Kevin Keegan: The lonely figure

December 10, 1977
Kevin Keegan’s brief return to Liverpool this week was poignant and, ultimately, sad. Keegan, the Career Man, was here early in the week, campaigning for the cause of those English players who might follow him abroad, very much in the way Tony Greig preached on behalf of Kerry Packer during the summer.

Keegan, the Old Hero, received a warm and genuine welcome from the fans who cared about him most. But Keegan, the Footballer, was humiliated by Hamburg’s pathetic show against his old club in the Super Cup final.

Keegan made some bold predictions about English football on Monday. With talk of the imminent arrival of freedom of players’ movement, between Great Britain and the Continent, Keegan opined that England could become a second class soccer nation.

“I think you are going to get all the best English players going abroad but the second-rate foreigners coming here,” he said. “At the end of the day as a professional, it is money that counts.”

Keegan himself caused a large splash amid the steady trickle of English players to Europe when he signed for S.V. Hamburg for £500,000 last May. But after Hamburg’s 6-0 collapse to Liverpool, Keegan, usually so willing to talk to the Press, avoided the great posse of reporters who waited for him in the Anfield corridors. He emerged at length from the Hamburg dressing room, signed a penciled sketch of himself for a woman and pushed his way upstairs, promising: “I’ll be back in a minute.”

But he did not return. The ranks of the Press corps dwindled as men went off to phone their stories inside their deadlines. Keegan remained in the players’ private lounge, talking to friends and signing autographs (a courtesy he has never refused since his childhood football idol refused to sign when schoolboy Kevin had waited out in the rain for an hour after the match).

Keegan evidently did not want to face the Press, and perhaps that was not surprising. It would have been difficult for him to argue the case of Continental soccer after Liverpool had finished shredding Hamburg. Emotionally, it must have been a strange night. He was given a tremendous reception by the Kop, and rightly so. They showed they were prepared to forget the bitter moments of his last few months at Anfield and acclaim the man for the five great years he gave Liverpool.

“Kevin is back, Kevin is back”, the Kop roared as Keegan appeared 20 minutes before kick-off in a blue tracksuit to do some warm-up exercises. Two hours later they were still chanting his name, but more in sympathy than anything else. It hadn’t been Keegan’s night. And surely an honourable defeat and maybe a goal would have been enough to make it KK’s night. In some ways, the match was a little exercise in nostalgia, the promise of which had brought many of the 34,000 crowd out.

No, the night belonged to Terry McDermott, the hat-trick hero, and to Liverpool who had produced one of those performances against foreign opposition supposedly five years ahead of English football which mad them look five years behind.

Among so many friends Keegan was a lonely figure. Did anyone tell him the obvious – that he’d settled for the wrong team?

At Liverpool, Keegan was a great player. Playing for England against Italy at Wembley last month he looked a great player. Anyone at Anfield on Tuesday probably worried for the man’s future.
(Source: Liverpool Echo: December 10, 1977; via © 2018 Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited


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