Football: Victory is Keegan's destiny

It is the study of a man possessed of a ferocious, almost frightening will to win
Click to follow
The Independent Online
WITH OR without Michael Owen, England will beat Poland on Saturday and go on to qualify for the European Championship. With Kevin Keegan in charge, they cannot fail. For there is no obstacle that this man Keegan cannot overcome, and, if you think I am laying it on a bit thick, you should watch the video I watched over the weekend. It features Keegan at his most heroic, battling against the odds to become master of his domain. It is a study of a man possessed of a ferocious, almost frightening will to win.

Cynics say he didn't actually win anything with Newcastle United, but I would submit, as would much of Tyneside, that nobody else could have made the Magpies soar as he did. Fulham, meanwhile, move relentlessly towards the First Division. So, mark my words, England, under Keegan, will qualify for Euro 2000. All the portents were there, back in 1976, when he fell off his bike on Superstars yet bounced back to win the heat.

On Saturday evening, after returning from Craven Cottage, where Fulham hammered Blackpool 4-0, I unzipped my anorak and rooted around at the back of my collection of sporting videos, eventually finding the one labelled "Superstars - Keegan's bike crash."

I slotted it into my VCR and fiddled about with the tracking knob for a while before realising David Vine really was wearing a checked tie with a stripey shirt. Then I settled back to enjoy Keegan - his hairstyle in its pre-perm, German helmet phase - beating Ruud Krol in the canoeing final, and even pipping Franz Klammer in the squat thrusts. And, as if this were not pleasure enough, there was the David Vine/Ron Pickering commentary to relish, too. "Ostarcevic, the Frenchman, is a basketball player and a former high jumper, so it will be interesting to see how he can swim," said Vine, himself a World, European and Commonwealth non- sequitur champion.

Still, give Vine his due, he was able to glide from sport to sport, and always knew the correct jargon. "You had a tremendous wobble-on coming up the straight," he said to Keegan, who was already an icon in 1976, but was elevated to an even higher pedestal following that wobble-on. Looking back, in fact, it was his performances on Superstars which first indicated Keegan's genius for self-promotion (during his time with Southampton, whenever he was late for the team bus, the other players used to joke that he was scouring the town for someone who didn't have his autograph).

I realise, of course, there will be people reading this column who are too young to remember Superstars. Or, less forgivably, are old enough but preferred to watch And Mother Makes Five on the other side. Either way, you missed a treat. Superstars was, quite simply, one of the finest television series of all time. And its legacy was an assortment of unforgettable images.

Of these, the most potent has to be Kevin Keegan flying off his bike and whizzing across the track like an ice-hockey puck, in the process removing most of the skin from his back. Then there were Malcolm McDonald's spectacularly bandy legs, carrying him to a Superstars record in the 100 metres. And the amazing sight of Tony Knowles puffing along in the steeplechase, having been invited to take part on the dubious basis that he was the fittest man in snooker. I wonder whether there was a mini-Superstars held among the snooker players, to establish who should go forward to represent the sport in the main event? I like to think of Knowles in the football skills competition, running rings round Bill Werbeniuk , which would, of course, have taken some time.

As well as treating us to the spectacle of sporting legends competing in events unfamiliar to them, Superstars also made legends of people nobody had ever heard of, like the hurdler Guy Drut, and the judo champion Brian Jacks. Jacks, in particular, briefly became a household name, thanks to his awesome ability in the dips and the squat thrusts. If memory serves, though, he also had a rather squeaky voice, placing him in that category of sportsmen whose macho exploits seem designed to compensate for the fact that Mother Nature kicked them sharply in the nuts.

I am thinking here of men like Alan Ball, Jack Nicklaus and Graham Gooch, and also, believe it or not, of WG Grace. According to Simon Rae's biography of the great man, WG's voice was so squeaky that he once had a marriage proposal turned down on account of it. WG also captained England at bowls, had a single-figure golf handicap, and was an excellent shot. He would have been a sensation on Superstars.