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Keegan Interview

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Exclusive: Full Kevin Keegan interview

 

Apr 18 2007

 

By John Gibson, The Evening Chronicle

 

 

My Entertainers and the Geordie fans

 

Kevin Keegan

 

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Kevin Keegan may have ran away to join the circus, but he can't escape the legacy he left behind at Newcastle United.

 

Keegan, always an enthusiastic, all-or-nothing participant in life, has moved his family up to Glasgow to meet his next challenge head on.

 

The building of a new empire, Soccer Circus, an interactive challenge in which the paying public are rewarded for the completion of different skills. Aged 56, it no doubt appeals to the child in him.

 

 

However, when Keegan broke off from showing the Scots how to play soccer, having agreed to a rare interview about a world he no longer wishes to inhabit, he was full of warm nostalgia for The Entertainers, his own collection of ball jugglers and acrobats who stormed the Premier League and captured millions of hearts in the early 90s.

 

Indeed, Keegan believes that had his United won the Premiership, as they oh so nearly did, it would have changed the face of football forever and banished the clawing fear that is now stifling our cash-obsessed national game.

 

The shackles, he maintains, would have been thrown off to the benefit of all who care. A decade has passed since Keegan sensationally walked out on his greatest managerial achievement in January of 1997, but the public wide and far have not forgotten his Newcastle.

 

"Even now, up here in Glasgow, people approach me to say they loved that Newcastle team," he told me.

 

"They became besotted with the way we played. So many folk from all over the place tell me they used to travel to St James' Park to watch us or sat glued in front of the box.

 

"You never see that sort of football now, with the possible exception of Manchester United. Football today is not my type of football.

 

"I was new to management at the beginning of the 90s and I thought all football should be played our way. I built a side to play the way I liked the game to be played.

 

"We didn't go for a team of defenders. We went out to entertain a Geordie public who crave entertainment, and that required players of flair and imagination who dared to perform in a certain way. My side and the Geordie fans were a marriage made in heaven.

 

"Teams are usually all about defence. All the coaching manuals tell you to build from the back, that if you don't concede a goal you can't lose. I preferred to believe that if you didn't score you couldn't win.

 

"We were in the entertainment business and I had a simple philosophy. I had no preconceived ideas, no fear of failure. I bought some wonderful players who were adored by the Geordies – Philippe Albert, David Ginola, Peter Beardsley, Rob Lee, Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand, Alan Shearer and, yes, Tino Asprilla. They were priceless, every one of them a wonderful asset.

 

"We almost achieved the impossible, winning the championship with a squad built on pure football. We should have won it and if we had it would not only have changed Newcastle United for good but all of football. Coaches would have been encouraged to go down our path, to rid us of a negativity that is stifling our game.

 

"Instead coaches nowadays produce clones of themselves. Cautious players with a negative attitude.

 

"It's like when you were at school. If the professor said something you accepted it at face value because he was a professor. You didn't query it. But that doesn't mean he was right every time.

 

"Imagination is your limitation. If someone tells you you can't do that you should ask `why?'

 

"I had no coaching badges. All I had done since I had finished kicking a football was play golf in Spain, but when Newcastle came for me in 1992 we sparked something special that will never be repeated.

 

"That team we put together is one of the major success stories of the last 20 years. Nothing like it will ever happen again – a newly promoted team like Sunderland this season will not threaten to win the championship because the gulf is too big now. It's all about money.

 

"I don't believe coaching badges are necessary. They stereotype people. All I ever did was go into things with great enthusiasm and belief and allow it to rub off on others."

 

Keegan, born on St Valentine's Day in 1951, has always been a romantic. The Premier League he left in March 2005 when quitting Manchester City is now too mechanical, too predictable for him, which is why he's turned his back on it and headed over the border, just as he walked away from so many things in the past if reality no longer matched the promises of the brochure.

 

He was the ringmaster long before the circus came to his town and he revelled in his Geordie adventure.

 

"When Newcastle came calling for me it was very exciting," recalled Kevin.

 

"John Hall phoned and said `Only two people can save Newcastle United and they are talking to each other right now.' That was a powerful message.

 

"We went on a rollercoaster ride, all of us together. Douglas Hall and Freddy Shepherd were great when I was there. John was the figurehead but they drove the club forward. And chief executive Freddie Fletcher – we called him the Jockweiler – was also vital in our era.

 

"We might not have won the ultimate prize, though we should have done, but perhaps you Geordies haven't to look so far back in history because of us. When I arrived everyone talked about Jackie Milburn and the 50s. Perhaps now it's The Entertainers."

 

When the time eventually comes to say goodbye, to store away the most pleasant of memories for yet another day when the soul needs lifting, the saviour of Newcastle United both as a player and manager smiles that infectious smile of old.

 

"Howay the lads," he shouts and waves. It's time to head back to the circus!

 

 

I left Toon as it wasn't the same club any more

 

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Fans gather outside St James' Park after hearing Keegan had quit

 

Kevin Keegan's departure mid-season from Newcastle caused a sensation on Tyneside, which was baffled and plunged into deep mourning.

 

Never has an opportunity for lasting greatness been so spurned by a football club and never has the opportunity to touch the stars arisen again.

 

KK left so abruptly and with so little in the way of public explanation that speculation as to why so much was thrown away has abounded since.

 

Was it because he didn't like United going from private ownership to a public company where short-cuts on decisions couldn't be taken on a whim?

 

Or had he never recovered from the deep-rooted emotional scars of losing the championship to Manchester United?

 

On the face of it, Keegan had appeared to recover, having spent £15m on yet another attacker, Alan Shearer, and in the months before his abdication in January of 1997 watched as his side demolished Man U 5-0 and then slaughtered Spurs 7-1.

 

"I left as a matter of principle," insisted KK. "The club I had been put in charge of was changing direction and I didn't like that.

 

"If you remember we were going to become the new Barcelona. We bought into ice hockey, rugby, basketball, the lot. We were to become a huge sporting club. We sold them a dream and then dashed it because it didn't look good on a balance sheet with the club becoming a plc.

 

"I was part of that trust when these other sports came aboard and then they were suddenly jettisoned. It was morally wrong.

 

"What else was going to happen on the football side? This wasn't the club I had been managing."

 

United still finished that season as runners-up in the Premiership once again with Kenny Dalglish taking over, just as he had in playing terms at Liverpool when Keegan went to Germany.

 

However, Newcastle never challenged for the title and Dalglish was to dismantle Keegan's squad very quickly, starting with the sales of Les Ferdinand and David Ginola to Spurs.

 

 

 

Had Kevin Keegan beaten Alex Ferguson to the Premier League championship he would have loved it, loved it.

 

It was not to be, a 12-point lead miraculously achieved but not retained that pulsating season of 1995-96.

 

However, if Sir smirked then at his victorious gallop up the rails, his favourite son Eric Cantona admitted the following season upon visiting St James' Park that Keegan had, indeed, a wondrous side.

 

In March 1996, Cantona had scored the lone goal that, together with Peter Schmeichel's awesome saves, won the match 1-0 and led to Man U overhauling Newcastle for the title.

 

Seven months on and Keegan's troops took savage revenge, destroying the Old Trafford aristocrats 5-0 in a match still cherished by the Toon Army.

 

"Oh, it was my favourite game of the lot," smiled KK.

 

"We absolutely slaughtered them – and remember Man U were the current champions. We played them off the park.

 

"I always remember on the final whistle I went down the tunnel and was standing at the top of the stairs when the players trooped in.

 

"As he passed, Cantona growled `You've got an effing good side' and walked on.

 

"His English was supposed to be not so good but he knew what we were about."

 

If the slaughter of his old tormentor Fergie was the high point for Keegan, I asked him if the 4-3 defeat at Liverpool during the run-in to 1995-96, when every point was a gold nugget and United had led in typical swashbuckling style, was his worst moment.

 

"Not really," he replied quick as a flash.

 

"Because for all but the last few minutes we had played so well. We weren't outclassed, as Man U were on the day against us. We were the better team right until near the end.

 

"Of course it killed us, but for the neutral it was a pulsating spectacle.

 

"It was voted the Game of the Decade in the Premiership, wasn't it?"

 

Part two: Talent galore - but Beardo was simply the best

 

Kevin Keegan opted for Peter Beardsley as his best signing for United

 

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Kevin Keegan made so many lavish signings for Newcastle, in an era when the bank was broken almost monthly in his craving for perfection, that to select the greatest of the great is a monumental task capable of concentrating biased minds for ever.

 

As we talked Keegan, not unnaturally, waxed lyrical over each and every one of them like a father fussing over his large brood.

 

The club record was smashed through a succession of eye-popping deals culminating in the emotional return home for Geordie Alan Shearer at a world record £15m.

 

However, when I pressed him for his best signing of the lot KK finally succumbed. The chosen one, Peter Beardsley, so good Newcastle bought him twice.

 

 

Beardsley had partnered Keegan in black-and-white stripes as promotion was won in the 80s and had made such an impression he was brought back by his old team-mate to help spark a new revolution.

 

"When you have a goalscorer in the team you're blessed - and you're equally blessed by the presence of a creator," Keegan told me. "So when you have both in one player then you have the complete deal.

 

"Peter could do both equally well. He was a giver not a taker by nature. He enjoyed making a goal for Andy Cole as much as scoring one himself. Indeed, I had to rollick him a couple of times for passing to Andy who missed when Pedro could have scored himself.

 

"He was very special to the club, a Geordie who understood his own folk and was on the same wavelength as myself.

 

"But I was lucky I had so many truly wonderful players at Newcastle and I appreciate every one of them to this day. Not just the ones I bought but the home grown lads who responded to those I put around them. Players who perhaps didn't realise the standard they could attain.

 

"Not many people might expect me to talk about Brian Kilcline, for example, considering the big-name players who followed him, but he was absolutely crucial to me at the time. He settled us down and got us going.

 

"Philippe Albert was immense for his finesse while Rob Lee, at £700,000, was superb value for money, the signing who glued the jigsaw together.

 

"Then there was Andy Cole for his goals alongside Peter, Sir Les who followed him, David Ginola with all his Gallic flair, and of course, Alan Shearer, at the end of it all.

 

"Having said all that let's not forget the likes of Darren Peacock, who often stood on the bridge by himself because Bez and Albert loved to get forward."

 

Many of Kevin's deals had a touch of the offbeat, that flamboyant wackiness that was synonymous with the Keegan years.

 

Like the time KK sat in the car park outside of a hotel in Wetherby arguing on the phone with his directors over whether or not Beardsley was too old (32 incidentally) before strolling inside to sign a genius.

 

Or the occasion when a message was left on the windscreen of a missing Andy Cole's car, spotted in Bristol's town centre, telling him to get in touch with City urgently because Keegan was in for him. Andy, a bachelor, was actually in a nearby laundry doing his washing!

 

And what about the hilarious exchange after a deal for Tino Asprilla was completed in Italy. Freddie Fletcher enthusiastically shook the hand of the Parma president saying thank you very much to which a bemused interpreter asked: "Why did you shake hands? He's just called you a little s**t." A reference to some heavy bargaining by United.

 

In those merriest of days fun ran through United like words through a stick of seaside rock. Both on and off the field of battle.

 

Perhaps Kevin's most controversial signing, however, was the £7.5m import of Asprilla, a colourful if outrageously wild superstar from Colombia who was playing in Italy's Serie A League.

 

"A lot of Press from outside the North East needed a scapegoat when we failed to win the Premier League title and they settled on Tino," Keegan told me.

 

"That was totally wrong, totally unfair. I honestly think that Asprilla only had two poor games for us all the time he was there.

 

"I wanted him because he was world class and all the rubbish about his wild ways never bothered me a bit. Some of it was scandalous, but I never wavered and I got top-class backing from the board.

 

"I had seen Tino play for Colombia against England at Wembley and was struck by his enthusiasm and workrate as well as his obvious ability.

 

"No, we didn't lose the championship because of Asprilla but because too many people around the club, off and on the field, didn't know how to win something.

 

"Beardsley apart, I don't think there was anyone else who had achieved the ultimate prize."

 

Apart from the Geordie Messiah himself, of course, twice European Footballer of the Year, a champion with Liverpool and Hamburg, England skipper and their future manager.

 

 

KK now soccer circus master

 

He's never lured by a live match on TV and knows not a thing of Scottish football, despite his new power base in Glasgow.

 

Sure, Keegan talks regularly on the phone to cherished old players like Peter Beardsley but that is the limit of his involvement in today's regimented game.

 

His new life and new challenge, he tells me, is with Soccer Circus - the world's first fully interactive football facility - and he would love to bring it to Newcastle.

 

The plan is that the Glasgow venture will be the first of many branches worldwide and he told me: "The Geordies would love it and I would love to take Soccer Circus to Newcastle. I'm not saying it'll be the next place we go but it would be great to eventually make it to Tyneside."

 

KK calls it his future adding: "This will be bigger than Manchester United. I've always been about a challenge and this is it. Football is no longer about romance but finances. The fun has gone.

 

"I never watch a game now and I don't miss it. I follow the news about my old clubs but that's all. I knew about Newcastle v Man City and Chris Coleman getting the sack at Fulham, but if I was questioned in depth over what was happening generally I would no doubt fail."

 

Kevin left his last job at Manchester City by mutual consent in March of 2005. After four years in the job and the challenge of waking another sleeping giant like Newcastle completed he walked away calling time on his fourth and he insists last managerial commitment.

 

"I just got stale," he explained. "If you don't enjoy it, don't look forward to working with your players, then you have to get out. It got to the stage where I thought: `Hold on, is this what I want to do with the rest of my life?' Some people are happy to stay where they are for ever but if I'm not enjoying something I move on."

 

Keegan is working every night until 9pm having thrown himself enthusiastically into Soccer Circus as he's done with whatever has currently taken his mind.

 

He's hands on - the painter of the cafe, the guy who bought the old turnstiles from Middlesbrough's Ayresome Park at an antique shop near Leeds and a row of wooden seats from Stoke's abandoned Victoria Ground and transported them up to Glasgow.

 

"Here football is still fun and anyone can play it," he explained. "The coaches only want the cream but ordinary guys love soccer and they should be able to take part. We give them that opportunity to indulge themselves."

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"We went on a rollercoaster ride, all of us together. Douglas Hall and Freddy Shepherd were great when I was there....

 

Quality article....

 

Dunno about anyone else, but I interpret the bit in bold to suggest he doesn't think much of them these days.

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"We went on a rollercoaster ride, all of us together. Douglas Hall and Freddy Shepherd were great when I was there....

 

Quality article....

 

Dunno about anyone else, but I interpret the bit in bold to suggest he doesn't think much of them these days.

That and the other following quote definitely speak volumes about what he thinks of the current board

as that was the time the fat man took control.

"I left as a matter of principle," insisted KK. "The club I had been put in charge of was changing direction and I didn't like that.

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Exclusive: Full Kevin Keegan interview

 

 

 

"John Hall phoned and said `Only two people can save Newcastle United and they are talking to each other right now.' That was a powerful message.

 

 

 

Hall was an horrific Tory, a mackem and tbf, was fervently intent on recouping his personal outlay on the club (with interest)....but you have to say...that really was a chairman with real vision! You read that bit and you are left in absolutely no doubt as to why we had such a meteoric rise.

 

Seems like a million light years ago compared to now........

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Guest alex

Got his knighthood for giving money to the Conservative Party. I'll let him off though. Hypocrite that I am.

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Got his knighthood for giving money to the Conservative Party. I'll let him off though. Hypocrite that I am.

 

:ok:

 

Aye, same here tbf.

 

He's like that bloke in Viz who get's the MBE for his charity work-he does a sponsored 'paying my mortgage off in aid of Mencap!' Amongst other things. :jesuswept:

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Do you remember the Viz version of John Hall in Billy the Fish?

 

Sir Wynyard Hall, building shopping centres with glass lifts and banging his fist on the table ranting about 'big plans' :ok:

Edited by Dr Kenneth Noisewater

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Do you remember the Viz version of John Hall in Billy the Fish?

 

Sir Wynyard Hall, building shopping centres with glass lifts and banging his fist on the table :ok:

 

:jesuswept:

 

Yeah he was quality.

 

Then there was the other one awlays wanting to take over as chairman-Maxwell Baxter. But he was always just a cardboard cut-out. ('With a hidden tape recorder').

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Best Billy the Fish episode ever was the one where he missed the FA Cup Final because he was pissed and shagged some Page 3 girl, only to have half of the strip being the two characters umasking themselves as someone else.

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Best Billy the Fish episode ever was the one where he missed the FA Cup Final because he was pissed and shagged some Page 3 girl, only to have half of the strip being the two characters umasking themselves as someone else.

 

;)

 

Aye, gold tbf.

 

The other outright classic being where Tommy Brown loses it and takes a shit on his desk.

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