The story behind THAT Kevin Keegan interview

"I will love it if we beat them. Love it."

Thursday, 28th April 2016, 11:34 am
Updated Thursday, 28th April 2016, 12:38 pm
Kevin Keegan and Sir Alex Ferguson

Imagine if Mauricio Pochettino went on camera this week and said that about Tottenham's title rivals Leicester – it would probably break the internet.

Wind the clock back 20 years to April 29, 1996, though, and those were precisely the words uttered by Newcastle United's then manager Kevin Keegan as his side fought an increasingly desperate and ultimately unsuccessful fight to beat Manchester United to the championship.

The Magpies had led by 12 points by January, but the pressure appeared to have finally told on Keegan after a win at Leeds.

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Man United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had suggested that some clubs appeared to try harder against his team than other opponents. Whether or not it was Ferguson's intention to upset Keegan, that was the effect it had and the former England striker came out with all guns blazing as he conducted his live interview, which to this day remains one of the standout moments in the satellite broadcaster's history.

He said: "You can tell him now, we're still fighting for this title and he's got to go to Middlesbrough and get something. And I'll tell you, honestly, I will love it if we beat them. Love it."

Keegan's performance in front of the cameras at Elland Road was the stuff of football folklore, and if it came as a surprise to the millions who watched it, it did not entirely to the man on the other end of the line that night.

Sky anchor Richard Keys – who was sitting in the studio alongside Andy Gray and guest Barry Venison – admits he had an inkling before the game that the Newcastle boss – who regularly attended dinners hosted by then chairman Sir John Hall to which the Sky team was invited the night before live games – had something he wanted to get off his chest.

Keys told Press Association Sport: "In conversation with him that night, for some reason I just got the feeling that he was bothered by something and because he was our 'mate', the executive producer – I will never forget – whispered in my ear 'Keysy, leave him alone, he's one of us'.

"Now, I didn't think I was being particularly awkward, and normally I would have responded to that request. But I felt there was more there. I don't know what it was – sixth sense, if you like – but I just felt he had something on his mind that he wanted to tell us about, and we almost stumbled into it.

"Andy was to my right and the way we used to work it, I would say 'good evening, Kevin, how are you?' and I would go along the line of talking about the generalisation of the evening; Andy would always talk football, and I was chipping away in Andy's territory, almost.

"Andy was saying 'no, no, no' and he was looking to try to find him some space to move to that wasn't controversial. He didn't want to see him caught up in something such as that, so he was looking to try to help him along.

"And then it just came. He just went off on one and it was extraordinary."

Ferguson was widely credited with sparking a Keegan "meltdown" as the title slipped from his grasp – Man United eventually edged Newcastle into second place by four points – although to this day, Keys believes his comments were intended as support for Leeds counterpart Howard Wilkinson.

However, whatever Ferguson's motivation, his words had a remarkable effect.

Keys said: "Whatever it was, it was very much Keegan, and obviously extraordinary because we are all still talking about it.

"I would like to lay claim to the fact that I had set a trap for him and he stumbled into it and I was very clever, but I can't. It was Kevin being Kevin and wearing his heart on his sleeve."

If Keegan's rant made headlines at the time, it seemed to have little lasting effect on him with assistant Terry McDermott and the players unaware of what had transpired until they saw the headlines back on Tyneside the next day.

Keys, who now works with Keegan for beIN Sports, said: "For Kevin, I don't think it was anything out of the ordinary, it was just what he genuinely felt and he wanted people to know.

"But they'll put it on his grave, I'm sure. It's like 'you cannot be serious' – it's one of those moments. When that phrase is used Kevin's name is associated with it, and I think it will always be so now.

"It's not quite Wolstenholme, 'There are people on the pitch ...', but it is Kevin's phrase."