Since moving to Grimsby in 2011, James McKeown has thrown himself into the local community. The award-winning goalkeeper has become a much-loved and respected part of Grimsby Town Football Club, playing his way to Captain, helping to get the team back into the Football League, and giving back to vulnerable people in the area through his work as Patron of the charity Harbour Place. James has truly made Grimsby his home, and this is why he is a proud honorary Grimbarian.
Have you always been interested in football? When did start playing and who inspired you to play?
Yes, pretty much from when I can remember I always played. I had two older brothers who used to put me in goal (which was essentially back to back garages with concrete floor on our council estate) so I got used to diving on anything. Then my Dad took over a team that was about to cease, mainly just so I could carry on playing and from there it just grew.
I did start outfield, but always liked the idea of saving penalties, getting muddy and not running, so overtime I eventually ended up in goal. I loved Peter Schmeichel growing up and how brave he was as a goalkeeper, so that’s how it all started for me.
When you moved to Grimsby to join Grimsby Town, what were your initial thoughts? Did you know much about the club?
My honest initial thoughts were that I could join a good club and get some game time. I remember a few people saying ‘it’s grim up there’ and that it’s cold, all these things, but as a 21 year old lad I just wanted to play football. You don’t really think about much else. Whereas now, I couldn’t be prouder to say I live here and show family and friends different places when they visit, like the sea front – and even more during lockdown, we discovered so many wonderful places to walk. It really is a wonderful place to bring up our children and is 100% our home now.
In your almost 10 year with the club, what have been your personal highlights?
This is easy for me – being a very minor part in helping to get the club back into the football league and seeing the difference it has made to so many lives; fans, players office staff, the Academy at the club, everyone. On a personal level, winning four Player of the Year Awards is something I could never ever have dreamed of, especially given some of the players who I’ve played with, it’s a huge honour. And lasting several managers now, because every time that changes you never know what’s around the corner, so for new managers to come in and want to keep me around, pleases me as well.
You’ve really embraced the local community since being here and will get involved with local charities like Harbour Place – why is this important to you?
I feel growing up in a big city like Birmingham, the sense of pride and community spirit wasn’t something I particular felt. After coming here and finding ourselves in Laceby, we first noticed that pride for the town.
Then overtime I got to know the guys from GCW, a local business that has done really well in an area that needs positive things, and I suppose when I first met Will Douglas from Docks Beers and got to know some of the things going on ‘behind the scenes’ to promote the town, it really made me want to step forward while I’m still playing football and maybe try and make some kind of a difference before I become just ‘another ex-retired footballer’. Hence the link up with a wonderful charity like Harbour Place that do some truly outstanding and most importantly vital work for so many people that might just need that tiny bit of extra help.
I bloody love it here, but it can be very cold and very windy (especially at Blundell Park!)