Strained days for Toon newshound

BOOK OF THE WEEK; Geordie Messiah: The Keegan Years By Alan Oliver (Mainstream, hardback pounds 14.99)
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The Independent Online
In his four years and 11 months as the high-profile occupant of the manager's office at St James' Park, Kevin Keegan remained a paradoxically closed book. Few of those who have played the management game have worn hearts so prominently on Puffa jacket sleeves as the man who famously vented his spleen on Alex Ferguson in the television interview room at Elland Road, and who stood on the steps at St James' explaining to restless natives his decision to sell his Cole scoring machine. Yet none of those outsiders who were physically the closest to Keegan the manager ever got close to the heart of Keegan the man.

As Alan Oliver points out in his account of the Keegan years at St James' Park, the manager's office was strictly out of bounds to the journalists who follow the fortunes of Newcastle United. Oliver, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle's man on the Toon football beat for 17 years, did find himself in the inner sanctum on one occasion and the portrait of Bill Shankly is just a fleeting glimpse he is able to give of Keegan, the man behind closed doors.

The book will remain closed in that respect until his autobiography rolls off the presses in the autumn; as the author admits when considering why Keegan flew the Magpies' nest, "only one man knows the real reasons - Kevin Keegan." Oliver's story of Keegan's management career nevertheless has its place on the football bookshelf. Indeed, many will be entertained by the tragi-comic tale of the strained working relationship that developed between the manager and the local newspaperman.

"There were occasions," Oliver writes, "when Keegan felt I had crossed him and he made my working life a misery. After one particularly bad blasting I even tried to quit my job."

Despite the hard times he endured, Oliver argues that Keegan ought to be considered a great manager. Resurrecting the comatose giant of Newcastle United was indeed an achievement that should not be understated. But will Hugh McIlvanney be venturing south of Hadrian's Wall in a decade or so to add Shankly's old, blue-eyed boy to an updated television tribute to the managerial masters? I think not.

Keegan's great entertainers were greatly entertaining as the Devon Loch losers in last season's title race - but not more so than the Queen's Park Rangers team, marshalled by Frank McLintock and inspired by Gerry Francis, who were overhauled by Keegan and Liverpool five minutes from then end of the 1975-76 championship stakes. And Dave Sexton is still awaiting an invitation to football management's Valhalla.

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