Continuing our 80’s week we pay fitting tribute to a man who bestrode the first half of that decade like a permed mighty mouse. Noel Draper salutes King Kevin Keegan…

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, England had a footballing legend who strode amongst us smelling of Brut. He was relatively short, had curly hair and came from Scunthorpe. He was not called Ray Clemence. In many small ways my life has been affected by this taller than you would think genius. More of this astonishing fact later…

Joseph Kevin Keegan was born just outside Doncaster in 1951. After a small and unsuccessful few weeks with Coventry, Scunthorpe United signed him at the age of 16. He was there for 4 years and didn’t really set the world alight, mainly due to playing right midfield, and yet most of his team mates remember a small fighter. A boy who had great self belief and a very strong will to succeed. This is what Liverpool must have seen in him because in 1970 they signed him for the quite ridiculous fee these days of £35,000. If you are of a certain age there is one thing you will remember of the Liverpool era and it is this small fake snippet of commentary…”Heighway, onto Toshack, Keegan, 1-0″. It is safe to say that he enjoyed his time at Liverpool where he won 3 league titles, an FA Cup, 2 UEFA Cups and to top it all a European Cup and then he just jumped ship and moved to Hamburg for two years. It was a shock but not as much as a shock as when he left Hamburg for lowly Southampton. At Hamburg he had been the European Footballer of the Year. He had won the Bundesliga and nearly won the European Cup again. He had left all that to shout at Mick Channon.

At Southampton he knocked me out and broke my glasses. Was it my fault for turning round to talk to my brother? Was it my fault that I was wearing a pair of national health type specs that shattered if a light breeze wafted anywhere near them? Was it my fault that as I turned back a football kicked by Mr K.Keegan caught me flush in the face sending me sprawling onto the terrace and my glasses spinning into oblivion? It didn’t matter. He actually came over and said “are you ok kid” to me. I waved him away, whoever he was. In my eyes it was a football injury. The lack of vision and blinding three day headache was nothing. Keegan had spoken to me, I think.

I like to think that he became the City manager a few years later on the strength of that conversation.

We parted company that day and Mr Keegan went on to play for Newcastle, then manage them (I would love it if we beat them, love it) before we bumped into each other again so to speak when, a few years later he took over as manager of Fulham. I was manager of a bespoke office furniture company (I know, exciting eh?) and one of the girls noticed the delivery name and address (still in Newcastle) and rushed to find me. I rang the number and told the young lady at the other end that Mr Keegan couldn’t have his furniture until he said sorry for breaking my glasses. I put the phone down. I was nervous. It was a big order.

The phone rang. It was the big small man himself actually calling me by my name and saying sorry for the incident that he remembered well and could he have his office furniture delivered now please as it was uncomfortable on the floor. We parted company as best of friends. We had shared a small joke together and ended the conversation with “see you soon then”.

Four days later two tickets arrived for the next weekends match. Fulham v Man City. Complimentary. A meal and booze. A nice seat and a hand written note saying he would meet us after the game. My cheeky gamble had paid off. Result. Pity the real result was Fulham winning 3-0. Sharing a drink with him afterwards he noticed my sad-ish face and asked what was wrong.

I like to think that he became the City manager a few years later on the strength of that conversation. That the boy he had nearly killed in the 80’s with death by football had convinced him that his future was bright as long as it was blue. And for a while it was very bright and very blue right up until he got bored again and quit. I’ve noticed he does this a lot.

So thank you Mr Keegan. OBE. Thank you for the ball in the face. Thank you for the free tickets. Thank you for falling off your bike on “Superstars” and carrying on. Thank you for the adverts. Thank you for the exciting times at Man City. Thank you for losing 1-0 in the last ever Wembley match thus meaning we had to win in Germany to qualify. Germany 1 – 5 England is because of you. Thank you for the mad interviews. But above all…

Thank you for being a gentleman.