Posted tagged ‘Kevin Keegan’

The Newcastle story

August 25, 2010

OK, I haven’t written about Newcastle United FC for a while, and you won’t expect me to be completely silent on events… For those who don’t know what this is about, a little bit of background on the life and times of this football (soccer) club. Two years ago the sky fell on Newcastle, as the owner fell out with the much loved manager, Kevin Keegan. Keegan left, and a completely chaotic season followed, at the end of which the club was relegated from the Premier League to the (then) Coca Cola Championship. In the meantime the owner, Mike Ashley, was trying to offload the club but couldn’t find a buyer, the fans hated him, the biggest players left. Fatalistic fans were already talking about further relegation to League One.

And then it all changed. Newcastle’s players bonded in adversity with each other and with the caretaker manager, former Ireland international player Chris Hughton, a steely determination set in, and the club started winning games. Actually, winning them again and again. Until at the end of the season Newcastle easily came out on top of the Championship and were promoted back to the Premier League. Then, ten days ago or so, in the opening game of the new season, the club faltered against Manchester United at Trafford Park, and some were already predicting they would be relegated again. But just for now, no-one is saying that, because on Sunday last Newcastle annihilated Aston Villa, beating last season’s number 6 club by 6-0. Maybe things are looking brighter at last.

For me, the Newcastle story is a romantic one, of enthusiasm and determination in adversity, and the desire to do something and be something in and for a city that lives and breathes football. Of course there are still all the questions about where international soccer is going: the inflated salaries and transfer payments, the mountain-sized egos that the modern game has produced, the role of super-rich owners who don’t know how to respect the game, and so forth. But there is also the sheer excitement at seeing these dramatic struggles, and the joy of watching the game when it is at its best.

Go, Newcastle!

The Newcastle drama

March 31, 2009

I suspect that not that many readers of this blog are very interested in Newcastle United FC, but then again I haven’t written about the club for a while. And today we have some fairly dramatic news. According to the BBC and Sky Sports, the club has appointed football legend and record Newcastle goal scorer  Alan Shearer to be the manager until the end of the season. I have to confess that at first I suspected this was an April Fool’s story, but I have now seen it confirmed in several different places, so I am coming to the conclusion that it’s true (but so far unconfirmed by the club’s website).

Why does this matter? Newcastle United, having parted company last autumn in very acrimonious circumstances with the legendary Kevin Keegan, went into free fall, and right  now is in the ‘relegation zone’ of the Premier League; in other words, unless fortunes change, the club will be out of the premiership in the next season. This has happened under two separate caretaker managers, ex-Wimbledon Joe Kinnear (who actually didn’t do too badly but then had heart surgery), and stand-in Chris Hughton (who seems out of his depth). Devoted, loyal and so often disappointed Newcastle fans have not been served well by the club’s current owner, who seemed intent on giving priority to his preferred management structure over actual success on the field.

Maybe it’s all too late, and maybe it’s just a fantasy anyway, but for most Newcastle fans the news of Shearer’s return will prompt a spark of optimism and belief. He was one of the club’s best players ever, and he is a local man. Whatever happens now, at least it will be interesting.

And the Newcastle show rolls on

September 13, 2008

I realise that some people reading this blog may not find the ups and downs of Newcastle United FC totally fascinating. But just allow yourselves to survey the scene. Here we have a big football (soccer) club, with a proud history and perhaps the most loyal fan base of any club anywhere. But we also have decades-long under-achievement, and in recent years a constant soap opera – usually involving the manager – that keeps far too much attention on matters off the field.

But we also have one or two love affairs between the fans and some key individuals who capture the mood and lift the spirits. Perhaps the most notable of these have been (first) player and (then) manager Kevin Keegan, and the record goalscorer for the club, Alan Shearer. In January of this year Keegan returned, unexpectedly, for his second spell as manager, and for once players and fans were happy. Keegan is one of the game’s romantics, preferring style and flair over defensive tactics, and these are attributes that are loved on Tyneside. In Newcastle city and area, the club is everything to local morale, and Keegan embodies it.

Until he fell out with the club’s current owner, Mike Ashley, and felt that because he did not have proper control over the recruitment of players he had to leave. Fans were outraged, and today’s first game since all this happened was accompanied by major protests and actions by supporters, with the clear message that the owner and his management team were now not wanted any more. And in the midst of all this the team lost today’s game, a home fixture they should have won.

As it happens, today’s lucky winners were Hull City FC, which also has a little bit of my loyalty, as I worked in Hull for 10 years. So if this outcome was perhaps a salutary lesson for the owners, I am glad the the beneficiaries, since there had to one, were Hull.

But apart from the ongoing drama at Newcastle – and just now it seems that a happy ending is only possible with the return of Keegan – there are maybe some issues here for the sporting world. Games such as football/soccer have become hugely expensive, and clubs can realistically only prosper with some very wealthy owners who have the personal resources to put millions into the club each year. Naturally many of these owners will be businesspeople, who will apply their normal practices and expectations to their football ‘business’.

There is no reasonable alternative to this mix of business and sport, the egg can no longer be unscrambled. But it may be time for some reflection on what kind of owner conduct allows a club to thrive on the pitch. One of the lessons the Keegan saga should be that the manager needs to have proper backing, and needs to be fully in charge of the game and all aspects that influence the players and their success or failure.

It will be interesting to see how this saga ends. Actually, as this is Newcastle, it is unlikely to end. But we may find out what the next amazing development will be.

The Newcastle circus

September 7, 2008

I have mentioned before in this blog that I am a fan of Newcastle United FC – the English football (soccer) club. And indeed I mentioned that I am something of an admirer of its manager, Kevin Keegan. But now I need to say ex-manager, because in the course of this week his employment in that capacity ended. He appears to have resigned, but did so in circumstances that suggest this was really a firing.

Like most Newcastle fans, I was dismayed at this turn of events. Kevin Keegan is a somewhat old-fashioned manager, less intent on the science of football and more interested in the romantic aspects of the sport and in playing it stylishly.

The problem with Newcastle has been that its board has not understood how to manage the business in a way that also supported good football. So for the past few years Newcastle United has been run in the most alarmingly amateurish way at board level. It was thought by some that things would improve when businessman Mike Ashley bought the club last year, but it now seems he made the manager’s job impossible by imposing a complex bureaucracy on him and removing from him the capacity to take some of the key tactical decisions.

Again like most Newcastle fans, I want Kevin Keegan back quickly – preferably under a new owner.

Gosh, wouldn’t it be easier to be a fan of Manchester United! But not as exciting…

And now for matters of life and death

July 3, 2008

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.