|This is an extract from Martin’s first book “Touching Distance”. His latest book “Rafa’s Way” is out now. Order author-signed copies now here for £19.99 including UK delivery.|
Newcastle United v Leicester city 9 May 1993
The Tuxedo princess was a nightclub and it had a gangplank to get on it and the reason it had a gangplank to get on it was because it was a boat, and on the boat was a dance floor that used to go round in circles.
On the Tuxedo Princess, moored underneath the Tyne Bridge, it was not just the drink that made your head spin.
Kevin Sheedy, David Kelly and Brian Kilcline had been to York Races for the day, missed their train, jumped in a taxi to get back to the north-east (around 85 miles) and decided that going to the Tuxedo Princess would be a better idea than going home when they reached Newcastle.
Kilcline, who was six-foot-three and had a beard and a ponytail, was dressed in mustard cords and a mustard jumper when he went to the bar on the boat on the river. Kilcline was renowned for his drinking capabilities, but it had been a long day.
He ordered three pints, went to lean to his right, and unaware the flap at the bar had been lifted, fell straight through.
‘It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen,’ says Kelly. ‘Killer went to put his arm on the bar, missed it and did the Del Boy, straight on to the floor. By the time he got up his mustardy-coloured outfit was covered in the dregs he’d just fell on. It was incredible. He was devastated. None of the bouncers knew what to do. He was the captain of Newcastle United.’
‘Oh, I went right over,’ adds Kilcline. ‘I think it was that fucking dance floor that did it. I’ll tell you what, though, I had the pint of Guinness in my hand I’d just bought and I didn’t spill a drop.’
Brian Kilcline was not Kevin Keegan’s first signing after taking over, but he was the first one that mattered. Without big Brian Kilcline, his beard, his ponytail and his mustard cords and jumper, the rest might never have happened.
He was stood on top of a conservatory fixing the roof when his wife Lynn shouted up that Kevin Keegan was on the phone. ‘Kevin Keegan? Yeah, fuck off.’
He continues: ‘I’m dangling off this roof and I took the phone from Lynn, Kevin went, “Hey, big man, do you fancy coming up to Newcastle and joining on loan?” I went, “Fucking right, do you want me coming up now?”
‘I remember driving up with my missus, I wasn’t playing at Oldham at the time, I said to Lynn, “I have no idea what this is going to be like.” I didn’t even know where Newcastle were in the league. I drove up and stopped at Washington Services, and then I was driving into Newcastle, and then you come round the corner and you see them gates at St James’ Park and I went, “Foookin hell!”
‘I pull up and the two of them [Keegan and McDermott] come running down the steps. “Big man, how are you?” They made me feel so at home.
‘They went, “You look a bit stiff, I tell you what, we’ll go to Benwell and you can have a run around.” I went in and there’s all these young lads sitting around. I managed to get some kit – Keegan had just cleaned it all out. I got the kit on and went out and trained with all these young lads.
‘I came back in, and I was getting out of the showers and Keegan came over to me and said, “What do you think?” I went, “You’ve got some good young ones there, haven’t you? The youth team must be doing all right.” He went, “Killer, that’s the first team.” I said, “You’re joking!”
‘It was Steve Watson, Steve Howey, Lee Makel, Robbie Elliott, Alan Thompson, Steve Watson, Dave Roche, all these kids.
‘I remember the first game was at St James’ Park. We got ready to go out on to the pitch and the lads went, “We’re not going out to warm up.” I said, “You what?” Apparently they were getting dog’s abuse from the Newcastle fans because they were going through such a bad time and they didn’t want to go out.
‘I went out and warmed up and carried on and I think they took kindly to that. It suited me down to the ground. We had a lot of good young players and it was me who was just guiding them along.
‘Their aggression was misled. I had controlled aggression, putting it in the right place and looking after the lads. They looked after me too, but every now and then I would look after them. “There’s a big galoot here with us now,” that’s how it was. What I did notice was there was a great spirit in the camp. We were always laughing and joking.
‘Liam O’Brien and Tommy Wright were absolute class, North and South Ireland, bickering all the time, best of mates but they would never stop arguing, like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They were always on at each other.’
Newcastle had lost 3–1 at Ewood Park prior to Kilcline’s arrival. It had been Keegan’s first away game in charge and Newcastle fans flooded Blackburn. They were everywhere; it was a wild afternoon. David Speedie scored a hat-trick. ‘I didn’t play or I’d have kicked fuck out of him,’ says Kilcline.
Kilcline had always been a size. He was put in goal when he first started playing because of it, in Nottingham. He was playing for St Margaret’s Clitheroe against Arnold Vale. ‘I was crying for letting four goals in and I wanted to come out but the teacher wouldn’t let me,’ he adds. ‘Then I went in midfield and then I went up front. At secondary school I was a centre forward.’
Kilcline was very soon playing for the county. He broke goalscoring records for Nottinghamshire’s representative side and scored twice in a final at the City Ground for Christ the King. ‘We won three-two,’ he says. ‘Forest had played Sheffield United before we played and Cloughie came on to the pitch and he went, “Well, son, you didn’t do too bad, did you?”
‘I was like, “You think so? Great.” Then I saw my dad and he went, “You were shite.”’
Notts County asked him to sign first so he went there. ‘I’m a loyal person. They were the first to ask. I could score goals for fun.’
Then the goals dried up in County’s youth team.
‘There was an injury to the first-team centre-half, the reserves’ centre-half got an injury so they went, “Let’s try him at the back, he’s shit up front.” They said, “Go and kick somebody instead of being kicked.”
‘Apparently I went out that day and had a blinder and kicked lumps out of Lee Chapman.’ He caught the eye of the Notts County manager, Howard Wilkinson. ‘In the space of a month I’ve gone from getting bollocked for smiling like a Cheshire cat when I was a no-goalscoring centre-forward who wasn’t playing in the youth team to playing in the youth team at centre-half, then playing for the reserves as a centre-half and then a first-team regular.’
He was a good centre-half and he was hard.
‘As a fourteen-year-old I used to play Sunday League football. I was playing against these hard-as-nails bastards who’d been on the piss and I would get kicked to fuck and I would love it.’
Notts County won promotion and then Bobby Gould took him to Coventry. He faced Keegan early in his time there.
‘[The coach] John Sillett said to me in the dressing room, “Kevin Keegan’s come back to this country, let’s show him what he’s been missing, nail him.” I went, “No worries, Sill.”
‘We lost. Sill came over and went, “Where the fuck were you?” I couldn’t get near the bastard. Everything he did was one touch, it would get played into him and he was moving the ball all over the place. He was brilliant.’
Kilcline and his beard and his big hair would lift the FA Cup in 1987. He had a blood clot in his leg after fouling Gary Mabbutt, who had been a team-mate in the England Under-21s, and could barely walk up the steps at Wembley.
He went to Oldham, it didn’t work out and then he climbed on top of a conservatory.
The Newcastle youngsters had a leader.
Kilcline started a players’ committee. He gave the younger players confidence; they started to speak more. Personalities emerged outside of the obvious talent.
‘I was a character and it brought the better sides of players’ characters in the club out,’ he says. ‘Sometimes some of them were too scared to express themselves. ‘I think all of them were waiting. It was about being in the right place at the right time, so much of life is like that. Everything is of a time. That little bit that might flick it off.
‘They became less scared. It was frightening ability, just frightening. It was talent in abundance. You couldn’t understand why they were down where they were. The young kids at Newcastle all wanted to do it but nobody was doing anything.’
Kilcline was fearless in the fight to stay out of the third tier of English football. He had seen the terror in the eyes of the Newcastle board on the morning of the final-day victory at Leicester.
‘I remember walking out of the hotel on the morning of that game and all the directors were shitting themselves,’ he recalls. ‘To me I was going out for another game.’
That attitude was vital, but it was not just football leadership.
‘The amount of times I was in places with the lads where they could have got battered and I’ve pulled soldiers, all sorts of people, out and said, “That’s not happening,” rather than my lads getting hit. I would defend them to the hilt.
‘They would never know these things. They were plastered. I’ve been to places where they were out of their trees. I could take the drink and stand back and babysit them.
‘It’s the things they don’t see that I’m most proud of. I looked after these young lads that came through and they looked after me on the field.’
Newcastle was becoming a different club. There was a stand-off between Keegan and the board after survival; it was a fraught summer. Keegan wanted assurances he would be allowed to buy Paul Bracewell, John Beresford and Barry Venison. Newcastle were still in debt. Hall was eventually persuaded that committing to an initial financial gamble would pay off.
‘My philosophy was, if we are going to be big, let’s be big,’ said Keegan. ‘If we aren’t, then let’s not wind fans up by pretending to be big. You can’t pretend you’re a big club and then run it on a shoestring. The one thing you know here is that if you get it right on the pitch, then you will fill the ground.’
Crucially, Hall had taken over the shares of director Bob Young. Now he had control and the remaining directors sold theirs and resigned. Douglas Hall, Freddy Shepherd and Freddie Fletcher met Keegan at the Los Monteros hotel in Spain. They, along with Sir John, were in control, as was Keegan. He said he would return.
‘We had a crucial meeting at Wynyard in the summer of 1992 after I’d agreed to return,’ Keegan added. ‘Sir John Hall agreed to put up the cash to buy Beresford, Bracewell and Venison at a time when the financial picture was grim. It didn’t take a lot of selling because Sir John is a businessman who understands risks, but he had to have his backstop and that was if we were struggling, we had to sell our best players, Gavin Peacock and David Kelly.’
It would never become an issue.
The new players made a huge difference. The feel of the club changed. There was confidence. The Second Division had battered them in 1991–92, when they fought for their lives to stay in it. Now, playing in the newly styled Division One in the first season of the Premiership era, they owned it. Newcastle won the first eleven games of the season. They were unstoppable. Kilcline as a player became peripheral but his personality was not. ‘He got in amongst the players,’ said Keegan. ‘He helped turn the club around. He was brilliant. He doesn’t believe the world owes him a living. He was the most important signing I ever made for the club.’
For Kilcline, it was one of the best times of his life.
‘Christ, it’s so important to be happy, in any walk of life,’ he says. ‘You see a lot of people walking around the streets and nobody is laughing. If you’re lucky enough to go into a job that you love and you love the craic and you take the piss – and I never took myself seriously – then it helps get the best out of the people around you. It makes them feel like a million dollars.
‘It was very kind what Kevin and Terry McDermott said. Terry never got the credit he deserved. More than anything, it was the ride. It was such a special ride.
‘In life you get on rides, if you’re lucky enough it’s a good one and you hold on.
‘You’ve got to find the ride. Some people might not have gone to Newcastle, they were struggling at the bottom of the Second Division, I had a roof to fix and I fixed it rather quickly!
‘It’s all about the ride.
‘People said before the cup final with Coventry, take it all in because it happens so quick. It was the same at Newcastle. I had such a good time there, there were so many good things, there were no bad things, even when I got injured.
‘If you gave Kevin Keegan everything you had, he would give you the world.’
The team gave Keegan and Tyneside everything. When Newcastle played Grimsby, 8,000 fans were locked out.
There was a ride in town and everyone wanted on it.
By Boxing Day Newcastle were twelve points clear of second-placed Tranmere. The team had lost only three times all season and had scored more than any other side in the division.
They went to promotion rivals West Ham on Sunday, 21 February. The game was live on television. Newcastle were wobbling, having lost at Portsmouth and Blackburn. They fought hard in a goalless draw that kept the gap between them and second-placed West Ham at four points.
There was another draw at home to Bristol Rovers in the following game, their fourth without scoring, but then came a 3–0 win at Tranmere and in the following month Keegan signed Andy Cole from Bristol City for £1.75 million, smashing the club record.
Newcastle had fresh momentum. They won four of the five games played in April.
Steve Harmison was thirteen when Keegan returned to manage Newcastle. He would one day play for his country in a different sport, but Harmison was in the football club’s centre of excellence as a centre-half who had been spotted at Ashington Juniors. John Carver was his development officer.
‘Anybody that lives north of the Tyne has the dream of playing for the club,’ says Harmison. ‘Lots have them, few fulfil them. It was brilliant when he came back; it was, “Woah!” He got the whole place spruced up. He came in and said, “Make sure you give them three days off.”
‘They came back into a different, a more fulfilled atmosphere. It was a more buoyant club to be at. They didn’t come into a dirty falling-down place.
‘He was brilliant. Everyone thought it was going to take off when Kevin Keegan returned. The next season I remember going to watch them. I was lucky against Notts County when I think there was 5,000 people got locked out.
‘Andy Cole scored for the first time and David Kelly scored two; luckily I got into the Gallowgate just before they locked the gates at twenty-five past two. Nobody else could get in, they were trying to climb over the wall.
‘You knew then, something was happening, something special. It was crazy. It was a great time to be black and white.’
By the morning of 4 May, Kevin Keegan’s side had 87 points from 43 games. They had three to play. West Ham and Portsmouth, in second and third place, had just one. The two sides were two points behind the league leaders. The maths was simple. If Newcastle won their next game, they would be champions.
It is 161 miles from Newcastle to Cleethorpes. There are varying estimations of how many Newcastle fans made their way down to Blundell Park on that Tuesday night, but it was not less than 8,000. The official attendance was 14,402 and more than half were from Tyneside. Two points and Newcastle were promoted to the Premiership.
Sir John Hall was pulling into a service station so his wife, Lady Mae, could have a cigarette.
‘We were going to get promotion,’ says Hall. ‘I had the Bentley then, I’ve always driven myself, I like driving. I’ve never bothered with drivers. My wife and I went down, she was desperate for a smoke. I wanted a coffee. We were a bit early so we stopped at the end of the M62, there’s a Little Chef there.
‘We went in and we had a coffee and she had a smoke. We got up to continue the journey to Grimsby Football Club. An old transit came in. It was battered. They parked across from us and the back doors opened and there must have been about fifteen of them in.
‘They all jumped out and they ran to the hedge for a run-off [to go the toilet]. I was standing there horrified, and my wife was horrified. I shouted across, “Give me the number of your season tickets!”
‘One of them went, “It’s the effin’ chairman!”
‘They ran back into the van and some of them hadn’t finished!
‘A minute later they all came along and lined up. They went, “Sorry, chairman,” and then they explained they’d driven down and had been drinking crates of brown ale. No service station would let them stop so they reached the point where they couldn’t go on any further.
‘I said to them, “Right, but if this happens again, I tell you, you’re out, any of you!”
‘My wife said to them, “I won’t forget you either, but it won’t be by your faces!”’
Wherever you looked in the streets of Grimsby there were Newcastle fans. It was sunny. Fish and chips and football and beer. Life was so good.
It felt great.
Newcastle were in yellow and green that night. A song tumbled down from the terraces: ‘Champione’. It was new to everyone.
Two Grimsby players touched the ball at the start of the second half, then Rob Lee beat four men and slipped a pass through to Andy Cole. Cole took a touch and clipped a right-foot finish into the bottom corner of the Grimsby goal.
It was almost done.
In injury-time David Kelly went round Rhys Wilmot. The angle was tight and Kelly was almost on a bended knee when he hit a left-foot shot that sealed victory and the title, right in front of the main body of the travelling supporters, packed into the Osmond Stand.
You were just so happy to be alive and to be there and to be at the heart of Newcastle United. It was an enormous goal. It was symbolic of a new Newcastle United; getting it right when it mattered, going the extra mile.
Then the whistle went. Keegan punched the air. McDermott grabbed John Beresford, and then Keegan and McDermott hugged each other tightly. Newcastle fans came on to the pitch from all ends of the ground. The team joined them. Keegan was mobbed. He would be given a crown. The man was adored.
The players danced in front of the Newcastle support. The ‘Blaydon Races’ filled the Cleethorpes night air and you were blasting it out. People climbed the fences at the front, strips were waved in the air. You were so proud of your club. Keegan did that. You never wanted the feeling to end.
Newcastle were winners.
‘It wasn’t half of Newcastle down there,’ recalls Keegan. ‘It was all of Newcastle down there. They were even in our dressing room afterwards. It was absolute chaos in there, in a nice way. I remember the crown the fans gave me.
‘We won the first eleven games with thirty-three points. We were virtually there after a quarter of the season, unless we did something really stupid. We knew we were going to go up, the defining moment came that night at Grimsby.
‘What made it very special, and I know the players said this, was the support. The players didn’t want to come back in. They wanted it to last forever.’
There was Oxford and then Leicester, for the final game of the season, at St James’ Park. Newcastle had new strips that looked like Juventus. Lee Clark had shaved his head and looked like Gianluca Vialli.
‘When we arrived a guy was putting something in the corner of the dressing room,’ adds Keegan. ‘I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m putting a camera up.” I said, “What for?” He went, “Well, Sir John Hall said we could.” I went, “Take it down.” He’s the chairman, but he’s got no right to put a camera in the dressing room. They took it down.
‘I remember saying to Terry Mac before the game started, ‘You know what’s going to happen now, this is going to be a damp squib, we’ll get beat one-nil.’’
Leicester were in the play-off places and they were destroyed. ‘Terry nudged me after about half an hour, the scoreboard at the back was reading three-nil, I think, and he goes, “Some damp squib.” He just gave me that cheeky little look he gives.’
By half-time Kelly had scored a hat-trick and it was 6–0. The whole ground was bouncing. There was joy wherever you looked. Everyone was singing the Andy Cole song. The strips looked great, even on supporters.
You were having the time of your life, and you knew it.
This, this is why you put up with so much, for so long. For a day like this.
It was like reaching the promised land.
Midway through the second half, Kilcline came on. He was the club captain by then. There was a huge cheer. Cole completed his hat-trick. Newcastle had won 7–1. The ground never stopped singing. Brian Kilcline was presented with the First Division trophy and he roared as he lifted it into the air. Tyneside celebrated with him. Sir John Hall sang on the pitch. Lindisfarne played in the new Leazes End that was finally being built, sixteen years after the old one had been knocked down. The day had everything, absolutely everything.
‘I would have paid money to have gone to Newcastle,’ adds Kilcline. ‘They didn’t have to pay me. I would have gone for nothing, just for that, just for the ball, it was an absolute ball.
‘Laughter is infectious, I found that more than any place in Newcastle. We got promoted and I loved it.
‘Me and Lynn ask ourselves constantly, “What’s it all about, life in general?” The Newcastle period in my life gave life a reason. It was that good.’
Lifting the trophy would be Kilcline’s last major act for the club. Scoring a hattrick and taking his tally for the season to 28 would be Kelly’s.
‘Kevin called me a couple of days later and I was driving down to Birmingham,’ says Kelly. ‘He said, “Where are you?” I said, “I’m driving.” He said, “Go and sit yourself in a café, I need to have a chat.” ‘I said, “Am I going?’” He said, “I need to have a chat.”
‘I went off the A1 somewhere, sat down there and phoned him up. He said, “I’ve had a bid off the Wolves.” I said, “Am I not going to play?” He said, “I’m signing one player and trying to get a few in.” ‘I said, “Who you signing?” He said, “Peter Beardsley.” I said, “Decent!”
‘I said, “Gaffer, I wouldn’t want to stay if you’re not going to play me.”
‘He said, “I know that because you’ve spoken to me about it before.”
‘I just wanted to play. That was my obsession. I scored twenty-eight goals that season. I went, “Right, I’ve got a year left, I want my money.” He said, “Ned, don’t worry, thanks for everything you’ve done.” ‘It’s cut-throat and some people are horrible. He was brilliant with me. I’ve got nothing but respect for him. He told me what he thought and that was it. That was me gone.’
David Kelly would not return to St James’ Park until 5 April 1997. He would be wearing the red and white of Sunderland when he did. When Kelly was brought on as a 61st-minute substitute for Allan Johnston, something unexpected happened.
‘The whole ground stood up and applauded,’ he says. ‘It was a gulp moment. I’ve not had many of them in my life but it was humbling. I will never forget it.’