Football: Fans' backlash as Keegan reveals all

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The Independent Online
If Kevin Keegan hoped that his autobiography detailing his departure from Newcastle would be the last word on the subject he will be disappointed. Yesterday, while the club stayed silent, Guy Hodgson discovered that the fans who once idolised him have turned on their former manager.

Newcastle United were making no comment yesterday about Kevin Keegan's autobiography, in which he said he had been forced to resign as manager last January by the club board. You suspect Keegan will not be remotely surprised.

Nine months after leaving a club he turned from the brink of the Third Division into a force in Europe, he has had only one conversation with his erstwhile chairman, Sir John Hall, even though they live just 300 yards apart. The club stopped paying his wages the moment he resigned, there was no pay-off and no leaving ceremony.

The break is so complete Keegan says he will return there only for Peter Beardsley's testimonial. He would not go there even if his commentator commitments with ITV implied he should. The Messiah, as Tyneside knows him, has turned his back on his kingdom.

"What's the point?" Keegan asks in an extract from his book, published in the Sun. "I don't need to wave to the crowd to show how much I appreciated their support, they already know."

The book chronicles Keegan's deteriorating relationship with Newcastle once the club had decided to become a public company. The demands of the City and financial institutions, coupled with Keegan's declining belief in his powers of motivation, combined to provoke his shock resignation.

"I seemed incapable of inspiring players," he wrote, recalling a defeat at Blackburn last Boxing Day. "Perhaps they were fed up of hearing me."

Keegan admitted his fears to Terry McDermott [his assistant], who passed off the defeat as bad luck. However, his reply made Keegan wonder if McDermott thought he was right. "That was the moment I decided it was time to go," Keegan wrote.

His mind had also been set in that direction by the Newcastle board promising a pounds 6m loan would be repaid by Christmas of that year, a condition insisted upon by the bank when Alan Shearer's pounds 15m transfer from Blackburn had been put together. Keegan, against his wishes, sold Chris Holland and Darren Huckerby to Birmingham and Coventry for less than pounds 2m, but raising the rest of the sum would have involved getting rid of higher-profile players.

Keegan writes that the promise to the bank had become increasingly important because any default would have implications for the flotation. If the bank told the City, the institutions might become wary of investing in the club.

The image Newcastle needed to present to the Stock Exchange was also behind the manager's hurried departure from St James' Park. Keegan told Freddie Fletcher, the club's chief executive, he wished to leave at the end of the season and they shook hands on a deal that would have allowed time to find a replacement. The men behind the flotation thought otherwise.

On 7 January he was summoned to a meeting of the full board (with the exception of Sir John Hall) and Mark Corbridge, the man brought in to take the club to the City. "The directors came straight to the point," Keegan wrote. "Corbridge stressed I was an integral part of the flotation document, which I had neither seen nor been consulted about.

"There was no choice, he said. Either I sign a two-year contract (pounds 1m a year with a further pounds 1m to be paid three months after the flotation) or leave the club. Our agreement of a few days earlier counted for nothing."

Keegan, who returned to football last week when he became chief operating officer at Fulham, left Newcastle that day and has had virtually no contact since. The book is his first real version of events, although his former supporters have not welcomed it.

Steve Wraith, who edits the Newcastle fanzine No 9 said: "We are very upset at the way Kevin has sold his story. It's disgusting he should choose to make money out of the emotions of Newcastle United fans.

"I'm surprised at how bitter Kevin is. He should have given the fans an explanation when he left, not waited until now. We will never forget Kevin as a player and a manager who took us to where we are now, but to come out and say things like this is an insult."