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

Comments (6)
Comment by G.Man 2012-02-14 11:40:09

That was a real Valentine's Day treat, Ian. The article, not Kev's Smokie-penned number.

Comment by Kiel9495 2012-02-14 11:49:19

I've never seen that video before. He makes a decent job of it. Shame that the way the shadows fall on his trousers make it look as though his flies are undone.....

Comment by Arthur Nibble 2012-02-14 13:49:22

Four weeks in the UK top 40, peaking at 31. Not quite the flop it's made out to be.

Comment by Paul Rowland 2012-02-14 15:18:43

Kevin Keegan was a truly first-rate footballer. No denying that.

He was also a second-rate football manager, a third-rate football pundit, a ninth-rate pop-singer, a tenth-rate actor,and a fifteenth-rate bike-racer, weightlifter and tennis player. Sadly, these days most people don't know about (or choose to forget about) his footballing exploits. He is largely viewed as a rather pathetic figure of fun. Which seems a tad unfair.

(But then again - nobody forced the European Footballer of the Year to do Top of the Pops, Superstars(TM) or BRUT adverts, did they?)

Comment by Alex Walker 2012-02-14 16:42:10

I think people are rather unfair on Kevin Keegan's record as a manager. Except on his return to Newcastle, he had a fairly decent win record at all his clubs. His England record might have been the worst of any permanent England boss, but at least he qualified for a tournament. And he managed to beat Germany whilst we were there.

Whilst he in the end was just short of the talent required at the top end of the Premier league, he was certainly a fine lower division manager, and a decent appointment for any club looking to stay in the Premier League, and be looking no more than mid table.

Perhaps as we look for Fabio's replacement, we should forget about 'Arry, and look to Division Two. This seasons runaway League leaders are Charlton, who have Chris Powell in charge. Unlike Kev, his England career wasn't the most distinguished with just the 5 caps, so there would be no national love in, but it would be nice to go to the European Championships and beat Germany again.

Comment by jonmid 2012-02-14 18:49:42

a very poor Germany

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