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  • 3 weeks later...

Billionaire businessman Mike Ashley has bought the gym and fitness business from his rival and long-time critic Dave Whelan after they fell into administration.

Mr Ashley's Frasers Group said it would buy 46 leisure clubs and 31 retail outlets from DW Sports Fitness for £37m to merge with its own business.

Some 922 jobs out of a total of 1,700 across the business will be saved.

DW went bust earlier this month after its income evaporated during lockdown.

The firm owns 75 retail stores and 73 gyms in total, all of which had to close temporarily due to coronavirus restrictions.

Frasers, which also owns Lillywhites, Evans Cycles and House of Fraser, said the DW assets would "compliment (sic)" its own gym and fitness club portfolio, and would now be managed under its Everlast brand.

Susannah Streeter, senior markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said it was surprising the group had bought a gym business as they were still "grappling with the public's reluctance to train indoors".

"It's likely to be some time before people bound back to the gym in greater numbers and it can be ascertained whether this latest acquisition will have been the right choice for the company."

DW also owns the Fitness First gym chain which is unaffected by the administration.

Feud

Mr Ashley, who has been buying up struggling High Street brands over the last five years, has had a feud with DW Sports' owner, Mr Whelan, dating back two decades.

In 2000, Mr Whelan was famously reported to have told his younger rival from the south: "There is a club in the north, son, and you're not part of it."

Mr Ashley later reported Mr Whelan's JJB Sports business to the Office of Fair Trading, alleging it was involved in a price-fixing scheme over football shirts.

The OFT issued multi-million pound fines to those involved, including JJB.

Mr Whelan, 83, a former owner of Wigan Athletic football club, created DW Sports in 2009 when he bought 50 JJB Sports fitness clubs and the adjoining shops out of administration.

During the year ending 31 March 2019, DW made a loss of just over £20m.

Frasers itself has been struggling during the pandemic, calling its most recent financial year the "most challenging" in its history.

In the year to 26 April, its sales climbed slightly, but profits dived by 20% to £143.5m due to lockdown store closures.

Last week, it said that more of its House of Fraser department stores were "anticipated" to close, likely resulting in further job cuts.

It has already shut 10 of the 59 stores it bought out of administration in 2018

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  • 2 weeks later...

Newcastle's £20m bid for Callum Wilson has been accepted by Bournemouth, with the striker set to discuss personal terms and undergo a medical on Monday.

Aston Villa and Newcastle were locked in negotiations with Bournemouth on Saturday, both making offers for the 28-year-old striker.

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Ryan Fraser has agreed a deal to join Newcastle and is set to undergo a medical on Monday.

The Scotland international has been a free agent since his Bournemouth contract ended in June, when he opted against signing an extension to play at the Vitality Stadium upon the restart of the Premier League season.

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1 hour ago, DarknessandHope said:

Ryan Fraser has agreed a deal to join Newcastle and is set to undergo a medical on Monday.

The Scotland international has been a free agent since his Bournemouth contract ended in June, when he opted against signing an extension to play at the Vitality Stadium upon the restart of the Premier League season.

I was wondering where he would land. Now to see if he can regain his form.

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13 hours ago, Eileen said:

Well done, Lads!

The best I've seen us play under bruce, those signings especially Wilson are very encouraging and if Lewis can keep on improving it could make for a very good attacking force on the left flank with ASM. Hopefully Joelinton will be sold or loaned out, either way get rid coz he's crap.

Only the first game so I'm not getting carried way...here is the fear, the transfer window isn't closed yet and it will come as no supprise if ashley attempts to balance the books or make another transfer window profit by selling our best outfield player ASM ( Arsenal fancy him ).

It's a positive start, but the best news for me is it now looks like ashley is determined to sell the club ( unlike the previous 9 or 10 fakeovers)  It may take the rest of this season or longer but i think he will eventually sell up.

 

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  • 1 month later...

Newcastle fans donated £20,000 to charity over the weekend in protest against the Premier League's controversial pay-per-view scheme.

The Magpies' 4-1 defeat by Manchester United on Saturday was one of several Premier League games only available live in the UK for a £14.95 fee.

It applies to the five fixtures in each round of games not televised in the UK.

The 'Charity Not PPV' campaign asked fans to donate to the city's West End food bank rather than pay to watch.

The food bank's chief executive John McCorry said "it will make a great difference".

He added: "We so appreciate the generosity of the Newcastle fans.

"We are feeding 1,000 people a week and use 10-plus tonnes of food every month, which costs £1,700 a tonne, so these donations are really needed.

"We have had donations from London, Spain and America, so it's not just locally that the interest has gathered. It really seems to have taken off."

In October, the five Premier League fixtures per round not shown live in the UK are available for pay-per-view on BT Sport Box Office or Sky Sports Box Office.

Clubs agreed the scheme as an "interim solution" with fans still not allowed into grounds because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it has been criticised.

The campaign set up by Newcastle fans has also been replicated by fans of Leeds United and Manchester City as an alternative to paying for pay-per-view matches.

McCorry also said the donations were welcome because they are unable to raise money from fans on match days.

Bill Corcoran of the NUFC Fans Food Bank group, who organised the campaign and normally collect money for the food bank on match days, said: "The most we have ever collected outside a game was £5,800 but the response has been from all over the world.

"Someone just suggested the idea on Twitter and we thought, 'that's great, let's do it'. Whoever recommended pay-per-view, pitched it wrong. If you're a season-ticket holder and already pay for games on TV, this was the metaphorical straw that broke the camel's back.

"Rather than paying into a multi-national media company, we are paying into a charity which helps starving people in the city. The solution was obvious and the fans have shown a great deal of kindness and generosity."

Newcastle fans are also still waiting to hear whether their season ticket costs will be refunded as a result of not being able to attend games.

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  • 3 months later...

Steve Bruce has apparently had death threats ( although he hasn't reported it to the police or offered any evidence ) ...and lots of fan mail the week before telling him how good he is ( he didn't show anyone the letters )

In the meantime Newcastle United are on course to hit the season "remit" ...Steve Bruce's words not mine, of 4th bottom.

NUFC..meh ! 

 

 

 

 

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14 hours ago, newcastle roy said:

Steve Bruce has apparently had death threats ( although he hasn't reported it to the police or offered any evidence ) ...and lots of fan mail the week before telling him how good he is ( he didn't show anyone the letters )

In the meantime Newcastle United are on course to hit the season "remit" ...Steve Bruce's words not mine, of 4th bottom.

NUFC..meh ! 

 

 

 

 

10 points clear from the bottom. Something would have to go real wrong not to stay up.

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17 hours ago, newcastle roy said:

Steve Bruce has apparently had death threats ( although he hasn't reported it to the police or offered any evidence ) ...and lots of fan mail the week before telling him how good he is ( he didn't show anyone the letters )

In the meantime Newcastle United are on course to hit the season "remit" ...Steve Bruce's words not mine, of 4th bottom.

NUFC..meh ! 

 

 

 

 

Hey good to see you there Roy! :)

Been an interesting season so far hasn't it?  Good to see you back.  

 

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I doubt many will read this..however.

This man understands Newcastle United

Happy birthday KK

 

Kevin Keegan is 70 on Valentine’s Day and, off the top of my head, it is difficult to think of anything more appropriate. You have never known true romance until you have heard Newcastle United supporters gurgle about their former player and manager, this passionate, restless man who rescued the club from oblivion and led it on a headlong dash towards glory, playing football that had been kissed by angels.

If I could give Kevin anything for a landmark birthday it would be a way of marking this love in something permanent like bronze or cement or steel. He deserves a statue or a stand named after him at St James’ Park. He warrants an ambassadorial role. Nobody has done more to create the modern Newcastle or the version that lingers in our hearts, the big club with the big stadium, the big noise, big ambitions and big dreams.

The sad thing is that it will never happen under Mike Ashley’s ownership and even if the regime had the sense or humility to swallow their pride and recognise Kevin’s fundamental place in the club’s history, he would never accept it. Not from them. He wrote in his most recent autobiography about not feeling welcome on Gallowgate — I share that feeling, up to a point — but accepts that it’s “a two-way street.”

As he tells me, “I’ve no real wish to go back to the Newcastle United as it is now. Don’t get me wrong, I love Newcastle. I love the people. My father was from there.” But Kevin was so scarred by his second spell managing the team that he has effectively erased it from his CV. “It was such a farce,” he says. And: “Do I want to go back and be sat next to Mike Ashley? I don’t miss Newcastle, because if I went back to Newcastle, I’d want to enjoy it.”

But Kevin does still feel the tug of home — and Newcastle is his home, or one of them, whatever his birth certificate says — and he will return when Ashley is gone. “The best day they’ll have is when he sells the club, because anybody — and I mean anybody — can run it better,” he says. “Just anybody. It cannot be run worse than it is.” Whoever those people are, they would be insane not to involve Newcastle’s Pied Piper in some capacity.

I don’t want this to be a negative article, because Kevin is too upbeat for that and too much of a positive force in my own life and career. I have felt 7ft tall in the dressing-room after his team talks. In the playground, I pretended to be him. I used to wave at his old maroon Jaguar — number plate KK 33, the 33 a reference to Brut, the aftershave firm who sponsored him! — as he drove past Gosforth High School, on his way to training. And I was a ballboy at his final match as a player.

Shearer with Keegan as a ballboy

Without Kevin, my own likeness would not stand on Barrack Road, right arm in the air. I would not be Newcastle’s record goalscorer. My own dream would be just that. Newcastle would never have tasted the top; there would have been no Indian summer for Sir Bobby Robson, no Champions League, no Entertainers, no iconic moments like his “I will love it if we beat them, love it,” call to arms on Sky Sports, no 5-0 redemption against Manchester United, no blissful football.

Just like Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s A Wonderful Life, who is shown a glimpse of how one person’s existence ripples out and touches countless others and how the world, for all its frustrations and frailties, would be immeasurably worse without him in it, the thought of a Newcastle without Keegan is impossible to bear.

So this is personal for me and personal for Newcastle fans everywhere.

Happy birthday, King Kev. And happy Valentine’s Day.

We chat via WhatsApp video; Kevin is yet to master Zoom. “I was going to sit in front of all my trophies but then I remembered I hadn’t got any,” is his opening line and it is a good one, but it is also nonsense. He might be most remembered for not winning the title at Newcastle in 1996, when Sir Alex Ferguson’s ruthless Manchester United hauled back a 12-point lead, but Kevin was a garlanded player, a relentless striver for everything he achieved.

As a young forward, Kevin won three league titles at Liverpool, an FA Cup, a European Cup and two UEFA Cups before leaving at the peak of his powers for Hamburg, where he added a Bundesliga to his haul. Moving abroad was a rarity, but he has always been inquisitive, always embraced the unexpected. It was a shock when he signed for Southampton but you can multiply that by a thousand when he turned up at Newcastle in 1982.

Within two years, we had been promoted out of the old Second Division and Kevin Mk I was gone, soaring into the Tyneside air in a helicopter. It was a suitably dramatic goodbye. “I still think of myself as a player,” he says, “but the people I meet in the street obviously think of me as a manager. They’ll go, ‘Love it, love it!’, particularly around here (he lives in the north west). Management is just a way of hanging on to a game you love. It’s not something you would choose over playing.”

We talk about his 70th and how he will celebrate it. “Jean (his wife) and I are going out for a nice meal in a lovely restaurant, obviously … No, not really. It’s a nightmare, isn’t it? All the things you used to take for granted … Our days start with the gym in the morning and then walking into town for a takeaway coffee. A takeaway coffee is like going out for a meal these days. And 70? It just creeps up on you. Suddenly, it’s there.”

Kevin doesn’t really do maudlin. There is always a crack, a joke. He sees his face on the corner of his phone screen. “Blimey, I look a bit rough,” he says. “I can’t get to the barbers … You don’t have this problem, Alan.”

Charming.

So what is he doing in lockdown? “I’m working a lot — I do presentations for companies, so it’s given me loads of time to do that,” he says. “I’ve always loved racing, so I watch that in the afternoons. We’ve got five grandkids but we can’t go and see them. It’s just like everyone else.

“I’ve lost a lot of friends in football over the last year, including the three Leeds lads I used to play against; Norman Hunter, Trevor Cherry, Jack Charlton. We’re just surviving, really. There are those two sides to it. People also pull together.”

He watches football, but struggles with it. “I don’t know about you, but without a crowd, I’m not interested in half the matches,” he says. “It’s given teams a licence to not attack. At Newcastle or at Liverpool — and I realise I’m going back a long way — if you passed the ball backwards they just wouldn’t allow it. Now you see teams at 2-1 down with a free kick where they can put it in the box … and it ends up with their own goalkeeper.

“If you ever needed proof of how vital supporters are, it’s this era, because the game loses something. It just doesn’t have that same buzz. The crowd forces teams to have a go. I can think of loads of games I’ve watched where all I do is switch the telly off. The fans gave me another yard when I played. But it’s just a period we’ve got to get through. They’re doing well to get the games on.”

This is typical of Kevin, because football is not simply a sporting endeavour to him. It is a human connection.

He has not worked on the game’s front line since his unhappy resignation at Newcastle in September 2008. He later won a Premier League arbitration case which heard that Kevin had been told by Dennis Wise, the executive director, to look up a new signing “on YouTube”; in public, the club had said the manager had “the final word,” on transfers, but it played out very differently. The arbitration panel viewed Newcastle’s primary defence as “wholly without merit”.

It is not hugely surprising that Kevin doesn’t miss it. “You get to 70 and what could I do in football now?” he says. “Management? There’s one or two around, Roy Hodgson being the prime example, and he’s doing great, but he’s hung in all the time. The longer you’re out of it, the more it changes and evolves. Forget the politics, the Newcastle I took over the second time was a completely different game.

“The first time, I did virtually everything. You looked at the players, you signed them, you did the contracts and then you told the board. You managed the club with three or four other people and you were in charge of your own destiny. When you bought players, you sat down with them and talked. That’s what I did when I fetched David Ginola over (from France), when I signed you under the cover of a Bryan Adams concert in Huddersfield! It wouldn’t happen now, but if it hadn’t happened then, you would have probably gone somewhere else.

“I liked it the way it was. Now the manager is just a coach. One of your biggest problems when you’re planning an away trip is how you fit all your members of staff on the bus! It’s different. I don’t want some guy who has been a steward at Chelsea and somehow found his way into player recruitment telling me there’s a good player in Bolivia or Peru without you seeing them, or asking you to watch them on YouTube. That’s the part I could never get my head around.”

Keegan in his early days as Newcastle manager (Photo: Mark Leech/Getty Images)

It reminds me of a story and I’m not sure if it’s one I’ve told before. During that doomed second managerial stint at Newcastle, Kevin asked me to work alongside him as an assistant. Somewhere down the line, perhaps I would have taken over. It was a compelling idea and reckon I would have accepted, but as we were talking in his office the yellow ticker flashed up on Sky Sports News detailing Dennis Wise’s arrival.

Kevin laughed at the time, but it didn’t feel massively funny. He told me, “you just can’t come to the club at the minute, it wouldn’t be right.” He was protecting me.

“I can remember that conversation as if it was yesterday,” he says now. “I could imagine you thinking, ‘Uh-oh, he doesn’t want me here’, and it was anything but. I really did. Nothing would have been better than getting you to work with the forwards, teaching them where you go and don’t go, where would get them a goal. You can’t buy that. But if you fetch it into a club where people don’t care or really don’t get it …? I couldn’t let you walk into that. All sorts of things were going on. There were so many red flags.”

As it turned out, the season Kevin left, I ended up as Newcastle’s fourth manager in seven months, following him, Joe Kinnear and Chris Hughton. I loved those eight short games in charge, even though I was unable to steer the club away from relegation. That summer, having presented my plans to secure promotion at the first time of asking, I waited for Mike Ashley to call me back. I’m still waiting.

“You can’t say I didn’t warn you!” Kevin says, with a bit too much of a cackle. “I remember saying, ‘Alan, you don’t want to be part of this,’. I did tell you! But you taking Newcastle was exactly like I was with the England job. You couldn’t say no. You couldn’t turn your back on it, because your club needed you.

“Nothing could have saved Newcastle because a badly run club is a badly run club and you can work as hard as you can on the football field but if everything else is not right then it filters through. When you took it, I just thought, ‘Well go on then! It’s a hell of a task’. But at least you didn’t have to worry about signing players because the window had gone. You had to work with what you had. And what you had wasn’t quite good enough.

“Who knows what would have happened if you’d have kept them up. It’s like you saying to me, ‘how do you feel about losing the league’, and maybe it’s the same as you going down. Could you have done something different? Should we have gone more defensive? Should we have attacked more? There’s no point looking back. You give it your best shot and sometimes even your best shot is not good enough.”

My god, though, Kevin’s Newcastle were good. The one disappointment for me is that we were colleagues all too briefly. I came home in the summer of 1996 for a world-record fee of £15 million — I make no apologies; I still love writing that — and he was gone by the following January. I’ve never fully understood his departure and although he says I didn’t sign for him — “you came because you wanted to be at Newcastle” — he is only half-right.

Home to my club, yes. And home to memories of my school playground, his Jag, my sideline as ball boy, that helicopter. The prospect of that football, of winning things. Home, to Newcastle. Home, to the court of King Kev.

If Leicester City lifting the Premier League trophy was a miracle, then Newcastle was a fairytale, too, albeit without the happily ever after. Eight years after retiring as a player, Kevin arrived back on Tyneside in February 1992. It was astonishing — he had been chipping away at his golf handicap and barely watched a game — a million volts surging through a club which had been riven by boardroom strife and was now listing at the foot of English football’s second tier.

Keegan’s side modelling their away kits in the early 1990s (Photo: Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

The facilities, Kevin says, were like “a hovel. The place was absolutely filthy. You couldn’t have shown it to prospective signings. You’d be too embarrassed. That’s how bad it was. The first team were travelling to games on the day of the match because the board were saying, ‘Well, fuck them, they’re not doing it for us on the pitch so why should we pay for overnight accommodation?’ Players were washing their own kit. So when it came to games on a Saturday we had some in black and white stripes and some in grey!”

Kevin fumigated the place, in more ways than one, keeping Newcastle up, threatening to walk away and then securing promotion as champions, playing a joyous, freestyle football that would make grown men weep. For his first home game in the Premier League he wrote in his programme notes, “‘Watch out Alex (Ferguson), we’re after your title’. One of the directors came to me and threw it on the table and said, ‘This is ridiculous, you’re putting us all under pressure’.

“And I said, ‘Well, that’s what we should be wanting, that’s what we should be aiming for’. We were trying to change the mentality of the club and when you turn around a club like that, it’s like a juggernaut. Once we’d turned, it never stopped.”

Kevin had an ideal partner in Sir John Hall, the local entrepreneur who built the Metrocentre and then took a majority stake in the club. Sir John was a different kind of dreamer, who spoke about the “Geordie Nation” and turning Newcastle into a sporting club like Barcelona. St James’ was revamped and reconstructed. Queues snaked outside the ground. The city throbbed on a Saturday night.

By then, Newcastle were training in Durham, where Kevin threw the doors open to fans. I dug out a photo of those scenes recently and the visual reminder was extraordinary; thousands of people there, five deep around the pitches. “We used to get fish and chip vans turning up,” Kevin says. It was chaotic and beautiful and democratic.

Hundreds watching training under Keegan

Newcastle’s progress was breakneck, but Kevin was feeding a voracious appetite he understood. “I feel sad for the punters now because I know what they like,” he says. “When I played for Newcastle, the local brewery paid most of my wages, so once a week I’d have to go around the working men’s clubs or the big pubs and have these talk-ins. That’s where I learnt about the club, about the passion for it.

“I’m not being clever, because it was forced on me, really, because of my deal, but it gave me a real understanding. I’m not saying players should do it now, but they’re almost shielded from it. I got to know what people want. They don’t mind losing 3-2 if it’s a great game, but they don’t really want to see a 0-0. It sounds strange when you say it. Maybe that’s why we didn’t win the league!”

Kevin’s philosophy was simple — improve and improve and improve. And his powers of persuasion were legendary.

“Your mate Rob Lee was going to Middlesbrough until I convinced him Newcastle was closer to London!” he says. “I always feel guilty telling that story because it makes him sound a bit stupid but it’s true; if you get the train to Middlesbrough you’ve got to change at Darlington, so it takes longer. We’d kept building and building and it was a very simple strategy — just get better players in all the time. It’s not rocket science.”

Newcastle finished third and then sixth in the Premier League. They were poster boys for a new division, the darlings of Sky television. “We passed a lot of teams that people probably thought were better than us, but we were so together,” he says. “We had everybody rowing the boat in the same direction.

“Once you get a good side, people don’t like coming to Newcastle. It’s always a bit colder, a bit windier and more hostile. We beat a lot of teams before the game had actually started. They were thinking, ‘We don’t want to get beat four or five today’, so they were quite happy to get beat by two. We had the players to do that. We didn’t have the players to grind out a 0-0 at Old Trafford.

“We challenged teams to play. We didn’t try and defend a 1-0. Our outlook was, ‘We’re going to come at you and if you’re good enough, come at us. If you beat us, fair dos’. People couldn’t wait to get to the match and we fed on that. Every time we bought somebody they seemed to be better going forward than going back.

“John Beresford was our left-back. He would give the ball to David Ginola and then go past him. I remember shouting at him one day. ‘Bez, just stay behind him and let him do the attacking!’ He told me to eff off, so I hauled him off. He didn’t realise what he’d done. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve always thought of football as an entertainment.”

And then there was that extraordinary season when they finished runners-up. “It’s no good having regrets, that’s the first thing,” Kevin says. “But you look back and we lost games we should have won. At Liverpool we famously lost 4-3 and we should have been out of sight. We became the Monday night team because Sky always wanted us on TV, so we ended up playing catch-up after Man United had won on the Saturday.

“The turning point was Man United at home in the March. The following season, when you played, we beat them 5-0, but we were actually better when they beat us 1-0. Peter Schmeichel was unbelievable and then Eric Cantona bobbled one in. Have a look back at Schmeichel’s performance, the chances we had, the blocks they made. We absolutely battered them. Those are the little things you’d change, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Cantona scores the winner in the title decider in 1996 (Credit: Stu Forster/Allsport)

“There’s an old saying that nobody remembers who comes second but if they did, it would be us. I’ll go down south to a function or a business do and someone will always walk up and say, ‘I’m not a Newcastle fan, I actually support West Ham, but I loved watching you’. The greatest compliment people paid us was that we were everyone’s second favourite team.”

I arrived that summer, but there was a bit of hangover. Man United thumped us 4-0 in the Charity Shield, we lost our opening league match at Everton — I remember thinking to myself, very briefly, ‘What the fuck have I done here?’ — and there would soon be another defeat to Sheffield Wednesday. At the end of one match I had a big ruck with Ginola in the dressing room. I didn’t quite pin him up against the wall. Not quite. I remember Kevin coming in and shouting, “JESUS …”

“You wanted him to cross it a bit more and do a few less dummies,” Kevin says, which is definitely putting it mildly. “We had great players and we also had a lot of leaders. David was a leader in the way he took responsibility for the ball and went past people. We had so many strong characters, which is what you need, but you’re also going to have differences.

“If you were playing today you’d be going spare! Teams never put the ball in the box! With five minutes to go! You were the end of the breed. Maybe Harry Kane is the exception, but there are no centre-forwards any more. Look at Liverpool and Man City. That era has gone. Imagine what you’d be saying if you were stuck up there now, when players are in positions to get the ball in and instead they give it back to the centre-halves. You’d go absolutely ape-shit.”

He isn’t wrong.

Results turned for us that season and there was that most perfect of perfect victories over Man United, but Kevin was on the way out. “We had been unlucky the previous season, but just the thought of starting all over again having nearly won it … I didn’t have the appetite,” he says. “You’ve got to go Man United, to Arsenal and all the rest. And don’t forget that by that time, I’d had five years of it. We’d done so much.

“And I guess I’m not a 10-year kind of person anyway. Five years anywhere is probably enough for me. Some people can stay their whole lives at the same club. When I was leaving Liverpool as a player, Ian Callaghan said to me, ‘Why do you want to go, Kevin? We’re the best team in England, the best team in the world’. I just always felt there was something new for me, another challenge, something different to do.”

The biggest driver was Newcastle’s flotation on the Stock Exchange. There was suddenly a new layer of bureaucracy around the club. Decisions were slower, less personal. Sir John’s great sporting club idea? Jettisoned. “We’d brought in the basketball and ice hockey teams and I’d got to know those people, but they just got rid of them,” Kevin says. “It was difficult to walk away from the football, but they’d shafted some really good people.

“I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s exactly what they’ll do to me when the time comes’. It was driven by money, maximising the share flotation, to get the value of the club up.”

There was a meeting at Wynyard Hall, Sir John’s home, with Newcastle directors, old and new. Kevin was presented with a 10-year contract with a demand to “sign or go.” There was only ever going to be one answer to that. He tramped back across the fields to his own house and said to Jean, “Pack the cases, we’re off. I booked flights to America and we were gone the next morning and that was it.”

Kevin went back into club management at Fulham and Manchester City and had success at both. In between, he succeeded Glenn Hoddle as England boss and we renewed our working relationship. He took his country to Euro 2000, after which I retired from international football, but his 20 months in charge were not happy.

“It was tough,” he says. “I didn’t enjoy it. I took it part-time to start with and if I could have carried on like that, having a day-to-day job at Fulham, it would have been better for me. I missed that daily involvement. I liked being hands-on.

“With England … ugh. I was going to watch players but as England manager you don’t need to do that to know whether they’re good enough. Should you spend time looking at young players for the future? Yes, but you know your best team. It picks itself. It’s almost like you have to be seen to be looking at players.

Keegan did not enjoy his time as England manager (Credit: Ross Kinnaird /Allsport)

“I didn’t like all the meetings. I didn’t like the long breaks. And when you get your players together some would come on the Saturday night, some on the Sunday and if they played in a Sunday match some would come on a Monday. You’re playing Wednesday! I found that really hard. You couldn’t even get that camaraderie. It was very difficult. But if you’re offered the job I don’t think you can ever refuse it.

“I’d really enjoyed my time at Fulham with Mr (Mohamed) Al-Fayed. He was a great chairman. He said, ‘I give him to England’ and they sold me for £600,000 compensation! I gave Steven Gerrard his England debut, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard. You were coming to the end and it was a transitional period. We were looking for the next generation, really, but it was the only role I didn’t enjoy.

“I loved Newcastle, I loved Fulham and loved Man City as well, so three out of four ain’t bad. I mean, forget Newcastle the second time. I don’t even look at myself as having been there. When I met Mike Ashley in London and he told me he wanted me to come back, I thought ‘Wow, this is another opportunity like with Sir John’, but the book cover had no relation to its contents. You know that yourself.”

We are back at the start, give or take.

Newcastle provoke mixed feelings. “I always watch them and there’s a strange part of you that wants them to do well and another part of you that doesn’t,” Kevin says. “It’s a strange thing to say. The only way you’re going to get change there is if someone buys it and sees the club for what it really is.”

Has he spoken to prospective buyers? “Two or three over the years, but I don’t really get involved because most of them are just flying kites,” he says. “I’ve had a couple of emails — people saying they’ve got serious backers involved and would I come in, but they were fishing. The people you’d want to get involved with would do it properly, do it openly, get the club first and then look at what they need to do to get it back to something like it was. There’s a big PR job to do at Newcastle. It’s difficult to run a club and please everybody but you’d think it was impossible to run one and please nobody. That’s what they’ve got.”

Ouch.

At this point, I should declare an interest and insert a caveat that’s important to me. Steve Bruce is a pal of mine. I speak to him and his coaches. I did the same with Rafa Benitez, too, although not with too many of his predecessors. I’m very conscious that there are loads of great people at Newcastle — people who worked there when Kevin was manager — and for all the angst and anger and disappointment around the club, they’re doing their utmost to make it better. It gets forgotten sometimes and it shouldn’t.

And yet… as an institution, Newcastle is cold and hollow. Supporters feel that and so do plenty of their former players, myself included. History is shunned by the hierarchy and Kevin has only been back twice, once for a leaving party when he turned up in disguise and then for the unveiling of my statue, which is on city land beside the stadium, rather than inside it, which is telling. I still go to home matches — or I did — but you just know when you’re not wanted.

Keegan has no desire to return to the club while Ashley is in charge (Photo: Ian Horrocks /Newcastle United via Getty Images)

“If someone said to me on a Saturday afternoon, ‘Where would you like to go, Newcastle or Liverpool, well, sadly — it’s not really sadly, because I love Liverpool, too — it would be Liverpool every time,” Kevin says. “Everybody is treated properly there. Not ridiculously over the top, but you’re made to feel welcome. They really appreciate what you did for that club in your time there.

“I still feel the pull of Newcastle. It’s a massive pull. My grandfather Frank was a miner. He was working at West Stanley pit during the disaster of 1909 when 168 people, including kids, were killed. He got out and went back down to try and rescue them. My roots are there. There’s a massive connection, always has been and always will be. It’s probably in my genes, but at the moment, it’s just a no-go area for me.

“I don’t go to Liverpool that much, either. I’m not one for looking back. And this is really important, even for you Alan. You’ve got to look forward. Everything you’ve achieved, I’ve achieved, they’re in the past. One of Sir John’s favourite sayings was, ‘If you live in the past you die in the past’. And I think it’s a good saying.”

I don’t disagree, except that Newcastle’s vibrant past contrasts so fiercely with its present and having lived and played through that past, I still feel it. We all do. And if we can’t be nostalgic on Kevin’s 70th birthday and consider the club that was and the club that is, then when can we be?

I think it’s criminal that he doesn’t have a tangible tribute at St James’ when I do and Sir Bobby does and Jackie Milburn does, but when he says he’s “not bothered,” about a statue, I believe him.

“You’re all Geordies, that’s the connection,” he says. “I’m a Yorkshireman. ‘Wor’ Jackie, I mean, wow. Look at his goalscoring record. And then yourself. Sir Bobby was born and bred there. And, by the way, I think his statue is worth as much for what he did after football as for his time as Newcastle manager. The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation has done amazing things and raised all that money for anti-cancer causes.

“The fans let me know they think I’m part of things. They’re great with me. That’s enough. The idea of just sticking up statues … I just think they’ve got the right three there.”

Maybe there are echoes of Keegan’s Newcastle in the way that Man City play, the way their centre-halves crave to get up the pitch with the ball in the same way that Philippe Albert, our towering Belgian, did. He smiles when I say that.

“If you look at it now, Leeds are a poor man’s Newcastle,” he responds. “They play like we did, but they’re not as good as we were. Leeds are halfway down the table and their coach is one of the best in the world! If I was in charge of Leeds, I would get battered because they’d say defensively I haven’t got a clue! ‘They concede too many goals!’”

We have chatted for well over 90 minutes and just like when you watched his teams swashbuckle their way forward, it has flown by. It is difficult to credit that he is 70 and difficult to accept that it is 25 years since that glorious, gallant tilt at the title, since he brought me home.

“You look at now from a Newcastle point of view and think, ‘When will they ever get another chance?’,” Kevin says. “It feels like such a long way away …”

He snaps out of it. He always does. Kevin’s natural-born optimism doesn’t stay buried for long.

“You have to give people hope,” he says. “It won’t go on forever. Someone, somewhere, will see the benefits of that great football club. The problem with Mike Ashley is that he didn’t really know what he was buying. He doesn’t get it. But if he doesn’t understand what it’s about, he should hire people, employ people who do. Even if he keeps the ownership, he just needs to put bright people in charge. That’s all Newcastle needs. If you could put three or four of the right people in there …

“I don’t care what anybody says, it’s a special club. It’s not like any other club. If you’d said in 1927, the last time they won the league, that nearly a century later they wouldn’t have won it again, people would have laughed at you! They’d won it four times by then. You can never foresee.

“It just needs running. It needs direction, leadership. It needs understanding of what it is. It needs some care. If you take Newcastle by takings, crowd, whatever, it’s something like the 17th biggest football club in the world. That means it should be amongst the top four or five in England. Yes, Man United are bigger. Yes, Liverpool are bigger, but they’re only bigger because they’ve won things. It could all change with new ownership. You never know, it might just be around the corner.”

He signs off with “God bless, kid,” and a “Wish you well,” that well-worn saying of Arthur Cox, Kevin’s old manager at Newcastle, which used to chirrup across our training ground.

By this stage, I don’t really care about checking Kevin’s details. Newcastle the 17th biggest club in the world? Top four in England? Why stop there? Why not the biggest? I feel 7ft tall again and long to stand up and sprint across my front room with my right arm aloft. I want to feel the grass beneath my feet again, to hear the Gallowgate erect its wall of noise one more time.

This is how Kevin made me feel, makes us feel. He was King Kev and we were in his thrall as, for a little while, Newcastle chased the impossible dream.

 

 

 

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I proudly wore my Newcastle scarf all the time I lived in Northern Ireland - a magnet for those who wanted to talk about how much they liked the team. It also got people talking to me about how sad they were as our points dwindled away ... unbelievably sad at the time.

Thank you, Kevin. We played with heart - thanks for your part in those well-remembered days.

My favourite was always Iam McFaul - waved to him when they came over for a testimonial.

Even just thinking about those (glory) days fills me with love and pride.

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