Ecclesfield, Sheffield born right half Ken Willingham began his football career with Ecclesfield and joined Worksop Town in 1928 at the age of 16. He became a member of Huddersfield Town’s ground staff at Leeds Road in 1930, before signing professionally for Huddersfield in November 1931, for whom he made his Football League debut at Everton in December 1932. He soon became a regular in The Terriers’ first eleven and although never an ever present, missed very few games between his debut and the Second World War, which undoubtedly cost him some of his best years of his career. He was a key member of the Huddersfield teams that finished runners up in the League Championship in 1933-34 and in third place in 1935-36. He holds the record for the fastest ever goal scored by a Huddersfield Town player, against Sunderland on 14th December 1935, putting the ball in the back of the net after just ten seconds with his fourth touch of the ball.
He played in the 1938 FA Cup Final (which was the first FA Cup Final to be transmitted live on British television) in which Huddersfield lost 1-0 to Preston North End at Wembley, and also in the 1939 FA Cup semi final which Huddersfield lost 2-1 to eventual winners Portsmouth at Highbury. By the time the War forced the abandonment of peacetime football, Willingham 5 goals in 273 appearances for Huddersfield Town.
Willingham was first called up into the England squad for a match against France at White Hart Lane in December 1933, but was a non playing reserve, and was similarly in two further squads in October 1935 and April 1936, before he was selected for England’s Scandinavian Tour of May 1937, where he won twelve caps for England, scoring on his debut against Finland in an 8-0 win in Helsinki. From April 1938 to May 1939 he played in eleven straight internationals including the infamous “Nazi Salute” 6-3 England victory over Germany in Berlin in May 1938. He also made six appearances for England during the Second World War, as well as representing The Football League on another six occasions.
After the War, in which he worked in the steel industry in Sheffield, he signed for Sunderland in December 1945 where he made 6 FA Cup appearances in the 1946 tournament and 14 League appearances in 1946-47. He signed for Leeds United as a player-coach in March 1947 and played 35 times for them before retiring in 1948. He spent some time as a coach at Elland Road and later coached Halifax Town in 1952.