The FA Youth Cup

Kevin Keen: West Ham's FA Youth Cup win is my proudest moment in 40 years of football

Tuesday 25 Apr 2023

Kevin Keen has described West Ham United’s FA Youth Cup win as the proudest night of his 40-year career and hailed it ‘a massive moment for the football club’.

The 56-year-old made 279 appearances for the Hammers, won two promotions, lifted the Football League Trophy and was the Irons’ caretaker manager on three occasions during his career.

But Keen insists nothing compares to leading West Ham Under-18s to a 5-1 win over hosts Arsenal and helping his beloved Hammers lift their first FA Youth Cup in 24 years in front of 34,127 supporters at Emirates Stadium.

Keen said: “This is my 40th season in football and this is as proud as I have ever been.

“They are a fantastic group, we have wonderful staff and to come here and play that well, especially going 1-0 down, to have that support behind us, it was an incredible moment for the academy, for the football club and richly deserved by those young men, who are very, very special.”

He continued: “Winning the FA Youth Cup after such a long time, for a football club which is so associated with its academy, is a massive, massive moment.

“You see on the side of the pitch there was Mark Noble and Declan Rice. It is an amazing moment for the football club and hopefully we have a few there [in the Under-18s] who will go on and have careers at West Ham.”

Declan Rice and Mark Noble were cheering on the Under-18s from the sidelines

When asked about the importance of having England star Rice as a role model to the academy players, Keen added: “It is what the club is built on. The club is built on the family feel and the togetherness. We do not have the all-singing-and-dancing training ground and all that sort of thing.

“From Bobby Moore in the 1960s to Ronnie Boyce, through to the 70s with Alan Curbishley, to the 80s with Alan Dickie, George Parris, Tony Cottee, then into the 90s with Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and then Joe Cole and Michael Carrick…that is what the club is built on. It is built on its academy and bringing players through and having a real family feel.

“You come to our training ground and certainly the academy training ground at Chadwell Heath and it is a family thing. That is how we attract players. If you are good enough then you are going to play in our first team.

“We are trying to create the next Declan Rice and the next Ben Johnson and the dream is to create the next Mark Noble, someone who stays at the club their whole career and nights like this can only make that even more likely, hopefully.”

West Ham lifting their first FA Youth Cup since 1999

West Ham’s last victory in the FA Youth Cup had been in 1999, when England stars Joe Cole and Michael Carrick had been in the team.

Jack Wilshere’s Arsenal Under-18s side had a number of exciting young players on show at Emirates Stadium but goals from George Earthy, Callum Marshall, Gideon Kodua, Kaelan Casey and Josh Briggs helped West Ham come from behind to win 5-1.

West Ham’s fans were almost as impressive as the players on the pitch, with ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’, ‘West Ham are Massive’ and several other songs ringing around Emirates Stadium well before the 7pm kick-off and throughout the 90 minutes.

Keen said: “I think that is what made it the best night of my career. It was absolutely incredible.

“We sold our tickets out like that (clicking his fingers) and I think we could have sold another 7,000. They sang all the time, when we went 1-0 down they really got behind the lads, and it was like an extra man for us. I thought they were absolutely amazing.

“I have done a few first team games here and usually the fans are right in the corner so to have a whole end and to be able to celebrate and for the players to have those special moments with their families, it was incredible.” 

By Frank Smith