There is much to agree with in this post from More Than Mind Games, much that I could have said myself in fact; except for the main point, which is that Newcastle United’s decision to (re)appoint Kevin Keegan as manager is “an astonishingly stupid idea”. Sure, Sam Allardyce’s sacking was bizarre, if quite amusing; you don’t need to have a high opinion of Sam to realise that he should have been given more time at St James’ Park (and in the interests of disclosure, I must admit that I don’t have a high opinion of Sam; the best thing he ever did for me was have a strop with the BBC, so refusing to appear on Match Of The Day, and sparing me from having to listen to his whining yap each week.) But with that done and dusted, Keegan’s return is the surely the stuff of dreams; and dreams are the stuff of sport.
Let’s get it right; I am all for a bit of level-headedness, indeed cynicism, and I can understand the desire to take a contrary position to the sheep in the media who have uncritically applauded King Kev’s second coming as manager. The parallel elevation of Alan Shearer to the post of future-great-manager reminds me of the other times the press have made that same prediction, about the likes of Ray Wilkins and David Platt. But there must also be room in football for those dreams, for romance. If anything there is an abundance of level-headedness about these days, the sort of blunt-edged reality that batters the hope out of you, hence my abandoning my Man City season ticket a couple of years back, when I finally realised that the best we could aspire to was nothing to get excited about.
The main criticism of Kevin’s appointment has a familiar ring to it; that by his own admission he hasn’t watched any Premier League football for years, indeed since he last managed a club. But the same was true when he was first plucked from a Spanish golf course in the ‘Nineties to become Newcastle’s manager; astonishing success followed. When he became City’s manager he arrived with a reputation as a failure and a quitter while at England; he left us as our longest serving manager since the ‘Seventies, and with memories of the best football I have ever seen us play.
That doesn’t mean he will repeat the feat this time around, but we can dream can’t we? And without dreams where does it end? It’s a rhetorical question. It ends in football being just another job; it ends in a club like Reading, Reading, eschewing the romantic ideal of FA Cup success in favour of the bread and butter of the Premier League, preferring a clean-sheet away on a dreary Tuesday at Craven Cottage to the possibility of a sun-kissed match at Wembley. In this world the only dream is of some billionaire buying up your club.
But football is also about the memorable moment, which can be memorable for all sorts of reasons; Keegan understood this, which is why, following Newcastle’s famous 3-4 defeat at the hands of Liverpool in 1996, while regretful that neither side would win the league, he was appreciative of the game itself, a game neither set of fans will ever forget. Most of today’s managers react to even a 4-3 victory with apologies, despairing at those defensive frailties as if a goalless draw would be preferable, while grudgingly accepting that the fans will probably have enjoyed it.
But it is those moments that stay with us, long after the statistics have been consigned to some soon-to-be-dusty record book; it is the hope of more such moments that drags us back to watch our side “one last time”, against our better judgement. That is why an Everton fan told me that his favourite memory of following his team is not from one of those championship winning seasons they enjoyed under Howard Kendall, but is rather from the game against Wimbledon on the last day of the 1993-94 relegation-battling season when they scored to go 3-2 up, having been 2-0 down at one stage and tumbling out of the top flight. It is why I doubt I will ever again experience the high of Paul Dickov’s last-gasp equaliser against Gillingham in the 1999 play-off final, not because it provided us with silverware, but because it averted certain disaster. And whatever happens to Newcastle United from here on in, the Geordie fans will never forget the instant they learned that their hero had returned, along with their dreams.
If even for the briefest of moments. Perhaps, as More Than Mind Games asserts, Keegan’s return is built on fallacy, and no good will come of it in the long run. But we all know where we will be in the long run, and in the short run even he believes that “Newcastle fans will enjoy the rest of the season”; and isn’t that what it is all about? It may all end it tears, but like the man said; “Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.”