And now for matters of life and death

Bill Shankly, the legendary manager of Liverpool FC from 1959 to 1974, is said to have remarked that football (soccer) is not a matter of life and death, but ‘much more important than that’. And I must confess that I am one of those for whom soccer is a great interest. Whenever life gets me down, football is a great tonic for me. And furthermore, I have to ‘fess up that I am a strong supporter of the English team, Newcastle United FC. At least a couple of times every year I will make the pilgrimage to St James’s Park in Newcastle to watch a game. For Newcastle fans, following the club’s fortunes in recent years has been something of a roller-coaster ride. The club has perhaps the most passionate supporters of any football club anywhere in the world, but what they get from the team doesn’t always match their passion. Many years have passed since Newcastle won anything of significance, and every new dawn tends to be followed fairly quickly by nightfall. 

By (relatively) common consent, the best manager of Newcastle in recent times was Kevin Keegan, who having played for the club with great distinction became its manager in 1992 and remained in the post until he suddenly resigned in 1997. During that period he brought flowing, stylish, swashbuckling football to the club, bringing the team almost to the top of the English Premier League. Almost, but not quite, because his style of playing largely focused on elegant attack and neglected defence.

Now, several managers and disasters later, Kevin Keegan has returned to Newcastle as manager. Almost every fan was delighted, and yet also in honesty concerned that it might not work the second time around, and that his romantic approach might no longer work in a league that has become much more technical. Well, we don’t know yet what the answer is, but at last in some of the games since his return there have been signs of the old excitement coming back – we live in hope, Newcastle fans always do.

Maybe I like Kevin Keegan and want him to succeed because deep down I believe that the world needs some romantic leaders, people who like people and who want to generate excitement for them, who speak plainly but without malice and who can persuade others to feel good about themselves. Maybe it’s because I would really like to be like Kevin Keegan, but am not. But if you want to share in some of the wild emotions of Tyneside, then keep an eye on Newcastle FC in the coming season.

PS. Having worked in Hull for 10 years in the 1990s, I now also feel inclined to support Hull City AFC, which has just got into the Premier League. And in GAA football, I support Westmeath, but that’s another story for another time.

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One Comment on “And now for matters of life and death”

  1. Stephen Says:

    I must agree in sharing your passion for more characters in football like Kevin Keegan but by my own admission I don’t feel sorry for Newcastle and their perennial act of underachievement. Newcastle fans are without doubt very loyal and feel the tribulations of Newcastle football club more then any ardent football fan, but they must shoulder a large proportion of blame for the ‘several disasters and managers’ that followed Keegan’s first departure.

    Bobby Robson managed with relative success for five years yet when Newcastle finished in fifth, outside the previous season’s position of fourth, he got sacked. The Newcastle faithful should have called for the sacking of Freddy Shepard then instead of allowing him to destroy Newcastle’s fortified position in English football, which Robson had built. Shepard may have been loose with his wallet but meagre- mostly injury prone signings – don’t build a team. In fact many of Newcastle’s signings, such as Duff and Emre symbolise the potential for greatness but expose the frailties that have become a metaphor for Newcastle.

    Sam Allardyce proved his ability at Bolton – by no means a football powerhouse – by guiding the club to the UEFA cup and top half finishes. Bolton didn’t play attractive football, but in a results business Allardyce’s tactics paid dividends. Last season Newcastle fans called for his sacking because of his style of management and preferred tactics, yet all of a sudden Kevin Keegan is going to save the day. If he comes back he’ll give Newcastle what they want in the short term but clubs are measured in terms of success, of which Keegan has had very little as a manager. Newcastle could do with a bit of perspective and stop referring to the size of their stadium to render Newcastle a big club. All the same being a supporter of Leeds I know how frustrating it is!

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