Newcastle 's decision to sack Ossie Ardiles heralds the return of Kevin Keegan, reports Ian Cusack
It was Liam O’Brien who diverted a 91st minute own goal past a bemused Tommy Wright to completed the unsavoury metamorphosis of a 3-0 lead into a humiliating 4-3 defeat against Charlton on 18th January 1992. The 15,663 crowd, less say 500 Robins, screamed and howled at the injustice of it all and more importantly the inadequate defending that had lead to this sorry outcome. Little were we to know that this game, give or take a defeat on penalties in an FA Cup replay against Bourne-mouth the following weekend, would be the last home humiliation under Ardiles’ stewardship. Apparently, Ardiles entered the dressing room after the team, stood facing the door, presumably expecting an irate John Hall to come and punch his lights out, lit a cigarette and burst into tears.
A fortnight later in a Conan Doyle pea-souper at the Manor Ground, the Toon were massacred 5-2 including a brace for that renowned footballing aristocrat Steve Foster. Then up stepped Super Kev to begin a five-year reign of incomprehensible press conferences and appalling right backs.
The Charlton game was a microcosm of Ossie’s ten-month reign: loads of young kids – Steve Watson, Alan Thompson, Andy Hunt and Allan Neilson all played that day – an encouraging start with early goals from Lee Clark and a Kevin Brock pair, an inability to consolidate, allowing Charlton to pull a goal back before half-time, leading to total capitulation and a storming second half performance by a certain Robert Lee, before O’Brien applied the coup de grace.
We were bottom of the League, skint, naïve and on the verge of oblivion. No one called for the manager’s head, astonishingly, a reaction that was replicated just before Keegan bid his farewells. The Toon Army were a withdrawn lot in those days: rather like Albanian revolutionaries we’d agitated for the abolition of a hated dictatorship, in our case the McKeag dynasty, only to find the alternative to be a cult of personality that boasted not only feet but thighs genitals and torsos of clay.
It is difficult to reminisce about those days with any kind of nostalgic glow. The ground was a dump and the 15,000 die-hards certainly created no discernible volume of support to lift the team. It was a horrible, depressing time and that is why, half a decade later, while the talk around the club is of share issues, European Leagues and 60,000 capacity stadia, my expectations for Newcastle success are tempered by a realization that if Ardiles hadn’t got the bullet and Keegan returned, I wouldn’t have a League team to support.
As I made my way gloomily back to the pub that Saturday, if someone had told me that Newcastle United would gain promotion, never mind have two UEFA Cup adventures, play glorious attacking football and sign the world’s most expensive player, I may not have believed them. Unless of course they also told me that the club still hadn’t won anything.
From WSC 123 May 1997. What was happening this month