The Keegan Years: Coming Home

Football

ByTheMinNUFC

Newcastle United are the ultimate black and white club. One minute we’re up. The next we’re crashing swiftly down. Middle ground? Forget it. At the start of 1992, the club was at one the lowest points in its history. Languishing at the bottom of the old second division, with a clueless manager at the head of the sinking ship, it seemed almost inevitable that we were to drop into the third tier of English football for the first time. Then on 5th February, everything changed. Before we get to the appointment of King Kev, let’s delve into the Ossie Ardiles tale. Newcastle wasn’t his first managerial job; that came a couple of year previously at Swindon Town where he led the club to the top flight for the first time in their history. He was held in the highest regard in their fans hearts due to the style of attacking football he brought to The County Ground. The days of the long ball were long gone, with a diamond 4-4-2 formation implemented to showcase the best in attacking talents at the club. Withink just 10 months of his arrival, he led Swindow to a 4th place finish and a playoff spot. We finished above them in 2nd place but a certain derby loss cost us dearly. Swindow dispatched Blackburn Rovers in the semi finals and only Sunderland stood between them and a place in the First Division. Despite winning that final at Wembley 1-0 thanks to a strike from Irish internationalist Alan McLoughlin, Swindon wouldn’t play in the top division the following season. After being found guilty of financial irregularities, Swindon were demoted back to the second tier. Sunderland gained promotion in their place.

Ossie was a broken figure after the efforts on the pitch were wiped away by those efforts (or lack of) off them. It came as no real surprise that he couldn’t replicate that form from the previous season and relegation became a real worry for The Robins. McLoughlin was sold for £1 million to cover the club’s bills. Ken Chapman was appointed chairman and told Ossie that the club would be run as a business first, football club second. When Paul Bodin and John Gettins were sold, the camel’s back was broken. Ardiles wanted to move to a club that would back him financially. He resigned and took over from Jim Smith at St James’ Park as our first foreign manager. Ardiles time on Tyneside was a total disaster. Having failed in the playoffs the season previously, he took over the club in mid-table and begun with back to back defeats to Bristol Rovers and Notts County. Finishing 11th was no achievement, but much worse was to come. The entire 1991-92 campaign was spent in the bottom half of the table. Large spells of that were spent in the relegation zone. Following a shambolic 3-4 loss at home to Charlton Athletic in which we raced into a 3-0 first half lead, the home fans jeered at the uselessness of their team. 15,663 was the recorded attendance that day. It would prove to be the last time Ardiles managed a league game in the home dugout at SJP. There was one further match for Ossie on Tyneside. A punishing penalties defeat to lowly Bournemouth in the FA Cup. There’s an old story that Ardiles went into dressing room after that game, lit a cigarette and burst into tears. The game was almost up. Defeat to Oxford United in the next game would be the final nail into the Argentine coffin. A 5-2 hammering at the Manor Ground dropped the side to 23rd place in the Second Division.

Battered, bruised and plummeting down to the third division. The club was on the verge of oblivion. Apathy reigned. Something spectacular needed to be done to save a city. The man that Sir John Hall turned to was left-field. But proved to be a masterstroke. Kevin Keegan and Newcastle United had a lot of history. Scoring twice in the red shirt of Liverpool in the 1974 FA Cup final against us was a sight very few of us want to remember. The 78 games he played for us between 1982 and 1984 were far more pleasant. 48 goals and a promotion to the First Division later, and King Kev left in true Keegan fashion with a helicopter ride after a friendly against Liverpool whilst still wearing his kit. Playing alongside the likes of Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and Terry McDermott, Kevin entered into our hearts. He retired to Spain and had no intention of a move into the managerial ranks. For eight years that intention remained. One phonecall changed everything. Alistair Wilson, the head of Newcastle Breweries, was key to Keegan signing as a player in 1984 and he was again integral to the signature of Keegan as manager. Sir John Hall asked him to call Keegan and offered him the Newcastle job. Keegan’s wife Jean knew immediately that he’d say yes to the offer. A couple of days later Sir John Hall, Douglas Hall, Freddie Fletcher and Freddie Shepherd held a meeting with KK in London. George Forbes, who was the club chairman at the time, wasn’t even told this was happening. Assurances were guaranteed about control of players coming in and out. Funds, which were limited to say the least, were promised. The deal was signed. The secret was kept right until the minute Keegan entered the packed press room just a few hours after Ardiles was sacked. “There’s no other job in football I’ve ever wanted. This is the only job I’ve wanted,” said Keegan to the media. “We will turn this club around,” he added. Boy did he do that. The local news bulletin (watch it in full below) dedicated almost its entire broadcast to the appointment. It captured the imagination and the apathy that waved through the city was swept away almost instantaneously. Sir John Hall was questioned about the appointment of a rookie manager with no experience of the non-playing side of the game and likened Keegan to Liverpool greats Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness entering the world of management in recent years. Giving what's happened with those two at the club in the years to come, perhaps that wasn't the greatest comparison... No time was wasted though as Keegan got straight to work onto the training ground to prepare the likes of Steve Watson, Lee Clark and Liam O'Brien. Bristol City was just 3 days away.

Next time on The Keegan Years... - The first game of the Keegan reign at home to Bristol City - Matches against Blackburn, Barnsley and Port Vale bring mixed results - Keegan starts making some changes to the playing squad If you want to send me any of your memories of February 1992 in the Keegan era, email them over to roddy@bytheminute.co and I'll add them in to next week's edition. Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment below for what you remember from the day Keegan was appointed and whether, back then, you felt he was the right man to save the club and the city.