Mike Keen: Footballer who captained Third Division Queen's Park Rangers to League Cup victory in 1967
Saturday 02 May 2009
Mike Keen was a well-respected professional footballer who played for Queen's Park Rangers, Luton Town and Watford. He also managed Watford, Northampton Town and Wycombe. But it was the wing-half's exploits in the blue and white hoops of QPR 42 years ago for which will be best remembered.
Keen captained the side to victory in the 1967 League Cup final at Wembley, when as a Third Division side they beat West Bromwich Albion, of the First Division, 3-2 after trailing 2-0. The same season Keen led the team to promotion, as they won the Third Division title by 12 points. It ranks as the greatest season in the club's 124 years of existence.
Keen joined QPR as a teenage prospect in 1958 and broke through into the first team just as the 1960s were beginning to swing in the capital. But this was an era when the club were mired in the Third Division, and Rangers proved themselves resolutely immune to the exciting buzz that infected everyone else in west London. There was nothing remotely glamorous about struggling in the middle reaches of the Third Division season after season. Through it all, Keen was an ever-present in the QPR line-up: from March 1962 until September 1968 he never missed a game. Team-mates remembered Keen as a skilled passer of the ball who was also able to impose himself physically, and to use his height to good effect in the air.
After the under-achieving dog-years the club burst into glorious life in 1966-67, when the team, managed by the canny Alec Stock and captained by Keen, and featuring the audacious attacking talents of Rodney Marsh, made a significant impact on English football. Keen played his full part in the stirring League Cup campaign, and prevented QPR from being eliminated at the third-round stage when he scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory at Swansea. They strode on through the rounds, and hammered Birmingham City 7-2 on aggregate in the semi-final – Keen scored in their 3-1 win in the home leg – to reach the first League Cup final to be played at Wembley. The attendance for the game – 97,952 – proved that the move was a master stroke in improving the popularity of a competition that had hitherto struggled for support.
Any chance of an upset on 4 March 1967 looked remote for the lower League side when West Brom raced into a 2-0 lead. It did not help the humour of Rangers' fans that one of their former players, the winger Clive Clark, scored both Albion's goals. But Roger Morgan gave them new hope when he powered a header into the back of the net early in the second half. The ebullient Marsh grabbed the equaliser after an astonishing individual run and shot – still one of the best goals the stadium has seen.
By now Rangers were well on top of their more illustrious opponents, and it was no surprise when they took the lead through Mark Lazarus and captured the Cup. The photograph of Keen holding the trophy aloft while his team-mates chair him around the Wembley pitch is one of the most famous images in the iconography of the club. The only regret for Rangers on a famous day was the unjust rule which prevented a Third Division club taking their place in Europe in the following season's Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which by right should have gone to the League Cup-winners.
Rangers built on their Wembley success by reaching the First Division the following season, but they finished bottom of the table and were relegated in 1968-69. That dispiriting experience also spelt the end for Keen's time at Loftus Road, and after 393 League appearances and 39 goals for the club, he was transferred to Luton, where he rejoined Stock.
In 1969-70 Keen helped his new club win promotion to the Second Division. After three years at Kenilworth Road Keen joined Watford as player, then player-manager and finally as manager. He also had short-lived spells in charge of Northampton and his home-town team, Wycombe Wanderers. They won the Isthmian League title in 1983 under Keen's wise guidance, and he helped launch the playing career of his son, Kevin, at Wycombe, handing him a first-team debut at the age of 15. The talented midfielder went on to play for West Ham United and Stoke City. Keen Snr later managed Marlow, and he also ran a sports shop in Wycombe.
Mike Parry, the head of media at Wycombe Wanderers, where Keen remained a regular supporter, said: "I had the privilege of knowing Mike Keen for over 25 years and I can honestly say he was one of the nicest guys I've ever met in football – or any other walk of life. Quiet, modest, courteous, always smiling and always ready to lend a helping hand, he was a gentle giant and a true gentleman."
Michael Thomas Keen, footballer and manager: born High Wycombe, 19 March 1940; played for Queen's Park Rangers 1959-69; Luton Town 1969-72; Watford 1972-75; managed Watford 1973-77; Northampton Town 1978-79; Wycombe Wanderers 1980-84; died 12 April 2009.
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