The following article was written by Chris Coles and appeared in ‘Goal’ magazine:
‘Queen’s Park Rangers star Mike Kelly is today rated among the game’s most useful keepers. Yet only last season he was wondering if he had any future in the Football League. When QPR went from Third to First Divisions in successive seasons – and stopped off to win the League Cup on the way – Kelly languished in the reserves at Loftus Road.
Guarding the QPR goal in those glory days was first international prospect, Peter Springett and then, when he went to Sheffield Wednesday, his brother ex-England star Ron Springett. But now big Mike has made it. Not only has he displaced the renowned Ron Springett, but after a few months in the limelight there was even talk of him playing for the Republic of Ireland in the World Cup.
Not bad for a goalkeeper who less than three years ago was playing in the wilderness of the Southern League for Wimbledon, the club who spotted him as a schoolboy and made him an amateur international. And Mike would probably still be playing in the obscurity of semi-professional soccer had he not broken his jaw. In fact, this painful blow turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
For Wimbledon were desperate for a replacement and promptly bought QPR reserve, Frank Smith. So when Mike recovered and failed to regain his first team place he asked for a move. Rangers stepped smartly in and signed him for £3,000. Today he is worth more than £30,000. And there is no more dedicated player at Loftus Road. He is one of the hardest workers in the morning sessions and is often at the ground after lunch for a voluntary stint of circuit training and weight work.
Then it’s off for more football – this time as coach to the admiring boys of Southfields School, Wandsworth. For Mike, with an eye to the future, is a qualified FA coach. Then finally it’s off in his white sports car – his one luxury – to his attractive blonde wife Linda and his pet spaniel at their home in the South London suburb of Streatham.
Mike’s injuries last season were a serious blow in Rangers’ struggle for survival. But until he got his big chance at the end of the previous season he wondered if he had made the biggest mistake of his career going to Loftus Road. For after winning an Amateur Cup medal at Wembley he turned professional with Wimbledon when they joined the Southern League, with his job as a GPO telephone engineer he had both security and soccer.
“1 always accepted I was second choice to Peter Springett, but when there was talk of him being sold I thought I would get a chance. Honestly, you don’t know how choked I was when they signed Ron in his place. But there was nothing I could do other than play as well as I could for the reserves and hope my turn would come. I played in the last six games to help clinch promotion. It was worth the wait.”
“I really envied the others when they were winning everything and I was just a reserve. I was in the first team squad and did very well financially. But money isn’t everything in football. It’s crazy really – the moment I got into the side permanently we are struggling at the bottom of the First Division. I only hope I was not the cause.” Far from it, he had some incredible games, none greater than when he almost alone defied the might of champions Manchester City.
What impresses his admirers more than anything is his use of the ball. He is superbly agile, especially going down, and is fearless in the air. But his secret weapon is an amazing bullet-like throw that few in the game can better. Mike, aged 24, 6ft 2ins tall and weighing 12.5 stone, developed this power throw in his days at Wimbledon when he trained on his own every morning and evening by just throwing a ball against a concrete wall.
Has he any regrets at turning professional ? “Not at the moment. But I miss one thing about the old amateur days – the wonderful club spirit, we had it at Wimbledon. It just doesn’t exist in the football League.”
Will QPR come back to make a promotion challenge next season ? “I’m certain of it. We’ve got the talent, but had so much bad luck with injuries last season.”
That international cap ? His one big disappointment – for after checking with FIFA, he learnt that the one England amateur cap he won prevents him playing for his parent’s country, the Republic of Ireland. But who knows, just like that broken jaw, it may be a blessing in disguise and before long he could be playing…..for England !’
Mike made 64 1st team appearances for the R’s before moving on to Birmingham City in August 1970 for £16,000. Later, he spent one season as player-coach at Minnesota Kicks in the NASL. He returned to England and managed Plymouth Argyle’s reserve team.
Then in 1984 he was appointed England’s goalkeeping coach and held the post for six years. More recently he has coached the Swiss national side and in England the likes of Fulham, Palace and West Bromwich Albion.
In 2007 he returned to Fulham where he coached and assisted Roy Hodgson. He also continued the partnership at Liverpool until Hodgson left the club. I spoke to him briefly in 2009 before the very sad occasion of Mike Keen’s funeral.