Writer: Barry Worthington
Date:Sunday June 6 2010
Former Wigan Athletic striker Eamonn O`Keefe has just published his autobiography `I Only Wanted To Play Football`, I found this out when a couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon Eamonn`s website whilst researching past Latics players.
Eamonn O`Keefe if I am being honest is a bit of a hero of mine, he signed for the Latics back in 1982 when we were challenging for our first ever promotion in the old Fourth Division, the season was half way through and you could say that Eamonn was the last piece in that particular promotion jig-saw.
He was much more than that though, a current Republic of Ireland international and a first team regular for Everton, his signing was a real coup for the Latics, though it did take a club record fee of £65,000 to land him, but still he was a top league striker and he landed straight onto Wigan Athletics team sheet for the next league game, away at Northampton Town, and yes he scored on his debut.
O`Keefe was also renowned for being a real character, despite his Irish heritage he was born and bred in Manchester, started his football career off playing for Mossley, though he did have a previous unsuccessful spell at Plymouth Argyle it was whilst at non-league Mossley where he made his mark and then on to Everton, signed by Gordon Lee for the First Division giants.
So when Eamonn O`Keefe signed for Wigan Athletic I was one supporter who was at first disbelieving and then absolutely delighted as it sank in, we had captured a player of real quality, someone who I had marvelled at on Match of the Day, the Latics were really going places now, so was Eamonn, he was sold a year later to Port Vale and also had spells at Chester, Bangor, Cork City, St. Patricks Athletic, Al-Hilal and most successfully Blackpool where Eamonn is remembered and revered like a football God, he did after all score 23 goals in 36 games for the Seasiders before injury cut short his stay on the North West coast.
Anyway like I say I stumbled upon www.eamonnokeefe.com and I thought I`d chance my arm and contact Eamonn and ask for an interview for Vital Latics, imagine both my surprise and sheer joy when he said yes, so without further ado here it is:
worbo - Coming to Wigan from Everton in 1982 must have been a culture shock, I remember us getting this superstar from the top flight, Eamonn O`Keefe was a massive signing for the Latics, all the fans were excited and you didnt disappoint, you were the final piece in Larry Lloyds promotion jigsaw, what do you remember as your first impressions of the club back then?
Eamonn - First impressions were, having come from the five-star Belfield Training ground, I must admit that back then the Wigan changing facilities weren't as they are now and were a shock to my system! But, because I had already played in non-league (with Mossley), I half-expected that. A really nice difference though was that Wigan was very much a 'family' type club. It's very difficult to keep a 'family feeling' like that alive, following such tremendous success - success always has a price...
worbo - The £65,000 Wigan paid Everton for your services was a lot of money back in 1982 but it was never a gamble because you had class and always were going to score goals at that level, but did you feel under any pressure to hit the ground running so to speak especially with promotion in sight?
Eamonn - When a club like Wigan pull out all the stops and pay, what was for them back them, a massive amount of money for you, you're bound to feel the pressure - and yes, I did. It was really important to me to make an impact and fortunately I did ok. When it happened, promotion was sweet and I knew that I had made the right decision.
worbo - You are a Manchester lad and at that time we had two Manchester men and real characters at the club in Freddie Pye (chairman) and Fred Eyre (assistant manager), did you know either before you joined and if so were they influential in your decision to come to Wigan?
Eamonn - In my book (plug!! '...`I Only Wanted To Play Football`,') you can clearly see that Fred Pye and Fred Eyre played major parts in my football career. Freddie Pye tried to help me out when I was having problems with the Saudi team, Al Hilal, so I was more than comfortable in meeting up with him. Fred Eyre, had already left Wigan when I arrived - but over the years (including now) Fred has always given me huge support and been a great friend - so yes, both of them helped me to make my mind up.
worbo - Whoops I got the Fred Eyre bit wrong, sorry about that.
The hat-trick you scored in the final home game of the 1981/82 season against Mansfield at Springfield Park still lives strong in mine and lots of other Latics fans memories, we gained our first ever promotion that day and it was a fantastic occasion, I remember reading somewhere that you said it was an incredible atmosphere but very scary with the fans running on the pitch at the end, what do you remember of that day and how did you and the team celebrate?
Eamonn - Yes, the atmosphere was unbelievable but when everyone ran onto the pitch we (the players) got trapped - and when thousands of people are shoving and pushing and trying to get to you to pat you on the head or slap you on the back, it is very frightening. At one stage, I can remember that I was struggling to breathe but it was all done in the excitement of gaining promotion - and the police and the stewards quickly got us all safely to the tunnel.
The team celebrated with the fans in the supporters' club - that's what I meant before about the 'family' feeling. One of my pet hates these days is that the players seem to be 'out of touch' with the fans... It seems to be more effort than inclination to be really close to the real supporters.
The hat-trick? Probably three of the flukiest goals you'll ever see but they all count! And the end result - the promotion - was fantastic.
worbo - Do you keep in touch with any of the players from that squad?
Eamonn - No, people's lives and circumstances change and it's easy to lose contact. I have kept in touch with Graham Barrow over the years and remained friends with (the late) Harry McNally but not really anyone else.
worbo - When you left Wigan you went on to play for a number of clubs including Blackpool, can you believe that both the Latics and Blackpool are set to face each other as Premier League clubs, is it a game that you will take in live?
Eamonn - I am determined to watch both the home and away fixtures live on that one! (Hope I get an invite from both the clubs - I'll be gutted if I don't...) If I'm pushed as to who I'd like to win... I'd like Wigan to win at Wigan and Blackpool to win at Blackpool but, hey - if they both stay up I'll be delighted!
worbo - Finally if you could pick your all time XI that you have played with what would it be, plus you can only have 10 because you are up front.
Gary Stevens, Mark Lawrenson, Kevin Ratcliffe, John Bailey
Ronnie Whelan, Asa Hartford, Liam Brady, Kevin Sheedy
Frank Stapleton, Eamonn O'Keefe
Sub: David Moore (Mossley) ... To replace O'Keefe after 30 seconds of play!
worbo - That would be some team. Thanks for the interview Eamonn and thanks for the memories, a great player and a true Latics legend.
Eamonn`s book `I Only Wanted To Play Football`, can be ordered from amazon.co.uk
You can listen to the Latics Speyk podcasts now by clicking on the player here:
Date:Sunday June 6 2010
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