely look to stay in the game.”

Living in Bedfordshire with partner Coby and their young son Harley, Tom still has one really big match to look forward to next June – that’s when he and Coby plan to marry.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.