Remembering Harry Keough

[OBITUARY: Harry Keough (1927-2012)] The first time I talked with Harry Keough about the 1950 World Cup defeat of England, three and a half decades had passed, yet the details still swirled in his mind. Sights and sounds and smells of the stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil; the numbing boredom of a long boat trip from New York to Brazil that took the team to the competition; the joking rivalry between the St. Louis and East Coast players; and, of that game itself, a humble pride in accomplishing what he'd believed as a player and preached as a coach: "You always have to believe you have a chance to win, because you do."

I had called Harry in advance of a USA-England friendly to be played June 16, 1985, at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the fourth meeting between the countries since the 1-0 defeat inflicted by a Joe Gaetjens goal, some robust defending, and a goal-line clearance. After continuing his playing career with semi-pro teams into the late 1950s, he’d coached 15 seasons and won five NCAA Division I titles at St. Louis University before leaving the college game in 1982.

In three post-World Cup meetings England had thumped the USA 6-3, 8-1, and 10-0. “None of those scores would have surprised anybody when we played them,” laughed Keough when reminded of the results posted in 1953, 1959, and 1964, the first of which he’d played in. “I hope we can do better this time.”

The USA couldn’t: England romped, 5-0, in a match remembered mostly for Gary Lineker, who would become his country’s all-time leading scorer with 48, netting twice. The state of the game in the U.S. was grim; 17 days earlier, on May 31, I had watched the USA lose a World Cup qualifier to Costa Rica, 1-0, to fall out of contention for the 1986 tournament and extend a run of exclusion that dated back to the days of Keough and Gaetjens and Walter Bahr and Frank Borghi, men who had stunned the world while their own nation failed to take note.

Months before had come confirmation the NASL had folded. Instead, the Major Indoor Soccer League, a mutation of crashing bodies and wild scoring, was nearing the peak of its popularity. It seemed sadly fitting to talk with Harry and Bahr and Borghi of an amazing triumph that their head coach, Scotsman Bill Jeffrey, proclaimed would rocket the sport to prominence in the United States but instead nudged only a tiny ripple that quickly dissipated.

It would be corny, and false, to say talking with Harry had renewed my faith in the game as dark clouds descended. But Harry’s spirit, forged by decades playing and coaching and working and raising three children, captivated and inspired you. In our occasional meetings and conversations over the years – at U.S. Soccer events, the NSCAA Convention, at the Soccer Hall of Fame – he always had a good story or a treasured memory or absurd anecdote to share.

The Brazilian soccer federation brought Keough and Bahr and former England international Wilf Mannion back to Belo Horizonte in 1987 to commemorate the match, but it took a little bit longer for the USA itself to catch up.

When World Cup qualification was attained, for the 1990 tournament, Keough and his former teammates bounced back into the spotlight. They basked in the glow during the lead-up to World Cup USA 1994, of course, and once again in 1996 upon release of a book, “The Game of Their Lives,” that detailed their exploits in Brazil. A film version, released in 2005, thrust them into yet another very public forum. He got the celebrity treatment again in 2010, when a USA-England World Cup match brought the game back again 60 years later.

Yet Keough loved to remind interviewers he had to take time off from his mail route to play for the USA, and got back on the job the same day he returned to St. Louis from Brazil. One of the players, Ben McLaughlin, couldn’t get time off to play in the World Cup. One was a meat packer, another drove a hearse. They came back not to acclaim and riches, but to their families and responsibilities.

More than anything, they knew that one game didn’t define them as players, nor as men. He much rather talk about his kids, one of which, Ty, played pro soccer and for the USA. Harry always spoke of his teammates, and had to be prodded to mention anything of himself, though Bahr insisted just about any time a dribbler or cross came into Keough’s vicinity, Harry would win the battle.

Early Tuesday morning Harry lost the battle that eventually claims all of us. We’ll all press on, as Harry would insist.

5 comments about "Remembering Harry Keough".
  1. Dan Woog, February 8, 2012 at 7:33 a.m.

    I was on that 1987 trip to Belo Horizonte that Ridge referenced in his great story. Harry was humble, entertaining, proud and mindful of the history he'd helped make but down-to-earth about that accomplishment.

    He appreciated the past, lived in the present, and was optimistic about the future (soccer's, and his own). He was a wonderful man, and I'm glad our paths crossed.

  2. Joe Grady, February 8, 2012 at 9:43 a.m.

    Well done, Ridge. And Thank You Harry. Rest in Peace. The game is alive and well in the USA.

  3. Mike Murray, February 8, 2012 at 11:14 a.m.

    As a soccer-crazy kid growing up in St. Louis during the 1950s, I often begged rides to the city fields where the Kutis soccer club played on Sunday afternoons. The main attraction for me: Harry Keough marshalling that smooth passing squad from his center halfback position. Later I had the privilege of twice playing Keough's St. Louis University teams. (We beat tham once though they were the better team.) I didn't know Keough personally, but I sought him out for a handshake and a word after each game. He was impressively gracious and generous on both occasions. Much later, long after he had retired from coaching, I recognized him entering a US World Cup qualifying match in Kansas City. Again, he was generous enough to speak with me, said he remembered our college matches and posed with me for a photo. I still carry the glow of that meeting. A special man.

  4. Austin Gomez, February 8, 2012 at 12:40 p.m.

    Surely, Irishman Harry Keough was truly "A Man for All Seasons." Harry was a mailman-carrier by trade, a fantastic amateur soccer player by avocation, and a devout family man in reality (who spoke fluent Spanish)! I remember watching Harry & his Kutis teammates every Sunday morning/afternoon at Fairgrounds Park (located in North St. Louis, a part of the City renowned for its Soccer), where his US Open/Amateur Cup Champion team (Kutis) would play in the the local Sunday amateur soccer league: teams, such as Joe Simpkins (later-named, St. Ambrose) and Pat Kenny, Grapettes and Carondolet Sunday Morning Club (to mention only a few) in the city which was (at that time) hailed nationally as the 'Soccer Capital of the United States.' After retiring as a player (post '1950 World Cup' days), Harry became a revered & trophy-winning coach for St. Louis University ('Kings' of the NCAA), later on as a respected HS Soccer Referee, and later on as a 'USSF Ambassador' for this Game of Soccer, (that he truly loved so much), while also nurturing/coaching his soccer-playing children: Tyrone, Colleen, and Peggy! But Harry always found the 'time' to accomplish so many great feats! Truly Harry was "A Man for All Seasons" (an articulate, proud storyteller, with thousands of exciting international/domestic/local anecdotes about this 'Most Beautiful Game)' Yes, We St. Louisians (along with thousands of people everywhere around the Earth) will truly miss our "iconic Legend and always humble Hero" of the '50s/'60s/'70s/'80s/'90s/2000s Era! (Now, Harry will be reunited with his 1950 WCup squad (along with thousands of his friends) in Heaven! Farewell!

  5. Sam Gonzalez, February 10, 2012 at 6:44 a.m.

    Harry was the nicest and most genuine man. I met him at SLU in 1974 during its glory days; one of his soccer players, Tom Neusel introduced me. (He said "call me 'Harry'!") Years later, in 1983, I was playing indoor soccer, and my team played his team! Not a team he coached , but his family (including Ty and Harry's daughter - and their dates/fiancees etc. No subs. I was 30, and the oldest person on my team - Harry was 56. We lost soundly, and proudly to a legendary team. Harry was very productive, great defender, excellent ball handler. His children (of course) were phenomenal. (They went easy on us, and never made us fell deficient.)

    The most interesting thing and a little insight into Harry is that he came up to me, and remembered my name, and asked me about Tom. The he asked about what I had done after graduation, and recalled having read a story about me in the paper. (Unfortunately I am not a soccer player, but an attorney.) I saw him a few more times several times over the years before moving away fro St. Louis, and each time he never forgot my name, and always said hello. (He never seemed bothered by my bothering him!)

    I guess the point is here is a St. Louis and world legend. He never forgot soccer, and played for a long time. Hw was always smiling and happy. And what a great guy - always had tome to talk, and remember people he had no reason to recall. The indoor soccer story is one of my fondest memories. When I heard Harry had died while driving, I actually teared up.

    God bless, Harry and his family. Tony Gonzalez SLU, 75/79

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