Norwich City top 100 appearances: Kevin Keelan (1) – Quite simply a true Canaries legend
PUBLISHED: 12:44 08 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:52 21 July 2017
Kevin Keelan has made more Canaries’ appearances than any other player – for the finale of our top 100 series, Chris Lakey caught up with the great man.
673 appearances/0 goals
It’s a few hours behind UK time, but Kevin Keelan sounds bright and breezy from Tampa, Florida, when, eventually, the phone connection is made.
He has a golf course nearby – him and his wife are “avid players” – and is looking forward to a couple of coaching schools with local youngsters.
The accent has picked up even more of an American twang since last we spoke, but its tones are familiar enough to paint a mental picture of the great man. And, boy, was he a great man.
Interviews with Kevin Keelan are interrupted every so often with a question: Keelan wants news from back home, on the manager, the goalkeepers. “Is Delia Smith still in charge?” Yes, I reply. The response is muted, but you sense a nodding of the head.
The latest news coming out of English football was the possible £75m transfer of Romelu Lukaku from Everton to Manchester United. Keelan hasn’t heard this and there’s shock in his voice, edged with a dollop of exasperation.
“You are kidding – that is ridiculous,” he says. “I don’t begrudge them, mind you. I’m not jealous, but where is the game going nowadays? It is mind-boggling, and it puts a lot of pressure on the guy.”
“In my day the challenge was far greater – today there is no challenge. Players know they will pick up another big wallet. There is too much money spent and not enough dedication given by players. How do you repay £75m? Longevity is one way, be at a club for a long time, but he will move on from there and probably pick up more money somewhere else.”
This is all highly relevant given that Keelan played an incredible 673 times in the colours of Norwich City – having cost them just £6,500 in 1963 – as Keelan said, “today you drop that running for a bus.”
At today’s prices you’d still get change out of £128,000. So that’s less than a tenner (or £190 today) a game.
“I had a lot of confidence in myself in regard to being a fit player – I always felt I would get the best out of my career, keeping fit and being under some good management certainly helped to make it possible.”
Old Trafford could have been Keelan’s home back in the day, but for one of those “good managers”.
“I was called in by John Bond and he told me United wanted to sign me but he wouldn’t let me go. He said I was too valuable. I liked Bondy, one of the good men, a great manager.
“It would have been nice to go to Manchester and be with one of the glamour clubs, but having said that when you spend 17 years at one club, I loved every minute. I loved the supporters, I loved the people there, I loved everybody otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed.
“And I saw several different characters as far as management – Ron Saunders: I just think of training on Mousehold every time I think of him!”
Then comes an question about the current management set-up... “That’s a big jump for him then.” Exactly.
Back to the interview, and conversation turns to England appearances, the lack of.
“The nearest I got to an international cap was playing twice for England XI teams – one was Bobby Robson’s testimonial and the other was Trevor Brooking’s testimonial. But look at the goalkeepers at that time - Peter Bonetti, Banksy, Shilton... lots of guys who would have played for a national team anywhere in the world. I just happened to be unlucky.
“I am not knocking the club I played for because Norwich City were very good to me and I like to think I paid it back with service, but we weren’t always in the First Division and most of the international managers never looked any further than the First Division, and rightly so because there were so many great goalkeepers about. But I had the pleasure of being the recognised number 10 or 11!”
Which prompts another interruption: who’s in goal there these days? Angus Gunn, I reply. “Interesting,” he says. “What about that Rudd chap?” Gone to Preston? “Oh.”
Then work calls for Keelan: “I have some coaching to do – have some good kids and it is nice if you can contribute something and get these kids through college. It feels good. I don’t fly around – the bones get a bit brittle when you get to 76. I still kick and chip and cross balls - I can do all that but no diving for me.”
Before Keelan signs off he asks a favour: “I would like to thank all the people and Norwich City for the years I spent there - they have the best fans in the world, they were wonderful people – please give them my regards.”