THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT: KING KEV AND A GEORDIE ODYSSEY
Twenty-four years ago today, Kevin Keegan shocked Tyneside, handing in his resignation despite the club sat fourth in the Premier League, and with the newly acquired Alan Shearer less than six months into his time with the club and banging in the goals.
It was a suitably dramatic end to what has to go down as one of the most thrilling and, ultimately, unfulfilling periods any club has enjoyed and endured in the English game.
From turning a club that had sat bottom of the second tier prior to his arrival into a genuine Premier League title favourite in just three years, there was never a dull second. Here we chart five of the most remarkable moments of Keegan’s entertainers.
The 1992/93 promotion and the 7-1 win vs Leicester
After Keegan had successfully saved Newcastle from trelegation to the third tier in the 1991/92 season, he came very close to walking out the door before a ball had been kicked of the 92/93 campaign, angered by a lack of financial backing by the club's multi-millionaire chairman, John Hall. In the end, Hall promised to loosen the purse strings and Keegan went about strengthening the squad. A young Andy Cole was signed from Bristol City to spearhead a strong attack with David Kelly. Paul Bracewell, Rob Lee and Scott Sellars shored up the midfield while Brian ‘Killer’ Kilcline and Barry Venison gave the side some steel and more than a little menace at the back.
They swept all before them, coming close to setting the English consecutive win record and finishing the season with 96 points as well as a +54 goal difference. The tag of 'Keegan’s Entertainers' had not yet been bestowed but his free flowing, all-out attack philosophy had completely transformed the side.
The marquee result of the season was undoubtedly the 7-1 demolition of Leicester City. Almost a year after the side had recorded a crucial victory in their fight against survival against the same opposition, Keegan’s men ran riot. The rampant strike partnership of Cole and Kelly bagged three a piece as Newcastle roared into a 6-0 lead by half time.
Keegan’s men had well and truly arrived.
Finishing third in the 1993/94 season
Having regained top flight status, Keegan and Hall maintained the feel-good factor by signing an old hero, the diminutive and talented Peter Beardsley, a fellow Geordie who had himself played alongside Keegan in his first spell at the club. The £1.5 million that Newcastle spent to bring him back quickly began to look like a bargain as he floated around pulling the strings and combining gloriously with Cole. The pair bagged a staggering 55 goals between them as Newcastle out-scored everyone to finish the season in a European spot.
Sky Sports dubbed them 'The Entertainers' - and they were fast becoming, in Keegan’s words, everyone’s second team.
The absurd 1995/96 season
The year that followed the breakthrough 93/94 season would see Newcastle finish in a respectable sixth. But it would be the 95/96 season that would go down as one of the most memorable in Premier League history.
An astonishing array of talent was added to Newcastle’s already stellar line up as Les Ferdinand, David Ginola, Shaka Hislop and Warren Barton arrived for a combined spend of around £16 million.
Newcastle led pretty much from the off and by Christmas had established a 10 point lead at the top of the table. The addition of Colombian superstar Tino Asprilla gave Keegan a staggering arsenal of attacking players and Newcastle looked certain to claim their first top flight title since 1927.
But they did not. A near total collapse in February and March combined with a resurgence by Fergie’s United meant Newcastle fell just short.
Even in almost total meltdown they truly remained the entertainers, serving up probably the Premier League's greatest ever game at Anfield in early April as well possibly its greatest ever soundbite later in the same month with Keegan delivering his iconic ‘love it’ tirade against the ever poking and prodding Ferguson.
July '96 and Shearer's world record arrival
It’s fair to say that in the summer of 1996 there was no hotter property in world football than Alan Shearer. The boyhood Newcastle United fan had scored an astonishing 96 goals in the three seasons prior and had been the spearhead of Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn as they claimed their first title in almost 80 years during the 94/95 season. Already seen as a prodigious talent domestically, his five goals in five games at Euro 96 would see him finish as the tournament’s top scorer. His fame shifted to stratospheric proportions.
Unsurprisingly he had a lot of suitors. Chief among them was Keegan’s arch rival Alex Ferguson. Shearer had come so close to signing for United that summer that he had visited Ferguson’s house and already agreed to wear the number 9 shirt. In the end Keegan, a boyhood hero of Shearer, was instrumental in making sure football’s most prized possession came home. The £15 million fee would eclipse that of Ronaldo’s move to Barcelona the year before by nearly two million.
Shearer would go on to score 206 goals for Newcastle and would be immortalised in bronze outside the stadium. While many of his finest moments for Newcastle came after Keegan’s departure, it’s almost certain that without his work that summer to secure Shearer’s signature, The Toon Army would have had to watch their most gifted son banging them in for United. A horrifying thought.
The day they beat United 5-0
Few games have ever been so tinged with an air of revenge. Revenge for the title loss the year before and revenge for the 4-0 humbling United had given them in the Charity Shield at the start of the season.
It all started with a Darren Peacock header, which somehow crossed the line, despite the furious protestations of the United defence. Newcastle were on their way.
On the half-hour mark, Ginola turned water into wine with a sublime turn and ferocious strike into the top corner of Peter Schmeichel’s net to put Newcastle firmly in control. Ferdinand made it three after half time with a trademark towering header at the back post after some fine work by Shearer, before the least popular Geordie in Manchester bagged himself a goal ten minutes later to add to United’s humiliation.
The very best was saved till last, however. It was in the 83rd minute that Belgian ‘defender’ Phillipe Albert received a pass some 35 yards out. After knocking the ball into space and winding up what appeared to be a potential rocket in Schmeichel’s direction, he instead went for what can only be described as the most impudent chips in the history of the Premier League. The 25 yard effort sailed over the head of the United keeper. It was a goal that exemplified Keegan’s Newcastle in a nutshell, beautiful and not just a little absurd.
Words by Andy Gallagher