FIRST PUBLISHED: Match Euro 2000 Special, May 2000
By Chris Hunt


It’s June 12, 1980. Exactly 20 years to the day before Alan Shearer will lead out the England football team for the opening game of the European Championships, Kevin Keegan is performing the very same job – a captain leading out his own England side for their first match of Euro ’80.

Despite having been England’s leading striker through the best part of the 1970s, this is his first major tournament on the international stage and he is feeling bullish. Having performed at the highest club level with both Liverpool and Hamburg, having lifted the UEFA Cup twice, the European Cup once, and having been voted European Footballer Of The Year in both 1978 and 1979, Keegan has no reason to believe that 1980 will deliver any less success. This year he has high hopes. This year he is confident of securing his first international honour. Kevin Keegan doesn’t just want to win Euro ’80 – he wants to win it in style!


It’s April 20, 2000. The European Championships are getting ever nearer and for Kevin Keegan the sense of anticipation is building. As England captain he had led his country to the European Championships of 1980, only to face the bitter disappointment of that early flight home. As a player he failed to land Europe’s biggest international football prize. As a manager he intends to do better.

Today, with just over seven weeks until the big Euro kick-off, he is at the Benwell Football centre, one-time training ground of Newcastle United. He’s been a regular visitor here in several guises – as a Newcastle player, as Newcastle manager and, today, as manager of the England team.

He’s about to throw himself into ‘entertainer’ mode, taking a field full of kids through their paces like Norman Wisdom in football boots. But just for a few minutes he faces the press. They’re asking him about Joe Cole because the news of his broken leg has just broken big; they’re asking him about the demise of English club football in Europe, and in particular about Manchester United who were knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid only the previous evening. Then, with national issues done and dusted, it’s down to the local questions for this former local hero.

“Kevin?” asks one reporter. “Newcastle’s Football Development Scheme was launched at this very building by Bobby Robson when he was in the job you are now – some 13 years ago! Things seem to have come full circle between the two of you?”

Keegan laughs aloud at the thought. “Yeah,” he roars, “the only difference is that I haven’t left Bobby Robson out of one of my England teams like he left me out of one of his!”

There’s a sharp intake of breath. Keegan flashes a mischievous grin and the crowd are brought to tears of laughter. But that’s what Keegan does best. Manager of the England football team he may be, a patriot to the core, but he’s an entertainer too. When Kevin Keegan walks into a room, you see faces light up! When Kevin Keegan walks into a room you know about it!

It’s September 8, 1999. The Wojska Polskiego Stadium in Warsaw is dark and the 1500 travelling England fans are silent. Silent because of the result. Silent because of the barrage of fireworks that have rained down on them like a mortar attack. Silent because the match has long since finished. It’s the usual ritual for an England fan away from home. Held hostage in a near-to-derelict stadium for an hour after the final whistle, until well after the last of the locals has made their way home – and definitely well after the last bus or tram has run its final course. Outside waiting for them are the phalanx of menacing-looking riot police, also standing silent, humourless, each with one hand firmly clenched around the handle of a baton – just in case! It’s going to be a long walk back to the town centre tonight, to whatever hotel or bus shelter will provide a home for these fans.

A gentle murmur ripples though the waiting crowd – and then the fans break into spontaneous applause, charging to the front of the ageing terrace, cheering and clapping. The riot police tighten the grip on their nightsticks and wonder what has prompted this explosion of emotion.

Kevin Keegan, it appears, has been sighted making his way along the track that runs between the pitch and the 20-foot-high metal fence that seems a throwback to football from another lifetime now. He’s on his way to do his bit for the media – but he just can’t pass that applause without saluting the fans. Applauding them for their support, for the sacrifices that many of them have made to be there, for the danger that so many have put themselves in while following the three lions. Kevin Keegan understands – and the fans know that.

It’s not spoken of very often, but there does seem to be a special relationship between Kevin Keegan and the travelling England fans – a kind of two-way respect. Bobby Robson might have been loved like the chalk-stained science teacher you recall with some kind of begrudging admiration, and Terry Venables like the geezer down the pub who’s going to ‘do you a favour’, but Keegan is more than an acquaintance – to the fans, he’s ‘one of them’. He manages his teams from the heart. He’s the ‘People’s Manager’.

In a back room of the Benwell Football Centre Kevin Keegan has just been asked about this special relationship with the fans. When he walks in the room, it has been suggested to him, he makes people smile. “Do I?” he asks modestly. “Hmm. I just think that life’s about people and I still enjoy my life!”

Life’s about people, then? “Yes,” he says, “and I suppose everyone seems to call me the people’s manager because there was a big push from the public for me to get the job. So, I suppose I’m their choice.”

But why you? What’s the trick to this instant popularity game? “I suppose I’m their choice because they can relate to me,” he rationalises. “Hopefully they understand that I’m not trying to kid them, I’m not trying to fool them and I’ve got a pretty good relationship with them. In the past certain England managers have tried to send them down the wrong route, be a bit above them… to not give all the truth. Admittedly, it’s very difficult in our job because you don’t want to do things like give your team away too early, but the rapport with the fans is important. Maybe for me it all goes back to my playing days.

“When I played for England I was like that then,” he says. “I mean we might not win every game now that I’m in charge, but I think that the fans know that I’m demanding the same things of the players that they would demand if they were England manager. And sometimes it really is difficult to give them what they want… I get a lot of fans writing to me saying ‘why didn’t the players come over and see us in Poland or Bulgaria after we’d come all that way’. It’s difficult for players sometimes because they never know how the fans will react when they’ve not got a great result, but I think you’ve got to do it even more then, because the fans have travelled so far and they’ve had a disappointing result. They’ve had a disappointing result just like we have, so I think I understand what it’s like to be a fan maybe.”

Keegan is not just the People’s Choice, he seems to have been the choice of the England players too. But why is it that people warm to him? Why is it that players who could barely raise a smile at the thought of a few hours with Glenn Hoddle would seemingly walk over hot coals to train with Kevin Keegan? An extraordinary man-manager certainly, has this ability to gain a player’s trust been borne out of the long-harboured resentment of losing his own England career without so much as a ‘Thanks, but no thanks’.

He pauses for a moment and recalls the day that he finally became ex-England international Kevin Keegan’. Having had an injury blighted World Cup that saw him make just one second-half substitute appearance against Spain in Madrid, the captain found himself unexpectedly surplus to requirements for Bobby Robson’s first England squad, called together for the European Championships Qualifier against Denmark in September 1982. “I was in this building we’re sitting in now,” recalls Kevin. “I walked out of the building after training and the press told me that I had been dropped from the England squad. That was the problem with the Bobby Robson thing, nothing else. It was how I found out about it. You know, he had every right as England manager to decide who he wanted in his squad and who should play, it was just the way it was done. People have misinterpreted it over the years, but I wouldn’t expect any of my players to find out from the press that they weren’t in an England squad – let alone my captain.”

But did the incident shape your now famous ‘personal’ style? Did it ensure that in management you would treat people only in the way that you expected to be treated yourself? “You know, you learn things from everybody,” he says, detailing the many positive role models in his career. “I’ve learnt a lot from Bill Shankly, I’ve learnt from Bob Paisley, I’ve learnt from Lawrie McMenemy, I’ve learnt from a guy called Zebec, certainly from Arthur Cox – you learn a little bit from everybody, like you do in life. But that was a lesson I didn’t have to learn. I just wouldn’t do that to players – and I don’t think Bobby Robson would if he had time over again.”

Back out on the pitches of the Benwell Football Centre, Keegan continues running around the Adidas Coaching Day like it was his own personal adventure playground. Around him he is ably assisted by young coaches who were youth team players on the books at Newcastle when he was manager. He’s also informally putting the newest, brightest young Geordie prospect though his paces. In the corridors of St James’ Park the whispers are that England Under-16 international Michael Chopra might be the real thing, an eventual successor to Alan Shearer, but today he looks barely older than the kids he is helping Keegan to coach.

It is ironic that Keegan now finds himself at Newcastle’s former training ground, having target practice with a 16-year-old tipped to be the next Geordie goal-machine. Ironic because it was on this very pitch, some 20 years ago, that Keegan first met a ten-year-old Alan Shearer. And while the England captain still has vivid memories of the day, Keegan doesn’t actually recall the lad – although the existence of photographic evidence makes him aware of the truth of this meeting. “They’ll always be a couple that slip though the net,” he announces to the assembled crowd. “It was 20 years ago on this very same training ground that a certain ten-year-old called Alan Shearer came along to a Newcastle United soccer day. He went around all the functions, which meant he must have come to mine, and we obviously didn’t see his talent.” He pauses to smile at the irony and glances in the direction of the four-aside games going on behind him. “I ended up paying 15 million to fetch the same lad back here, so that was a costly slip by Newcastle United.”

Such is fate. Standing on a training pitch in the suburbs of Newcastle, Keegan is reminded of the times he has been to this nondescript training facility before. He is reminded of the day he found out that he would never again play for England. He is also reminded of his first meeting with the man who may well yet fire the country to glory in this summer’s European Championships. Keegan doesn’t dwell on strange coincidences for too long – he is far too instinctive for that, firing too much from the heart – but he’s certainly aware of the irony. Time sometimes does play funny tricks…

It’s June 12, 1980. Kevin Keegan leads his England team onto the pitch of the Stadio Communale in Turin for their first match of the European Championships. At home a success-starved nation has placed a heavy weight of expectation on the England captain, as he leads the country to their first major tournament game since Mexico ’70. It may have been ten years since England have competed at this level, but they are expected to beat Belgium in their opening game just by turning up.

The tournament starts badly, however. After two decades in existence, the European Championships have yet to capture the imagination of football fans across the continent and a crowd of only 7,000 turn out for the game. Instead of being the guaranteed ‘banker’ that England have been expecting, the two team’s share the points in a game marred by crowd violence between English hooligans and locals. With the over-zealous Italian police unleashing enough tear gas to quell the terrace-fighting, a change of wind-direction means that the game has to be halted while players on both sides fight off the effects of the tear gas. In the subsequent group match – a 1-0 defeat by the hosts – Keegan is effectively marked out of the game by Marco Tardelli, who still finds time to pop up and score the Italian winner. A 2-1 victory over Spain in the final game fails to lift spirits and England are out of the competition and on their way home.

“We just weren’t good enough,” recalls Keegan. “We could always put a good side out but we couldn’t field an exceptional side. I think at the moment now, with the players that I’ve got to choose from for Euro 2000, we really have got the chance to put out an exceptional side. In my day we could almost put out two teams that were as good as the team we were playing. You could switch Trevor Francis and myself for example, or you could put Glenn Hoddle in for Trevor Brooking, and although they were different players, it never really took the team up or down in any way. We had probably 60 players who were all pretty much the same, but we just didn’t have too many outstanding players – and that’s what you really need at international level!

“I believe that we’ve got them now,” he continues. “I’ve got no doubts that the squad of players that I’ve got today is as strong as that available to any England manager apart from… probably even including Sir Alf Ramsey. After all, no-one thought Sir Alf’s squad was that strong in 1966 – when they won the World Cup they weren’t the favourites!”

But wasn’t it a big personal regret for Keegan that he never had the opportunity to shine of the big international stage? That despite ranking among the great England internationals, and landing major individual accolades such as the European Footballer Of The Year award, he never really did it when the whole world was watching? Do you look at Michael Owen now and think ‘go on son, do something that I couldn’t’?

“No,” he says, shaking his head in a way only possible for someone who’s been there, seen it, done it and swapped shirts with Franz Beckenbauer to prove it! “You’d have to go back right to Alan Ball to find an England player of my generation – in his mid 50s if you like – who can remember having success with England,” he says. “It’s not just Kevin Keegan who suffered. England didn’t really win anything with Paul Gascoigne… and Glenn Hoddle was a great player too but they didn’t win anything with him either. So my squad have got the chance yes, but I look at Michael Owen and I don’t envy him, I look at him and think ‘wow, this kid’s capable of winning Euro 2000’. I think ‘The team I can pick really is capable of winning Euro 2000’!”

But when you see them out there on the park though, flash young players like Michael Owen and David Beckham, doesn’t it make your heart quicken, make you long for the days when you pulled on that white Admiral shirt of England? “I lived at a great time to be a footballer,” smiles Keegan. “It wasn’t quite as high profile as it is now, but I suppose I had the chance to enjoy it a little bit more. For the players now, the rewards are greater, but so is all the pressure. I have no regrets, I enjoyed it while it lasted and now I’m doing the next best thing.”

If the England team today are better than the one that Keegan graced at Euro ’80, he also thinks the tournament itself has changed out of all recognition. Not only is it a bigger, slicker, all round festival of football, but it should prove to be a far less violent affair on the terraces (sorry, in the all-seater stadia). Having had to stand in the centre circle and witness rioting England fans at their worst, 20-years on Keegan is fully committed to the English FA’s anti-violence campaign: ‘Football Yes, Violence No!’. There’s no way he would want to see a debacle similar to England’s Euro ’80 opener blight his squad’s chances of success in Holland and Belgium this summer – but similarly, he doesn’t want to see England fans again put in a position of danger. After all, when the fireworks started flying in Poland last year, Keegan was quick to put his neck on the line by pointing to the unprecedented provocation faced by England fans who were, quite literally, in the firing line!

“There have been massive strides made by everybody to counter football hooliganism,” he says, “but there’s still some way to go. Not just in England, but in Germany, Holland, Belgium and in other countries too. When you have masses of people you’re always going have problems if it gets out of control, but I really think it’s much better now than when I was playing the game. Football was at an all time low then – and I don’t think that it couldn’t have got much worse than it did back then. There have been big improvements since those day. The stadiums are much better now and there’s been massive strides taken to improve every aspect of the game, but we’ve all really got to keep working at it.

“As for the European Championships,” he says, “it’s a bigger tournament now. Football’s gone onto a much bigger stage now. A lot of things have changed for the good, but we’ve got to make sure that we keep ahead of the game and keep changing things for the better. We’ve got 27,000 fans in the England Members Club now, which is tremendous. I met some of them recently and they renew your faith in people. They want all the good things in the game, just like we do. And we mustn’t let a few people spoil it for us. That’s the message for everybody.”

Some things change over the years. Some things don’t. In June 1980, Kevin Keegan wrote a column from the European Championships for MATCH, the magazine that he helped to launch during the build-up to the competition. In the last of his columns before England’s early exit, Keegan concluded his article with a variation on his own personal mission statement. ‘If we are in line to win it,’ he wrote, ‘one thing is sure – we want to win it in style!’

Now style, along with flair, have been words forever associated with Kevin Keegan’s managerial career. But in the run-up to Euro 2000, there has been a noticeable sea-change in his thinking. Where once at St James’ Park his cavalier attacking style made Newcastle United every football fan’s second favourite team, in the England hot-seat he seems taking a far more pragmatic approach to Euro 2000, admitting that what he really needs are players who can ‘go and do a job’ for him. There’ll be no messing about for Keegan this summer. Sure, he still likes way-flash attacking football, but at present he’s focussed on nothing less than winning!

“The England job is different to club management,” he reasons. “In club management you can work with your players every day – and twice a week you get a chance to play a game. One result going against you if you try something different is not a disaster, but when I took over the England team we had to win every game to qualify. We had to get a certain amount of points… we were never going to win the group, we could only finish second and we’d already played away to Sweden and at home to Bulgaria. Discounting the Luxembourg result – everyone was going to beat Luxembourg and goal difference didn’t count – we’d got only one point out of six, so the name of the game then was to qualify at any cost. And we managed to do that, albeit not in the way we’d have all wanted. But I think as time goes by, as the players get used to me and as I get a bit more time with the players, things will improve – that’s the key and that’s what it’s going to be like at Euro 2000.

“You really do need time in this game,” he reasons. “I mean, can you imagine what it was like trying to play the friendly with Argentina – arguably the second best side in the world – when you only get together with your players at 9.30pm on a Sunday night. You’ve had 14 of your squad playing in the Premiership on Sunday, so on Monday you can’t do anything; on Tuesday you announce the team – and because it’s Wednesday the next day and you’re playing a match, you literally can’t do anything. You’re throwing players together and saying ‘let’s perform’. It’s not easy. Having said that, the players did very well in that game, but I think when we get time together we’ll really have the time to work on things a bit more. We’ll get to know each other better than we do already. That’s when we’ll be at our best.”

After hanging up his boots, during the seven years he spent away from the game enjoying the world’s longest round of golf, Kevin Keegan had often intimated that the position of England manager was the only gig that interested him. So with all the pains and problems associated with the job, was this England lark worth all the effort? With so much accomplished in his career already, was it really worth the risk? Did Keegan ever fear that his reputation as one of the country’s greatest football legends might be soured if he failed to live up to the toughest job in football? After all, England expects…

“You can’t think like that,” says Keegan, dismissing the idea out of hand. “It doesn’t work like that. The opportunity came along – and it really did come at a bad time for me, because I wanted to finish off what I’d started at Fulham. I don’t regret taking the job, but I really do regret that I had to leave Fulham before I could finish what I had started. The England job doesn’t come up on demand though – it only comes up every now and again and a lot of things have to work for it to be right for somebody. And it was right for me at that time!

“Even so,” he says with a sigh, “I took over a team who looked like they maybe wouldn’t get to the finals. Everybody knows it was a rocky road and we’ve really struggled to qualify, but I think that’ll make us stronger, more determined to do well when we get there, because we took a lot of stick from the media – and rightly so. I mean it was sometimes over the top, but we have to stand up and take it when we don’t perform – and we haven’t performed very well even in my time. But the talent is there and you know it can get better. There’s every reason for people to be optimistic, but talk’s easy – you’ve got to go out there and play.”

With the coaching finished at the Newcastle Football Centre, Kevin Keegan is winding down – and talk inevitably turns again to the European Championships. Four years ago as a TV summariser, Keegan had the second best seat in the house as Euro ’96 unfolded in all its glory. Football fans from all over Europe turned on, tuned in, and freaked out to the continent’s biggest football celebration yet. It was a fabulous tournament, boasting players who could thrill and teams who could excite. It was brought to life by colour of the Dutch, the flair of the Portuguese, and the drama of the penalty shoot-out; it boasted the glorious goal-celebrating excesses of Paul Gascoigne and the breath-taking exhilaration of Oliver Bierhoff’s golden goal Final climax!

Keegan may now have swapped his summarisers seat for a place on the bench, but he still has vivid memories of that competition. “I think the game that sticks out for me the most was England v Holland at Wembley,” he recalls with a smile shared by everyone at Wembley that day. “To win 4-1, that was just tremendous – afterwards no game was going to live up to that. It was a fantastic atmosphere. The Dutch were a great side and the colour that their fans brought to the stadium added to the excitement and made it so very special.”


But can this tournament be as good as Euro ’96? Can Euro 2000 live up to the billing? “I’m hoping it’s gonna be better,” says Keegan, thinking of one improvement in particular for England. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t win it this time – and that’s not putting myself and the players under pressure, that’s got to be our aim. Euro ’96 was a fantastic experience – but that was in England. It will be a little more difficult in Belgium and Holland, but I think we’ve got a strong enough squad, if not stronger than the ’96 squad. Now we’ve got to go out and show how strong we are on the football field.”


So how much are you looking forward to Euro 2000? “Very much,” he says, a broad smile creeping over his face and that famous mischievous glint returning to his eye. “A major tournament only happens once every two years and we had a real tough job in qualifying. A lot of people – like the media in England – think that we’ve got no chance, but we’ve got a lot of quality players and we will improve especially when we spend some time together. We are a major, major threat to all the other teams. Of course talk is easy and we’ve got to go and perform, but I’m really looking forward to it because of the players I’ve got. Nothing to do with anything else, the players we’ve got are top quality and we’ve got enough of them. We haven’t got thousands, but we’ve got plenty. We’ve got enough talent to win!”


And talking of talent, what of England’s most outstanding star, the player who can turn a game as well as he can fill newspaper column inches. Will this be the stage where the lad who married a Spice Girl really asserts his international credentials? Is there more to come from David Beckham?


“I think there’s still improvement in David Beckham at England level – and even at Manchester United level,” says Keegan. “I’m sure if you ask David he’ll agree. You’ve got to remember, he’s still young. He’s a great talent and we should encourage our talent more. We mustn’t neglect to do that because I still think the best definitely is yet to come, which is frightening really. What he does already is plenty good enough, but it’s not good enough for England because we know that there might be even more from him yet.”


Does Beckham himself think that he’s got any more to offer? “I’m sure he does,” says Keegan, “I’m sure he does. I asked him to play in the middle against Argentina and you saw his disappointment when I substituted him. I thought I was doing him a favour, resting him for that weekend’s Manchester United game – but I very soon realised that he didn’t think I was doing him any favours at all. He didn’t want to come off. Those are the sort of things that tell you a little bit more about David Beckham.”


Euro 2000 is shaping up to be the complete festival of football, bringing together some of the world’s greatest players. Keegan is a football fan, for sure, but he’s a patriot first and foremost. Ask which of Europe’s finest he’s looking forward to seeing most – Kluivert? Raul? Figo? Van Nistelrooy? – and you’ll hit a brick wall painted with the flag of St George. “I’m excited about seeing my own players most of all,” he laughs. “I’m excited about them all for different reasons. Tony Adams and Alan Shearer excite me just as much as the youngsters, Michael Owen, Steve Gerrard, Kieron Dyer and young Richard Wright. Every single one of the players excites me and hopefully when they’re picked and chosen to play in the team they’ll excite the fans.


“What I always try to is just focus my concentration on England,” he says. “I look at the other team and I give them as much respect as I think they deserve – we don’t underestimate what they’re about – but we’re more interested in what we’re going to do and how we’re going to play. Sure there will be many great players at Euro 2000, but there will be new stars emerging in the tournament and I really hope that some of those new stars will be English players. It happened to Michael Owen at the last World Cup – and if you sat and talked to Michael about what happened, he’d say it was like an explosion. That’s going to happen to another youngster this time and I’d like that youngster to be English. Of course, it’s up to them – for me to pick them and for them to perform.”


Okay, so Kevin Keegan isn’t focusing on the big foreign stars, but what about the other teams in this European nations cup? Does he already know everything he needs to know? Has Keegan a Revie-style dossier prepared for each opponent, or is he simply laying down his beach-towel on the Charleroi bench in anticipation of the all-important clash with the Germans?


“No, I’m concentrating on all the games,” he retorts. “Obviously the biggest game for me at the moment is not the one with Germany, but the first game against Portugal. They are a very good side, technically gifted and they play good football. They probably haven’t achieved the results that their qualities should have achieved for them. Next up are the Germans – and that’s always going to be a tough game. I don’t care who’s on a high, who’s on a low, who’s playing well and who’s not, for that game it’s going to be the team that’s up for it on the day and the team that has that bit of luck! And of course finally there’s Romania – they’ve already beaten England in the last couple of years. I watched the game, I did it for television in the World Cup, and they were very lucky to beat us, but you need a bit of luck in football. We’ve got a few things to put right, but we’ve got the players to do it.”

So thinking ahead, who else is worth keeping an eye on? “I think the Spanish are really impressive at the moment. They’re playing really good football and they’re beating good teams, they beat Italy recently. You’ve got to respect the Italians, but they’re going through a little bit of a change. The main thing about this tournament is that there’s no clear favourite like there normally is.”


But surely, when you talk about favourites for Euro 2000, the clever money is already on Holland. With all those exciting stars flying in especially from the Spanish Liga, do you think that anyone can really compete with the Dutch on their home soil? “I think they can,” he says, “but beating Holland will be tough. The Final, if they get there, will be at home, but that will make victory against them all the more sweet. It’s a great achievement to win a major tournament and if you can win it against the hosts in their own country, then it probably adds a little bit more to it. If it has to be Holland in the Final if we get there, that would be brilliant!”


But what if it’s not Holland. What if fate is a little unkind? Imagine it’s Rotterdam, 10.21pm on Sunday, July 2. It’s England v Germany in the Euro 2000 Final and it’s gone down to the penalty shoot-out. Gareth Southgate steps up to take the decisive fifth penalty. What would you do Mr Keegan?


The England gaffer laughs out loud at the the suggestion. “Why on earth would you have Gareth Southgate taking the penalty?” he quizzes.


Surely it’s the dream scenario.


“You certainly have some funny dreams!”


Surely you couldn’t script a more convincing way to heighten the tension. Don’t you just love the theatre of the penalty shoot-out, Kevin?


Keegan flashes a look that exposes the total and utter madness of the idea. “Are you England manager?” he bellows again, doubling with laughter at the thought. “Who on earth said Gareth Southgate will be taking a penalty. Ha ha. That’s my job to pick who takes the penalties.”


Well, if the job’s worth doing Kev…



Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007