Title: Kevin Keegan My Life In Football
Author: Kevin Keegan, with Daniel Taylor
Pps: 342 including index and acknowledgements
Publication date: October 4 2018
Say what you like about Kevin Keegan – and as a long-suffering Scottish football fan I have uttered many a scabrous word on the subject – he is always hugely entertaining. Even when he doesn’t mean to be.
I don’t know the man, I’ve never met him, but he has been in or around football for around three-quarters of my life and I have found it impossible not to form an opinion about him. That is wholly down to his ubiquity on our television screens as a high-level player and Superstars contestant in the 1970s and early 1980s, and then as a manager committed to some of the most beautiful - but ultimately well nigh fruitless - attacking football ever seen.
My ultimate compliment is to say that if I were a manager, I would always rather have Kevin Keegan in my team than George Best.
He always sounds searingly honest, if a little self-pitying. Consider the infamous ‘I would love it if we beat them’ television interview meltdown broadcast on Sky in 1996. For sheer Schadenfreude, it is hard to beat.
That trend comes across again in this book, particularly in relation to his latter day dealings with Newcastle United own Mike Ashley and his sundry lickspittles, when he paints himself as a man somehow uniquely persecuted.
In line 21 on page two he compares his plight to that of Jesus Christ nailed to the cross. Clear evidence of a Messiah/Martyr complex? The man viewed by many as the Son of God does not, incidentally, merit inclusion in the book’s index…
As a hardened time-served cynical hack with a bullshit detector switched on 24/7/365, I am not totally convinced. There are always two sides to every story. No, three. Four. Five. Listen to six and you began to build a panoramic view rather than a narrow focus.
I read Keegan’s analysis of interference in transfer matters in his second spell at Newcastle United in the short extracts printed in The Sunday Times two weekends before publication date. They sound very convincing, and are, if his is a true and accurate view of events, clear grounds for resignation.
But a reading of the same events some 24-48 hours later from the perspective of Tony Jimenez, the executive placed in charge of transfers at Newcastle United (vice president player recruitment to give him the formal title contained in the book), makes one blink and think again. And ask a question or two. Might the alternative facts better represent reality? Might King Kev have selective amnesia?
In King Kev’s account he is the innocent Candide-like victim. In Jimenez’s telling, King Kev comes across as a bumbling arrogant fool. Only those involved will know which version is closer to the truth, but all likely have an agenda that subtly affects their recall.
In a way it scarcely matters. It adds to the overall gaeity of a hugely entertaining work.
This is not Keegan’s first autobiography. I’ve read at least one other (the imaginatively titled My Autobiography, published in October 1997). It probably won’t be his last. But let’s enjoy it now for what it is.
His account of being attacked in his car while caught napping on a drive back to England from Spain is shocking. Those of a certain age can probably remember it being vaguely reported in the national press, but this is something entirely different. I could almost feel the baseball bat being rammed down his throat.
My Life in Football opens with a sub-John Le Carré episode, in which King Kev infiltrates himself into the Death Star otherwise known as Sports Direct at St James’ Park, to attend the leaving do of a former colleague off to a new life in America.
He goes undetected until a female member of staff sees through the disguise of glasses, the flat cap and the upturned coat collar. “Hello Kevin,” she says. “What are you doing back here?” It’s like a vintage moment from The Morecambe & Wise Show.
No cliché is left unturned. Sports Direct at St James’ Park is a cathedral, which gnaws at his heart, and rises proudly against the landscape, and going to which is like going to a carnival, which simile sits rather oddly against the cathedral metaphor. Anfield (home of Liverpool Football Club) is iconic.
Mike Ashley, leader of a Cockney Mafia, lurched from one bad decision to another. Newcastle United is an extraordinary club (an extraordinary club which, if I recall correctly, last won something other than the English League second division title in 1969, when captain Bobby Moncur lifted – or maybe I should say ‘raised aloft’ to keep up with the cliché count – the old Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, defeating Ujpest Dozsa of Hungary).
And suddenly we find ourselves on the penultimate page when King Kev tells a lovely self-deprecating story about being given a pound coin by a well-wisher near the Chelsea and Westminster hospital who mistook him for a mendicant. Instinctively I feel the need to hear the well-wisher’s own version of the events portrayed.
Joining Jesus Christ in the list of well known names, incidents and places conjured up by King Kev to convey the suffering he must have known in his onward and upward journey from Doncaster junior league football and Scunthorpe United to the present day are murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the July 7 terrorist bombings in London in 2005, the British Royal Family, disgraced peer Jeffrey Archer and Newport Pagnell motorway service station. All in the context of red top newspaper hacking scandals.
For the record, Jeffrey Archer appears in the index while Milly Dowler does not, a niggling inconsistency that somehow feels very Keeganesque, as does the mixing of the elevated and the humble, the tragic and the mundane.
All contributing to a cracking read that will make an excellent Christmas present. Forget the novelty golf gifts (no golfer will ever truly thank you for golf ball-shaped soap). Forget the ill-fitting grandad-style dressing gown that will only ever be worn by the recipient when there is no alternative. Buy the man (or men) in your life Kevin Keegan’s My Life in Football.