|Full name||Eamonn Gerard O'Keefe|
|Date of birth||13 October 1953|
|Place of birth||Manchester, England|
|Height||5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)|
|Playing position||Midfielder / Forward|
|1989||St Patrick's Athletic||6||(0)|
|1983||Republic of Ireland under-21s||4||(4)|
|1981–1985||Republic of Ireland||5||(1)|
|1987–1988||Cork City (player-manager)|
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only|
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 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.
O'Keefe was born and raised in Blackley, in the city of Manchester. He went to school with Mike Pickering, who later found fame as a musician. As a youth he was a ball boy at Old Trafford, 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. He impressed on the trial and was offered a contract, this made him the first European to play professionally in Saudi Arabia. Club president Prince Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz Al Saud bought O'Keefe a Pontiac Ventura, 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. However, on the trip he asked an O'Keefe to give up his football career to become his lover, and was refused. 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. 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). Upon his return he informed The Football Association, who gave him advice after forming an emergency meeting.
As the Saudi affair was being resolved, Mossley manager Bob Murphy offered O'Keefe a contract at the Northern Premier League club. In December 1976, he duly signed for Mossley after the Saudi club eventually agreed to release him from his contract. Howard Wilkinson was appointed as Mossley's manager in 1976, only for Murphy to return the following year. 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'. 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. A part-time player, he also worked as a van driver for the Manchester Evening News.
O'Keefe was snapped up by Gordon Lee at First Division Everton for a £25,000 fee. He received a red card in the Merseyside derby, after a late challenge on Liverpool's Ronnie Whelan. 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. He went on to score the only goal of the Fourth Round Replay against Southampton at Goodison Park. However Manchester City knocked Everton out at the quarter-final stage, whilst O'Keefe broke his leg in a game against Manchester United.
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. However, he found himself on the bench in the 1981–82 season under new manager Howard Kendall, and put in a transfer request. He was then transferred to Wigan Athletic for a £65,000 fee in January 1982, signing a four-year contract. 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.
In July 1983, John McGrath's Port Vale paid £10,000 for his services. With eleven goals in 43 games, he was the club's top scorer and Player of the Year in his debut season. The day after picking up his award he put in a transfer request because Vale had been relegated. 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. 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.
Three days later, on 28 March, he joined Sam Ellis's Blackpool for £17,500; having decided to turn down a move to Preston North End. 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. 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.
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. 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. He was awarded a testimonial match as the summer wound down, with First Division champions Everton visiting Bloomfield Road. 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.
Upon the recommendation of Harry McNally, O'Keefe was appointed as manager of Cork City, a club in the League of Ireland Premier Division. He appointed former Blackpool coach Billy Haydock as his assistant, and signed Blackpool goalkeeper Phil Harrington for a small fee. Also coming out of retirement as a player, his team won the pre-season Munster Senior Cup. He then signed former Stoke City defender Alan Dodd on a month-long deal. 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. 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. Following his dismissal he turned out for Brian Kerr's St Patrick's Athletic in a handful of games.
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. 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". 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.
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. He made his debut in a 3–1 defeat to Wales at Tolka Park in Dublin. 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.
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. 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.
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. However the Irish lost 2–1 to Brazilian side Internacional in the final. 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. 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. 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. 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.
After retiring from football he became a social worker, helping adults with disabilities and special needs, as well as children in care. O'Keefe now lives in the Portuguese town of Vilamoura, where he works for Monarch Property Group, with his wife, Lorna. His son, Paul, was a youth team player at Manchester United, but he failed to make the grade and never turned professional.
In 2010, he released his autobiography, entitled ... I Only Wanted to Play Football. The foreword is written by Fred Eyre, his manager at Stalybridge Celtic. He decided to write the book under persuasion by wife Lorna, who also edited it.
|Wigan Athletic||1981–82||Fourth Division||22||9||0||0||0||0||22||9|
|Port Vale||1983–84||Third Division||37||10||1||0||5||1||43||11|
|Chester City||1988–89||Third Division||14||4||0||0||0||0||14||4|
|Cork City||1987–88||League of Ireland Premier Division||25||7|
|Republic of Ireland national team|
- with Mossley
- with Wigan Athletic
- with Blackpool
- with Cork City
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