Football: I would not want to go back to St James', says Keegan

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The Independent Online
Kevin Keegan has no regrets about his spell as Newcastle United's manager except in the manner of his leaving.

It is something he is unable to forgive, as Mike Rowbottom heard.

The Christian gospel has been proclaimed at the Wesleyan preaching centre of Westminster Central Hall since it was opened in 1912. Last night a congregation of around 700 heard the Gospel according to St Kev, here to sing the praises of his earthly work - an autobiography boldly entitled "Kevin Keegan: My Autobiography".

The larger proportion of those who turned up to the Great Hall wore suits; but there were football shirts in evidence too, with the black and white of Newcastle United, the club Keegan took from the depths before leaving amid much ululation last year, predominant.

That traumatic departure, which left some Newcastle fans weeping in the streets, was an obvious point of reference. Keegan touched upon it more than once. As Keegan made clear in his book, he was effectively forced to leave before the end of last season. "I was told either sign this two- year contract, or go now," he said. "They knew what my answer would be. I was effectively given the sack."

Keegan confirmed he had been wanting to leave the club, having taken it as far as he felt he could. But the manner in which he was forced to leave - so as not to affect the club's subsequent flotation on the stock market - is one which still clearly pains him. "I would not want to go back to St James' Park because there are people at the top of the club I just would not want to see," he said.

Nevertheless, when questioned, Keegan defended his decision to remain silent in the aftermath of his departure, even while acknowledging that this had mystified the fans whose support he had cherished in the five and a half years he spent managing the club.

"If I had gone straight on to local radio and said what had happened, there would have been a riot. Think of all the disruption it would have caused. Remember, the club finished that season qualifying for the European Cup, even though it was only in second place. What would have happened if there had been all that trouble and upheaval at the time? You would probably not have seen the marvellous matches this season that Newcastle have had against the likes of Barcelona."

Keegan's latest position as Chief Operations Officer at Fulham received only passing reference. Long enough for him to emphasise, however, that he was not responsible for picking the team or coaching them. That, he said, was the responsibility of Ray Wilkins. He, nevertheless, was responsible to the directors for the overall way in which the team performed.

Did he have any regrets about the way in which Newcastle had lost the Premiership title two seasons ago after being 12 points clear? "It doesn't really matter if you have any regrets," he said.

"What happened, happened. No one was more disappointed than me when we lost that championship. I was just a fan sat in the dug-out watching it all go by. I didn't know the answers.

"The saddest thing is if we'd won the championship playing the way we did, a lot of people would be saying: 'that's the way to play'. Now a lot of people say: 'You can't win the League with attacking play'."

He accepted criticism of Newcastle's defensive capabilities under his leadership lightheartedly. "You have to defend sometimes. I accept that. Maybe we should have bought just one more defender. Instead of having one in the team we would have had two."

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