It remains one of the most iconic interviews in Premier League history, Kevin Keegan’s emotional outburst live on Sky Sports. The phrase “I will love it” particularly resonated and Keegan became synonymous with it; so much so, that an astonishing 20 years on, it’s still talked about.
The backdrop to Keegan’s interview on 29th April was as captivating as his impassioned speech. Newcastle had been dubbed ‘the entertainers’, with their swashbuckling attacking style of play and care-free approach. Now, they’d be considered tactically naïve with an emphasis on attack and little thought for defending, but by god they were exciting to watch and that won them a host of admirers. The team boasted David Ginola, Les Ferdinand, Peter Beardsley, Philippe Albert, Rob Lee and added Colombian star Tino Asprilla to the ranks mid-season. In early January, the Magpies boasted a 12 point lead over their nearest rivals, but it was Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side that gradually ate into that lead. The tide was already turning in favour of Old Trafford when Liverpool dramatically beat Newcastle 4-3 at Anfield in one of the greatest games the Premier League has ever seen. Liverpool’s late winner saw Keegan slump behind an advertising board, it was a psychological hammer to the former Kop hero.
By the end of April, Manchester United had moved to 3 points ahead of Newcastle and Ferguson decided to up the ante. He suggested Leeds United tried harder against Manchester United than they had against other teams, with Leeds due to play Newcastle United next. It was a ploy seen by many as “mind games”, but distasteful and disrespectful by others. Whatever your opinion may be, if the intention of it was to get under Keegan’s skin, then it certainly had the desired effect. Newcastle beat Leeds by the same 1-0 score line that Manchester United had and it was after that game that an emotional Keegan said the iconic words “I will love it if we beat them, love it”
It was part of a response to a question about psychological games, here’s the speech in full:
“When you do that with footballers, like he said about Leeds, and when you do things like that about a man like Stuart Pearce, I’ve kept really quiet, but I’ll tell you something, he went down in my estimation when he said that. We have not resorted to that, but I’ll tell you, you can tell him now if you’re watching it, we’re still fighting for this title and he’s got to go to Middlesbrough and get something, and, and I’ll tell you, honestly, I will love it if we beat them, love it.”
The passion and emotion in his voice as he points his finger was what Keegan was all about. It was a genuine, honest, heart-on-sleeve approach that endeared him to millions both as a player and as a manager. As a player, he made his name at Liverpool, where he became a European champion. He then moved on to Hamburger SV, where he helped Hamburg win the Bundesliga and became European Footballer of the Year. From there, it was back to England with Southampton before a move to Newcastle, where he enjoyed hero status. That messiah-like standing at St. James’ Park drew him into management. With Newcastle languishing at the wrong end of what is now the Championship, he took over and saved them from relegation before winning the league the following season to gain promotion back to the Premier League.
Manchester United went on to win the 1995/96 Premier League crown by 4 points and that was to be the closest Kevin Keegan got to it. He resigned from his post the following season, but returned later that year for a stint at Fulham until taking over as England manager. His lack of success as national team manager prompted him to resign from that post and he later had spells at Manchester City and again at Newcastle, but he could never recapture the magic of his early time as a manager of the Geordies. He is still remembered fondly at Newcastle for both playing and managerial career, but he is synonymous with the words “I will love it”, even 20 years on.