Some of the greatest cultural influences have come from the dark, foreboding city of Birmingham. J.R.R. Tolkien was brought up there, William McGregor founded the Football League in the 19th century and of course it provided the inspiration for Black Sabbath as they invented heavy metal.
It is a football-mad city with its most famous club being Aston Villa. As a young lad in the late fifties Keith Allen used to jump on a coach from his hometown of Nuneaton and stand on the Holte End to watch the Villains.
Between the ages of eleven and twenty-five, Keith used to watch Villa on a Saturday and then play football on a Sunday. He does however maintain that cricket is his number one sport. He spent many enjoyable days watching Warwickshire County Cricket Club at Edgbaston since becoming a member at fourteen when his dad could afford to pay his subscription fees.
In the early seventies he met a lady who would become “his long-suffering wife.” Unlike the term “`er indoors” made famous by Arthur Daley in Minder, he uses it as an alternative to her real Christian name, which she is none too keen on. At the same time he forged a successful career, running his own company in the construction industry.
The couple had three children, all boys, and they were all brought up in the Claret and Blue persuasion. Keith continued to pursue his hobbies and in 1972 took on the part-time role as secretary of Southern League club Atherstone Town. He spent five enjoyable years at Sheepy Road before taking on a similar role with fellow Southern leaguers Bedworth United.
Keith then jumped at the chance of becoming secretary of his home-town club Nuneaton Borough in 1979. It would be something of an under-statement to say his ten years at the club were eventful. They were founder members of the Alliance Premier League but were relegated in 1981.
They bounced straight back the following season as Champions of the Southern League Midland Division and missed out on the APL title in 1983/84 by just a single point to Maidstone United.
They finished as runners-up to Wealdstone the following season during which Allen met Wycombe Wanderers in a professional capacity for the first time. The Blues were relegated that season but Borough remained in the Conference until the tumultuous summer of 1987.
He was caught in the middle of a boardroom battle between Noel Kelly and Joe Shooter for ownership of the club that ended up in the High Court. The side had finished 18th out of 22 teams and above the relegation zone. However the Conference demoted the club on the grounds that their Manor Park ground did not meet required standards.
The events took their toll on Allen who left the club in 1988. He said: “I eventually had enough of Nuneaton as it drove me potty. I was the right man in the right job at the wrong time.” He returned to Sheepy Road in 1989 to become secretary of Atherstone United. They had been formed out of the ashes of Atherstone Town, who folded in 1978. One of the first things he did was oversee the transfer of a certain Andy Rammell to Manchester United for £40,000.
Around the same time he became involved with the administration of the Southern League and has been doing so ever since. He can tell you more about ground-grading than you`d ever want to know and he now proudly wears the chains of office as President. He enjoyed ten years with the ‘Adders` before deciding that he wanted his hobby to become his full-time job.
In September 1999 he wrote to Wycombe Wanderers to ask if they needed anybody on the administrative side and immediately received an invite to chat with Ivor Beeks and John Goldsworthy. He and his wife watched the 5-3 defeat of Reading at Adams Park and he was offered the job the following Monday.
He made a number of sacrifices in accepting the role. He was earning a lot more money running his own business and took a pay cut. He left Nuneaton and sold a few shares to help fund the move to Stoke Mandeville.
He took the job with the intention of seeing his time out at Adams Park. He said: “I am very lucky to have got such a good job with such a good club.” He soon became a well-known figure at the club and developed a rapport with supporters, even those who liked to have a good moan about various aspects of the club, from changing kit unnecessarily at away matches to moving fixtures to less convenient kick off times.
He also became an unwitting TV star during the incredible F.A Cup run in 2001. During the quarter-final tie with Leicester City he had left his seat in the stand to play minder to manager Lawrie Sanchez after he had been sent packing by referee Steve Bennett for arguing over the failure to award a penalty following Stefan Oakes’ handball.
He was watching a TV in a small room under the stand when substitute Roy Essandoh headed home a sensational winner. He leapt for joy in celebration which was caught on film and he said afterwards: ‘When that goal went in I just lost it. I’ve never had a feeling like it before and I’ve certainly never had a reaction like that at any football match in my life. What a berk I looked – but I will never forget those few seconds after Roy had scored.’
He has shown his flexibility as his secretarial role has changed over the years, with the constitution change in 2004 and the change in ownership in 2009. He has always been a consummate professional and has adapted to every change that has come his way. From the first time he walked in the door he has been approachable and welcoming.
His knowledge is second to none and if you want to talk football, or cricket, he can both enlighten and entertain. He has worked with a total of six managers at Adams Park, beginning with Lawrie Sanchez and then Tony Adams, John Gorman, Paul Lambert, Peter Taylor and lastly Gary Waddock.
I have personally had the pleasure of several debates with Keith over the years and even had the opportunity to work with him for six months during my stint with the media team. He was the first point of call for so much information and played a pivotal role in the communication of a full gamut of news that was passed on through the official website, matchday programme and other media.
Keith also provided much needed support when I left the club due to illness, not only to me personally, but far more importantly to my family. He provided them with comfort at an extremely difficult time and it is a true mark of the man.
Keith is very much a family man and it is for those reasons that he has recently moved to Hampshire. Sadly it has led to Keith having to tender his resignation and he has invited supporters to join him for farewell drinks in the Vere Suite after the game with Bury on Saturday 20 August – which will be his last as an employee of Wycombe Wanderers.
Ivor Beeks has never been more right than when he said: ‘When you talk about football secretaries, Keith Allen will be one of the first names mentioned by clubs in the Football League. His knowledge and understanding of football affairs are second to none, and Keith will be one asset we will sincerely miss.’
Keith has admitted that he is “leaving with a heavy heart.” He is not retiring and if his future involves a role at another football club then they will be privileged indeed. Keith is held, and will be remembered, in the same regard as the late John Goldsworthy.
He will leave a huge hole at the football club, not just in a professional capacity but in a personal one too. He is renowned for his modesty and has never forgotten his roots. He said: “I’ve told the kids I want burying in Nuneaton.”
Keith and his long-suffering wife have real passion for life and hopefully he will have the opportunity to indulge in his passion for the theatre, playing bridge, reading and making the odd trip to the refurbished Edgbaston.
We would like to wish Keith every happiness in the future. God bless and thank you.
Acknowledgements: Quotes taken from articles published on the Wycombe Wanderers Independent Supporters Club and official Wyconbe Wanderers Football Club websites.