How to Become a Professional Footballer - Part 4 - Life with Kevin Keegan

I completed my last article “How to become a Professional Footballer – Part 3 – To the Toon”, discussing my arrival at Newcastle United Football Club, and my time playing for Jim Smith, Ossie Ardiles and to the imminent arrival of Kevin Keegan.

I remember his first day at the club, when he was introduced to the players at the Benwell training ground in the windy north. He was accompanied by his sidekick Terry Mcdermott and the rumour was that they had lured him from a life of retirement on the golf course to resurrect this long time sleeping giant.

Keegan was blunt and to the point telling the players they needed to achieve more and that the immediate goal was to save the team that Ossie Ardiles had put together from relegation into the 3rd division of the English Football league. A new and very exciting era had just started at NUFC and everyone including the players were excited at the prospect of a manager who was full of enthusiasm and a burning desire to achieve.

I had played for just over 1 season for the team as a rookie striker and was learning my trade as I had only been a professional footballer since my arrival on Tyneside the previous season. To my utter dismay Keegan dropped me for the next game and that was really the last time I contributed to Newcastle United. At the time I had no idea that I was ever to play again for the team and it seemed to me that Keegan just did not like me as a player. I was totally devastated by this as I considered myself to be a hardworking player with a lot to offer the team. But as hard as I tried over the next year Keegan refused to play me, even opting to play midfielders as strikers due to injuries to David Kelly and other strikers in the team.

I continued to follow the team, watching matches and traveling to away games but I just felt like I had been jettisoned off the side of the good ship NUFC, to spend the rest of my time languishing in the reserves. The annoying thing was that I scored so many goals in the reserves, and was improving all the time as a player but Keegan just refused to acknowledge my efforts.

I’m sure all players go through this rejection at some period of their careers but I found it very hard to deal with. The team survived the perilous drop and the following season came around with renewed hope for a shot of playing in the team. Unfortunately for me I broke my foot in pre-season training, which sidelined me for 6 weeks. This really was the final nail in the coffin of my career at NUFC, as I was then playing “catch up” with my fitness to make the team. Pre-season is a vital time for all footballers. It usually comprises of a lot of running and stamina training with lots of ball work, preparing the players for the long season ahead. A good base of fitness is required and once the initial 6 weeks of running and training was completed we would play games to sharpen ourselves for the season. It would take me about 6-8 games to really get my levels of fitness perfected and ready to last a full 90 minutes of football.

Of course I never made the side once I returned to full fitness and didn’t really know what to do with myself. I found it important to have a goal to aim for literally and metaphorically. My goal was to make the team on a Saturday but with no hope of this I gave up on my career and my efforts became less and less as I was continually overlooked for the side. In training I was continually harassed for seemingly innocent mistakes and some of the older players would tell me they couldn’t believe the way I was being treated. We visited Bari (Italian Team) in the Anglo Italian Cup, which was a great experience and I was even selected to travel. Not really expecting to play I was just happy to be a part of the squad. To my surprise I was named in the starting 11, only to be hauled off a half time and “roasted” by the manager for my performance.

That was the final straw. I had to leave Newcastle. Keegan obviously had no time for me as a player and I could no longer remain at the club.

That’s enough of my sob story about my final days at NUFC and my time playing for Keegan. I admire him for his achievements and his will to win. I also cannot argue with the job he did at NUFC by saving them from relegation and then going on to becoming one of the leading teams in the premiership, with an outstanding side full of flair and exciting forward play. I just wish he would have given me a more even shot at playing for the side and allowed me to contribute to the team.

I had hardly spoken to him in over 1 year until one day he called me to his office. I really didn’t want to see him and just guessed I would be in trouble for something else. To my surprise he had received an offer from my old boss Ossie Ardiles to take me on loan to West Bromwich Albion for the end of their promotion run in the lower division. Fantastic I thought. I couldn’t wait to get out of the club, even though my fitness was poor and my self esteem lower than a snakes belly. Farewell to NUFC and onwards and downwards to Division 2 to resurrect my career. What was ahead of me was a renewed life as a footballer and a chance to score lots of goals in a very exciting finale to the Division 2 season.

West Brom here I come.

Part 3 - To the Toon (NUFC)
Part 2 - Kettering to Newcastle United
Part 1 - Ashill to Kettering Town

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