Tributes have been paid to a well-known member of the South Holland footballing community who died suddenly at his Holbeach home, aged just 43.
It is understood that Joe McKeown, former manager of Holbeach United Football Club’s reserves team, was pronounced dead by paramedics and police who were called to his home in Fleet Street last Monday morning.
A post-mortem examination was carried out on Wednesday but tests are still being carried out by a pathologist to determine how Mr McKeown died.
Although unmarried, Mr McKeown had eight nieces and nephews through his brothers Tom and Francis McKeown, along with sister Marie.
Tom said: “Joe was a really respected man throughout the football industry who always got the best out of his players.
“His motto was ‘one in, all in’, and one player who went on to become a professional said the team talks from Joe were probably the best he’d ever had in his career.”
Joe was smart, clever, switched on and the type of guy who, as soon as he walked into a room, you would know he was thereTom McKeown, brother of the late Joe McKeown from Holbeach
“But Joe was also an all-round, hard-working, family man who doted on his nieces and nephews.
“When he wasn’t playing football, Joe would take the kids out and it wouldn’t bother him if they all went at the same time.”
After spending a year at the former George Farmer Technology College, now University Academy Holbeach, Joe worked in the industrial sector and played football in spare time.
Joe started his playing career at Lutton Marsh before joining a team in Gedney Drove End where he was spotted and recruited by Holbeach United.
Tom said: “At one time, Joe had trials at Norwich City Football Club.
“But then he got homesick and moved back to Holbeach where he played for a few years.
“Then Joe went into management, starting off at Holbeach St Johns Exchange where he built a team from scratch and took them up a few leagues.
“He also managed Holbeach United Reserves and I think Joe could have gone far in management because he was good with the players.
“At the same time, Joe was smart, clever, switched on and the type of guy who, as soon as he walked into a room, you would know he was there.”
Family and friends will pay their respects to Mr McKeown when his funeral takes place at St Norbert’s Roman Catholic Church in St Thomas’s Road, Spalding, at 12.30pm on Monday, September 25.
Tom said: “It’s unbelievable that Joe’s gone because he has a lot of friends, not all of them being his age.
“He had older friends too because he was the type of guy that people looked up to because he always stood his ground.”
Holbeach United Football Club players past and present have paid their respects to Joe McKeown, describing him as a “ leader and inspiration”.
A statement from the club said: “Everyone at Holbeach United is shocked at the sudden passing of ex-player and manager Joe McKeown and we would like to pass on our deepest thoughts to his family at this difficult time.
“Joe came to the club in 2008 to add much-needed experience to the reserve team squad, with his first game being one definitely not to forget as he scored two goals when Holbeach United beat the previous season’s champions 10-1. “Unfortunately, Joe’s first goal happened to go into his own net, but he made up for it by scoring later in the game with a finish into the top corner.
“The following season saw Joe and Adam Kirk step up to management and the club finished second in the then Peterborough and District (PDFL) Combination League.
“Joe stayed with the club until 2012, winning back-to-back PDFL Combination titles and three Spalding Inter-Services Trophies along the way.
“He was a great character on and off the pitch and many of the players who played with him or under his management will all say that he knew how to get the best out of them.
“They will also mention Joe’s passion for football and, most importantly, his winning mentality right from the first whistle of every game.
“Joe was one of the many volunteers who helped out the club by laying concrete footpaths around the pitch to help the club maintain its United Counties League Premier Division status.
“Even after he stopped playing for the club, you would often see Joe giving advice and encouragement to the Holbeach United players during the game and if you spoke to them, players would agree that when they listened to such advice, a chance or even a goal often came.
“Joe McKeown will be missed by everyone at the club and we shall be having a minute’s applause before tomorrow night’s home game against Sleaford Town as a mark of respect.”
Former player and manager Tom Roberts said: “I remember my first time in meeting Joe because he nearly broke my hand with his strong, powerful and proud handshake.
“These three words summed Joe up perfectly and when I first signed for him, he took me and (striker) Tommy Treacher under his wing as we were the young lads.
“Joe did this later on with (defenders) Jonny Allen and Adam Jackson later on to look after all of us.
“But he was also extremely proud to be working with us.
“On the football pitch, Joe was a leader and an inspiration to all those around him and he was the first manager from this area who wanted to win the Lincs Sunday Cup.
“It meant the world to him when we reached the final of the Lincs Sunday Cup in 2006 because it brought a sense of self-achievement for him.
“Because Joe was a proud man, on the day of the final he gave us the most powerful team talk possible about having no regrets.
“It was Joe who scored our goal that day and he also scored his penalty in the shoot-out which again showed his leadership qualities as he set the standards.
After the game (which Holbeach St Johns lost 5-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw to Grimsby-based side Tilted Barrel), Joe went round to us all and gave us three cheers to pick us all up.
“Our changing room sounded like the winning changing room and that was down to Joe, his winning mentality and his passion towards us all.
“Joe’s man-management skills were second to none, while off the pitch, he was a family-orientated person who always took care of those close to him.
“He was often seen walking his dog around the town but he would always make time to stop and talk to people.
“Joe will be sorely missed by us all as a friend, brother and uncle, having been a founder member of the original Sunday family which everyone wanted to be a part of.”
Jamie Stevens, another former Holbeach United player, said: “I have a lot of love for Joe, both on and off the football pitch, because he had a lot of time to just sit and talk about anything, especially football.
“He was a respected figure on the local football scene and lads wanted to play for him because he looked after them and guided them.
“The lads who played for Joe would agree with me when I say that all of us would have run through a brick wall and put our bodies on the line for him.
“Joe could get the best out of anyone on that pitch but he demanded a professional attitude towards every game and I remember him saying to me once: ‘if you don’t tuck your shirt in, you won’t play for me again’.
“Whether it was playing football or in everyday life, Joe took pride in his appearance because he had class, charisma, and loved his football.
“That’s how I’ll remember him, rest in peace Big Man.”
Other tributes from those with Holbeach United Football connections:-
• Steve “Oddy” Barnes: “Joe was a strong character in the dressing room and on the pitch.
“He was a good leader and always gave his all to try and win a football match, also having good ability that could turn any match.
“Whether I was playing against him or in the same team as him it was an absolute pleasure because he was a good man and a good friend who I respected - top man.”
• Omar ‘OJ’ Joof: “Joe was a truly good friend of mine for many years.
“We shared many great moments on and off the pitch, with one of my fondest memories being when we played in the Lincs Sunday League and got to the final of the Lincs Sunday Cup.
“His team talk after the game that day was the best ever and showed how much he cared about us all.
“Joe was a great motivator and he will be sadly missed.”
• Matt Warfield: “It’s simple for me to sum up Joe as a friend, a leader, the best motivator I’ve ever played for and a gentleman.”