Football FanCast Chris Mackin is delighted at Newcastle's recent run of form and pleased to see that King Kev has regained some of his old swagger.
In trite American morality plays disguised unconvincingly as teen sit-coms, if ever the bespectacled nerd with his shirt tucked tightly inside his trousers scores a date for the spring prom with the hot cheerleader nobody previously thought he had a chance with, he will be offered one piece of sound advice from a wise and worldly mentor.
Sat nursing – and conspicuously not eating – a plastic looking burger at a snappily named diner he will be implored by his oracle (usually his pretty boy best friend destined for bit parts in ‘NYPD Blue' or ‘Law and Order' or another hot cheerleader ten years from appearing topless in a Paul Verhoeven film) to, "be himself".
For the sake of plot purposes, our young hero will ignore this advice, and hilarity will ensure (in the grand comedy convention of precept clashing with concept, he'll probably turn up in a pair of sunglasses or something). And at the end the cheerleader will call him on his deceitful ways and say: "I liked you for you, not because I thought you were cool", and a valuable lesson has been learnt by everybody. "Ah, so if only he'd been himself like his friends told him" – the studio audience turn and say to one another, rubbing their chins thoughtfully – "he'd have shagged her by now".
And so it was that Kevin Keegan secured his dream date and briefly forgot just what it was that had attracted Newcastle to him in the first place. Spurred on by malicious journalists and his own unjustified insecurities, Keegan appeared to fall for the misleading line about how much football has changed since he left the job in the first place and blah boring blah and how you can't be playing constantly attacking football and yadaa, yadda, yadda; ramble on in tedious monotone until fade or until the entire ‘Sunday Supplement' watching population has drowned in a sea of deathly dull, platitude strewn vapidity.
Starting at the Bolton home game and carrying on through to half time at St. Andrews the other week there seemed a tentativeness about the team. Hesitant and nervy, they appeared lost and unsure as to whether they were a Keegan team or not; a clear dichotomy existed between what we all assumed Kevin was telling them to do and what they actually were doing. At first I blamed Allardyce, citing the remnants of his tatty legacy as the reason Newcastle were being limp when they should have been swashbuckling, pained and anxious when they should have been defiant and thrilling.
I could blame Allardyce for anything – he truly is the George W. Bush to my Google powered ‘9/11 conspiracy theories' search- but the uncomfortable thought that Keegan had lost the sparkle and was overcompensating, doing what he thought it was "real" football managers do nowadays to our detriment, was never far from my mind, nudging me whilst I slept and keeping me awake at night (after the defeat at home to Blackburn, I actually dreamt that there was some sort of ghastly mix up and everybody on the Newcastle coaching team thought I was Michael Owen and my constant pleas to be substituted were met with manic laughter by Keegan and I ended up missing the crucial black in the last game of the season against Sunderland which secured our relegation).
Whether Keegan was using his early games to test the water or whether he just snapped at some point and thought ‘what the hell' I'm unsure, but there is precedent here. In 1994 Newcastle travelled to Antwerp with the cautious words of George Graham bouncing irritatingly around their ears, warned sternly that Europe is different and you can't be gung-ho and not expect repercussions. A Robert Lee hat-trick and five nil victory arched an eyebrow and said an elongated "really?" Racing to a three nil lead against Athletic Bilbao in the next round, Newcastle seemed to surrender the courage of their convictions, like weary policemen not wanting to double check the license plate lest they get stuck with the paper work, they stepped back, politely letting Bilbao back in it. Keegan was furious and it wasn't until Kenny Dalglish thought it a splendid idea to play a home first leg tie against Monaco with no recognised striker that we were subjected to another cagey performance in Europe.
The break from football obviously made Kev a bit shaky, a bit less cock sure of himself and his methods, but playing three strikers at White Hart Lane and his exhilarating post match interview goes a long way to proving the man has his swagger back.
You can tell it's roughed a few people up too. In danger of being violently patronised to death after the Fulham game ("aw, bless ‘im, they've won today- it's nice for him isn't it"), people are now fretfully reassessing, getting there "yes, but…"s in, in earnest.
"Hang on, though", they quiver to themselves, their voices a wreck of indignation and hapless impotence, "if ‘Spurs were the team to watch next year and Newcastle have soundly beaten them today does that mean..." their voices tail off, fearful that even finishing the thought is capable enough of making it reality.
The wolves are beginning to circle. In a rare and ultimately doomed stab at being interesting, Spoony on Radio Five last night said that "Newcastle fans are crawling out of the woodwork" (Spoony has well worn clichés flimsily applicable to most clubs in any situation where other people have things to say about football) and as one former manager of ours bravely and movingly confronted his fifth battle with cancer in one newspaper, Graham Souness was in another moaning about his Alladyceesque time in charge with all the grace, tact and level headed maturity a six year old displays when asking his mother why his little sister got more Easter eggs than him.
It's nice to know they care, I suppose – and I've always suspected that with his gruff accent, daft facial hair and superficial refusal to open up what Graham Souness really needs is a big hug and firm insistence that it's not his fault – but if they refuse to leave us alone for five minutes (go to the cloakrooms for quiet time and a chance to think about their actions or something), it's comforting to know we can dismiss their relentless sniping falsely billed as analysis and look capable of recapturing what was always the most appealing aspect of Keegan's first reign: playing how we want to play and to hell with the rest of them.
P.S. I would like to personally dedicate Newcastle United's victory at White Hart Lane yesterday to every Sunderland supporter who forwarded the hilarious ‘three Newcastles' (Newcastle Upon Tyne, Newcastle Under Lyme and Newcastle Below Sunderland, Boom Boom) joke to everybody in their phone book following their 2-1 victory over West Ham on Saturday. We may tease and say the occasional unkind thing but never forget that underneath it all we adore you and love you to pieces and just want to squeeze you to make sure you're real and pinch your cheeks and rub you hair indulgently – please, for all our sake, don't ever change.