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West Ham United had languished in the second tier of English football for 18 consecutive seasons before winning the Second Division championships in 1957-58.
One of the crucial factors in winning the League and gaining promotion to the First Division was the inspired purchase of 27 year old Vic Keeble. Manager Ted Fenton’s signing of Keeble from Newcastle United in October 1957 turned out to be a turning point in the Hammers’ fortunes.
Prior to Vic moving to east London, the Hammers were lying 11th in the Division Two league table and more importantly, after 12 league games inside forward John Dick had yet to score a goal. Vic joining the club made all of the difference.
In the season’s remaining 30 league matches, partners in crime Dick and Keeble went on to net 40 league goals.
In a claret and blue career lasting just two years and three months, Vic appeared in 84 league and cup games scoring a highly impressive 51 goals.
Born: Colchester, Essex June 25, 1930 Vic Keeble died January 29, 2018 aged 87.
VIC KEEBLE'S SCRAPBOOK
The October 1957 signing wasn’t the first time Ted Fenton had captured the signature of the tall centre forward. As manager of Southern League club Colchester United, Fenton paid Vic a £10 signing-on fee in 1947 from a local Colchester youth side, the King George Youth Club.
In Colchester United’s first season in the Football League, following election in 1952, Keeble helped establish The U’s in the league by contributing 23 goals in 46 league appearances. Over five seasons he justified Fenton’s faith with 78 strikes in his 114 Southern & Football League appearances for the Essex club.
A strike rate of close to 0.7 goals per game attracted attention and it was inevitable that he would move to a bigger club. A hefty £15,000 transfer fee took Vic to Newcastle United in February 1952. Though he missed Newcastle’s FA Cup final appearance that season, he made up for it three years later.
The high point of Vic’s career must have been as a member of Newcastle United’s victorious cup final side in 1955. Vic was centre forward in the Magpies' team which beat Manchester City in Wembley’s 1955 FA Cup final. Before moving back south to the Hammers, Keeble made 104 league appearances and netted 56 goals for the north eastern club.
Colchester United League Debut in 1947
Early in the following season there was speculation that West Ham United would offer Vic a testimonial game. The club had created a precedent in offering benefit games for three other players whose careers were curtailed by injury. Brian Moore and Geoff Hallas were recipients in 1956, followed by Malcolm Allison in 1958.
The first home programme of 1960-61 season announced Vic’s early retirement with:
A succession of injuries have left the popular centre-forward with no alternative but to seek a future off the field and we have consequently granted Vic a free-transfer which frees him from all obligations to us. We hope to stage a Testimonial match for Vic later in the season and know that this will be splendidly supported by all of his many admirers.
Despite this speculation the testimonial match didn’t materialise. We believe the West Ham United board awarded Vic a benefit payment in lieu of a testimonial match.
£10,000 Transfer to Hammers
After a lengthy search for another centre-forward, West Ham manager Ted Fenton finally got his man shortly before midnight on October 12, 1957 after watching the 27-year-old play for Newcastle United against Everton in a League game at St James' Park. Fenton revealed that the Hammers had "made several previous efforts to sign Keeble and their persistence was rewarded in return for a cheque of five figures".
The Hammers ran out 5-0 winners over the Dutch side with the Keeble / Dick joint partnership taking a mere four minutes to open their goal account.
The Stratford Express’ match report explained: West Ham’s new centre forward received a shrewd pass from Dick to net from a difficult angle. John Dick played his part with a 25 minute hat-trick.
It was a very promising start and The Daily Mail’s match report sang Vic Keeble’s praises with “There was a neatness and intelligence in everything Keeble attempted – particularly a flicked header which led to the fifth goal – but the overplayed Dutch boys did not have enough bite to make the game a real and vital test.”
While Dick Walker received the plaudits before kick-off as recognition for his 25 years’ claret and blue service it was the rousing performance and initial glimpse of the Dick/Keeble partnership which received applause at the final whistle.
The centre-forward pairing were building an instant rapport which will be remembered as the turning point in West Ham’s season which culminated in becoming Division Two champions.
Extract: Minutes of Board Meeting held on Tuesday October 15, 1957
Claret and Blue Debut
The ink had barely dried on his contract, when 36-hours later Vic was ushered into the first team for his claret and blue debut. He wasted no time in scoring his first goal albeit in this friendly. On Monday October 14, 1957 Vic stepped into the first XI to face Sparta Rotterdam in a friendly fixture doubling as a testimonial game for the club’s long serving centre half, Dick Walker.
West Ham League Debut
The Doncaster Rovers draw sparked a four game winning run which swept the Hammers up to fourth place in the league table. This included the first of Vic’s three hat-tricks in claret and blue. The first unlucky recipients were Stoke City in a 5-0 rout on Saturday November 16, 1957.
Five days after the Dutch friendly it was back to Upton Park for the more serious business of Vic’s league debut against Doncaster Rovers on October 19, 1957. And the expectations raised in the Sparta Rotterdam friendly were met. In a 1-1 draw Vic made it a scoring league debut for The Irons. In the 60th minute right-back John Bond romped upfield, his swerving centre was finger-tipped away by Gregg to the diving head of Keeble – and West Ham were one up. One minute later Doncaster were level.
The West Ham side that afternoon: Ernie Gregory, John Bond, Noel Cantwell, Andy Malcolm, Ken Brown, Bill Lansdowne, Mike Grice, Billy Dare, Vic Keeble, John Dick, Malcolm Musgrove.
Second Hat-trick & Top of Division Two
In Vic’s first eleven league games he scored seven to John Dick’s nine as West Ham were unbeaten in their climb to third in the table by Christmas Day.
Into the New Year and the team was firing on all cylinders. January was a memorable month as Vic notched his second Hammers’ hat-trick in a 5-1 home win in the FA Cup over Division One side, Blackpool on January 4, 1958, and two weeks later West Ham moved to the top of Division Two.
Two more points from another home win and again by a four goal margin. This time West Ham comfortably beat Swansea Town 6-2 with a Keeble double leading the way. This was one of four Keeble doubles in 1957-58.
Division Two Champions
Consistent good form kept West Ham at the top of the table. In the 30 Second Division matches since Vic’s October 1957 signing, the Hammers won 18, drew nine and lost just three times.
By good fortune both Dick and Keeble avoided any serious injuries. From the time Vic joined the club, he missed just a single league fixture and Dick was ever-present in this run.
In the second half of the 57-58 campaign Vic Keeble netted 10 league goals to John Dick’s 11 goals. Promotion and the Second Division Championship was secured in the well documented last game of the season away at Middlesbrough. To round off the campaign West Ham won 3-1 with Keeble and Dick both on the score sheet.
Vic Keeble takes centre stage against Liverpool
April 19, 1958
Southern Floodlight Cup Debut Goal
Five days before Vic’s Swansea Town brace, he played in the first of his four Southern Floodlight Cup ties. On January 13, 1958 Upton Park hosted the 2nd round tie against Reading. In the 3-3 draw Keeble, John Smith and John Dick scored the Hammers’ treble. Two weeks later West Ham, without Vic, lost the Elm Park replay 5-3.
In this first season of the Dick & Keeble strike partnership, Vic netted 23 league and cup goals to John’s 26. It turned out to be one of West Ham United’s most prolific goal scoring partnerships and one to be compared alongside the later Geoff Hurst & Johnny Byrne and Tony Cottee & Frank McAvennie dual acts.
Return to Colchester United May 1958
Did you know?
A year before joining West Ham United, Vic played in the Geoff Hallas / Brian Moore Testimonial game at Upton Park. On this occasion playing for the All Stars XI which faced the Hammers on October 22, 1956.
The two sides shared six goals and Keeble made a favourable impression as he bagged the game’s first goal after only two minutes.
At the end of the season Ted Fenton took the Hammers to Layer Road for a Pearson Charity Cup fixture against his old team, Colchester United
West Ham beat The U’s 4-2 in a game notable for Mick Newman who scored a hat-trick with Keeble netting the fourth. Newman was the last amateur player to appear in the Hammers' first team.
Four Goals v Blackburn Rovers
While the Hammers were challenging at the top of the league, for Vic the season had started more slowly. After the first 10 league matches he had only hit the back of the net five times.
In the following match, and a year after he signed for West Ham United, his scoring rate increased a notch as he recorded his best-ever scoring performance in claret and blue. Facing Blackburn Rovers at Upton Park on Saturday October 4, 1958 the Hammers won 6-3 with Vic grabbing a quartet!
Goals continued to flow into the Keeble and Dick goal accounts such by the end of the 1958-59 season the pair had netted a total of 47 league goals. These goals helped the side achieve the club’s highest ever position of 6th in Division One.
Similar to his first season, Vic again came close to more hat-tricks as he scored four doubles. By the season’s end he had logged 20 league goals in 21 appearances while John Dick recorded a post-war club record of 26 league goals from 41 appearances.
Keeble’s goal tally was one better than the previous season’s and it could have been much higher but for missing 10 of the season’s final 11 league matches.
Vic Keeble's first season in claret and blue was impressive and his second was even better. Playing in the top tier of English football Keeble and Dick continued where they had left off in May 1958. The 1958-59 campaign saw the Keeble & Dick partnership rattled in a total of 51 league and cup goals as the team reached new heights. On September 6, 1958 in the season’s sixth game, the Hammers beat Manchester United 3-2 at Upton Park. A match memorable for Bobby Moore’s league debut and for sweeping West Ham to the heady heights of topping Division One!
London Challenge Cup Final
In his second season he made a cup final appearance. Though not one to rival his 1955 FA Cup winning performance with Newcastle!
Vic was in the Hammers’s side which faced Tottenham Hotspur in the final of the London Challenge Cup at White Hart Lane on December 1, 1958. Unfortunately, no winners’ medal this time as Spurs won 3-1. The striker had also played in one of the earlier rounds but failed to find the net.
A couple of weeks after the London Challenge Cup disappointment, it was another cup evening under the Upton Park floodlights. This time in a Southern Floodlight Cup tie against Fulham. The Irons disposed of the west Londoners with a 3-1 victory courtesy of goals from Bond (penalty), Keeble and Cantwell.
Football Combination Honour
Despite a distinguished club career, Vic never received a call-up to the England or Football League representative sides. Though on Wednesday April 8, 1959 Vic Keeble and Malcolm Musgrove were both selected to play for the Football Combination against a Select Dutch XI in Amsterdam. Football Combination sides were typically a representative XI comprising of players from London clubs.
A smiling Ted Fenton pours champagne for hat-trick hero Vic Keeble – Here’s to the Fourth Round
Malcolm Musgrove, Noel Cantwell, Ken Brown, Andy Malcolm, Vic Keeble
Andy Nelson, Ernie Gregory, Mike Grice
End of Season Continental Tour
At the close of the club’s most successful ever league campaign, the first team squad embarked on a short tour of the continent. In Ted Fenton’s quest for the players to experience different opposition he arranged a May tour of Belgium and West Germany. For Vic he was back in the side after injury and he netted in the club’s second match against Rot Weiss in a 3-2 defeat.
Injury Forces Early Retirement
The clubs record books show Vic Keeble as making 15 league appearances and scoring six goals in 1959-60. Keeble’s final season was blighted by injuries and in particular a persistent back injury which forced his early retirement.
The season started promisingly enough with Vic in the side for the first 13 league fixtures. He even netted his fair share of goals with six. The goals continued to flow with five strikes from six appearances for the Reserves Football Combination side in his bid to regain full fitness. But to no avail.
Vic’s last first team goal turned out to be at home to Luton Town in a 3-1 win on November 10, 1959. Though the goal scoring headlines would have been grabbed by league debutant Derek Woodley who scored a double.
Two months after his last first team goal and still hampered by a serious back problem, his final appearance for the Hammers was up in Yorkshire against Leeds United on January 16, 1960. It was not a memorable day at Elland Road as the Peacocks won 3-0.
The team for Vic’s last first team appearance included six from his West Ham league debut 27 months earlier: Brian Rhodes, John Bond, Noel Cantwell, Andy Malcolm, Ken Brown, Bobby Moore, Malcolm Musgrove, John Smith, Vic Keeble, Harry Obeney, Phil Woosnam.
The disappointing end to his claret and blue tenure was reflected in the team’s performances as the club slipped from a high of 3rd early in the season to finish 14th in Division One by the end of 1959-60. After two impressive goal scoring seasons, and at just 29-years of age, Vic Keeble's playing career came to a premature end.
Testimonial Match Speculation
Date of Birth:
June 25, 1930
4 FA Cup
4 Southern Floodlight Cup
4 FA Cup
2 Southern Floodlight Cup
theyflysohigh would like to pass on our condolences to Vic's friends and family at this sad time.
Newspaper coverage courtesy of Richard Miller : Chelmsford City image John Northcutt
CHELMSFORD CITY 1977-78
Source: West Ham v Aston Villa programme, August 22, 1960
Life After the Hammers
Having hung up his boots, he moved home to north Essex and returned to Colchester United where he took up an administrative role as commercial manager. Staying in Essex he subsequently joined Chelmsford City to take over the running of the club’s fundraising efforts. Later at New Writtle Street he became the Club’s General Manager, whilst also undertaking the role of Secretary.
West Ham United
Second Division Champions
Back row: Billy Moore (Assistant Trainer), Andy Malcolm, Ken Brown, John Bond, Ernie Gregory, Noel Cantwell, Bill Lansdowne, Malcolm Pyke, Ted Fenton (Manager)
Seated: Mike Grice, John Smith, Vic Keeble, John Dick, Malcolm Musgrove
West Ham United
Back row: Mike Grice, Noel Dwyer, Ken Brown
Middle row: John Cartwright, Joe Kirkup, John Bond, John Dick, Bobby Moore, Andy Malcolm
Front row: Phil Woosnam, Andy Smillie, Noel Cantwell, Vic Keeble, Malcolm Musgrove
Hospital Buddies, Vic and John Lyall
Keeble throws a punch in training
Keeble No.9 celebrates John Dicks goal against Wolves in August 1958
Fulham keeper Macedo saves from Keeble
'They Played with Bobby Moore'
Vic in 2015
General Secretary with the Clarets
Keeble watches on as Liverpool’s Rudham dives full length to save
West Ham United 7 - 2 Aston Villa Upton Park
August 30, 1958
CHELMSFORD CITY 1977-78