Saturday, 8 December 2012

Kevin Keegan's Soccer Annual 1977

By the time this annual had been published in 1976, the pastey-looking footballer on the front cover was well on his way to 100 top flight goals in England. Kevin Keegan was already something of a poster boy for young fans as a hot-shot striker for both Liverpool and his country, and this first of three eponymous annuals aimed to provide an insight into a blossoming football career.

Beyond the inviting full-colour cover were 96 pages, all printed in black and white. Quite how inviting that would have been to a young child unwrapping this book on Christmas morning one can only wonder, but the seemingly dull pages were surprisingly interesting to read - in fact quite the opposite of what you’d expect from a lightweight title.

The first feature is called ‘This Is My Life’ where Keegan tells us of his upbringing, his family and his introduction into football. We learn that he originally played in goal for his school teams, St Francis Xavier’s and latterly St Peter’s High, but was politely informed that the other kid vying for the role was probably better suited than him, what with being a full two-feet taller and all. It was then that he decided to try his hand at playing on the wing and with it, somewhere in Skegness, a young Ray Clemence could be heard to let out a notable sigh of relief.

We also discover that as a 16-year-old, Keegan signed on for Scunthorpe United, but after two years of learning his trade he admitted “I got a bit unsettled and fed up.” Luckily for the youngster, a move to Liverpool arrived in the week leading up to the 1971 FA Cup Final. Bill Shankly showed him around the ground, offered him £45 per week and Keegan, precocious to a tee, told his new boss he deserved more. After consultation with club secretary Peter Robinson, “Shanks came back and said: ‘OK son, we’ll make it £50’” Fortune favours the brave and all that, eh Kev?

In ‘For Club and Country’, Keegan described life in the England camp, but the main topic of conversation concerned a recent startling development that was set to revolutionise football in his home country. “It is only this season, 1976-77, that something has at last been done to provide England with the necessary time to prepare for matches.” He went on: “Now, under this new system, England manager Don Revie has a fair chance of taking on the rest of the world. Now we have a week to prepare for internationals instead of three or four days at the most…”  Whatever next? Two internationals in one week?

Keegan went on to talk about his favourite players – Bobby Moore, George Best and Franz Beckenbauer to name but three – along with his favourite coaches. “Bill Shankly was a great psychologist” he said, while his successor, Bob Paisley “knows the club and the game backwards.” As for his England bosses, Keegan happily labelled Sir Alf Ramsey “a gentleman” even though the Liverpool player failed to impress in the only two games he was given to play in. Caretaker boss Joe Mercer gave the striker more of a chance, playing in six of his seven games in charge, before Revie arrived to secure Keegan’s place in the team. “Don is my kind of manager” he said “and a man who cares for his players.”

The feature ‘My Greatest Team’ then follows where Keegan creates his fantasy team of the 12 best players he’s ever “played alongside, against or have watched – either on TV or in the flesh.” Not one to narrow down his options, we then see his final selection. Ooh look – there’s Bobby Moore, George Best and Franz Beckenbauer… now where have we seen those before?  As for the rest, it’s about as classic a line-up as you could want to see: Banks in goal, Pele up front with Cruyff, Eusebio and Gerd Muller and Giacinto Facchetti thrown in for a bit of much-needed imagination.

In ‘A Star Off Duty’ we learn what life is like for The Keegan Family, away from the hurly-burly of First Division football. We hear that the Anfield star had opted to live in a cottage near Mold in North Wales and that to take his mind off things, Keegan had developed a penchant for gypsy caravans. “When they started to pull down the slums in Doncaster, the gypsies moved onto the waste ground in their gaily coloured caravans. They had a really romantic look about them. I had been on the lookout for one for some time and, finally, I managed to buy one quite cheaply. It cost a bit to spruce it up and paint it, but it now stands on the land outside the house and I’m delighted with it.” Think of today’s overpaid footballers and one imagines much in the way of indulgence, but somehow the image of Mario Balotelli painting some fine detail on his own gypsy caravan in Manchester doesn’t seem likely somehow.

Practical advice follows in the form of ‘Six of the Best’ in which Kev gives budding players half a dozen tips on how to improve their game. In short, you’re advised to practice your one-twos, heading the ball, overhead kicks, running at speed, curling the ball and… heading the ball again, only this time to your team mate if they’ve got a better chance of scoring. There’s even a handy diagram in case you’re unsure which is the inside of the boot and which is the outside.

In ‘The Glamour and The Grit’, there’s more talk about the pressures of being a football superstar and all the hard work that helped Keegan to reach that point. It’s here that we find out why Keegan walked out of the England squad in 1974: “I thought I had done a good job for Don Revie in England’s games against Cyprus and Northern Ireland… Then I learned, from the team sheet, that I had been left out for the next game against Wales without any explanation from Don – and that’s what really hurt and made me sick.”

Keegan protested that he deserved to at least be told personally why he wasn’t in the squad but Revie’s impersonal approach left the player thinking about giving up on international football altogether. “Thank goodness the issue was sorted out” he said. “Don and I had a real heart to heart talk and the outcome is, I feel, that the bond between us has been strengthened.” Let’s face it: he paid you, didn’t he Kev? Come on – you can tell us…

Towards the end of the book, Keegan expressed his frustration at not playing for England in the 1974 World Cup, stating “I didn’t go to the Finals and I didn’t watch a single game on television. I’m not a good watcher.” On the subject of the 1978 World Cup, however, Kev had a suggestion. “I’d like to see the World Cup held more frequently than every four years. In my opinion, it’s too long and drawn out in its present form. The qualifying rounds seem to drag on and on. Four years is a long time to wait, not only for the sake of the interest in the tournament but also in respect of players.”

He continued: “I would suggest that the competition is streamlined, with the qualifying rounds simplified – Britain could use the Home Championship for this purpose – so that eight teams play in the Finals every two years instead of four.” Ah, sweet naïve Kevin… so much still left to learn about the harsh realities of life.

After a brief tour of his home club in ‘Anfield: The Liverpool Home’, the book ends with ‘Football and My Future’. This is where Keegan accepts the fact that ambition, or indeed market forces, may cause him and his family to move away from Liverpool FC. As it is, Keegan moved to Hamburg only six months after the book was published, but here he said: “I’ve had more than five great years with Liverpool and I’ve got another two and a half years of my contract at Anfield to run. When that is up, I will consider – and I mean consider – moving abroad.” With the benefit of hindsight, the decision was eventually made for him.

As for a career after football, journalism was already on Kev’s mind and he had his views on how that should be done best too. “I often read the columns and reports of ex-footballers and other sports personalities and much of their material goes over the head of the man in the street. Many phrases are immediately understood by the professional but not by the layman so if ever I did become a pressman that is one danger I would be wary of.”  Needless to say he stuck to his ideals when writing this book, and it’s all the better for it too.


  1. Kevin Keegan were the best. No doubt.