Kevin Keegan: My Life in Football (Review)
It’s more than 40 years since Kevin Keegan was the face of Brut, Pirelli slippers, Smith’s crisps and the Green Cross Code, possessing the most famous autograph in football. He was England’s golden boy the best player in the country at a time of under achievement for the nation at international level. He followed on from George Best one of the most naturally gifted players Britain has produced and arguably the most self destructive. Keegan has always accepted he didn’t have Best’s ability. What Kevin achieved was through hard work and attitude with a personality which was infectious, enthusiastic and responsible.
Keegan still enjoys star status at the many corporate events, award ceremonies and company promotions which he often hosts and speaks at. He is wonderful with the delegates making sure those that want it have a selfie or autograph. Kevin makes everyone feel special an ability he transferred to each of his players when becoming a football manager.
In his new book ‘My Life in football’ he documents the teams he’s played for with the successes, issues and failures along the way. Those that have followed Keegan’s football career will recognise many of the stories in the book from countless interviews and two previous autobiographies, but this publication centres on his Football life rather than his upbringing in Doncaster.
Keegan has never been able to stay silent when he sees lies and injustices. In this manuscript, he doesn’t hold back. He calls out Brian Clough for bullying, Alex Ferguson for gamesmanship, the FA for not supporting him as England manager, Bobby Robson for not telling him why he was dropped from the England squad, Lawrie McMenemy for suggesting he was not trying in a Southampton match and calling his team ‘cheats’ (a red rag to a bull for Keegan), Liverpool for their ‘arrogance’, Manchester City for their ‘parsimony’. And, of course, he doesn’t hold back on himself. After all, this is the man who said he wasn’t up to managing England and promptly quit.
After starting at Scunthorpe, he was adored by the Liverpool kop under the charismatic manager Bill Shankly whose influence on Keegan was profound. Shanks taught Kevin ‘a way of life, how to deal with people and understand the importance of doing things the right way’. Kevin later made the move to Hamburg in Germany making himself just as loved out there, after a difficult start, winning the European footballer of the year award twice 1979 & 1980.
Keegan loves a challenge on his return he went to ‘unfashionable’ Southampton under Laurie McMenemy to see if he could bring them honours and prepare as England’s captain for 1982 World Cup which was one of Keegan’s sadist moments, picking up a back injury which kept him out of England’s opening matches, only for him to come on towards the end in an important decider against Spain, missing a header which he would normally have buried. Keegan believes ‘that miss is probably the only moment of my England career people remember now’. I am not certain that’s true Kevin.
Keegan’s life never stays still, having been omitted from the England side by new manager Bobby Robson something he still wrestles with and ‘shrouded in mystery’ in the manner it was done. He went on to Newcastle where his amazing adventure as a player continued, helping them gain promotion to the top division, then after finishing as a player, he was taken off the Spanish Golf courses, brought out of retirement to save them from relegation to division three. Chairman John Hall telling Keegan ‘You’ve got the passion, I’ve got the money’. Not only did he save Newcastle, he won promotion to the premiership the next season. His success as a manager at improving and getting sides into the premiership if not always winning trophy’s, (Fulham & Manchester City) got him the England job.
Those who admire Kevin Keegan are always taken by his honesty and integrity when dealing with matters. Keegan is a people’s person, he motivates players and fans with his intense enthusiasm and positive attitudes. His weakness is the way he sometimes walks away from things as with England ‘I can never hold anyone other than myself responsible for my shortcomings in the role of England manager’. He explains his actions well in the book, but you are left with a man who is actually quite sensitive, but does not bear long term bitterness to those who have hurt him.
Another issue that gets Keegan’s goat are clubs who lack ambition. Say the word ‘consolidate’ to Keegan and he’ll head straight for the door – as happened with Manchester City. He says ‘If you’re not going forward, what’s the point in sticking around? If the chairman says we’re looking forward to consolidate, that’s the time for you to say as a manager we’ll go backwards.’
Kevin mentions some of his off the field activities, such as his unmistakable 80’s hair perm, setting a fashion trend with other players and fans, plus his top forty single ‘Head over Heels in Love’. He also chronicles his appalling car mugging while asleep in a roadside lay-by near Reigate just off the M25.
Keegan documents his second coming at Newcastle extra-ordinarily well, which was probably due to the information correlated for his subsequent court case against the club after leaving, which Kevin won. ‘I came up against a wall of incompetence, deceit and arrogance’ he stated. The whole episode reads like a personal nightmare.
He is a God to Newcastle fans having saved the club from relegation, then promotion to the relatively new Premier League, where he built a very exciting side that came close to being champions. His battle with Alex Ferguson towards the end of that season was played out in front of Sky TV cameras after an important game with his ‘Love it’ rant, aiming a TV broadside at Sir Alex’s ‘mind games’.
Psychiatrist Steve Peters (‘The Chimp Paradox’) warns that too much emotion can ruin an athlete. At times it has certainly got the better of Kevin. Having taken some dreadful on field punishment with disgraceful tackles without provocation, stating ‘I always played well when I am angry’. He recalls ‘the red mist had well and truly descended’ in his infamous punch up with Billy Bremner in 1974 Charity Shield match, where the two players were sent off and suspended for weeks. His walk out on England as a player in Don Revie’s squad and as manager after a 1-0 loss to a weak Germany side underlines, he cares. He has pride as well as passion.
All this emotion has won him at Liverpool a European Cup, two UEFA cups, four League Championships, one FA Cup, at Hamburg a Bundesliga plus as a manager, promotion with Newcastle, Fulham and Manchester City and in so doing a massive following of fans, friends and admirers.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.