VIC Keeble is widely regarded as one of Colchester United's greatest-ever players.

The prolific centre-forward hit an incredible 89 goals in just 130 appearances for his hometown club between 1947 and 1952, prior to leaving them for Newcastle United.

Vic sadly died in January 2018 at the age of 87 - but his legacy as Colchester’s first local hero lives on.

Back in June, 2015, Gazette sports Jon Waldron met up with Vic and chatted to him about his fantastic playing career.

HE was Colchester United’s first superstar striker.

But Vic Keeble might so easily have not become the U’s legend he is, had he walked a different sporting path.

“It was a close thing between football or rugby,” said Colchester-born Keeble.

“Being a footballer never really crossed my mind at first.

“When I was at Colchester Royal Grammar School I was a rugby boy, a stand-off half.

“I was a bit useful at rugby; who knows what might have happened, had I chosen that instead of football?

“I’ve always believed that playing rugby at school to quite a good standard helped me.

“You dusted yourself down, picked yourself up and got on with it and you never moaned, like some of them to do today.”

Rugby’s loss was undoubtedly football’s gain - and Colchester United certainly reaped the benefits, too.

The U’s present-day emphasis on academy is well known in these parts.

But any of their current emerging youngsters would do well to emulate Keeble, arguably Colchester’s greatest-ever home-grown player.

During his profitable five-year spell at Layer Road, the prolific centre-forward hit an incredible 89 goals in just 130 appearances.

On Arsenal’s books as a youngster, Keeble has been spotted playing for King George V Boys Club in Colchester.

And after a spell at Colchester Casuals, he signed amateur forms for U’s boss Ted Fenton a few weeks before his 17th birthday.

The 16-minute hat-trick Keeble bagged on his first-team debut for Colchester while still an amateur on the opening day of the 1947-48 season was the sign of things to come.

Another hat-trick followed in his first professional game for the U’s against Norwich A, in the Eastern Counties League.

With his strength in the air as a target man, Keeble found the net for his home town club with lethal regularity between 1947 and 1952.

But amazingly, he was not the U’s only goalscoring hero of the time.

“There was always a main man at Colchester and that man was the centre-forward,” said Keeble, who has lived in Earls Colne for more than 30 years.

“That was the one position that I wanted but at that time, it didn’t seem like that.

“Arthur Turner had previously played for Charlton in the FA Cup Final and he was an amateur.

“He was idolized by the crowd at Layer Road and scored Colchester’s first ever Football League goal there.

“He was ten years older than me and when you’re young, you don’t think like that.

“You want to sign and do well so that perhaps you can come in when he’s injured or something.”

The duo’s goals helped Colchester win election from the Southern League to the expanded Football League Third Division South, in 1950.

But playing at a higher level did not faze Keeble; indeed, he thrived on the fact he was playing at a higher level.

“I scored a lot of goals and I was always good in the air - that was my forte,” he said.

“If the ball came into the far post, I would score goals and I was brave - nothing ever frightened me.

“I had a good goalscoring ratio at all of my clubs and there was a consistency there.

“I was a team player though - I always maintain that I was a much better player for other players than for myself but I still scored goals.”

Keeble’s prolific goalscoring for Colchester caught the eye of Newcastle United who in 1952 signed him for £15,000, a move worth £1m in today’s money.

“It was hard to leave Colchester in some ways and it was a long journey but I got to know everybody and everybody got to know me on the sleeper up there,” said Keeble.

“When I went to Newcastle, they had Jackie Milburn - I didn’t think I had a chance of taking his place at any time!

“You think to yourself, “I’ve got to do a little bit of something here”.

“But we became very, very good friends and it helped that I had someone like that to aspire to there.”

Keeble scored an amazing 56 goals in 104 league games during his five-year stay at St James’ Park.

He is the only surviving member of the Magpies side that beat Manchester City to win the FA Cup at Wembley and even has a road named after him in Ashington.

“When I played in the 1955 FA Cup Final at Wembley, we made our way to the game on the team bus,” recalls Keeble.

“All of the supporters were filing in and there was a tap on the window - it was my mum, dad, sister and Johnny Harrison, who played full-back for Colchester.

“There they were walking to the game and they spotted us!

“It was a big day - everything I suppose gets on top of you a little bit but it was a good day for Newcastle.

“We scored in the first five minutes or so and Jackie Milburn scored with a header - everybody thought it was me but it was Jacko!

“Everything was different and it was wonderful going up the steps and walking around the pitch afterwards - it was a fantastic experience.

“I’m the only one left from their victorious 1951, 1952 and 1955 finals.

“The people are always good up there and their supporters are incredible - they’re different class.”

In 1957, Keeble left Newcastle and joined West Ham United, where he hit 45 goals in 76 league appearances.

Forging a prolific partnership with Johnny Dick, he helped the Hammers win the Second Division title before injury forced him to retire, in 1960.

Keeble said: “My back was really, really bad and I had to finish because of it - it got so bad that I couldn’t get up.

“It was a bit of a sad ending really - I was still fairly young and I felt I had more to offer.”

After hanging up his boots, Keeble wrote a sports column and sold advertising for a Colchester newspaper for a number of years.

He then returned to the U’s to work for their commercial team before accepting a similar role at Chelmsford City, where he spent 11 years.

Keeble still attends some of Colchester’s home games and was pleased to see them remain in League One, last season.

He said: “I was glad to see them stay up and Colchester deserved it, especially with their performance in the last quarter of an hour against Preston.”

So as a Colchesterian, what does Keeble make of his former club’s current emphasis on their academy and nurturing home-grown players?

“You must have the ability to start with because you’re not going to be able to go on if you haven’t got that,” he said.

“I’m sure they work hard but anybody can do that at any club.

“They’ve got good things going on at Colchester and you get a chance to go on to bigger things there; then it’s up to you.”

Keeble is perhaps the greatest example yet of a Colchester United youngster who grasped his opportunity when it came along.