Looking back…with Alan Keary
We’ve made no secret in the past of our delight at hearing from our former players so we were thrilled when Alan Keary took in our match against Carshalton Athletic, earlier this season, for not only did it result in us securing matchball sponsorship for our recent game against Greenwich Borough but also gave us an opportunity to hear our ex-goalkeeper’s memories of his Queen Street career.
Despite having made his home in the USA almost four decades ago, where he now spends a seemingly perfect lifestyle split between his two homes in America’s oldest city – St. Augustine, Florida – a former haunt of Sir Francis Drake, and North Carolina’s Beech Mountain, it is clear that Horsham Football Club remains close to Alan’s heart
Back in the summer of 1976, while most of the UK was basking in the hottest summer temperatures since records began, Alan was in training with his new team-mates, having made the switch from Eastbourne Town to the Hornets during the closed season. As if battling the soaring temperatures wasn’t hard enough, arguably his toughest challenge of all was filling the void vacated by Dai Mason, considered one of the finest goalkeepers ever to have pulled on the Horsham jersey. With the long-serving Welshman allowed to join Sutton United on a free transfer, Alan chose Queen Street in favour of a move to Leatherhead and made his bow in a 1-0 victory over Football League side Portsmouth in the Hornets’ first pre-season friendly, joining a squad then manager Tony Elkins-Green labelled the best the club had had in recent years. A ‘meaningless friendly’ it may have been but that success over ‘Pompey’ ended far more favourably than Alan’s first visit to Queen Street when, as a player with Aylesbury United, he had to pick the ball out of his net seven times in an Athenian League meeting in April 1972. “Near the end of that game I made a great save and was feeling a little better about myself until one of the Horsham supporters behind the goal, I suppose the forerunners of today’s Lardy Boys, said ‘that would have been eight if it wasn’t for you!’” he recalled. “Little did I know that a few years later I would be at the club, playing for those same supporters.”
Alan went on to make over one hundred and fifty appearances for the Hornets and was an ever-present in that first season, helping the club to a highest-ever sixth place finish in what was only our fourth season in the Second Division of the Isthmian League. In fact, had it not been for three defeats in the final five matches, Horsham could have finished just one place outside the two automatic promotion spots. It was, though, seen as a successful campaign for Elkins-Green’s squad not only in the league but also in cup competitions. “We beat Sutton, Woking and Tooting in the space of a month and drew with Dartford (who were a promotion chasing team in the Southern League) and played each team off the park” Alan remembers proudly. Dartford ultimately put paid to our hopes of reaching the second round of the Trophy while it was Bromley who ended our run in the London Senior Cup with a narrow 2-1 win at Hayes Lane. “Over the three years I was at the club, Bromley were the most competitive team we played against and matches with them were always close; either drawn, or won or lost by one goal. The games were always keenly contested but played in the right way.” Alan completed his debut season at the club by being voted Player of the Year and, the following season, picked up a winner’s medal in the now defunct Sussex Floodlight Cup – a run that saw the Hornets record notable victories at Southern League Crawley Town and Hastings United.
“It was quite an honour for me to get that award as we had some really good players in the team; Norman Gall, Tommy Mason, John Jefferson, Eric Whitington and Paul Flood who were all ex-professionals. Eric was the most skilful player during my time at Horsham. In my first season he just amazed me with his abilities, both on and off the ball. We played Chesham at home and won 7-3 and he was unstoppable. If he hadn’t broken his leg while playing against Woking in the FA Trophy, from a dreadful ‘over the top’ tackle, and a couple of other injuries, I think we may have got promotion that year.”
Further silverware came Alan’s way in 1978/79 as the season ended with victory over Worthing once more – this time in the final of the Gilbert Rice Trophy – but ‘the big one’ eluded the club when they went down 1-0 to Hastings in the final of the Sussex Senior Cup. “I don’t remember much about the game with Hastings except that Gary Cross, our right-back, made a tackle on the edge of the box and the ball came back towards me but one of their players got there first and tucked it in. Other than that it was a pretty even game and could have gone either way.
We had a great camaraderie at the club that season under manager Tex Wiltshire, again finishing just outside the promotion spots. Peter Medhurst, Steve Ibbitson, Colin Woffinden and I always used to travel together for home games and Frank King drove us to away games when there wasn’t a coach. We loved that man and drove him crazy during our drives.”
It had been, then, an eventful three years for Alan at Horsham but fortunes began to change in the early summer of 1979. “At the end of that season Tex informed us that he was leaving and the club was in financial trouble due, I believe, to having over-extended themselves two years previously. So the team basically disbanded and I was offered a place at Carshalton where I played for a year before turning out for Sutton United. I basically retired after that season and coached Peacehaven, where I lived, until just after the start of the season when Crawley lost their goalkeeper and their manager, John Maggs, called me and asked me to play for them. My first game was against Wealdstone where we got hammed 4-1 by a team that included a young Stuart Pearce who, of course, later went on to play in the World Cup Finals and captain England.
I left England in February 1982 to come to America and lost touch with the game until the internet got going and the TV stations started showing Premier League matches etc. But I was lucky enough to see Horsham’s two great games against Swansea, which were shown over here. I have been following Horsham via the club’s website for the last few years, and seen the fortunes ebb and flow, but I know now that good things are going to happen with the new ground getting the go ahead and I wish them and their supporters every success.”