Let's Wallow In Nostalgia
By Ian Cusack
Tuesday 15 Nov 2011 08:35:00
Browse all Ian Cusack articles

Kevin Keegan signed for Newcastle United from Southampton in August 1982. It is almost frightening to think that 29 long years have passed since that momentous month, which also included my 18th birthday. As a result I was legally allowed to enter licensed premises and have a pre match pint to settle my nerves before the visit of Queens Park Rangers to St. James Park on August 28th 1982. I didn’t though; Kevin Keegan’s debut was one occasion I wanted to enjoy sober. Unlike thousands of others I’ve no amusing stories to relate of the incredible queues to get in or mad crush in the Gallowgate during the game, as my mate Chris and I were smugly sat in the back row of the New Stand (I still call it that now, to the confusion of most punters under the age of 35). We held this coveted perch on account of the generosity his season ticketed neighbours, the Hanlons, a pair of reserved, elderly, bachelor brothers who habitually missed games the week before and after the August Bank Holiday Monday as they took their annual holidays in Girvan, Ayrshire the same time each year. They always passed their tickets on to Chris and his dad, but on this occasion his old fella had to work so I struck lucky with a free ticket.

I’ve no idea if either of those eccentric and slightly intimidating gentlemen is still alive, but I must credit them as much as I credit Kevin Keegan with reigniting my love for Newcastle United. Following relegation in 1978, I decided my pocket money was better spent on 7 inch singles by The Fall and Cabaret Voltaire than on Newcastle United, so I attended infrequently during the 4 seasons of dull second division plodding until KK turned up on Tyneside. Following that wonderful afternoon, which afforded me a great view of the winning goal, unlike another mate Graham who spent 75 minutes in The Corner with his back to the game and lost a shoe in the pandemonium after the ball hit the net, I knew I had to be here for every game. Kevin Keegan had been bitten by the Geordie bug, but I and thousands others were reciprocally bitten. Thank you to him, but thank you also to the Hanlons for providing me with a means of seeing history made.

Of course, things on the pitch weren’t brilliant from the off; ordinary, average D2 players were suddenly required to step up to the standards required by a European Cup Winner, England international and Footballer of the Year. Many of them floundered as we followed up our second successive win on the Wednesday at Blackburn by taking 2 points from 5 games. Then came the era-defining trip to Rotherham; anyone who was there can confirm the Match of the Day footage still knocking around on line tells the truth.  Newcastle were Brazil 70 and Holland 74 combined that day as we steamrollered the hosts 5-1 with KK getting 4 and Kevin Todd the other one. The trip to Millmoor was my first away game beyond Joker Park and still one of my happiest football memories. Only Peterborough and Grimsby in the Promotion seasons come close to the feeling of having completely taken over the town and ground with Geordies packing the place out. Fabulous times. Sadly, despite Keegan’s 20 goals, we only finished 5th that season, but the bond between fans and our superstar number 7 was sealed and remains unbreakable to this day.

Like Joe Harvey before him and Sir Bobby Robson and Chris Hughton subsequently, Kevin Keegan instinctively grasped the importance of Newcastle United to the whole of the region. With roots in Stanley, Kev knew that Northumberland and West Durham pit towns were as much the core of our support as those from the banks of the Tyne. Wherever we came from, we were united by our love of the club; Kevin Keegan as well as the other gentlemen mentioned (and I use the word gentlemen deliberately) shared that love.  In every one of his 78 league games in our colours, he strove to do his best at all times and, as a natural leader, he encouraged and supported the other players, whether nervous youngsters at the start of their career or more experienced fellas who had been around the block to achieve more. Bits of kids like Chris Waddle were able to grasp immortality when obscurity beckoned and cast-offs like John Anderson put the bad times behind them and dug in for the team.

It’s one of my biggest regrets that I went away to University in September 1983, the day after Peter Beardsley signed in point of fact and missed most of the promotion season. If I’d had a crystal ball I would have picked Newcastle Poly and not Ulster University (it’s a long story) as the place to improve my pool skills and ability to sleep past noon, but there you go. At least my week off for revision before the exams allowed me to see the 4-0 stuffing of Derby County and the 2-2 at Huddersfield (“Kenny Wharton; Pride of Blakelaw” is officially the best banner ever) as we roared back to the top flight, though I missed the 3-1 end of season party versus Brighton, mugging up on Shakespeare and “Paradise Lost.”

Of course KK had decided to call time on his career and wouldn’t be around to help us adjust to life in the top flight; the 4-0 howking at Liverpool in the Cup had told him he could no longer achieve the high standards he’d set himself. It was a shock, but it was a typically brave and professional decision from a man who knew what he was capable of and what the team required. Newcastle United were a duller side without him, despite the stellar skills of Beardsley and Waddle. It’s fair to say that Pat Heard and George Reilly didn’t replace what we lost when King Kev called it a day. As Keegan retired to Spain, we settled in to mid table mediocrity under Charlton then the likeable Willie McFaul, before the policy of flogging the family jewels (Waddle, Beardsley, Gascoigne) saw Jim Smith and Ossie Ardiles lead the team to the foot of Divison 2. Come February 1992, we were on our uppers as the Third Division beckoned for the first time in our history; there was only one man who could save us and back from Marbella he came.

The rest, of course, is history; the Houdini escape from relegation in 92, the breath-taking promotion in 92/93, the Entertainers of 93/94, the European adventure of 94/95, the gut-wrenching near miss of 95/96 and the arrival of Shearer in 96/97. We all know the script, but let’s remember amidst all of those brilliant memories that Kevin Keegan led the club with dignity, with professionalism and above of, in a principled way. In March 1992, Newcastle beat Swindon 3-1 and at full time, Kevin Keegan threatened to walk out as promises for money to bring in players weren’t being kept. This wasn’t a strop, it was his strong principled, morality coming through and he was right.

He was right to sell David Kelly in 1993 after promotion, right to read the riot act to Lee Clark for kicking the dugout in October 1993, right to sell Andy Cole in January 1995 to bring in Les Ferdinand and, sadly, right to leave the club in January 1997 when the share flotation and internal politics had taken the club away from being a sporting focus for the region in the direction of a cash cow for faceless businessmen in grey suits. This wasn’t the Newcastle United Kevin Keegan had fallen in love with in 1982 and we had to lose him to learn how much we’d loved him.

Sir Bobby Robson gave us the great times back, before his appalling dismissal and it seemed as if Kevin Keegan could do it again when he replaced the fatuous anti-football of Allardyce in January 2008. It all looked good for a while as it seemed we’d a sporting chance of pushing on towards the top echelons again until the current owners decided to wreck all the good work Kev was putting in by undermining him; read the tribunal judgement yourself and see how this principled, moral man simply could not work in such circumstances. His departure and the subsequent revelations simply cemented his reputation as the Geordies’ favourite adopted son.

However, let’s not gnash our teeth and wail about the present; let’s wallow in nostalgia with today’s glorious game. If I’m asked for a score prediction, I’ll go 4-3 to Newcastle!

Ian Cusack

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