Is there a footballer more synonymous with the malaise that was English football in the 1970s and early 80s than Kevin Keegan?
Keegan was possibly English football’s first global superstar, but unfortunately it was during a time when English football was possibly at its lowest ebb. Keegan received multiple individual awards along with winning various trophies at club level, but never quite managed to replicate his club success at international level. But nonetheless even in the dying days of his professional playing career Keegan had fans fly over from as far flung places as Japan just to see him train, such was his global profile.
Keegan was so highly thought of around the world that he was even included in the FIFA 100 that celebrated the top players of first 100 years of the organisation back in 2004.
And yet remarkably he only played in one game at a FIFA World Cup. When, after England failed to qualify for both 1974 and 1978, he arrived at the 82 tournament injured. Whilst he missed most of it, he did drag himself onto the pitch for the final 26 minutes of England’s final second round group game. A scoreless draw with hosts Spain, a game that England needed to win to progress.
His career was in many ways exceptional and in others far less illustrious. So maybe fittingly his career that had reached such heights at Liverpool and Hamburg ended with a less notable two year spell with Newcastle United in the English Second division. A move Chris Waddle recently said would be akin to Mo Salah signing for a struggling Championship team.
But despite being born and growing up in Doncaster, Keegan always had an affection for Newcastle and its football club due to his ancestral routes to the city that his dad had passed down to him through tales of Hughie Gallacher and Jackie Milburn. When he signed for the club in 1982 following England’s exit from the World Cup, he said his father would have loved seeing him play for the club and that signing for the club was like coming home. And it wasn’t long before the Geordie faithful equally took him to their hearts.
After finishing just three points and two places shy of the promotion places to the top flight in the 1982-83 season, a Keegan inspired Newcastle were to finally return to the topflight after six years away in his last season as a professional footballer.
And in his last game he was to face our very own Brighton and Hove Albion. Making only our third trip to St James’s Park for a league match.
The first was a resounding 5-0 defeat back in 1961, during a season where the Seagulls finished rock bottom of the second tier. A season that ended their first spell at that level of the Football league, and a level they wouldn’t return to for over a decade.
And as a result their second trip to St James’s Park wasn’t for nearly two decades. But it was worth the wait, as a historic 3-1 victory clinched promotion to the topflight for the first time for the Seagulls in 1979.
Brighton spent the interim years up until this subsequent trip to the North East in the topflight themselves, which up to promotion to the Premier League in 2017 was the club’s only period at that level. But after relegation in 1983 was coupled with that famous FA Cup final defeat, Brighton’s team was slowly ripped apart and a demise followed that took them within a defeat of relegation out of the football league a mere 14 years later. As a result the Seagulls went into this match just a year after losing the cup final with a team featuring only 5 of their starting 11 from that day at Wembley.
Whilst Newcastle went into the match already promoted and certain of a third place finish, Brighton would have to settle for a mid-table finish, ultimately falling 20 points short of Keegan’s Newcastle.
Brighton manager Chris Cattlin (who had only been promoted to manager from first team coach earlier that season), fielded an attacking line up saying that the team “want to play their part in making Keegan’s farewell a memorable one.” And even more fittingly it was an old teammate from Keegan’s days at Liverpool Jimmy Case that would captain Brighton that day on this celebratory occasion.
Jimmy Case was a key member of Albion’s midfield for the first half of the eighties after joining the club from Liverpool as part of a deal in which saw Mark Lawrenson go the other way for £900k. In his first season the Seagulls finished a still club high league finish of 13th in the first division and he famously scored in every round of the FA Cup except for one in the club’s run to the 1983 FA Cup final.
The Newcastle team that day were more than a match for Catlin’s men. Alongside Keegan was his future assistant when he later managed the club Terry McDermott as well as future England stars Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle and another future Newcastle manager Glenn Roeder.
The match was being played in front of thirty-odd thousand spectators at the pre-renovation St James’s Park. This wasn’t the lopsided cathedral of North East football we know today though. This was of course four years prior to the Hillsborough tragedy and the subsequent Taylor report that, along with most other British sporting stadia, led it to become an all-seater stadium.
But football stadiums of the early eighties were tired, ramshackle, old beasts and even a club the size of Newcastle had let their home become worse for wear. The Leazes end had already been demolished in 1977, and with plans to replace it scuppered by relegation it was just replaced with an open end. Whilst the main West Stand was still in place that day it was in a general state of disrepair and would be demolished a few years later following it being deemed to not meet new fire regulations that were put in place in light of the 1985 Bradford stadium fire disaster.
Nonetheless, the events of the day created a true spectacle. And with a return train ticket costing £14 and return coach ticket costing £13.50 (the equivalent of about £45 today) plenty made the trip up for Albion’s final game of the season.
But the day wasn’t about Brighton and it was as if the script had been perfectly written for Keegan’s big day after he opened scoring to give Newcastle a 1-0 lead. Man of the day Keegan turned in the rebound after a Chris Waddle shot was saved by Albion ‘keeper Joe Corrigan.
This was Corrigan only season playing for the Albion and he retired after a couple of short loans spells the following season. He had spent the majority of his career with Man City and was in fact a former England teammate of Keegan’s, including being a fellow benchwarmer during the 1982 World Cup. Unlike Keegan’s hefty total of 63 caps, Corrigan only collected 9, no doubt limited by the competition at the time of the likes of England goalkeeping greats Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence.
This was Kevin Keegan’s 28th and last goal of the season and the 203rd of his club career, a magnificent total by anyone’s standards. But Brighton weren’t there to make up the numbers at Keegan’s leaving ceremony and upset the hosts by equalising through Gerry Ryan. Ryan took advantage of a slip by the aforementioned Roeder and turned the ball home to level the scores up at half time.
Gerry Ryan was one of a group of international footballers to play for the club at the time, but unlike Keegan, as Ireland didn’t qualify he didn’t play at the 1982 World Cup. The following year Case’s career was cut short after breaking his leg during a typically ferocious derby match with Crystal Palace in a tackle with Henry Hughton, the brother of future Brighton manager Chris Hughton. A tackle so horrific it left Ryan in plaster for 15 months.
The game wouldn’t stay tied for long, and it was almost as if one former England great passed on the mantle to a future England great, when Chris Waddle scored after being set up by Keegan. A young Waddle had played a crucial part in Newcastle’s promotion that season scoring 18 goals and this goal helped cap off a great season. After scoring another 16 the following season as a first division player with Newcastle, the following season he moved to Tottenham where he earned his reputation as one of England’s best attacking talents of that time, before moving to France to play for Marseille.
Then another young future England star Peter Beardsley scored the best goal of the day to wrap the win up for the magpies. His magnificent chipped goal made it 3-1, with Keegan again being involved in the build-up.
As the final whistle blew the St James’s Park crowd rose for one last ovation for Kevin Keegan and their promotion heroes. After the game, despite his lack of international success Keegan said his only regret was that his kids were too young to have seen him play at his peak. Such is his nature, he appreciated the great things he had achieved, rather than focusing on things that he hadn’t.
Keegan would make on last outing in a testimonial against former club Liverpool before hanging up his boots. A game that saw him exit the ground in a helicopter after finishing his lap of honour.
Without Keegan and without manager Arthur Cox who resigned the following summer due to a lack of funds from the board, this promising Newcastle team underwhelmed in the top flight achieving only two top half finishes in five years. At the end of which they were relegated back to the second division
However, they returned four years later under the management of Keegan himself, who led the club to 3rd, 6th and 2nd place finishes respectively in their first three years back in the top flight. The later in 1996, was the club’s highest league finish since 1927.
Nonetheless, Keegan’s managerial career is known most prominently for that Newcastle team’s dramatic fall from clear leaders of the Premier League at Christmas of 1995 to eventual runners up come the following May. A demise in the second half of the season that culminated in Keegan’s infamous emotional outburst live on Sky Sports.
After sensationally resigning in the January of the following season, and after a mixed subsequent managerial career that included another difficult spell with the England national team (only this time as manager), Keegan returned to St James’s Park to manage the club again for a short period in 2008. He can now be seen working intermittently as a pundit on English football for overseas broadcasters.
In contrast, after that day Brighton continued their demise down the football league. The club was relegated to the third tier in 1987 and despite an instant return to the second tier and a brief flurry with the playoffs during a promotion push back to the top flight in the 1990/91 season, the club continued their demise up to 1997 where it was a game from going out of the Football League.
A demise that Brighton’s captain of that day back in 1984 Jimmy Case, was at the centre of. After becoming manager of the club part way through the 1995/96 season, he oversaw the club’s relegation to the bottom tier of the Football League before being fired in November 1996 when they were bottom of the Football League. Not every great former player makes a successful manager.
In Case’s defence, he had admittedly inherited an almighty mess. A mess so great that the previous manager Liam Brady was forced to resign as manager in protest at the poor running of the club. Brady did so with a heavy heart and had such affection for the club that he later played an important part in Dick Knight’s consortium to purchase the club in 1997. And was involved in the running of the club for many years afterwards.
The rest of this is a special story in the history of Brighton & Hove Albion, but in football there will always be two teams and sometimes the story isn’t focused on yours. But for our club to play a supporting role in a special day for one of England’s greatest footballers is something we can take pleasure in.