U’s correspondent, Carl Marston, catches up with one of Colchester United’s former stalwarts, Joe Keith

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JOE Keith has one big regret – that he didn’t look after himself well enough to extend his career as a professional footballer.

While Keith is now on the coaching staff at East Thurrock United, and rarely kicks a ball in anger these days, many of his former team-mates at Colchester United are still going strong on the professional circuit.

Kem Izzet and Karl Duguid are still plying their trade with the U’s, while others like Kevin Watson, Wayne Brown and Gavin Johnson played well into their thirties.

Such was Keith’s sudden fall from grace – the 34-year-old bowed out of the Football League as early as 2007 – that he even stopped playing altogether for a short spell.

Now the ex-West Ham trainee is enjoying life again, on the non-league football scene.

“Players like Kemi (Izzet) and Karl (Duguid) were always good professionals, and they are now getting their rewards for doing that,” insisted Keith.

“But there were a few who didn’t look after themselves, myself included, and that’s why I am playing here (East Thurrock United) and they are still playing at Colchester.

“My eating habits, more than anything else, were the problem.

“I took it for granted, being a footballer, but I’m just thankful that I’ve fallen in love with it again.”

Keith chalked up an impressive 208 league games for Colchester, after arriving at Layer Road in 1999 following two years as a trainee at West Ham.

A tricky left-back, or left winger, Keith also scored goals at an impressive rate, thanks to his prowess from set pieces, especially from free-kicks.

But he left the U’s in 2005, before Phil Parkinson’s side went on to clinch promotion to the Championship (2005-06).

Keith continued: “When I left Colchester, I went to Bristol City (on loan). I’ve never had a chance to put my side to it.

“There was a big mix-up when I went there. Bristol City asked me about going back to Colchester, and I said I wouldn’t be going back there again because at the time Phil (Parkinson) didn’t want me.

“But I think all the Colchester fans read it as I didn’t want to play for the club again, which wasn’t the case. I just knew the manager didn’t want me there.

“I moved on to Leyton Orient, where we got promoted the same year that Colchester got promoted to the Championship.

“But it then fell apart from there, and it fell apart really quickly.

“I went to Brentford, but it was always a losing battle there under Fitz (Scott Fitzgerald).

“I then fell out of the League. It all dropped very quickly.

“I actually stopped playing for about six months (after a brief spell at Hornchurch in 2007), because I just didn’t want to play football.

“I wasn’t enjoying it, but I’ve got the enjoyment back, and I’m loving it more than ever.

“Loads of people will be shocked to see me coaching, and wanting to be a manager.

“But that’s what I want to do. This (East Thurrock United) is a great club, very friendly, and I’m doing my coaching badges.

“I want to stay in the game – there’s no better feeling – and it is something I took for granted when I was playing.

“I was never one that enjoyed being a footballer, you can ask anyone.

“But I look back now and think I’d give anything to go back to that, and have a word with myself!” added Keith.

Keith has always lived close to the Dartford Bridge, even when he was playing at Colchester – he used to travel to Layer Road with the likes of Izzet and former midfielder Bobby Bowry.

Over the last five years, he has been operating on the non-league local scene.

“I originally left Tilbury to come here (East Thurrock United) as a player,” explained Keith.

“We got promoted but I then broke my leg at the start of last season, in a pre-season game.

“It was the worst injury I’ve ever had. The worst I had at Colchester was six weeks out with medial ligament damage.

“Half-way through the season, when I got back to fitness, my best friend Lee Hodges got the manager’s job at Aveley, so I left to be his assistant.

“But it didn’t work out, so I came back here, as first team coach towards the end of last season.

“I’ve managed a couple of games this season, but I’m more of a coach now.

“I still keep tabs with Colchester’s results, and obviously we were only penalties away (beaten by Chelmsford) from playing them in the FA Cup.

“I’d love to have played against them, and I had some banter with Kemi (Izzet) on Twitter about it.

“We were worthy of going through, but since then Chelmsford have got on a run and we’ve gone the opposite way,” added Keith.

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