The club's managing director, Neil Rodford, had reluctantly advised him to stay away, for fear of adverse reaction from supporters, which only brought out the stubborn streak in Keegan. "It would have been wrong of me not to be here and wrong of me not to accept the criticism of the fans," he said. "I'm a great believer in fans having their say.''
Have it they did, from the time queues started forming at the club shop in Fulham Road, in the pubs and the tea-bars, where feelings varied from resignation to a sense of betrayal. That latter sentiment was most graphically expressed by the Supporters Club official whose response on spotting yesterday's hero just inside the Cottage gates was an instinctive "Judas!".
That chant was taken up as he emerged shortly before kick-off to isolated boos - he has to walk right across the pitch to reach the dug-outs - before other sections of the large crowd chanted the manager's name. Hard-liners persisted with an occasional "F*** off to England".
That was interspersed with "Al Fayed's black-and-white army" and "Fayed for England" as the large crowd made it clear where their sympathies lay on the matter of the Fulham chairman's application for British citizenship as well as the managerial position. Keegan had been upstaged by his chairman, doing his customary lap of honour with the omnipresent bodyguards, and insisting, shame- lessly, in joining in the pre-match kick-in.
After the match Al Fayed was again centre stage, donning a black-and- white wig, completing another lap and receiving a commemorative medal. As players, coaches and even the kit-man came back onto the pitch two- by-two for the presentation of the Second Division championship trophy, it seemed for a while as if Keegan might already have become a non-person. Typically, he had insisted on his own medal going to his assistant, Frank Sibley, but at last - again to a mixture of boos and cheers - he came out with the club captain Chris Coleman.
Normally so animated during a match, Keegan had sat with his arms folded for most of the afternoon. To be fair, there was not much to rouse him or anyone else until a second-half hat-trick from substitute Paul Moody in the space of 13 minutes brought the victory over Preston (already guaranteed a place in the play-offs) that an under-strength Fulham team needed to pass 100 points. So appropriately or not, it was a representative of the pre-Keegan era who scored the goals that restored the crowd's traditional good humour.
Moody, the burly striker introduced at half-time, headed in a cross by Rufus Brevett, banged home a penalty and then headed in Steve Hayward's free-kick to change the chants to "Moody for England".
Negotiations with Keegan should be wrapped up this week, when Al Fayed - unless he suddenly decides to extract revenge for having his passport application spurned - will also agree to compensation terms for the remaining year of his chief operating officer's contract. Like Keegan, he is in a strong negotiating position, since the FA can hardly be seen now not to get their man for want of a nail - or the odd million pounds.
Keegan's England contract is likely to run until the end of the next World Cup in 2002, allaying his fears that "if it was less than three years, I'd be worried". He might have been concerned had he been present at last week's meeting of the international committee's sub-committee charged with concluding arrangements, at least one influential member of which was in favour of an initial agreement stretching no further than Euro 2000. That, however, was before his unexpected declaration on ITV's The Sports Show that continuing to do two jobs was not feasible after all.
As far as a successor at Craven Cottage is concerned, Al Fayed's star- struck approach suggests he will want a Michael Jackson of football management rather than a session-man; a Ruud Gullit rather than a Paul Bracewell.
Having intimated that he might not show for the after-match news conference, Keegan did and was still giving interviews 40 minutes later. "It was just another day at the office," he said rather unconvincingly, before adding: "I came here to quite a hostile reception and I've had quite a hostile one going, but I've enjoyed the bit in between."Reuse content