Black and white world of Newcastle turns grey as "King" departs

 

THE black and white world of Newcastle upon Tyne turned grey yesterday as the city's favourite son, Kevin Keegan, announced "his decision to retire as manager of its soccer team.

King, superstar and God may be unusual words to use for a football club manager, but all were common currency on Strawberry Place, the piazza in front of St James's Park's towering football stands.

"St James's Park? More like St James's Church for us since Kevin came back," said foundry worker Mr Pete Cairns. "He is God for me and my mates. It's a shock. Man, is it ever a shock."

Another 200 Toon Army foot soldiers straggled disconsolately in front of the stand's restaurant entrance, batting rumours to and fro: the Lord Mayor had issued a civic "please stay" appeal; Les Ferdinand was in tears; Terry Venables was jetting back from Australia.

"It's worse than hearing that the queen has died," said Mr John Regan, kingpin of one of the Magpies supporters' association.

"Not everyone here on Tyneside is a monarchist. But everyone is a Keeganite."

The depth of the north east's affection for Keegan was gauged at the Strawberry Pub by barmaid Ms Joy James. She said: "He's just a lovely man - charismatic, that's the word.

"Everyone really likes him, same as they did when he played here. He has always been the popular one.

"Mind, he hasn't been looking himself lately. There's been no end of rumours that he's just fed cup with all the pressure and wanting to go. He's looked very washed out."

Out by the police cordon, students Lysanne Gillespie and Samantha Cummings, both aged 20, dabbed away tears, after racing to the ground from Newcastle College, where the news had circulated round a disbelieving canteen. "Keegan's my hero," said Lysanne.

The crowd began another chorus of "There's only one Kevin, Keegan," beneath a breathlessly unpunctuated scribbled banner saying: "Please stay Kevin we all believe in you please don't go."

In the Magpies souvenir shop, Ms Sheelagh Dawson, a fan since the late 1970s, was still in shock at the news.

"It's such a shame. I remember the last time he went, when he stopped playing, it was so different. A helicopter came and lifted him up in triumph from the ground."

Life goes on, however, and the ever hopeful spirit of Andy Capp was beckoning many Geordies by mid afternoon.

"Have you heard any hot tips about the new manager?" asked Joy James. "Because if you have I'm off to the bookies to place a bet."

William Hills in Newcastle confirmed that others were thinking along the same lines, with Kenny Dalglish a strong contender.