Morning worship converts Toon Army

Simon Turnbull watches Tyneside give a warm welcome to Kenny Dalglish
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The Independent Online
When Kevin Keegan flew the Magpies' nest last week, a spokesman for the Toon Army appeared on German television. "What will it feel like when your team gets a new manager?" he was asked. "Like finding wor lass in bed with another man," came the reply.

They may have needed subtitles to get the drift in Hamburg, whence Keegan beetled after leaving his old No 7 shirt on the Mersey beat. But yesterday morning it was clear that Tyneside was enjoying the thrill of its affair with the new king of Newcastle.

John Harle, the presenter of the morning phone-in show on BBC Radio Newcastle, even uttered the words: "Kevin who?" Mischievous it may have been, but his aside was met with a resounding echo from his second caller.

"Kevin Keegan was a spoilt brat, you know," the belligerent Bob said. "He ran off 'cos he couldn't get his own way."

Then he came to his point: "As a licence payer I'm fed up of all this 'Newcastle United, Newcastle United'. Someone has made a smashing new window for Durham Cathedral. You should make more of that."

At 9.50am, in the very shadow of Durham Cathedral and its unheralded new window, Kenny Dalglish could be seen through the glass of Terry McDermott's car, relaxed and smiling as he prepared to clock in for his morning shift as English football's first pounds 1m manager.

Half an hour later, he emerged from the pavilion at the Durham University sports centre sporting his new week-day overalls: a black and white training top. The spontaneous applause from the 300 or so souls in attendance was acknowledged with an impish grin.

At his previous place of work, the new manager of Newcastle would not have needed to pick his way through a scrum of autograph hunters and camera crews. To get within quarter of a mile of the Blackburn training ground, you need an appointment and proof of identity.

That may, or may not, be the case once Dalglish gets his feet comfortably under the manager's table at St James'. On his first day he was happy to settle into his new club's familiar match-day routine.

Light training on the morning of an evening game is strictly optional and those fellow former Rovers, Alan Shearer and David Batty, were among the absentees. They missed a glimpse of the old magic as their twinkle- toed gaffer made up the number at seven-a-side.

He started off at right-back, slipping on the wet turf but beating David Ginola with his first challenge. Peter Beardsley was on his side and watching them shuffle and feint, side by side, was like having double vision. Neither scored but they were triumphant after 15 minutes each way, the boys in black and white beating the red-bibbed brigade 2-1. The Toon Army had been won over too. "Just look at him at the back, man," one foot-soldier said, leaning on the counter of the Yankee Doodle refreshment stall. "He knaas hoo to defend. That's what wu need to win a trophy."

It took the new defender of the black and white faith so long to get through the masses he missed the first two goals of his new management career. By the time Dalglish made it to the pavilion's upstairs canteen, his youth team had gained and lost the lead in the Northern Intermediate League fixture on the main pitch. He watched the remaining 75 minutes through one of Durham's finest plate glass windows. Middlesbrough not only turned up; they collected three points. Thus the Dalglish era started with a 2-1 defeat for Newcastle.

It was not all bad news, however. The lunchtime bulletin on Radio Newcastle finished with this latest ditty composed by Sister Josepha, Tyneside's singing nun and schoolteacher: "Ring the church bells. Play the fanfare... Welcome, Kenny, to St James'. You can hear the Toon Army sing: Goodbye, Kevin! Hello, Kenny!"

"I'm sure God likes football as well," Sister Josepha assured the listeners. The newsreader, however, confessed to being "very, very, very confused".

"I thought God had left St James' Park," he said, "to be replaced by his only son last night."