Special ones

'King Kev' gives lovers and haters in the media something to talk about. And do they ever

We are caught in a vicious circle of Geordiedom. A set of media-driven archetypes have dominated the back-page reports of Kevin Keegan’s return – hailed by both the Sun and the Daily Mirror as God On The Tyne – and are vigorously embraced by the very people they patronise. The main thrust of this onslaught was gleeful, ridiculous hyperbole about the special nature of Newcastle. Kenny Dalglish, communicating via the Daily Mail’s Steve Curry, saw St James’ Park as “a thrill centre where the password is passion”. In the Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter quickly identified “Toon Army foot soldiers”, reading news of Keegan’s arrival “with such awe, like scholars feeling the Dead Sea Scrolls, touching the words to check if they were really true”. The People’s Dave Kidd told of his father-in-law cutting short a holiday for Keegan in 1982: “Take the tent down, pet, we’re ganning home.” A standard-issue Geordie tale, until Kidd breathlessly informs us that he wasn’t “one of those tattooed, topless-in-the-snow Newcastle fans either. He was a coroner.” Thanks for that, Dave.

Populist posturing by the club inflamed the situation further – Mike Ashley danced in his “King Kev” replica shirt while Keegan told us that only he knows what the crowd want. Even if meant as a joke, his crass comparison of football in Newcastle to the theatre “down south” was offensive rather than amusing. Playing at class politics only provided fuel for Geordie parochialism and gave the national media yet another hook on which to hang their favourite stereotypes. Maybe that was the plan.

Some tried to resist. In the Daily Express Mick Dennis was “infuriated beyond endurance” by Keegan’s “evangelical crusade” and Martin Samuel in the Times pointed out that the Premier League is not a school sports day: “Everyone is not a winner and nobody is special, despite what King Kev may tell the faithful.” The Sunday Times’ Jonathan Northcroft noted the crowd against Bolton “sat dumbly… not in reverence but ennui”. Indeed the fans’ alleged obsession with entertaining football is a factor in the chronic instability, creating a culture where a manager is sacked after 24 games in charge.

As Brian Reade pointed out in the Daily Mirror: “In an age where everyone is urged to yell their opinion from the highest phone mast, the one voice rarely heard is that of the average fan.” There are overweight men at grounds across the country, but only those clad in Newcastle stripes get so many opportunities to whip them off and gurn for the cameras, while the Newcastle fans who aren’t inclined to see Keegan as a Messiah rarely get a chance to express their views. In the long run this ever more ludicrous myth‑making will do neither the club nor the people of Newcastle any favours. Ed Upright

From WSC 253 March 2008