MY first encounter with Kevin Keegan was at a post-match press conference a few months after he had taken over at Manchester City in 2001.
City had been lucky to scrape a 2-2 draw at home to a Stockport side who, even though it was only October, already looked doomed to relegation from the First Division.
It was a strange, disjointed City performance, out of keeping with the free-flowing football that characterised the 2001/2002 First Division title-winning season under Keegan. Three days earlier, they had thrashed Birmingham 6-0 in the Worthington Cup, which made their display against Stockport even harder to fathom.
“What was the difference between today’s game and the Birmingham performance?” I asked Keegan after the match.
“We won 6-0 against Birmingham,” Keegan replied.
I genuinely don’t believe Keegan was trying to be obstructive: I just think he saw the punchline in my question, and couldn’t stop himself. The next time I piped up at a City press conference, I was a little more careful about the way I phrased my questions.
Keegan seems an older, wiser, even slightly more serious figure these days. Even in the dark days of February and March, when it looked as if his return to Newcastle was going to blow up in his face, when Dennis Wise was popping up out of nowhere and relegation was more than a possibility, there was no trace of the temper which exploded during that famous “love it” TV interview as the Premiership title disappeared in 1996.
It’s almost – almost – as if, at some point, Keegan realised that football is only a game, management is just a job and it doesn’t really matter whether or not he keeps the press entertained.
Mind you, he can still come up with unusual comments sometimes.
Last night’s final game: West Ham 2 Newcastle 2
Commentator: Martin Fisher
All of yesterday’s Premier League games held significance in the title race or the relegation battle. All, that is, bar one – West Ham v Newcastle.
West Ham’s season appeared to end sometime in mid-January, while Newcastle have long since extinguished any relegation threat. Because there was nothing riding on it, this game was always going to be last on Match of the Day, even if it had ended 8-7.
At one point, it looked as if it might.
Mark Noble and Dean Ashton had the Hammers two up in 23 minutes, but Newcastle struck twice just before half-time to level the count. The second half had its moments, but no goals. MOTD managed to squeeze all of this into three minutes and 13 seconds; quite impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Not quite as impressive, though, as Keegan’s somewhat off-the-wall post-match reaction.
“It was a great goal by Oba Martins, and then Geremi has got us level before half-time,” Keegan said. “To be honest, before that, I would have settled for a 2-0 defeat!”
It might have been interesting to ask what Keegan felt turned the game for Newcastle. I’d be worried, though, that his answer would be: “We scored two goals.”
1. Derby: 12 (Gubba difference: +1) – Champions
2. Fulham: 7 (GD: +2)
3. Wigan: 7 (GD: +1)
4. West Ham: 7 (GD: 0)
5. Reading: 6 (GD: +1)
6. Birmingham: 6 (GD: 0)
7. Gubba: 5
8. Blackburn: 4 (GD: +2)
9. Bolton: 4 (GD: +1)
10. Portsmouth: 3 (GD: +1)
11=. Aston Villa: 3 (GD: 0)
11=. Chelsea: 3 (GD: 0)
11=. Sunderland: 3 (GD: 0)
11=. Newcastle: 3 (GD: 0)
15=. Millwall: 2 (GD: 0)
15=. Walsall: 2 (GD: 0)
15=. Middlesbrough: 2 (GD: 0)
18. Tottenham: 1 (GD: +1)
19=. Everton: 1 (GD: 0)
19=. Cardiff: 1 (GD: 0)
19=. Wolves: 1 (GD: 0)
19=. Bury: 1 (GD: 0)
19=. Workington: 1 (GD: 0)
19=. Huddersfield: 1 (GD: 0)
19=. Grimsby: 1 (GD: 0)
(NB. Where teams are level, positions are decided by Gubba Difference; the number of times a team is on Match of the Day last with Tony Gubba commentating.)