The second time around: You can never go back (or can you?)

Kevin Keegan's return to Newcastle United raises intriguing issues about the wisdom of trying to recapture past glories. Do comebacks ever succeed? Mark Hughes considers the evidence
Click to follow
The Independent Online

On Tyneside, it is being billed as the return of the Messiah. People are lining the streets. Children are told of glory days past. Women swoon. The cause of this quasi-religious euphoria? Kevin Keegan is back at the helm of Newcastle United Football Club.

It is the club he first took charge of in 1992 and the club he took from the depths of the old second division to near Premiership champions in the space of four years. But can he repeat the trick? And should he even try? History provides a mixed bag of examples of those who have gone into reverse gear in search of former glories.

Keegan was always going to be welcomed home with open arms. Almost as soon as the news broke on Wednesday afternoon, Geordie fans flocked to the team's St James's Park home. They held banners heralding the return of "King Kev" and sang "Walking in a Keegan wonderland..." all the time pinching themselves at the reality that was before them.

Outside the city, the appointment has been met with more scepticism. And, when the veil of euphoria has lifted in the North-east, perhaps the more cynical heads among the Newcastle support will begin to wonder if Keegan's second coming can really be successful. History is full of botched attempts at reigniting a flame that has long gone out: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's second marriage, George Best's post-Manchester United years and The Spice Girls' comeback all help explain why they say that you should never go back.

Nonetheless, it is also possible that Keegan's return could be a resounding success, like Led Zeppelin's remarkable reunion late last year.

As these examples show, improbable comebacks can be hits as well as misses.


In his glory days as Emperor, Napoleon led the French military to victories across Europe. However, following a disastrous invasion of Russia, Napoleon was exiled to Elba in 1814. Less than a year later he gathered his troops and regained control of the French government. However his comeback will be remembered as a failure as he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. MISS

Noel Edmonds

When Noel's House Party vanished from our screens in 1999 it was assumed that we had seen the last of the bearded prankster. He was consigned to showbiz history. Then, in 2005, he returned, triumphantly,with the ratings-winning daytime quiz show Deal Or No Deal. Since then he has gone on to host the National Lottery and his new show, Are You Smarter Than A 10-Year-Old? HIT

Steve Jobs

The co-founder of Apple left the company in 1985 after working relations with CEO John Sculley broke down. His career seemed finished. Then, in 1996, to widespread disbelief, he returned to the struggling company – and proceeded to lead a revolution that produced the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and a whole new line of Mac computers. He was listed as Fortune Magazine's most powerful businessman of 2007. HIT

Torvill & Dean

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean achieved an unprecedented string of perfect six scores when they won gold at the 1984 Winter Olympics – and got the British public interested in ice dancing. A decade later, they attempted a comeback at the 1994 Lillehammer event, but couldn't quite recapture their earlier magic. They only managed a bronze medal. MISS

Basil Brush

The vulpine glove-puppet's eponymous show ran for 12 years before coming to an end in 1980. After that Basil, famous for his boom-boom catchphrase, was in three other shows before retiring in 1986. But in 2002 The Basil Brush Show made a return to BBC screens and has proved as popular as ever with children and more than a few adults. This went down so well that he is now fronting the BBC's new Saturday morning Swap Shop programme. HIT

Ken Livingstone

When Margaret Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council in 1986 it looked like the end of the road for Red Ken, who had led the GLC since 1981. He stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1987 and then, in 2000, was expelled from the Labour Party while trying to become Mayor of London. But he defeated the official Labour candidate (Frank Dobson), served a successful first term and was easily re-elected as Mayor for a second term. HIT

The Spice Girls

The phrase girl power entered the nation's vocabulary in 1996 when the Spice Girls burst on to the music scene. But by 2001it was all over. After nine number one singles the girls had decided to call it a day. Following relentless rumoursin the intervening years, the group announced they were to reform in June 2007. Tickets for their first show sold well, but then the comeback seemed to fizzle out. Apathy blighted subsequent sales, and it currently seems highly unlikely that the girls will recapture the spirit of their Nineties successes. MISS

General de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle, liberator of France, retired as president in 1946. Twelve years later, he was called back from obscurity to "save" his country again. He led the creation of the French Fifth Republic, was elected as President, averted a civil war over Algeria – to which he gave independence – and cemented his reputation as a great leader. HIT

George Best

Inexplicably quit Manchester United in 1974, aged just 27. After two years – largely taken up with alcohol and gambling – he attempted a return. Those who had seen him in his pomp, grimaced as their former hero embarrassed himself playing for teams such as Stockport, Bournemouth and Tobermore United. MISS

Trevor McDonald

Britain's first black news anchor stepped down from his role as the face of ITV News in December 2005 after more than 30 years at the helm. This week, he returned to our screens as the presenter of the newly-reinstalled News At 10. Time will tell if his comeback will be seen as a success. MAYBE

Winston Churchill

After the fall of the Conservative Government in the 1929, Churchill (who had been Chancellor and Home Secretary), spent 11 years in the political wilderness. Then, in 1940, he was made First Lord of the Admiralty – a job he had already done once – and before long was Prime Minister. HIT

Elvis Presley

Regarded as one of the greatest comebacks of all time, Elvis's 1968 show was credited with saving a career that had been faltering. After the special, he achieving a string of record-breaking sell-out performances across America and had his first UK number one in five years with The Wonder of You in 1970. (Sadly, subsequent come-backs proved to be slightlyless effective.) HIT

Bobby Fischer

In the 1970s, the US chess master's battles with Boris Spassky enthralled the world. Then Fischer, increasingly eccentric, retired. Spassky played on. In 1992, Fischer emerged from 20 years of isolation to challenge Spassky again – and won. HIT

Led Zeppelin

They had been away for19 years. Yet more than 20 million people applied for tickets for the ageing rockers' comeback gig at London's 02 Arena in December. Critics lavished praise on the band and fans are now clamouring for a world tour to complete the return of the legends. HIT