Two weeks that shook football

THE KEEGAN AFFAIR Simon Turnbull charts the dramatic events that led to Keegan's departure
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The Independent Online
Thursday 26 December

NEWCASTLE lose 1-0 at Blackburn. It is their seventh Premiership match without a win and their worst run since they were plummeting towards the old Third Division under Ossie Ardiles. Kevin Keegan's mood is terse during a brief appearance in Ewood Park's "Media Theatre" before he makes a hasty departure from the ground. "We are not playing well," he says. "I cannot kid you that we are."

Friday 27 December

KEEGAN is absent from Newcastle's Friday lunchtime press press conference. Instead, the assistant manager Terry McDermott answers the questions in a squash court at Newcastle's training base, the Durham University sports complex. "We need to kick-start our season," he says. Keegan has been an increasingly reluctant interviewee of late and his non-appearance is not noted as being significant. He is, however, offering to resign at a meeting with the Newcastle board.

He tells Sir John Hall, the chairman, that he feels he can no longer motivate his players and that he has taken the club as far as he can. He is unhappy with his team's faltering form and frustrated by his inability to further strengthen his pounds 60m squad (he wants to sign a new goalkeeper and Georgi Kinkladze or Giuseppe Signori as an attacking support player but is told he must sell first). Douglas Hall, Sir John's son and fellow director, and the vice-chairman, Freddie Shepherd, persuade him to carry on reluctantly but Keegan makes it known he would like to leave at the end of the season.

Saturday 28 December

NEWCASTLE beat Spurs 7-1 at St James' Park, the club's biggest winning margin in a top flight game since 1934. McDermott, not Keegan, conducts the manager's post-match press conference. "Kevin's wife's poorly," he says. "He's rushed off home."

Sunday 29 December

A COLUMN in the Newcastle Sunday Sun claims: "At least one national paper had reserved two pages of today's edition for a "Keegan Quits" special had Newcastle lost to Spurs yesterday." The Nigerian FA say they want Keegan as their new coach.

Wednesday 1 January

KEEGAN settles down to a cup of tea and a slice of Christmas cake in the press room after Newcastle's home 3-0 win against Leeds United. "We have a hell of a job if we are to win the title," he says, "but maybe this will be the year when you can afford to lose eight or nine games and still do it." He wishes the ladies and gentlemen of the media "a happy new year" as he drains his tea cup and departs. It is his last public appearance at St James' Park.

Friday 3 January

KEEGAN meets the press at Newcastle's training ground before leaving for London with his squad in preparation for the FA Cup third-round tie at Charlton. "I would really like to go back to Wembley," he says, "and play better than we did in the Charity Shield."

Sunday 5 January

NEWCASTLE are held to a 1-1 draw at The Valley. Keegan turns on his heels when his post-match press conference in a cramped Portakabin turns to the subject of his future and the Sunday Mirror report that he offered to tender his resignation after the Blackburn defeat. "I'm only here to talk about today's game," he says. "You know the guy who wrote it."

Some journalists jeer as the public chapter of Keegan's managerial story closes on a discordant note. There had been cheers, and certainly gasps of astonishment, the morning in February 1992 that he walked through the swing doors at Newcastle Breweries' Visitor Centre to be paraded as the replacement for the hastily sacked Ardiles.

Tuesday 7 January

IN AN afternoon meeting with the Newcastle board, Keegan reaffirms his desire to terminate his 10-year contract (which still has seven years to run) at the end of the season. This time he can't be dissuaded. It is pointed out to him that NatWest, the bankers handling Newcastle's planned flotation on the Stock Exchange, have advised of legal problems if his long-term position is not declared in the prospectus. An immediate parting of the ways is mutually agreed.

Wednesday 8 January

GRAHAM Courtney, the press officer Keegan appointed last summer in an effort to ease his media commitments, breaks the news at 10.30am on Newcastle's ClubCall line. "Newcastle United Football Club today announce the resignation of Kevin Keegan," he says, reading an official statement. "Kevin informed the board of his wish to resign at the end of the season having decided he no longer wishes to continue in football management at this stage in his life. Following lengthy discussions at which the board tried to persuade Kevin to change his mind, both parties agreed that the best route forward was for the club to reluctantly accept his resignation with immediate effect.

"Kevin commented: 'It was my decision and my decision alone to resign. I offered my resignation at the end of last season but was persuaded to stay. I feel that I have taken the club as far as I can and that it would be in the best interests of all concerned if I resigned now. I wish the club and everyone concerned the very best for the future'."

By noon some 500 supporters have gathered outside St James' Park. They stand in the car park across which Keegan dashed after a match against Swindon on the 40th day as Newcastle manager, threatening not to return. "It's not like it said in the brochure," he said at the time, alluding to the failure of promised transfer money to materialise.

Around pounds 60m, and almost five years later, Newcastle have risen from the brink of financial ruination and the ignominy of Third Division football to the Uefa Cup quarter-finals and a place among the Premiership's elite. Even in 1969, when Bobby Moncur lifted the Fairs Cup, and in Jackie Milburn's halcyon days, when they won the FA Cup three times in the 1950s, the Magpies never occupied such a lofty perch. As the London Evening Standard puts it, Keegan is the manager who has spent pounds 60m and won nothing. But to the Toon Army he is the born leader who put their beloved black and whites back on the map.

The foot soldiers stand forlornly to attention as they queue for copies of the Evening Chronicle. As they open out the broadsheet to stare at the giant front-page headline - "Keegan Quits" - tabloid pull-out sections fall unnoticed to the ground. They happen to be called The Entertainer. The empty parking bay marked "K Keegan" tells the same story. English football's great entertainer has gone.

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