To set the scene for those too young to recall, Newcastle United were in deep danger of going down and under. People think that clubs going to the wall is somehow a new thing. Well it is not. Newcastle were amidst a power struggle in the board room, with Sir John Hall and his Magpies group looking to gain control after claims of the club losing £600,000 per year. This sounds nothing in today’s terms. After all Man United, the richest club in the world, operate off a debt 100 times that. But this was serious and should the worst happen and we were relegated to third tier, there was a possibility we would have lost the club. It’s unimaginable.
NUFC were most definitely in turmoil on the pitch. Having the previous season lost in the play-off Semi’s – under The Bald Eagle Jim Smith, to no other than the unwashed mob from down the road, he departed and Osvaldo Ardiles brought in. The season was 91/92 and Ossie bless him, had Newcastle playing some attractive passing and attacking football and had started to blood Newcastle’s finest crop of youngsters in over a decade. These included Lee Clark, Steve Watson, Robbie Elliott, Stevie Howie and Alan Thompson. But they were all bairn’s and the results were bad. In truth this selection policy was due to crippling lack of funds to strengthen. Although scoring goals, the Toon defence was leakier than the hull of the Titanic. Just like the doomed ship, NUFC were going down and FAST. At that moment in time NUFC had the worst defensive record in Britain.
The boardroom tug of war eventually saw Sir John Halls Magpie group succeeded. They vowed to change the club from top to bottom.
Newcastle then lost 5-2 away to Oxford United, this result sounded the death knell for Ossie and the board acted in giving the Argentinian the Spanish Archer. Had they not have acted, the bell may also have tolled for the Toon.
With a drop to the third division looking nailed on, this in our official Centenary year, unbelievably like a bolt from the blue – in came our very own Messiah Kevin Keegan. Keegan from the so-called football wilderness was seen by a gamble by some in the press as he had not been involved in the game since ’84 and this his debut as a manager. His arrival was not as spectacular as when he left as a player (in a helicopter!), but none the less just as astounding. His arrival was Wednesday 5th of February, his coronation as King was to be only three days later.
The Toon was gripped with Keegan Fever. The game was against Bristol City at home. The date was Saturday February 8th. The clamour was such that the gate that day doubled it’s last to near capacity 29,263 and the place was rocking.
David ‘Ned’ Kelly grabbed two and Liam (Liam, Liam, Liam O) O’Brien the other. The game finished 3-0 and Keegan had won in a fashion that would continue throughout his tenure. That win did give a temporary lift, but there were still games and drama remaining. KK walked out on the club, came back and the club bobbed up and down until the final game of the season against Leicester away. Such was the situation that NUFC had to win that game to survive. Which we did in crazy circumstances 2-1, Gavin Peacock scoring in the first half after latching onto a backpass to the keeper and dinking it over the onrushing keeper and into the net. Then heart ache with a late late equaliser conceded through Steve Walsh – as it stood United could go down. Remarkably deep in stoppage time the same Leicester scorer slotted through his own net and a subsequent pitch invasion that saw the referee blow for full time. NUFC as we then knew it survived. But without the appointment of Keegan back in 1992 the club as we know it today would never have arrived.
So amidst talk of our French Revolution, it is only fair to remember our true Renaissance man was not of French origin – but in the form of a little fella with black and white curly hair born in Doncaster – Joseph Kevin Keegan. HTL