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HOWAY THE SAD; TOON IN MOURNING AS KEV THE KING OF SOCCER QUITS.

The Tyne was overflowing with football's Toon Army tears last night after Kevin Keegan's sensational resignation as manager of Newcastle United.

Heartbroken fans wept openly at the loss of the man they worshipped as the saviour of their beloved team.

Men, women, boys, girls fell into each other's arms - stunned by their hero's walkout from St James' Park.

Fathers photographed sons standing in 45-year-old Keegan's empty parking space at the famous Premiership club. One devoted supporter even tattooed a tombstone on his arm, bearing the words: "Kevin Keegan RIP".

And another shattered Geordie lad pronounced this epitaph: "My church is St James' Park and Kevin was my God."

Keegan - a legend as a player with Liverpool, Hamburg and finally Newcastle itself - came back to Tyneside as boss to save the club from the shame of relegation to the old Third Division.

Almost five years and pounds 60million of spending later - including the world record signing of pounds 15million Alan Shearer - Newcastle stands proudly as one of Britain's leading clubs. But a major trophy remained elusive - and Keegan's bombshell resignation statement seemed to recognise that.

"I feel I have taken the club as far as I can," said the miner's son from Doncaster whose soccer talent and business brain have made him a multi-millionaire with a string of racehorses.

Keegan lives with wife Jean and daughters Laura Jane, 14, and Sarah Marie, 11, in a pounds 1million mansion on the Wynard Hall estate in Cleveland.

The estate is owned by Newcastle's property developer chairman Sir John Hall.

A white security van guarded the sweeping driveway to Keegan's house yesterday, which was said to be deserted.

As Keegan's resignation was announced on Newcastle's Clubcall phone information service, his adoring fans gathered at St James'.

They chanted: "There's only one Kevin Keegan" and the Newcastle anthem "Walking in a Keegan Wonderland".

John Regan, secretary of Newcastle United Independent Supporters' Association, said: "To say I'm devastated is an understatement. It's dreadful news. It's worse than hearing the Queen has died.

"Not everyone on Tyneside is a monarchist, but everyone is a Keeganite.

"Keegan brought pride back to Newcastle, the people of Tyneside worship him.

"What he has achieved in the last five years is nothing short of remarkable - and he was the man to lead us to further success."

Alan Shearer's cousin John was at St James' and said: "I am absolutely gutted. This should be a day of mourning on Tyneside.

"I speak to Alan regularly and I know how highly he regarded Kevin. He was the reason that Alan came to Newcastle."

Season ticket holder Kevin Busby, 25, said: "Without him, this club is nothing. A bit of all true supporters has died now."

Samantha Cummings, 20, said: "I can't believe it. He's the king who has left us behind. No one in the world can replace him."

Building worker Tom Armstrong, 42, said: "This guy brought our club from shame and humiliation to one of the giants on the verge of greatness."

Football-mad nun Sister Josepha, head of a Newcastle primary school, said: "I hope true fans come out in protest and beg him to stay.

"He is such a good role model for the children. I sometimes say to the kids: `Kevin Keegan wouldn't like you doing that'."

Supporters' fanzine editor Steve Wraith, while acknowledging Keegan's achievements, said he had "spat the dummy out".

Recent criticism over indifferent results had turned him into "a downcast character on the verge of paranoia".

There were similar shocked scenes at the club's training ground at Durham, where hundreds of supporters massed.

Sharon Francis, 29, who was comforting her son Stephen, six, said: "The little one is heartbroken, Kevin Keegan was his hero."

Labour leader Tony Blair, a Newcastle fan, said: "It's a very great shame. He's a lovely man, a great guy who has given great service to the club."

Barry MacDonald, 50, said: "Kevin has a unique place in the hearts of all the Toon Army. I cannot ever imagine him managing any other club."

That seems unlikely. Keegan, an ex-England captain, revealed yesterday he had offered to resign at the end of last season when his team blew a 12-point Premiership lead on Manchester United. On the way, he let rip with an explosive TV outburst against United manager Alex Ferguson.

He was persuaded to stay by the board, but now says he no longer wants to be in management.

For Keegan, his family, his horses and a life of carefree luxury beckon. Ten days ago, he told The Mirror that there is "no better buzz than racing, it gives me a bigger kick than football when I have a winner".

LAST WORD: Kevin Keegan was a ticking Tyne bomb - now he's gone off.
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
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Author:Armstrong, Jeremy
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 9, 1997
Words:793
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