Obituary : Bobby Keetch

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The Independent Online
By no stretch of the imagination could Bobby Keetch be described as an outstandingly gifted footballer, yet he stamped his extrovert personality indelibly on the London soccer scene in the mid-1960s.

A fearsomely abrasive central defender who enjoyed his playing pomp with Fulham, Keetch cut a bold and courageous figure on the pitch, his immaculately coiffeured blond thatch and swashbuckling style making him instantly recognisable.

He was not exactly a shrinking violet off duty, either, being renowned at the time for a flamboyant lifestyle in which beautiful girls, fast cars and hectic socialising were de rigueur.

After failing to make the grade with his first club, West Ham United, whom he had joined after leaving school, Keetch revived his career by signing for Fulham in 1959. It was immediately apparent to all at Craven Cottage that they had been joined by a character who was markedly different from the average young footballer.

Though extremely popular with his peers, after training the strikingly confident teenager tended not to accompany them to the local snooker hall, preferring instead to visit art galleries and antique shops, laying the foundations for a lucrative future when his playing days were done.

Keetch won a regular first-team place late in the 1962-63 season, thereafter helping Fulham through several successive (and successful) battles to remain in the First Division, his combative efforts complementing the more skilful input from the likes of Johnny Haynes, Alan Mullery, George Cohen and Bobby Robson. The muscular Londoner relished especially his confron-tations with star forwards and it was said that the big- ger the reputation of an opponent, the bigger the boots Keetch would wear for the occasion.

He was devastated in May 1966 when manager Vic Buckingham, seeking to establish a more cultured defensive approach, gave him a free transfer. At this stage, having made strides in the art world, he considered leaving football but was persuaded to enlist with Third Division Queen's Park Rangers. It was to prove a fruitful association, as he helped the Loftus Road club rise rapidly to the top flight before bowing out of the English game, still aged only 27, in 1969.

Emigration to South Africa and two years with Durban City followed, along with simultaneous business success. Later Keetch, a family man, moved back to London where he continued to thrive in arts and antiques.

Earlier this year he was involved in the launch of a themed West End restaurant, Football Football, and though he no longer took an active part in professional soccer, he remained in touch through his close ties with Terry Venables and other leading figures in the game. The warmth of their tributes, on learning of his premature death through a stroke, speaks volumes for the impact of Bobby Keetch. He was, most definitely, one of a kind.

Ivan Ponting

Robert Keetch, footballer and businessman; born London 25 October 1941; played for Fulham 1959-66, Queen's Park Rangers 1966-69, Durban City 1969- 70; died London 29 June 1996.