Football: Keegan made me a winner

Graham Snowdon reaps the benefit of a training session with the England coach
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I WAS at home when I received "the call" and it came as a bit of a surprise. England scouts don't generally pay much attention to the north London five-a-side circuit. But here was an opportunity to impress the gaffer himself. An invitation to train with Kevin Keegan. My chance to make it big on the international scene.

Unfortunately the call came not from Keegan but from my sports editor. Adidas and the Silver Wizard were holding a "kicking clinic" at Craven Cottage to promote the Predator Accelerator football boot. My mission: to infiltrate training with the new England coach. And to try not to embarrass the newspaper too much.

"This is where we used to have the team meeting," Keegan quipped as around 30 journalists were shoehorned into a Portakabin nestling beside the famous Cottage. "We had to keep them short because you can't breathe in here."

We huddled together in front of a blank tactics board. Would Keegan be revealing his master plans for the forthcoming Euro 2000 qualifiers? Or was this a cunning subterfuge designed to confuse the Swedes and the Bulgarians? Did they even care? It appeared not. Instead we were introduced to Joe Cole of West Ham United, Jonny Wilkinson the Newcastle Falcons and England rugby player, and Dave Alred, a professional kicking instructor who gave us a brief master class in the art of becoming "as one with the ball".

Keegan is highly regarded for his motivational skills and on the training pitch it is easy to understand why players love working with him. Even on a corporate promotional afternoon his enthusiasm was genuine to a fault. Amid the banter there is an encouraging word for everyone; a whisper in the ear here, a pat on the back there.

For starters we were led through a series of warm-up sprints and stretching exercises which set the pulses racing. "For those of you who are looking a bit red in the face don't worry, Bupa are sponsoring the afternoon," Keegan reassured us, before splitting us into teams and guiding us through a series of rugby and football kicking games which were intended to emphasise the superiority of the Predator boot.

"Are you sure you know which game you're meant to be playing?" he asked as I trudged back to my team after a woeful attempt at a drop goal which sailed into the top corner of the football net.

In the end there has to be a winning team - surprisingly it was mine, despite best efforts to the contrary. But for Keegan, attitude and enjoyment are far more important every time. "Coaches sow seeds," he said afterwards. "It is up to players to make them grow."

You sense that the England team may be blossoming again before long.