Vic Keeble

Vic Keeble

Victor (Vic) Keeble was born in Colchester on 25th June 1930. A talented centre-forward he joined Colchester United as an amateur in May 1947 by Ted Fenton.

It was not until three years later that Keeble made the first-team. Keeble later recalled: "At Colchester United, I began to score freely and Newcastle United's southern-based scout Bill McCracken, a former star defender at St. James's Park followed my progress."

Blackpool also made an offer for Keeble as they saw him as a cover for their international footballer, Stan Mortensen. Eventually he was transferred to Newcastle United for £15,000 in February 1952. He had scored 23 goals in 46 games for Colchester United.

Keeble made his debut against Chelsea on 12th March 1952. He joined a team that included Bobby Corbett, Jack Fairbrother, Joe Harvey, George Robledo, Ernie Ernie Taylor, Bobby Cowell, Frank Brennan, Charlie Crowe, Alf McMichael, George Hannah, Jackie Milburn, Tommy Walker, Len White, Vic Keeble, Jimmy Scoular, Ronnie Simpson, Bob Stokoe and Bobby Mitchell. Keeble failed to score in the five games he played that season.

Jackie Milburn got injured in the 1952-53 season and Keeble replaced him at centre-forward, scoring six goals in 17 games. He found himself in the reserves for most of the 1953-54 season. However, the following season Milburn moved to outside-right and Keeble was given the number 9 shirt. As Paul Joannou points out in The Black 'n' White Alphabet: "A persistent leader, not pretty to watch yet certainly effective, who often took a battering from defenders".

Keeble was a magnificent header of the ball. A journalist once commented that Keeble "would even take a penalty with his head." Keeble scored 15 goals in 28 league and cup games in the 1954-55 season. However, his flick-ons, made plenty of chances for his fellow forwards. This included goals for Bobby Mitchell (23), Jackie Milburn (21), Len White (16) and George Hannah (13).

Newcastle United also had a good FA Cup run in the 1954-55 season, beating Plymouth Argyle (1-0), Brentford (3-2), Nottingham Forest (2-1), Huddersfield Town (2-0), York City (2-0) to reach the final against Manchester City. Keeble had scored five goals in Newcastle's FA Cup campaign.

Newcastle's star player, Jackie Milburn, later recalled how the game started: "I won a corner on the right and Len White ran over to take it. Manchester City's captain, Roy Paul, was standing next to me as Len placed the ball, but he suddenly yelled, 'Bloody hell, I should be marking Keeble,' so off he darted to find big Vic, who was more widely noted for his prowess in the air. Len fired the ball in my direction and there was I standing all alone like Grey's Monument. I headed the ball past their keeper, Bert Trautmann and that was it."

The situation got worse for City when Jimmy Meadows suffered a serious knee injury in the 18th minute. Just as in 1952 Newcastle had just ten men to beat. Despite this disadvantage City equalized when Bobby Johnstone beat Ronnie Simpson with a diving header after good work from Joe Hayes.

In the second-half Newcastle United made their numerical advantage count. According to Jackie Milburn, the Newcastle captain, Jimmy Scoular, was the best player on the pitch: "Scoular kept spraying great crossfield balls to Bobby Mitchell and between them they tore City apart." Charlie Buchan later commented: "I have never previously seen a wing-half display as good as that of Scoular's in any big game."

In the 53rd minute Bobby Mitchell made a run down the wing before scoring from an acute angle. Soon afterwards George Hannah scored from a pass from Mitchell. Newcastle United had won the FA Cup for the third time in five years and Keeble had his first cup winners' medal.

Keeble was in great form in the 1954-55 season and ended up top scorer with 29 goals in 36 league and cup games. He developed a very good relationship with Jackie Milburn. He later recalled: "My partnership with Jackie was great. I'd nod them on and he could really move off the mark. Sides all look for balance and that is why we complemented each other. Jackie was a prolific striker, not great in the air, but had two terrific feet. Pace is everything and that made him very dangerous. He could really thump a ball. Even from 30 yards, the ball would go in like a rocket. Jackie would burst the ball today!" Milburn also praised Keeble: "Most players prefer to head either to the right or the left but Keeble could do it either way with equal effect. He scored so many goals with his nut that I swear he had studs in his forehead."

An injury meant that Keeble lost his place to Len White in the 1955-56 season. This meant he scored only 4 goals in 14 games that season. He remain good in the air but Keeble got a tough time from the fans and when he did play they chanted "Feeble Keeble the legless wonder."

In the 1956-57 season Keeble was playing in the reserves. Ted Fenton, who had managed him at Colchester United, but was now with Second Division side West Ham United, telephoned Keeble and said: "I'm coming up Saturday, I fancy you Vic, I could well put in a bid for you. I'll take a look at you, see how you do." Keeble scored two goals in the first 45 minutes and at half-time Fenton knocked on the window of the dressing-room and said: "Vic, don't play too well in the second-half, they won't let you go." After the game Fenton bought Keeble for £10,000.

When he joined West Ham United the club were in mid-table. The West Ham squad at the time included players such as Malcolm Allison, John Dick, John Bond, Ken Brown, Noel Cantwell, Billy Dare, Ernie Gregory, Mike Grice, Andy Malcolm, Malcolm Musgrove, Dave Sexton, Billy Landsdowne and Malcolm Pyke.

Keeble formed a great partnership with inside-left, John Dick. West Ham's full-back, John Bond, later pointed out: "We got something like nine points in 11 games in 1957-58, and then Ted Fenton bought Vic Keeble from Newcastle because he thought he could be good in the air, which he was. But what he didn't recognise was what a good target man Vic was. We could play balls from defence into Vic Keeble and he would hold them in to himself or knock them off. He brought Jackie Dick into the play a lot more... and made more use of the wingers in terms of crosses. And from there we lost three of the next 31 games."

As Keeble himself explained: "I partnered John Dick and we clicked instantly, scoring 40 goals between us. I was really enjoying my football and grabbed a hat-trick in a 5-0 win against West Ham, two in 6-1 wins over Lincoln and Bristol Rovers, and further braces in a 6-2 victory over Swansea and 8-0 thumping of Rotherham United."

By the end of the season Keeble had scored 23 goals in 32 league and cup games. Keeble's brilliant play was one of the main factors in West Ham United winning the Second Division title that year. They had been promoted to the First Division after a period of 26 years in the second tier. Malcolm Pyke, a West Ham teammate, commented: "Jack Dick was a great goalscorer, but when Vic Keeble came he turned us around - it was his goals that got us up."

The authors of The Essential History of West Ham United point out that some journalists questioned whether Keeble would be able to score goals in the First Division: "It took the Hammers' marksman just 37 minutes of the opening game of the 1958-59 season to answer that question when he scored West Ham's first goal in the top flight for over a quarter of a century to put his side one up against Portsmouth and send the large contingent of East Londoners among the 40,470 crowd into raptures."

West Ham United finished in 6th place that season. John Dick was top scorer with 27 goals but Keeble also did well with 20 in 32. Vic Keeble injured his back in a game against Fulham on 31st October 1959. He only played one more game on 16th January 1960 before deciding that he would have to retire from professional football. He had the amazing record of scoring 49 goals in 80 games. Aged 29, he began a new career as a football reporter.

In 1969 Keeble became development manager of Colchester United. Seven years later he was appointed as secretary of Chelmsford City, a post he held until his retirement in 1994.

Primary Sources

(1) Jackie Milburn, Jackie Milburn's Newcastle United Scrapbook (1981)

Keeble was nicknamed "the Camel" for two reasons. He hunched his shoulders which made him look as though he had a hump on his back and he couldn't kick a ball to save his soul. But, my oh my, was he useful in the air. When Vic got the ball he treated it like a hot potato. He couldn't get rid of it fast enough and he didn't care where to. Most players prefer to head either to the right or the left but Keeble could do it either way with equal effect. He scored so many goals with his nut that I swear he had studs in his forehead.

(2) Vic Keeble, Match of My Life (2007)

I played a few games in 1957/58 before joining West Ham in October 1958 to help their promotion push to the First Division. Ted Fenton was manager and knew all about me from my time at Colchester United. It was bizarre that I would begin and end my career with Ted.

I partnered John Dick and we clicked instantly, scoring 40 goals between us. I was really enjoying my football and grabbed a hat-trick in a 5-0 win against West Ham, two in 6-1 wins over Lincoln and Bristol Rovers, and further braces in a 6-2 victory over Swansea and 8-0 thumping of Rotherham United. The Hammers clinched the title in the final game at Middlesbrough, where we won 3-1. I knocked in the third goal.

I''d also enjoyed my return to the FA Cup, grabbing a hat-trick in a 5-1 win against Blackpool before we exited in an exciting derby clash at home to Fulham. We'd scored a club record 101 goals, which was phenomenal and I was so pleased to be able to play in the First Division again. I really looked forward to playing against my old mates at Newcastle United.

My partnership with John continued as we scored 47 goals and finished sixth in the First Division. I opened my account in a 2-1 win at Portsmouth before scoring twice in a 7-2 win at home to Aston Villa. I also scored four goals in a 6-3 win against Blackburn Rovers, twice in a 6-0 home triumph over Portsmouth and 5-3 win against Nottingham Forest. I'd been particularly pleased to score in a Christmas Day and Boxing Day double over Tottenham Hotspur but they gained revenge in the FA Cup. It would be my last match in the competition as a back injury ended my season and forced me to retire.

One of mainstays before I arrived was captain Malcolm Allison but he had been forced to retire also and went into coaching. His replacement was Bobby Moore, who made his bow against Manchester United. It was obvious Bobby had talent and as the game changed, it helped him, as he did not have great pace but his positional sense was superb. Also on the books was Geoff Hurst, who I used to give a lift in to training from Chelmsford.

Malcolm Allison was a real character. I lived with him for a year and he loved everything about football. He coached the kids, was a bit of a playboy, but developed well and went on to become a well known coach. Everything in the 50s was stamina-based, but Malcolm had great ideas and if you look at how the game has progressed, how right he was.

(3) Charles Korr, West Ham United: The Making of a Football Club (1986)

The promotion season is often associated with a player who almost did not come to West Ham - Vic Keeble. West Ham scored 102 goals in the season. Right back John Bond netted 10 and inside left John Dick led the club with 26, but it was Keeble whose name would always be connected with goals and victory. Soon after Keeble arrived, John Bond told a reporter, "It's made all the difference in the world to us", and at the end of the season Fenton admitted, "I didn't seriously begin to think in terms of promotion until after I signed Vic Keeble. Then I thought it would be possible."

It was not the first time Fenton had signed Keeble, nor was it the first time West Ham had attempted to bring him to London. Keeble had joined Colchester in 1950 for a £10 signing-on fee from the then manager, Ted Fenton. Shortly afterwards, Fenton went to West Ham and convinced the club that it should obtain Keeble.

The offer was to exchange Derek Jackman for him; Jackman was uncertain about his future, however, and Colchester rejected the offer. Instead of going to London, Keeble joined Newcastle where he scored more than 50 goals during his six years with the 'Magpies. At various times during Keeble's career at Newcastle, Fenton enquired about his availability. He renewed negotiations at the start of the 1957 season . West Ham had money, including the £25,000 it had received for Harry Hooper, but it attempted to make an exchange part of the deal for Keeble. The club had replaced Hooper with Mike Grice, a £10,000 purchase from Colchester who asked for a transfer after a relatively unsuccessful first year. This time, Fenton made sure that he got the man he needed, and Keeble was finally reunited with his first manager .

It is hard to overestimate the contribution made by Keeble. The sentiments expressed by Fenton and Bond were echoed by other players, none of whom wanted to play down his own role.

(4) Brian Belton, Days of Iron (1999)

John Lyall told me: "I remember when we signed Vic. We were struggling and I think it was getting towards November. I think his first game was a friendly floodlight match. West Ham was third from bottom or something. We won the game well and Vic scored a couple of goals. Then the whole thing changed. When Vic arrived he hit it off with Johnny Dick straight away. Brilliant"....

However, Keeble donning the claret and blue wasn't welcomed by everyone. According to Eddie Lewis: "Ted Fenton was obsessed with Vic Keeble, so I just didn't get any games. 'Ted wasn't the sort of bloke you could talk to about anything. I really had no one to talk to about the situation so I don't know why I didn't get picked more. After I was dropped I scored four goals in a reserve game."

Others, too, had to be convinced. Ken Brown recalled: "Vic Keeble couldn't kick a ball ten yards, but he could head a ball and moved into position well." Mike Grice remembered: "Feeble Keeble, the legless wonder - that's what the Newcastle fans used to say. But he was great in the air. Vic Keeble turned things round for us in the promotion season."

For all this, Keeble gave a lot of credit to the whole of the West Ham side. "The team had some good individual players, but West Ham built their game on team spirit. The 1958 side was a good team. Ernie Gregory was brilliant on angles, always consistent - Ernie was odd. The defence was solid. Bond could kick the lace out of a ball and Andy Malcolrn would kick his own grandmother and come back at her again. We had quick wingers."

Vic, a former Colchester Grammar School boy, started out with the King George Youth Club in Colchester before being signed for a £10 fee by the then Colchester manager Ted Fenton. His 23 goals in 46 League games helped the newly-elected Football League club establish themselves. He was good in the air and his deft flicks from head and foot added penetration to the Hammers' front line.

The Irons had managed to put together no more than a dozen points in the same number of games before Keeble signed. Soon after Vic arrived, John Bond told a reporter: "It's made all the difference in the world to us." At the end of the season Fenton confessed: "I didn't seriously begin to think in terms of promotion until after I signed Vic Keeble. "Then I thought it would be possible."