For most of us, life as a football fan is a pretty tedious existence.
Year after year, we continue to bang our heads against the wall, as our basket-case clubs fulfil their annual commitment to dashing our footballing hopes and dreams.
Season by season, we grow ever more jaded and ever more cynical.
I should know, as a Newcastle fan, for the past twelve years I’ve been imprisoned in Mike Ashley’s self-inflicted world of football purgatory. A baron wasteland that brings little joy and even less hope.
Sad thing is, it wasn’t always this way. You see, I was twelve years old in 1992 and was brought up with Kevin Keegan’s rampaging Newcastle team.
They were halcyon days, but perhaps due to my tender years, I don’t think I quite appreciated just how lucky we were at the time. They truly were the days to be treasured. Even if you weren’t a Newcastle fan.
I started going to St James’ Park with my pals in the early 90s.
Although it was an exciting thrill being able to wriggle our way to the front of the old Gallowgate corner, the football itself was pretty diabolical.
As a club, Newcastle United was on its arse and about to fall into the abyss of the third tier for the first time ever.
Then Kevin Keegan arrived and everything, and I mean everything, changed.
Backed by new owner, John Hall, the club was about to embark on a whirlwind adventure that would leave an indelible impact on the city, the fans and the Premier League.
With the last kick of the 1991/92 season, Gavin Peacock saved Keegan’s rejuvenated Newcastle from relegation. From that point on, the party literally never stopped.
The very next season Keegan brought in the likes of Barry Venison, Robert Lee and Andy Cole as Newcastle romped the old First Division, even winning their first eleven games on the spin.
Next stop? The Premier League. Peter Beardsley came home that pre-season and ‘The Entertainers’ were born.
Alongside Andy Cole, the pair racked up a monumental 65 (SIXTY-FIVE!) goals, as Newcastle finished third in their debut Premier League season.
We were on a crest of a wave and Keegan was steering the ship.
The first real blip in the road came in 1995, when Andy Cole was sold to Manchester United for a then record fee.
But what happened next was just pure Keegan.
Faced with an angry fan base demanding answers on the sale of their star player, rather than just hiding behind a statement or press release, King Kev fronted up and faced the crowd.
In what seems like an unimaginable move now, Keegan stood on the steps of St James’ Park, reasoned with the mob and begged them for their trust.
Boy did that take some balls, and boy oh boy, did he repay that trust.
This is why Kevin Keegan is so loved in Newcastle. There is no bullshit with Kevin Keegan. No PR sound bites. No falseness. When it comes to Kevin Keegan, what you see is what you get.
They say you should never meet your heroes. I say, you should pick better heroes.
One of my favourite memories of this time, is of chance meeting with King Kev outside St James’ Park. A moment that will live with me forever.
Following an oh-so-regular trip to the club shop during the school holidays, I was on my way out of the ground when the main stadium doors swung open.
Out come Keegan and Terry Mac, arms full with hot-dog buns, paper cups and fizzy pop.
When I asked for an autograph, Keegan instantly replied, ‘Course you can. As long as you help us to the car with all this lot’.
So there I was, 12 years old, chatting football with my idol whilst helping him lug his shopping across the St James’ car park to his waiting (and awesomely cool) Gold Mercedes.
For the life of me, I just can’t see anything like that happening in the super-pampered, micro-managed, modern day Premier League.
That summer holiday encounter didn’t just make my day, it made my life!
Anyway, back to the football. The following season Keegan more than repaid the trust we had in him.
With the Andy Cole money burning a hole in his back-burner, Kevin upgraded by bringing in both Les Ferdinand and David Ginola – The Entertainers now really meant business.
We ran away with the first half of the season and the title seemed like it was there for the taking. The now infamous fifteen point lead was surely insurmountable?!
Of course, from this point on, we all know what happened next. Fergie’s mind games, Collymore’s winner (a goal I still can’t watch), the eventual collapse, and of course, the rant.
People like to mock Kevin Keegan, especially for that rant. They mock his passion, they mock his honesty and they mock his supposed tactical naivety.
Thing is, if Keegan had given their club his heart and his soul, as he did Newcastle, they would not mock.
We may not have won the league that year, but Kevin Keegan still had one last gift for Newcastle United. Unbelievably, he gave us Alan Shearer.
In what seems an incomprehensible move now, in 1996, Newcastle United broke the world record transfer fee for the best striker in the world!
Could you imagine Mike Ashley’s Newcastle signing Kylian Mbappe for £200 million today? No, me neither.
By the time Keegan left Newcastle I was 17-years-old. My football youth had been moulded by this beautiful football man and glorious team.
He’d taken my faltering and failing home town club and put it back amongst the countries football elite.
After over a decade of Mike Ashley on Tyneside now, these glory days seem further away than ever, but I of course still long for their now unlikely return.
There are kids at Newcastle who know nothing but Ashley’s ambition-less regime. They have no idea what it’s like to even see a Newcastle side trying to compete, let alone trying to win the league.
Perhaps I, and many others, were spoilt by being brought up in one of the most feverish football periods at any club.
A time when my club went from rock bottom, to genuine title contenders – who bought the best players in the world – all in the space of just five years.
The 1995/96 title challenge still haunts me to this day, but at least I can look back with pride at the iconic team that we had representing the city. Apart from the result, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Of course, it couldn’t have happened without John Hall’s millions, but Keegan was the mastermind and the man responsible for this incredible period.
Whilst his days managing at the highest level may be behind him, Kevin Keegan represents the qualities that we all need and crave from football.
Passion, excitement, and most importantly of all, hope.
The football world is a far richer place for having had him in it and my adolescence was blessed to have him as it’s inspiration.
Now, imagine having Mike Ashley instead.