14 February ~ When I was a lad in the 1970s, Valentine's Day was only important because it was Kevin Keegan's birthday. My sister had a poster of him on her wall (she fancied him). I had a poster of him on my wall too (I wanted to be him, and maybe fancied him a bit too). In a Scottish household, we sat back and admired him when he helped England beat Scotland in the annual face-off (we wanted him to be Scottish). When he was sent off after fighting with Billy Bremner at the 1974 Charity Shield and threw down his shirt we were shocked, but treated it with some indulgence. You can easily forgive your heroes an off day.
Looking back, what most people loved about Keegan as a player was his buoyancy. After achieving all he could at Liverpool, he took the unusual path to Hamburg and the Bundesliga. Very few other English players in the 1970s were prepared to leave their comfort zone, no matter how much cash was on offer.
After taking an underachieving club to the German league title and the European Cup final, and picking up two European Footballer of the Year awards on the way, he returned to gee up first Southampton and then Newcastle. He seemed irrepressible.
Keegan's self-belief as a player was so infectious that you could almost believe he would lead England to a second World Cup. But by the time he was finally able to compete at the finals in 1982, I was 16 and cynical. Keegan seemed like a player who just followed the money. He was ageing, injured and lucky to be in the squad at all.
The night England needed to beat Spain 2-0 to make the final, most of my (England-supporting) friends and I opted to go to a nightclub in Lincoln and get hammered instead. When we heard Keegan had finally made it on to the field, only to miss an open goal, we laughed. The wise and drunken teenagers knew all that bubbly optimism was a Boy's Own sham.
Valentine's Day was no longer an occasion to stand in front of my poster and wish KK all the very best. It was the day I didn't receive any Valentine's cards. None came in the post and none were surreptitiously slipped into my adidas hold-all at school. The one card I agonised over delivering under cover of night to the girl who lived three doors down went completely unacknowledged. I should have sent it to little Kev instead. At least I might have got an autograph back.
When Keegan returned to the game as a manager after several years off playing golf in Spain, it seemed at first he would bring the same dynamism to the bench he had brought to the field. But as a manager, there is only so much control you have over events on the field. And though he enjoyed various successes in his new role, Keegan was too sensitive for the job. Like an awkward teenager in love, he found the disappointments too hard to handle and kept walking away all hurt when things went wrong.
Still, if you have reached that age when all you do is grumble about the modern game and its manufactured controversies, watch this video of Keegan performing his 1979 flop Head Over Heels In Love. It may be cheesy, cheap, and embarrassingly contrived, but there is a touching innocence to the idea the country's top player could be a popstar too. Only, in those days that meant actually trying to make him a pop star, with predictably comical results.
As always, Keegan gave it his best shot. And it is his birthday, and it is Valentine's Day, and I don't care - I'm going to pretend I'm in love all over again. On behalf of my ten-year-old self, many happy returns to the most influential English player of his generation. Ian Plenderleith