Ex-Colchester United star Joe Keith cutting his teeth as a new manager
Joe Keith spent the best years of his footballing career at Colchester United, and now the 39-year-old is trying to make a name for himself as a manager, in non-league.
Left-sided specialist Keith was always a popular figure at Layer Road, during his six seasons with the U’s, under managers Mick Wadsworth, Steve Whitton and Phil Parkinson.
He rattled up 247 senior games for his beloved U’s, between 1999 and 2005, mostly as a left-back or left wing-back, scoring 28 goals in the process.
His career never really kicked on, after he was released by the U’s in 2005, ironically just a year before Parkinson’s men celebrated promotion to the Championship for the first and only time in the Essex club’s history.
Instead, Keith spent two seasons at Leyton Orient, and six months at Brentford, before following up an unhappy spell at Hornchurch with a more productive stint at Tilbury.
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And it is back at Tilbury where Keith is cutting his teeth as a manager – although he is finding it far from easy.
“I’m enjoying it as a manager,” explained Keith.
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“It’s different, and to be honest I’ve found it really difficult. It was really tough to start with.
“We’ve had a few good results recently – and obviously everything feels better when you are winning – after a bad start to the new year.
“I’ve been here (at Tilbury) just over three months now, but it took three weeks for us to play our first game!
“We had games called off because our opponents were in the FA Cup or Trophy, with regards Heybridge and Haringey. We’ve had a combination of call-offs, so it was stop-start at the beginning.”
Keith was appointed Tilbury manager last October, and now his focus is on cementing the Dockers’ position in Bostik (Isthmian) North this season, before aiming higher next term.
But he still keeps a keen interest in the goings-on at Colchester United, along with several of his former U’s teams-mates.
“I always look out for the Colchester results, always,” revealed Keith.
“Funny enough, we’ve got a little group-chat going with me, Doogie (Karl Duguid), Kemi (Kem Izzet), Wato (Kevin Watson), Johnnie Jackson and Cureo (Jamie Cureton).
“We are always talking about Colchester. We loved the club and it was such an enjoyable time in my life. It was my best time as a footballer.
“I’d love to see Colchester get back out of the fourth tier.
“In fact, it’s been a bad spell for my main two clubs – Leyton Orient and Colchester – I want them both to do well and start moving up the leagues again.”
While the U’s are struggling to force their way into the League Two play-off picture this season, the O’s have fared even worse, suffering relegation out of the Football League last season and currently flirting with relegation at the wrong end of the National League.
U’s fans will no doubt hope that Keith, such a bundle of enthusiasm as a player, will make the grade as a non-league manager.
“This is my first manager’s appointment,” explained Keith.
“I was at Canvey Island as an assistant (appointed in February, 2016), and I loved my time there. We had a good little spell, but it was always my aim to have a chance to manage a football club, and to see whether I would like it.
“I live at Aveley, which is not far away (from Tibury), so this is better than having to get to Canvey! I played here at Tilbury as well, so I have a close affiliation with the club. I had two years here as a player (2008-10) after Colchester and really enjoyed it, after a bad spell at Hornchurch.
“Coming back to the club, as a manager, at times I’ve found it really difficult, I’m not going to lie. I’m learning all the time, on the sidelines. You don’t really enjoy the wins – they are more of a relief than anything – but the losses really hit you hard, with all the sleepless nights.
“You worry about team selection and things, but that’s what it is all about as a manager.
“I’m planning for next season, but along the way I’d like to win a few games, because we are a little bit too close to the one relegation place.
“You can’t take your eye off things because you then get dragged into it.
“I’m slowly getting my stamp on the team. I’m not trying to bring in too many players,” added Keith, whose Tilbury side gained a precious 1-0 home win over Heybridge at Chadfields last week.
“I’m planning on having a go next season, that’s the goal,” concluded Keith.
U’s fans wish him well.