My Favourite Imps: Dean Keates

Credit LCFC

For some, this pick might seem a bit odd. I’m going for a player who was sent off in 8% of the matches he played for Lincoln, signed and left within six months, and helped the next two clubs he played for to promotion at the Imps’ expense.

However, I have still gone for the diminutive Dean Keates, because I just loved him as a player. There was something about him that was just incredibly endearing. He had a never-say-die attitude that made me constantly liken him to Scrappy-Do. That might be a bit patronising as it’s referring to his stature, 5ft 6, which is small for a footballer.

Credit LCFC

We’d come across Keates a few times before he signed for us – he appeared for Hull the day we beat them 1-0 as their new stadium opened. He then moved to Kidderminster, closer to his Walsall home and again appeared against us. Most of his early career was spent with his hometown club, almost constantly around the third tier.

The summer of 2005 was a tough one for Imps fans. We’d made the play-offs for a third time, and failed at the Millennium Stadium for a second time. Peter Gain, Simon Yeo, Gary-Taylor-Fletcher, and Richard Bucher all left, and Keith Alexander had to go on a rebuilding mission. It was challenging – Gary Birch, Marvin Robinson and Derek Asamoah weren’t bad players, but they couldn’t capture the imagination as those departing had.

That summer was tough; Scott Kerr was a hit, but Steve Robinson and Colin Cryan were not. It mattered little to me when we unveiled Keates, because he felt like a marquee capture to trump them all. Over the years, there have been loads of players at our level I’d have loved Lincoln to sign: Efe Sodje, Jack Lester, Ritchie Wellens… the list goes on and on. Rarely do we land the players that I feel others covet, that I believe others need to be successful, or certainly not back then, when the market was different. Now, nine times out of ten, we’re signing someone who has fans reaching for their Wikipedia pages, but back then, it was all about the name.

Credit Graham Burrell

Dean Keates was a name, a big one, which is a little ironic.

He didn’t start the 2005/05 season’s opening game, nor did another fresh face, Scott Kerr. It seems inconceivable that they both sat on the bench as Nat Brown and Luke Foster started in midfield, with Kerr replacing Foster for the next game. Finally, Keates got a start as we faced Championship side Crewe in the League Cup. He was outstanding as we hammered them 5-1 to get the campaign up and running.

A week later, he scored away at Rushden to earn us a draw against a team we’d only beaten once. Within three weeks, he’d added two more goals, one an overhead kick against Peterborough at the Bank. He was a sensation in my eyes, exactly the sort of player I loved. He scrapped for everything and had an edge that (in my eyes) was exactly what we needed. He was deadly from a set piece, and he gave me a midfielder I could believe in, which I needed after Butch left. We weren’t really a play-off capable side, and yet we kept pulling performances out of the bag, with Keates right in the middle of everything. When we lost 5-4 to Fulham, a last-gasp goal saving them from the ignominy of penalties, Keates had battled away for 80 minutes.

Credit Graham Burrell

In his 16th game, we drew 1-1 with Orient, leaving us five points shy of the top seven. Keates had four goals (a special free-kick springs to mind) and just a single booking, and I genuinely felt if we could build around him, we’d be a real force. Sadly, something seemed to go wrong. He began to pick up bookings, three in his next six matches. He was sent off in two of the other three games, once against Chester for making an offensive gesture and against MK Dons in the FA Cup. He appeared in just five of the ten games we played during November and December, and despite a New Year’s Eve appearance against Darlington, his short Imps career ended as abruptly as it began.

He left for Walsall, citing ‘personal reasons’. Some suggested he wanted to be closer to home through personal issues, others that he just couldn’t settle in Lincoln. Whatever happened, he left, and we were poorer for it. At the end of the season,  Walsall were relegated to League Two, and we fluffed a fourth play-off appearance, so he lined up against the Imps in the following campaign. Walsall won the division. He then moved to Peterborough for the 2007/08 season and lined up against the Imps again. They, too, were promoted.

Yet, here I am, 16-odd years later, still finding time to enthuse about Dean Keates. 24 appearances, four goals, two red cards and for some reason, a lifetime of respect from me.