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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.

Kevin KeeganThe 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 stupid.”

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 argument.

“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 consistency.”

“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 post-match handshake.

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 the match.

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 to me.

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 process.

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.

Nick Pickering - 1982  [empics]Don’t 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.

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CWN / Sport / Football / Coventry City FC / Stuart Linnell / 3 Oct 01
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