KEVIN Keen began his football career at Wycombe Wanderers in 1982 where he made his debut at the tender age of 15 and 209 days against Hendon, a record that still stands to this day at Adams Park.
Keeno joined West Ham in 1983 and played his first game for the Hammers in a 5-2 defeat against Liverpool in September 1986. After a ten year spell at Upton Park, in which he made 219 apps and scored 21 goals, he signed for Wolverhampton Wanderers as part of a £600,000 deal in 1993. Despite being a regular in his first season at Molineux (42 apps and 7 goals – including one against Stoke in a 3-3 Anglo Italian Cup match), Keeno signed for the Potters early on in the 1994/95 season. Lou Macari knew all about him from his brief stint as West Ham manager and spent £300,000 to bring the midfielder to the Victoria Ground. Keeno’s first Stoke goal actually came on his home debut in a 1-1 draw against his former Wolves team-mates.
Injury problems restricted his first couple of seasons although he became a favourite with supporters in his final years at the Britannia Stadium, winning a couple of Player of the Season awards along the way. Despite another Player of the Year award at the end of 1998/99 Brian Little saw fit to release Keeno on a free transfer, only for new manager Gary Megson to re-sign him that same summer for one final year in the Potteries.
He eventually joined Macclesfield Town as a player then manager in 2000 before going into coaching with the Hammers where he works with their acclaimed youth and academy set-up.
Keeno often stood head and shoulders above everyone else around him during some of the lowest points in our modern history. During a glut of dross following the move to the Britannia Stadium, Keeno was one of a few players who supporters could feel proud about when he ran out in a red and white shirt.
We knew he’d never stop running for us or probing for space down that right touchline, and when he was on the pitch we always had that ‘bust-a-gut’ creative spark going for us.
Keeno was never a player with blistering pace, nor a direct winger as such, but when he wore a Stoke shirt the area of turf that he was playing on would always look busy and there was always that feeling that something could happen.
A home game against Sheffield United on Boxing day 1997 still stands out. With the score at 1-1 and the game in the last five minutes a ball was played down to right touchline with a little bit too much pace for any of our players to catch. Everyone in the Britannia Stadium seemed to give it up as a goal kick. Then, with the ball rolling on towards the white paint we saw the sight of Keeno appear at full stretch, wrapping a boot around the stray ball and sending it back into the six yard box for Peter Thorne to prod home.
Rather typical of Stoke City at the time though we then went and conceded an even later goal at the other end to make it 2-2. Regardless of that though, it was impossible to take away from the work Keeno put in to what should have been the winner that day.
While the likes of Zidane and Beckham created goals out of nothing with an inch perfect pass or pin-point cross there will always be players like Kevin Keen who could create exactly the same moments and goals out of nothing more than absolute determination, drive and persistence.
Along with Nigel Gleghorn, Keeno was that exact same type of wily old midfielder that we’ve wasted far too long trying to replace.
Fond memories of his Stoke career include that outstanding Van Basten-like first time volley from a near impossible angle against Derby County in 1995, surely one of the all time great goals to be scored in front of the old Boothen End. A free kick some 40 yards out was played towards the back post by Nigel Gleghorn, where Keeno smashed the ball into the roof of the net, first time, on the volley. It was a goal which went on to open Nick Hancock’s 1996 Football Nightmares video – as a definition of a goal crafted in heaven – “unless you’re a Derby County supporter” added Nick.
Other highlights include his winning goal in the first ever Potteries derby at the Britannia Stadium in 1997, and another swirling header in a 1-1 draw at Vale Park the season before.
Whether playing for West Ham or Wolves he always had a good goalscoring record against Stoke down the years and his goals in a Stoke shirt were always memorable moments too.
He was also one of a select few players to have his own comic strip in The Oatcake during his time with the club – Kevin Keen – Quiz Machine – from the 1998-99 season. Keeno was so delighted with the piece that he rang Oatcake HQ to get several copies of that particular issue for his family!
Look up ‘keen’ in a thesaurus and read – alert, animated, ardent, avid, devoted, eager, fired up, lively, spirited. The dictionary concept – enthusiasm. It’s stating the bleeding obvious here but you can’t help but feel he strived to live up to that surname.
He also had a habit of taking his clothes off while celebrating in front of the Boothen Paddock, particularly his topless celebration in the pouring rain during one Central Sunday Match Live match against West Brom. The terrace in-joke seemed to be if he scored two the shorts came off as well – we never found out!
Keeno eventually bought the curtain down on his Stoke career in 1999-2000 season. It was very much a case of out with the old and in with the new following the Icelandic takeover, and our veteran midfielder was one of the eventual casualties under Gudjon Thordarson. His last goal for Stoke came in a 1-2 home defeat to Bristol Rovers in December 1999.
After that match he played one final home league game against Oldham Athletic (0-0) shortly after Christmas. The second half of the season saw new signings Mikael Hansson and Bjarni Gudjonsson in particular staking their claim for Keeno’s old spot down the right touchline.
And so, with the turn of the new Millennium one of our longer serving players was to be no more at Stoke City.
Kevin played one last game for the Potters – coming on as a very late substitute on the final day of the season away at Reading.
It’s testament to what a popular figure he was when even after his move to Macclesfield there were still quite a few Stokies who would make the short trip north to the Moss Rose, just to watch an old crowd favourite when we didn’t have a game. Back then there was a few Stokies who used to post Macclesfield updates on our internet message board.
Kevin Keen – a model professional, a good player and one that we were always proud to have playing for our club, particularly during some difficult later years following the move to the Britannia Stadium.
by Gareth Cooper
This article first appeared in Issue 419 of The Oatcake