OCT 01] THE STUART LINNELL
Ourselves (Well, Our Team) As Others See Us (Them)
The Manchester City fan on the
radio, bemoaning his side’s 4-0 home defeat by Wimbledon was
adamant that “we should be walking this League and there’s
only one side that could stop us – Coventry City.”
Driving home after reporting on a
very poor example of Premiership football at Bolton, it was just
what I wanted to hear to raise my spirits and keep me awake on
my drive down the motorway.
disappointed representative of the Maine Road faithful pulled no
punches: “Keegan must go,” he declared, “he is an absolute
joke and he’s making what should be a great team look
When phone-in presenter Richard
Littlejohn reminded him that, only the week before, Man City
supporters had been praising Keegan as probably the best manager
they’d ever had, the caller remained defiantly loyal to his
“That’s the point”, he
countered, “one week we appear to be world beaters, the next
no-hopers. There’s no defence, and therefore no
“Coventry City,” he
repeated, “ is the only team that should challenge us and
stop us winning this division. I don’t know what’s gone
wrong there, but they seem to have sorted it out and we will
pay for that when they take an automatic promotion place and
we don’t, which we won’t with Keegan in charge.”
Music to my ears? I should say
so. I wanted Littlejohn to announce the guy’s number over the
air so that I could personally call him to say “thank you”.
Now I should say at this stage
that I have great respect for Kevin Keegan, particularly after
seeing his personal response to Roland Nilsson after we’d won
that amazing 4-3 thriller against his team on 19 September.
On the final whistle Roland
waited for Keegan to walk past him from the away team dugout and
walked towards the former England manager for the usual
Keegan ignored Roland’s
outstretched right hand and, instead, placed both his hands
either side of the Swede’s face and said “well done son, and
good luck to you. I hope you get the job.”
Knowing Keegan only a little –
I have met him only twice and would not presume to be on his
Christmas card list – I nonetheless know enough to be sure
that he was totally sincere in offering his good wishes to
Roland despite the disappointment he must have felt at losing
Having said all that, what the
Man City fan said on the radio makes perfect sense to me. As I
have said before, history tells us that a Keegan side will
always excite and frustrate in equal measure.
A 4-nil win one week is quite
likely to be followed by a 4-nil defeat the next. It was true at
Newcastle, it was true at Fulham and it is most certainly true
at Manchester City.
But it was the absolute certainty
of our Mancunian phone-in friend that Coventry were the real
threat to his side’s promotion prospects that really came home
I said at the start of the
season, and I still believe it, that even without Hadji, Hartson
and Bellamy we are a quality side that can and should achieve a
swift return to the Premiership.
True, the sale of Chris Kirkland
was a bitter pill to swallow for many, including me, even though
in our hearts we probably knew that if Chris is to realise his
true potential and become what he should be – the future
England No 1 – he would have had to move on sooner or later.
We all hoped it would be later.
However, having watched a number
of First Division matches at the end of last season and having
seen the standard of opposition we have played since 11 August,
I am even more certain that we can go straight back up.
What I saw at the Reebok Stadium
on Saturday also told me that there are Premiership sides far
worse than Coventry City.
I reported on Bolton Wanderers v.
Sunderland for the Irish national commercial radio station Today
FM, which covers the English Premiership every Saturday. After a
simply dreadful first-half, Sunderland won the match by scoring
from two set-pieces, exposing a poor Bolton defence in the
It was dire, unimpressive stuff
and it was all the more remarkable to note that, on Saturday
night, having played eight matches apiece, Bolton lie fourth in
the Premiership and Sunderland fifth. Coventry City, on current
form, could have beaten either.
just take it from me. In the Reebok press box I bumped into an
old mate and former Sky Blues hero Nick
Pickering, a member of the ’87 Cup-winning team of course.
Nick spends some of his time
these days reporting for BBC local radio in the north-east and
he was there covering the match from Sunderland’s point of
view. Bearing in mind that they won the game, Nick’s
post-match comment to me was “call that the Premiership? None
of them could pass the ball to a member of their own side!”
Thanks for that Nick. Thanks,
too, for that unknown Keegan detractor who provided much needed
light relief on my journey home.
As somebody once said: “It’s
important to see ourselves as others see us”.
It’s reassuring too.