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'It must have been television gold for the watching millions. Was I ranting? Yes, I suppose I was'

In an extract from his autobiography, Kevin Keegan recalls the infamous interview he gave amid the dramatic end to the 1995-96 Premier League season.

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from ‘My Life in Football: The Autobiography’ by Kevin Keegan. 

Source: SkyFantasyFootball/YouTube

Alex [Ferguson] always seemed to take the view that everyone was out to get Manchester United. His suspicion this time appeared to be that Forest might go easy on us because of the arrangement between the two clubs, and a misplaced belief that Newcastle finishing the season as champions, rather than runners-up, might ensure a bumper crowd for Pearce. 

It was a ridiculous and outrageous suggestion but, once it appeared in the newspapers, various reporters began to add their own spin, pointing out that Forest’s manager, Frank Clark, had played for Newcastle for most of his career. Frank, a Geordie, was president of the London branch of the Newcastle supporters’ club. The whole crazy story started to snowball.

Fergie had set the hare running and it seemed blatantly designed to ensure Forest tried extra-hard against us, so nobody could turn round afterwards and say his suspicions were right. As it was, we won 1–0 at Elland Road with a header from Keith Gillespie, and the Leeds supporters applauded us off the pitch at the final whistle.

It was a scrap, but we got through. That put us three points behind with two games to go, compared to Manchester United’s one, and once I had addressed the players, it was time to do my duties with the Sky cameras.

Source: TJS Sports/YouTube

I still had all the adrenalin flooding through my veins, and nobody could ever convince me I had misinterpreted Alex’s comments. I was live on air with the presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray and I surprised everyone, including myself.

Richard Keys: Why do you think all that was happening, Kevin, tension on the night?

KK: I don’t think you can discount it. We just want to keep our hopes alive and a lot of things have been said over the last few days, some of it slanderous. We’ve never commented. We’ve just got on working, trying to pass the ball like we do in training. I think you’ve got to send Alex Ferguson a tape of this game, haven’t you? Isn’t that what he asked for?

Andy Gray: Well, I’m sure if he was watching it tonight, Kevin, he would have no arguments about the way Leeds went about their job and really tested your team.

KK: And . . . and . . . we . . . we’re playing Notts Forest on Thursday – and he objected to that? Now that was fixed up months ago. We’re supposed to play Notts Forest. I mean, that sort of stuff, we . . . it’s been . . . we’re better . . . we’re bigger than that.

Keys: But that’s part and parcel of the psychology of the game, Kevin, isn’t it?

KK: No! When you do that, with footballers, like he said about Leeds, and when you do things like that about a man like Stuart Pearce  .  .  . I’ve kept really quiet but I’ll tell you something, he went down in my estimation when he said that. We have not resorted to that. But I’ll tell you – you can tell him now if you’re watching it – we’re still fighting for this title and he’s got to go to Middlesbrough and get something, and I tell you honestly, I will love it if we beat them. Love it!

Keys: Well, quite plainly the message is, it’s a long way from over and you’re still in there scrapping and battling and you’ll take any of those as long as you continue to get the results.

KK: I think football in this country is honest and so, honestly, when you look abroad you’ve got your doubts. But it really has got to me and I . . . I . . . I’ve not voiced it live, not in front of the press or anywhere – I’m not even going to the press conference – but the battle’s still on and Man United have not won this yet.

It was pure emotion pouring out, heart-on-the-sleeve stuff, but that was the way I felt and I wasn’t going to bottle it up just because the general rule in football seemed to be that Alex Ferguson was untouchable.

Soccer ... Howard Wilkinson, Manager of Leeds United Former Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson. Source: EMPICS Sport

Initially, I felt sorry for Howard Wilkinson and the Leeds players because, as far as I was concerned, Fergie was using them for his own means. I was less sympathetic, however, when I read in one of Alex’s books a few years later that he had asked Howard if he could have a ‘pop’, and that, incredibly, the Leeds manager had no objection.

That was out of order. If any manager had asked the same of me, I would have pointed out that if anyone was going to have a go at my players, it should be me.

But he and Howard were close, whereas Howard was no friend of mine, and it turned out they had cooked it up in advance. My emotions were running high and it didn’t help that I was wearing headphones to hear what was being said in the studio.

Those ‘cans’ force you to raise your voice and, in the heat of the moment, jabbing my finger for extra emphasis, it must have been television gold for the watching millions. Was I ranting? Yes, I suppose I was. It was all part of that season, the drama of being so close, the roller-coaster ride of Newcastle – I let it all out, in a typical Kevin Keegan way.

I certainly hadn’t planned to lose my temper but maybe, even subconsciously, there were other reasons why I reacted so spectacularly. I will probably be accused of sour grapes, but when you are taking on Manchester United it can feel like you are fighting more than just a football team.

There was a fear factor in English football when it came to the side from Old Trafford – and their manager in particular. The journalists danced to his tune, the other managers wanted to cosy up to him and the authorities let him get away with some questionable behaviour, in particular when it came to referees.

My Life in Football: The Autobiography is published by Macmillan. More info here.

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