Keith Weller

Leicester City midfielder with stamina and dash

Keith Weller was blessed with all the natural talent necessary to become a top footballer with either Tottenham Hotspur or Chelsea. Both offered the bright, dynamic Londoner enticing opportunities early in his career, but he failed to sparkle quite persuasively enough among the forbidding firmament of stars at White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge.

Keith Weller, footballer: born London 11 June 1946; played for Tottenham Hotspur 1964-67, Millwall 1967-70, Chelsea 1970-71, Leicester City 1971-79; capped four times by England 1974; married; died Seattle, Washington 12 November 2004.

Keith Weller was blessed with all the natural talent necessary to become a top footballer with either Tottenham Hotspur or Chelsea. Both offered the bright, dynamic Londoner enticing opportunities early in his career, but he failed to sparkle quite persuasively enough among the forbidding firmament of stars at White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge.

Instead, eventually, he accepted a move to the less rarefied, altogether homelier surroundings of Filbert Street, where he matured during the 1970s into one of the most revered figures in Leicester City's history, perhaps deserving more than the four caps he was awarded by the England caretaker manager Joe Mercer.

Weller was an attacking midfielder endowed bountifully with flair and dash, frequently deployed on the right wing but arguably more effective in a central role. Admirably direct and determined, he possessed the skill and pace to leave defenders floundering in his wake, often his stamina appeared limitless and he packed an explosive shot which yielded some memorably spectacular goals.

Also in the Weller mix was a slightly temperamental bent. He was emphatically his own man and once, utterly frustrated by perceived shortcomings at the club, he refused to return to the pitch for the second half of Leicester's home encounter with Ipswich Town in December 1974, for which rash act he was fined and temporarily transfer-listed.

His verve and his independence apart, Weller ensured an unperishable entry in City's folklore in one of his last matches for them, an FA Cup tie against Norwich City. Aghast at the conditions which had caused the postponement of most of the football programme that icy day in January 1979, he donned a pair of fetching white tights under his shorts, then ignored the inevitable ribaldry from the terraces and scored in his team's 3-0 victory.

Weller, who was on Arsenal's books as a schoolboy, turned professional with Tottenham in January 1964 and impressed the White Hart Lane boss Bill Nicholson with his exuberant ability. Whenever called to the colours as a deputy for the League and FA Cup double-winning heroes Cliff Jones or Terry Dyson, the rookie acquitted himself splendidly.

On one summer tour of Mexico he was particularly prominent, astounding team-mates and opponents alike by his boundless energy in the baking heat, but sadly Nicholson, untypically, was not there to see it. Eventually, demoralised at not being able to pin down a regular place, he agreed to join Millwall of the old Second Division for £20,000 in June 1967, even though the Spurs manager, sensing the 21-year-old's potential, had been reluctant to sell.

Sure enough, he flourished at the Den, where he linked sweetly with his former Tottenham team-mate Derek Possee, who played as an out-and-out striker with Weller in a slightly deeper role. Emerging as a key component of Benny Fenton's enterprising team, he regained career impetus, earned selection for an FA tour of New Zealand and the Far East - during which he scored 11 goals in as many matches - and secured a £100,000 switch to the FA Cup holders, Chelsea, in May 1970.

Now Weller found himself in an attractive and fashionable side replete with household names - the likes of Peter Osgood, Charlie Cooke and Alan Hudson - but he was not overawed. Operating on the right flank, he had netted a dozen times by Christmas - including a sumptuous volley against Newcastle United - and although his form fell away towards the end of the season, he topped the Blues' scoring charts with 14 strikes in all competitions.

More importantly, he had played a major part in Chelsea lifting the European Cup Winners' Cup, missing only one game during the glorious progress to a replayed final, in which the mighty Real Madrid were vanquished in Athens.

Still, though manager Dave Sexton had a cornucopia of riches from which to choose, it seemed a pity to Weller's admirers that he was not given an extended chance in central midfield, where his influence might have been even more pervasive. As it was, he was plagued by illness and injury at the outset of the following campaign, then the arrival of Chris Garland and Steve Kember shunted him down the pecking order, and in September 1971 he was transferred to Leicester City, newly promoted to the top flight, for another £100,000 fee.

At last Weller was in his element as a crucially important component of Jimmy Bloomfield's team, one which entertained wonderfully even if it suffered from a maddening tendency to under-achieve. With a lovely attack in which Weller was joined by Jon Sammels, Frank Worthington, Alan Birchenall and Len Glover, City were rarely dull, but they flattered to deceive, suggesting on several occasions that they might qualify for Europe, only to fall short in the end.

Weller highlights included a magnificent hat-trick to beat Liverpool after falling two goals behind in a League clash in August 1972; a run to the 1974 FA Cup semi-finals, in which they lost to Liverpool, and a stunning strike against Luton on that same cup trail, which fans voted to be City's greatest ever goal.

During his eight years at Filbert Street, City never finished higher than seventh in the First Division, but there was some consolation on the international front when Weller was called up by the genial Mercer, ever a man with an eye for an entertainer, for four games in the space of 11 days in May 1974. One of them, against Northern Ireland at Wembley, he graced with a rare headed goal, which was enough to secure victory, but he never caught the fancy of the new England boss Don Revie and never represented his country again.

Towards the end of the decade, Weller began to suffer serial knee trouble, and he was not at his best in 1977/78 when Leicester, after Frank McLintock had replaced Bloomfield as manager, were relegated as the bottom club. He contributed gamely under Jock Wallace in the difficult rebuilding term of 1978/79, stretching his Foxes record to 43 goals in 297 senior appearances, before crossing the Atlantic to join New England Tea Men, with whom he had already put in a loan stint.

There followed a spell playing for Fort Lauderdale Strikers before he became a sought-after coach, serving Fort Lauderdale Sun, South Florida Sun, Houston Dynamo, Dallas Sidekicks, San Diego Sockers, Tacoma Stars and Sacramento Knights. He settled in Seattle, where he also drove an outside-broadcast rig for a television station and ran a coffee shop.

Keith Weller died at his home following a lengthy battle with a rare form of cancer. In 2002 Leicester fans raised £40,000 to pay for therapy and at the end of the 2003/04 football season Alan Birchenall, who described his former City comrade as one of the five best Leicester players of all time, raised £27,500 for research into the disease with a sponsored run.

Ivan Ponting



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