by Andy Robinson
Jimmy “Dead Shot” Keen: Born 14 May 1902, Amhurst, Northamptonshire
“If all the brains in the world of football had sat in committee and designed the perfect centre-forward they would have made Jimmy Keen” – Joe Mercer
“Even now after all these years when I look at a forward I see how he matches up to the best when I was a boy and that was “Dead Shot” – Sir Bobby Robson
Jimmy “Dead Shot” Keen will go down as one of the greatest of centre forwards ever to play for England. Born in the district of Groundswood on the outskirts of Amhurst, Jimmy showed a determination to succeed and proficiency with a ball at his feet from an early age. Diagnosed with a rare “hole in the heart” condition at an early age it was surprising how he excelled at all sports. Spurning offers from many of the top sides such as Melchester and Castleburn City he joined the family business at 14 and learned the trade of the locksmith which was to serve him (and others as we shall see later) well.
After signing semi-pro forms with his local side Amhurst Albion, Jimmy was quickly pulled from the reserves by the Amhurst Manager, Sandy Royal. Royal, father of legendary Ben Royal from Caxford Rangers fame recognized talent when he saw it.
“I couldn’t believe it when he turned all those bigger clubs down to play for us. That was just how he was though – the family business and the apprenticeship came first”. The young centre-forward duly went and scored a hat-trick on his debut for the first team against the lowly Westhill in December 1920 at the age of 18. He was to stay with Amhurst for the remainder of his career.
“Dead Shot” was the type of player that would make things happen and was more than just a typical Centre Forward. Genuinely two footed and a good header of the ball and a natural at finding the back of the net; he often surprised the centre-halves of the day by retreating backwards to the half way line for the ball and going on a tricky dribble. Over a hundred goals before his 21st birthday soon saw him wearing the 3 lions on his shirt.
The most fitting testament to his international career was that “Dead Shot’s” 43 England caps were the sum total of his greatest contemporaries. 23 caps for Dixie Dean and 20 for Tommy Lawton. All in all he scored 25 goals for England, the highlight being the first England player to score five in one game. His “but it was only Scotland” remark upset several MP’s from north of the border and was perhaps the only blemish and controversial moment in his career.
Despite their star forward’s exploits Amhurst Albion were destined to remain one of the nearly men of the English game until the back end of the Thirties when after coming from two nil down in the semi final against Castleburn United a last minute winner from “Dead Shot” secured a place in the Wembley final against Castleburn’s cross town rivals City.
On his 36th Birthday; May 14 1938 in a tight and drab affair on a rain soaked Wembley turf the last cup final before the war was settled with an 83rd minute winner from “Dead Shot” after the City keeper, Scotland international “Fish” Thompson, had spilled a cross at his lethal feet.
It was to be his last competitive game in the sky blue shirt of Amhurst Albion. After a club record of 406 Games and 274 Goals a niggly left knee at the start of the following season followed by the outbreak of war meant his playing days were over.
The release of his autobiography in 1960; “The Life and Times of Dead Shot Keen” told the rest of his remarkable life story. One of the leading newspaper stories of the war years on the back pages was “Dead Shot’s” continued absence from the representative wartime Internationals that the Football Association and the Government would stage regularly to boost the morale of the nation. Speculation reigned that Jimmy had been captured by the enemy or worse, killed in action. The truth which wasn’t known until the autobiography’s release was that “Dead Shot” had been seconded by Special Forces and his locksmiths skills put to use with the Resistance movement in France. Breaking into Regional Gestapo Headquarters or an Army Supply Depot were all in a day’s work for Jimmy. It was here in France also where he met his second wife Michelle.
Married for the first time at 20 to his childhood sweetheart Doris, Dead Shot’s happiness was short as less than three years later, Doris was to die during childbirth. Michelle was herself captured and executed by the Nazis in 1944. It was the sadness of both love stories as much as the wartime exploits and his talents on the football field that led to “The Life and Times of Dead Shot Keen” becoming the biggest selling sports autobiography ever.
Following the war, Jimmy returned to Amhurst and the family business and divided his time between Northamptonshire and the Caribbean where, after a chance meeting with the High Commissioner of Bermuda, he was invited to the island to coach youngsters. Jimmy always hoping that one day someone from the island would receive the adulation he did.
Jimmy Keen died after a short respiratory illness at home in his cottage at Groundswood on the outskirts of Amhurst on Christmas Day 1980.
Legion D’Honneur; CBE; FA Cup Winner 1939; Second Division Championship Medal 1923