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The day Keegan was beaten up.

Byline: By Simon Armstrong

Former Newcastle United boss Kevin Keegan was left with a bloody nose after being roughed up by Yugoslav police at an airport, according to secret papers newly released.

He was also left bruised following the unseemly altercation which happened after he was questioned for 30 minutes by officials in Belgrade as the England team arrived in June 1974 for a friendly match.

Papers released to the National Archives under the 30-year rule reveal that a British diplomat described it as a "nasty incident" which erupted after a group of players fooled around at a luggage transporter.

Trouble flared after players moved into a non-customs area and Keegan ignored police orders to move, the papers say.

A day later the Foreign Office official in Belgrade wrote: "He was dragged off for interrogation and undoubtedly roughed up, returning after 30 minutes with a bleeding nose, although not otherwise marked".

A complaint was made to the Yugoslavs, along with a call for an investigation. "But since Yugoslav police had discovered that he was an international footballer, they had completed a `full investigation' by last night," the official wrote.

They alleged Keegan, who joined Newcastle as a player eight years later in 1982, struck a policeman. They conclude "it is only in the interests of Anglo-Yugoslav relations, international football, etc, that the police are not pressing well-justified charges against him".

But the British official was unhappy with the host country's attitude: "After an hour's argument this morning, Yugoslav attitude is as to be expected: official total rejection of the possibility that any policeman could have acted as alleged, plus unofficial and entirely unquotable assurances that there will be some further inquiry behind the scenes.

"I have some hope that police concerned will now be punished ( although, of course, Yugoslavs would never admit that had happened."

The England players threatened to go on strike in protest, but in the end took to the pitch ( with Keegan himself heading the equaliser in a tense 2-2 draw.

Yugoslavia defended the airport officials, saying they had acted in an "entirely proper manner and there could be no criticism of them".

Their investigation into the incident was conducted "more quickly than is usual" in light of the circumstances, but it was still thorough, they said. The Yugoslav version of the incident was that trouble started only after Keegan refused to leave the restricted customs area.

According to the documents, the Yugoslav authorities reported: "The official indicated with his arm that this remaining British subject should return to the incoming customs area with his friends.

"The British subject declined to do so, in a most offensive manner. He stuck out his tongue, slapped the arm of the official and used offensive


All sides later agreed to treat the matter as closed. The incident was previously highlighted by fellow Toon hero Malcolm Macdonald in his autobiography, as the striker was also on England duty. The documents are available to the public at the National Archives, Kew, south west London, or online at
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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