Nice, but he's hardly logical


The look on my face must been like that of a rabbit when it realises the car hurtling toward it is not going to stop to offer a lift. The dictaphone on the table in front of Kevin Keegan had not only jammed, it had begun to melt at one end. It was slipping off the table like one of Salvador Dali's clocks.

Keegan, meanwhile, talked on. He talked with a freedom never heard before, of Hamburg in the 1970s when his hair was curlier than Leo Sayer's and his thighs were bigger than Valeri Borzov's. I sat open-mouthed.

It is probably the first sign of some form of madness, or just a nightmare holiday, when the dreams of a vacation are infected with the surreal fantasies of your work. But when I woke up 10 days ago it was not with thoughts of blue seas and hot sunshine. It was with Kevin Keegan and a melting dictaphone in my head.

It's not the first time I have dreamt of Keegan either. Frequently in a 1970s adolescence I raged at Keegan in dreams. And this, it has to be said, was just a continuation of my waking hours. Belfast in that decade may have offered a landscape full of loathsome bigots, but like quite a lot of people I knew, our waking hours were spent hating Keegan and his sheer bloody Englishness.

His nationality did not help, but that was just the excuse. We hated Keegan really because he replaced George. Not in our hearts, of course - nothing will ever replace George, not even Norman or Sammy managed that - but in the papers, on the television and, worst of all, on the pitch. George swanked off to the US of A and suddenly the vast void was filled by this stocky wee runt from Scunthorpe. I hated him.

There he was on Match of the Day, The Big Match, Football Focus, Shoot magazine, Superstars. Kevin Keegan was everywhere. Then he tricks Berti Vogts into tripping him in the final of the European Cup. He could do nothing wrong. And where was George?

Then Keegan, in equally obtuse fashion, leaves for Germany. I was fairly happy about this, it kept him out of my mind for a while. I even began to like him a little. But then he started bugging me all over again.

For a start, Keegan came to Belfast with England in 1975, which is more than those yellow Scots did during the worst of times, and then he won the European Footballer of the Year award. In fact he won it twice, in 1978 and 1979. I grudgingly accepted that he might not be a bad player.

I wish he had. But Keegan was so effing nice about it all. "I just make the most of my few talents with hard work," was the kind of remark Keegan always made when receiving praise. Or: "I'm no George Best". Irritating?

Let's get this right, Kevin Keegan was a real footballer. Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George all won European Footballer of the Year in the 1960s. But they won it once each. Keegan won it two years in a row, sandwiched in between Franz Beckenbauer, Allan Simonsen, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paolo Rossi. That is serious company.

Then what does Keegan do? He joins Southampton. Now is that not strange? Then he goes to Newcastle United when they are not even in the top division. At least Keegan left there in style, flying off in a helicopter from the centre circle after his last match. I liked him properly after that.

Then he went and played golf for years in Spain. Does anyone else notice a perverse pattern emerging? When he returned he tried to win the league at Newcastle by abandoning the reserves and by trying to play 1930s football - with eight forwards. It nearly worked, too. Everybody loved it, loved it.

And now he is manager of England and appearing as a pundit on television and as an actor in the useless theatre of my dreams. It made me wonder what Keegan dreams of. It cannot be predictable: last Wednesday at Old Trafford he thought Roy Keane had a quiet first half. Hey, Kev? Wake up.

When he does it might be to the realisation that on Wednesday week, when all the other Euro 2000 finalists are in preparatory action, it is not such a good idea that England are dormant. Keegan did Premiership managers a favour by not asking for the release of their players.

Nice, though hardly logical: that's Kevin Keegan. And dreams. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "Sleep arms us with a terrible freedom".