Eamonn O'Keefe

Eamonn O'Keefe
Personal information
Full name Eamonn Gerard O'Keefe
Date of birth (1953-10-13) 13 October 1953[1]
Place of birth Manchester, England[1]
Height 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)
Playing position Midfielder / Forward
Youth career
1974 Stalybridge Celtic
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1974 Plymouth Argyle 0 (0)
1974–1975 Hyde United 33 (26)
1975–1976 Al-Hilal
1976–1979 Mossley[2] 113 (50)
1979–1982 Everton 40 (6)
1982–1983 Wigan Athletic 58 (25)
1983–1985 Port Vale 59 (17)
1985–1986 Blackpool 36 (23)
1987–1988 Cork City 25 (7)
1989 St Patrick's Athletic
1989–1990 Chester City 17 (4)
1990–1991 Bangor City 3 (0)
Total 384 (158)
National team
1979 England Semi-Pro
1983 Republic of Ireland under-21s 4 (4)
1981–1985 Republic of Ireland 5 (1)
Teams managed
1987–1988 Cork City (player-manager)

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

Eamonn Gerard O'Keefe (born 13 October 1953) is an English-born Irish former professional footballer. He played as a forward, but in later years was moved into a midfield role.

He moved from non-league Stalybridge Celtic to Plymouth Argyle, and back into the non-league scene with Hyde United in 1974. The next year he moved to Saudi Arabia to play for Al-Hilal, before returning to England in 1976 to sign with Mossley. His 1978–79 Northern Premier League success at the club won him a move to Everton in 1979, before he was sold on to Wigan Athletic in 1982, who were on the verge of promotion into the Third Division. He switched to Port Vale the next year, before penning a deal with Blackpool in 1985. His goals took the club out of the Fourth Division in 1984–85. In 1987 he was appointed player-manager at Cork City, where he won the Munster Senior Cup and League of Ireland Cup in 1988. He moved to Welsh club Chester City in 1989, after a spell with St Patrick's Athletic. He joined Bangor City the next year, before retiring in 1991.

An England Semi-Pro international, he also won four under-21s caps for the Republic of Ireland. He also went on to win five senior caps between 1981 and 1985, scoring one goal at full international level.

Club career

O'Keefe was born and raised in Blackley, in the city of Manchester.[3] He went to school with Mike Pickering, who later found fame as a musician.[4] As a youth he was a ball boy at Old Trafford,[5] and was on course to join the Manchester United youth team when he broke his leg in a collision with David Allison, son of Malcolm Allison, in a regional schoolboy game.[6] Upon his recovery he joined Stalybridge Celtic of the Cheshire County League, and playing as a right-back he won the club's Player of the Year award.[7] This won him a chance in the Football League, and he turned down Crystal Palace to instead sign with Third Division club Plymouth Argyle in February 1974.[8] He was told by manager Tony Waiters that he would never be anything more than a fringe player in the professional game, who then allowed him to leave Home Park on a free transfer.[9] He returned to Manchester and signed with Hyde United for the 1974–75 Cheshire County League season.

In November 1975 he flew out to Saudi Arabia for a trial at top-flight Al-Hilal, as manager George Smith, the man who had signed him at Stalybridge, offered him the chance to earn a tax-free contract in the oil-rich nation.[10] He impressed on the trial and was offered a contract, this made him the first European to play professionally in Saudi Arabia.[11] Club president Prince Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz Al Saud bought O'Keefe a Pontiac Ventura,[12] before taking the young player on a luxurious tour of Europe, visiting five star hotels in London, Paris, Cannes, and Rome, before returning to Riyadh for the start of the new Saudi season of football.[12] However, on the trip he asked an O'Keefe to give up his football career to become his lover, and was refused.[13] As Prince Abdullah was such as a wealthy and powerful man in Saudi Arabia (a member of the House of Saud), O'Keefe fled the country, fearing for his safety.[14] As he needed Prince Abdullah's permission to leave the country, O'Keefe had to convince him that he was only going to stay in England for one week so as to visit his ill father (who was in fact in good health).[14] Upon his return he informed The Football Association, who gave him advice after forming an emergency meeting.[15]

As the Saudi affair was being resolved, Mossley manager Bob Murphy offered O'Keefe a contract at the Northern Premier League club.[16] In December 1976, he duly signed for Mossley after the Saudi club eventually agreed to release him from his contract.[2][17] Howard Wilkinson was appointed as Mossley's manager in 1976, only for Murphy to return the following year.[18] Wilkindon used O'Keefe as a left-back, though Murphy decided to play him an attacking midfielder due to his 'pace, power and eye for goal'.[2] Under Murphy, the club won the Northern Premier League and Premier League Cup double in 1978–79 – this was the club's first significant success in seventy years.[19] A part-time player, he also worked as a van driver for the Manchester Evening News.[20]

O'Keefe was snapped up by Gordon Lee at First Division Everton for a £25,000 fee.[2] He received a red card in the Merseyside derby, after a late challenge on Liverpool's Ronnie Whelan.[21] He played in the derby again on 24 January 1981, in an FA Cup Third Round clash, and unwittingly set up Imre Varadi for the "Toffees" second goal of a 2–1 win.[22] He went on to score the only goal of the Fourth Round Replay against Southampton at Goodison Park.[23] However Manchester City knocked Everton out at the quarter-final stage, whilst O'Keefe broke his leg in a game against Manchester United.[24]

O'Keefe managed to recover in time for the club's pre-season tour of Japan and the United States, and was rewarded with a new two-year contract.[25] However he found himself on the bench in the 1981–82 season under new manager Howard Kendall, and put in a transfer request.[26] He was then transferred to Wigan Athletic for a £65,000 fee in January 1982,[27] signing a four-year contract.[28] Under manager Larry Lloyd the "Latics" won promotion out of the Fourth Division in third place in 1981–82. He helped Wigan to consolidate their Third Division status in 1982–83, but was transfer-listed after the club went into liquidation, his wages being too high for the club to sustain.[29]

In July 1983, John McGrath's Port Vale paid £10,000 for his services.[30] With eleven goals in 43 games, he was the club's top scorer and Player of the Year in his debut season.[31] The day after picking up his award he put in a transfer request because Vale had been relegated.[30] O'Keefe had also taken a dislike towards new manager John Rudge, as well as the lengthy daily commute from his home to Vale Park.[32] During the following season he played less regularly, but carried two children to safety when a perimeter fence collapsed during an FA Cup 2–1 win at Macclesfield Town on 17 November 1984. On 25 March 1985, he refused to play for the "Vale" against Wrexham because he was due to play for his country the following night.[33]

Three days later, on 28 March, he joined Sam Ellis's Blackpool for £17,500;[27] having decided to turn down a move to Preston North End.[34] He made his debut for the "Seasiders" two days later, in a 4–2 victory over Peterborough United at Bloomfield Road, scoring Blackpool's fourth goal. With Blackpool second in the table, he then scored against leaders Chesterfield in his second appearance for the club.[35] He went on to score four more goals in ten games before the end of the campaign, at which point Blackpool won promotion to Third Division.[36]

The following season, 1985–86, O'Keefe scored seventeen goals in nineteen league starts (including a hat-trick in a 4–0 home win over Doncaster Rovers on 1 October 1985). With seventeen goals, he finished the season as the club's top scorer.[36] After only two games in 1986–87, O'Keefe announced his retirement from professional football due to injury. His final game for Blackpool came on 6 September 1986, in a 2–1 home defeat by Carlisle United.[36] He was awarded a testimonial match as the summer wound down, with First Division champions Everton visiting Bloomfield Road.[36] He repaid the favour in August 1987, when O'Keefe organized a fun run in order to raise £15,000 for Blackpool F.C. – the club were in great financial trouble at the time.[37]

Upon the recommendation of Harry McNally, O'Keefe was appointed as manager of Cork City, a club in the League of Ireland Premier Division.[38] He appointed former Blackpool coach Billy Haydock as his assistant, and signed Blackpool goalkeeper Phil Harrington for a small fee.[39] Also coming out of retirement as a player, his team won the pre-season Munster Senior Cup.[40] He then signed former Stoke City defender Alan Dodd on a month-long deal.[41] O'Keefe also doubled up as the club's commercial manager, and he arranged four Sportsman's Dinner events, with special guests as Jack Charlton, Sir Alex Ferguson, Tommy Docherty, and Emlyn Hughes.[42] The club finished in seventh place in 1987–88 and lifted the League of Ireland Cup. Cork were heading to another mid-table place finish in 1988–89 when O'Keefe was sacked. Cork terminated his contract to cut costs, as the directors were forced to subsidise the club out of their own pockets.[43] Following his dismissal he turned out for Brian Kerr's St Patrick's Athletic in a handful of games.[44]

In March 1989, he came out of professional retirement to sign for Chester City, then managed by friend and former colleague Harry McNally. The signing was delayed due to lengthy negotiations with the Football League over his insurance payout from two years earlier.[45] He was also appointed as the club's commercial manager, and attempted to form a football pool for the entire Football League, in conjunction with the FA and the Daily Mirror; however he could not break the Littlewoods monopoly due to a law that specifically banned newspapers from becoming involved in a pools game – O'Keefe believed that this arrangement "reeked of corruption".[46] On the playing side, his Chester debut came at his former club, Blackpool, on 18 March 1989; he came off the bench to score in a 1–1 draw, denying Blackpool two points in their battle against relegation. Although he appeared in every game until the end of the season and became the club's penalty taker, O'Keefe only featured in three more matches in 1989–90 and drifted out of professional football circles, signing for Bangor City.

International career

O'Keefe became an England semi-pro international, playing against Scotland and the Netherlands in a tournament in May 1979, scoring the winning goal against the Dutch in the final.[2]

In January 1981, the FAI arranged for him to be given an Irish passport; he qualified for the Republic of Ireland due to the fact that his father was born in Ireland.[47] He made his debut in a 3–1 defeat to Wales at Tolka Park in Dublin.[48] After the game he was informed by FIFA that he would not be permitted to play another international games as he had voided himself from the Ireland team due to his England semi-pro appearances, and that he had voided himself from the England team due to his appearance for Ireland.[48]

In summer 1983, FIFA agreed to grant him permission to play for Ireland again, so he travelled to Toulouse in France, to play as over-age player with the Republic of Ireland under-21s in a friendly tournament.[49] His four goals against the Chinese made him the competition's leading scorer, and his performances in his three other games impressed the management team of Eoin Hand and Terry Conroy enough to win him a place in the senior team.[50]

He was selected to play for the Ireland senior team in the 1984 Kirin Cup, and scored the only goal of the semi-final tie with the People's Republic of China.[51] However the Irish lost 2–1 to Brazilian side Internacional in the final.[51] He also played in a 1–0 win over the Soviet Union in a World Cup qualifier at Lansdowne Road on 12 September 1984, as he came on for Mickey Walsh as an 80th-minute substitute.[52] On 26 March 1985, he played for Ireland in a friendly against England at Wembley; the English won 2–1, with Gary Lineker scoring his first international goal.[53] This would be the last of his five senior caps.

Legacy and personal life

O'Keefe was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Bloomfield Road when it was officially opened by former Blackpool player Jimmy Armfield in April 2006.[54] Organised by the Blackpool Supporters Association, Blackpool fans around the world voted on their all-time heroes. Five players from each decade are inducted; O'Keefe is in the 1980s.[55]

After retiring from football he became a social worker, helping adults with disabilities and special needs, as well as children in care.[56] O'Keefe now lives in the Portuguese town of Vilamoura,[57] where he works for Monarch Property Group, with his wife, Lorna.[58] His son, Paul, was a youth team player at Manchester United, but he failed to make the grade and never turned professional.[59]


In 2010, he released his autobiography, entitled ... I Only Wanted to Play Football.[60] The foreword is written by Fred Eyre, his manager at Stalybridge Celtic.[61] He decided to write the book under persuasion by wife Lorna, who also edited it.[61]


Club statistics

Club Season Division League FA Cup Other Total
Everton1979–80First Division40001050
1980–81First Division2534110304
1981–82First Division1131041164
Total 4065161518
Wigan Athletic1981–82Fourth Division2290000229
1982–83Third Division361600313917
Total 582500316126
Port Vale1983–84Third Division371010514311
1984–85Fourth Division2273120278
Total 591741717019
Blackpool1984–85Fourth Division1260000126
1985–86Third Division221700202417
1986–87Third Division20000020
Total 362300203823
Chester City1988–89Third Division1440000144
1989–90Third Division30000030
Total 1740000174
Cork City[62] 1987–88 League of Ireland Premier Division 257
Career Total 235829218326487

International statistics

Republic of Ireland national team[62]


with Mossley
with Wigan Athletic
with Blackpool
with Cork City


  1. 1 2 "Eamonn O'Keefe". neilbrown.newcastlefans.com. Retrieved 17 September 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "The Mossley AFC 'Hall of Fame'". mossleyweb.com. Retrieved 17 September 2011.
  3. O'Keefe 2010, p. 12
  4. O'Keefe 2010, p. 19
  5. O'Keefe 2010, p. 26
  6. O'Keefe 2010, p. 38
  7. O'Keefe 2010, p. 42
  8. O'Keefe 2010, p. 44
  9. O'Keefe 2010, p. 46
  10. O'Keefe 2010, p. 47
  11. O'Keefe 2010, p. 48
  12. 1 2 O'Keefe 2010, p. 63
  13. O'Keefe 2010, p. 77
  14. 1 2 O'Keefe 2010, pp. 80–88
  15. O'Keefe 2010, p. 91
  16. O'Keefe 2010, p. 92
  17. O'Keefe 2010, p. 98
  18. O'Keefe 2010, p. 103
  19. O'Keefe 2010, p. 104
  20. Handler, Paul (7 October 2010). "Book review: Eamonn O'Keefe". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 17 September 2011.
  21. O'Keefe 2010, p. 120
  22. O'Keefe 2010, pp. 123–25
  23. O'Keefe 2010, p. 130
  24. O'Keefe 2010, p. 131
  25. O'Keefe 2010, p. 132
  26. O'Keefe 2010, p. 133
  27. 1 2 Gillatt, Peter (30 November 2009). Blackpool FC On This Day: History, Facts and Figures from Every Day of the Year. Pitch Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-905411-50-2.
  28. O'Keefe 2010, p. 136
  29. O'Keefe 2010, p. 138
  30. 1 2 Kent, Jeff (1996). Port Vale Personalities. Witan Books. p. 218. ISBN 0-9529152-0-0.
  31. 1 2 Kent, Jeff (1990). The Valiants' Years: The Story Of Port Vale. Witan Books. p. 305. ISBN 0-9508981-4-7.
  32. O'Keefe 2010, pp. 142–43
  33. O'Keefe 2010, pp. 148–49
  34. O'Keefe 2010, p. 155
  35. O'Keefe 2010, p. 158
  36. 1 2 3 4 Calley, Roy (1992). Blackpool: A Complete Record 1887–1992. Breedon Books Sport. ISBN 1-873626-07-X.
  37. O'Keefe 2010, p. 179
  38. O'Keefe 2010, p. 182
  39. O'Keefe 2010, p. 183
  40. O'Keefe 2010, p. 184
  41. O'Keefe 2010, p. 185
  42. O'Keefe 2010, p. 193
  43. O'Keefe 2010, p. 200
  44. O'Keefe 2010, p. 201
  45. Chas Sumner (1997). On the Borderline: The Official History of Chester City 1885–1997. p. 106. ISBN 1-874427-52-6.
  46. O'Keefe 2010
  47. O'Keefe 2010, p. 127
  48. 1 2 O'Keefe 2010, p. 128
  49. O'Keefe 2010, p. 143
  50. O'Keefe 2010, p. 144
  51. 1 2 O'Keefe 2010, p. 146
  52. "Ireland – Soviet Union". allworldcup.narod.ru. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  53. "Match No. 597 – Tuesday, 26th March 1985". englandstats.com. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  54. Singleton 2007, pp. 90–93
  55. "The Hall of Fame – 1980's". Blackpool Supporters Association. Retrieved 2 December 2009.
  56. "About Me". The Official Eamonn O'Keefe Website. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  57. "Eamonn O'Keefe on life after Blackpool"The Guardian, 20 May 2010
  58. Gaughan, Jack (2 March 2009). "Eamonn O'Keefe Talks Blackpool". Blackpool.vitalfootball.co.uk. Retrieved 17 September 2011.
  59. Scholes, Paul (2012). My Story. Simon & Schuster. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-85720-608-4.
  60. "Canavan's Blackpool FC Blog". Blackpool Today. 13 October 2010. Retrieved 17 September 2011.
  61. 1 2 O'Keefe 2010, p. 219
  62. 1 2 "Eamonn O'Keefe". National Football Teams. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
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