Sunday, 21 October 2012

An assault on the game of football

I have become increasingly dis-illusioned with football in recent months. Those that do not know me and wish to draw lazy conclusions would point to my team’s prolonged stay in League One and the inevitable Blades failure at Wembley. To which I would reply that we are one of three teams unbeaten in England at present. You might say that our home form plays a part, after all you can only see your team fail to hold on to a lead so many times in a two month period. But you would be wrong.
Football is a game I have loved playing and watching since I was a small boy. I have watched through awful times; Heysel, Hillsborough, Bradford, yet at this moment in time football has lost its spark for me. I was going to write about it here, but a fellow Blade Eddie Chapman has summed up my feelings very well in his first ever blog post, which you can read here. So instead I want to focus on events of Friday night at Hillsborough, when we not only witnessed despicable scenes during the match, but I watched the desperate double standards of football fans and local media in the aftermath. 
Whilst the assault understandably grabs the headlines, what went on around it is glossed over but paints a desperate picture that many were not willing to acknowledge and a past that many were determined to airbrush from history. Vile chants from fans of both sides. Missiles exchanged between stands, a smoke bomb hurled on the pitch from the home fans (a missile so dangerous that it scorched the pitch as a steward tried to kick it away) and seats destroyed and thrown in the away end.
Firstly the pitch invasion and deplorable assault on Chris Kirkland. This was something I haven’t seen the like of before and I hope I don’t see again. I am also pleased that the typical throwaway comment that Neil Warnock threw into his post match interview, regarding Kirkland’s ease of fall, has since been retracted.
It was an unprovoked, unexpected and cowardly attack that the perpetrator should be ashamed of. Sadly that hasn’t stopped people writing tweets suggesting that he went down easily or that he wouldn’t have gone down like that if he had been attacked in a pub. Those people want to take a long hard look at themselves and their lifestyle, if they think such comments are acceptable.
Three seasons ago Wednesday escaped punishment for a pitch invasion against Crystal Palace. A match which saw opposing supporters clash on the pitch and Palace player Clint Hill attacked by several Owls fans. This was all mysteriously forgotten by Owls fans over the last couple of days as they desperately tried claiming the moral high ground in an argument that was based down in the depths to start with.
One claimed that what happened against Palace was nothing like last night. How was it not? In fact it involved more protagonists and still ended in assault. The only way it was different was that it was the final game of the season, winner stays up match.
 Amazingly, Wednesday escaped FA sanction for failing to control their fans. A quote from a delighted stadium operations manager John Rutherford said; 'I am pleased with the outcome of the investigation. It fully vindicates our matchday operation here at Hillsborough and underlines the fact that the club did everything possible in its planning and preparation to manage any incidents following what was an extremely tense game against Crystal Palace.'
What can he say now? Given the heavy stewarding presence in front of the Leeds fans for much of the match, how was Kirkland’s assailant able to enter the playing area, attack the goalkeeper and leave again, re-entering the away following without being apprehended? There is no way  Wednesday can suggest their match-day operation is successful when we have now had two on-pitch assaults, a distress flare thrown on the pitch and bottles and missiles thrown between fans?  

In fact, although I am happy for it to be proved otherwise, I don’t think any punishment was meted out to Hill’s assailants. Were they ever identified from the film of the incident? Have they ever been banned by the club? I don’t recall any reports of arrests or of club bans. Surely strong and highlighted action can play a big part in prevention. It would actually be in the club and police’s interests to utilise them media and show what happens to the trouble causers. I don’t recall hearing anything.  How can that be seen as any sort of deterrent?   
Moving on to the chants heard during the match. Sick and abusive chanting has been a part of football for as long as I can remember attending. That doesn’t make it palatable, that doesn’t make it acceptable. Chanting and support of your team is one of the great communal aspects of attending football, but far too often the tribalism takes hold and it goes too far.
 I have been at Old Trafford as Blades supporters have sung Munich songs and I have been at Tottenham when anti-Semitic songs have been sung at the home support. Only in the last week, there have been complaints from a majority of the Blades away support, as the minority sang songs of support for the jailed Ched Evans during games at Notts County and Preston. And if you want my views on that situation, read this.
The thing is those vile chants had faded into the background. I am not saying they have ever gone away, but you certainly haven’t heard as much about them in recent years. Yet in this modern world, where “banter” is the god awful buzz-word and a risible excuse for a multitude of spoken and typed sins, and in a society where the motto “Everyone else has got one, so why shouldn’t I?” is prevalent, people see such bile as acceptable. One justification I read last night, in a tweeted response to my criticism of events was; “Everyone (sic) teams’ fans have a go about Turkey”. So, the over-arching belief is, if every team’s fans do it – which they don’t – why shouldn’t we?
One tried justifying their chants about Istanbul with a “Well they started it with the Dave Jones and Jimmy Saville ones.” Like two (or three) wrongs make a right; displaying flawed logic on so many levels.
Dave Jones’ understandable focus on the personal abuse he received, due to past and unproven allegations, is bound to hurt. But in focusing on that and admonishing Neil Warnock for encouraging his team to acknowledge the away support, he has allowed elements of allegiance and club tribalism to cloud his emotional judgement. If Leeds should not acknowledge the away support, due to the widespread abuse and chanting, then Wednesday should not be acknowledging their support in the area of the North Stand where the Istanbul stabbing chants came from. Chants from a small proportion of the overall crowd in both instances, but a failure to acknowledge or admonish elements of his own club’s support for their failings.
Even when interviewed on 5Live Sportsweek on Sunday morning, he failed to acknowledge this, skirting around the subject referring to the chanting going on around the ground. It was Neil Warnock, who raised the issue of the subject matter used by an element within the Wednesday support. How can clubs deal with the problem if senior officials cannot publicly admit there was one? People too worried about upsetting their supporters; local media too worried about souring relations with the club they rely on for stories and therefore circulation/listener figures.
Albeit, and thankfully, isolated incidents football authorities and the police need to be seen to be taking strong action, by which I mean action which hasn’t been seen before. Whilst Wednesday received no punishment for the Palace game, West Ham were fined a small six figure sum for the repeated pitch invasions and trouble at their game with Millwall in 2009. These are hardly a discouragement from a repetition of those scenes when a volatile situation arises again. Fans don’t see any impact of club fines and for clubs of the size of West Ham or Wednesday or Leeds the amounts involved are hardly material amounts.
The problem for me is that the police are frequently looking for easy arrests at football matches. We have all witnessed instances of police or steward over-reaction leading to un-necessary action. Read the twitter timeline of Amanda Jacks the FSF Fair Cop, you will see many examples of this. Thankfully, you will also read many examples of what can happen when the right help is sought by fans after the event, or what greater awareness of their rights can help them avoid.
Police must focus on policing the minority, not the majority and be seen to take appropriate action when required. The same goes for stewards, many of whom seem keen to look for a fight rather than doing their job.
As for punishments for clubs....Banning away support is not an equitable answer. In fact this impacts on other clubs as much as the club whose fans have the transgressors. They suffer a lack of income that the away supporters provide, both in terms of gate receipts and discretionary spend. Therefore clubs need to be punished by a points reduction if their fans enter the field of play. If this then leads to an act of violence against player, opposition fan, then this should increase; as should the punishment for clubs with repeat offences.  A potential points deduction should also encourage fellow fans to restrain those who put their club at risk.
As for the clubs who fail to control fans in their stadium then ground closures should follow. After incidents with persistent standing, the firing of distress flares etc at Bramall Lane some 9 years ago we had the parts of the ground nearest to the away end closed. This should be more widespread, after all how many times have you heard this having been applied since?
I am not suggesting the management of thousands of individuals, amongst which a small proportion are intent on causing problems, is easy. However, they owe a duty of care to the people in the stadium that when they buy a ticket, they are not going to be caught in the crossfire of verbal and physical abuse that they do not want to be a part of.
They also need to act when clubs undertake wanton destruction of the opposition’s ground. When Leeds visited Bramall Lane in 2003, seats were smashed and thrown on the pitch. I am not aware of any action being taken. There should be compensation to the home team for damage caused and a fine on top as well.
Recent surveys have shown the average age of football supporters at British matches is increasing as the young and families struggle to find the money for increasing gate prices. Yet when they do go, they risk being exposed to this and the next generation is deterred. I have already heard, on local radio, one father saying that his 8 year old doesn’t want to go to football again after witnessing events of Friday night.
One final point. If football needs its fans to clean up their actions, then they need to sort out those who hurl abuse, use physical violence on the pitch. Why in football is it deemed okay for a worker to abuse those who employ him (Ashley Cole – no punishment), to use racist language and abuse (John Terry and Luis Suarez), assault other players (Joey Barton). You can go back to Di Canio and his assault on Paul Alcock. If this was anything but sport, anything but football, these people would be out of a job and finding it extremely difficult to be re-employed. Not receiving a six-figure weekly salary, retaining their captaincy and edging towards 100 caps for their country. What fine examples they are to those watching on from the stands. They are the untouchable generation, suffering minor inconveniences in terms of punishment. It hardly sets an example in terms of behaviour or punishment.
Football has to get its act together and it is incumbent on all involved in the game from stands, to pitch, to the administrators to play a part.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Interview with Keith Waugh - Part 3 (Decisions, Decisions....)

As we left Part 2, Keith had just played in the play offs for Bristol City; a two legged final that needed a replay at Walsall and ended in disappointment. Keith was now facing up to a big decision in his career.  
At the end of the 1989 season, Keith was faced with a decision and a decision which in hindsight he regrets.
“That summer an opportunity arose to join Coventry City. They were in Division 1 and as a professional I always wanted to play at the highest level and I thought that this was possibly a last chance to play in the top flight. Looking back, this was probably the biggest mistake I made in my career. I was well established at City, a good club and they were going well at the time.”
Under Joe Jordan, City were to gain promotion to Division 2 that season.
“Oggy (Steve Ogrizovic) was in goal, a super professional, a top bloke and I just couldn’t remove him. I made one appearance and went to Watford on loan in my second season. Steve Perryman was in charge and then signed me permanently at the end of that season. I went there hoping to break into their first team. Steve told me they had a good young keeper, plenty of ability but a bit naive and they just didn’t know if he’d make it. That keeper happened to be David James and I don’t think I have seen a more natural athlete and a player with as much natural ability as a goalkeeper. He was 19 and had just broken into the first team. The question marks they had at the time were about his mental strength at the time.”
The mental part of the game is particularly tough for a goalkeeper, as Keith knows too well.
“As a goalkeeper, if you make a mistake it can be fatal. I had periods in my career where I suffered from self-doubt and dwelt on my mistakes. But when times were really good, I believed that I could be up there with the best. I wished I had more of that belief when the times were good to carry me through those harder times. These days there are so many staff around the club there to help the players, with conditioning, diet and particularly with the mental aspects of playing the game. Obviously there was little back in my day. It is vitally important these days that if you are going to be a top class professional that you can deal with the pressure and when things are not going well. It is easy to look back now and reflect, could I have done this, or said that”
So which of Keith’s fellow keepers did he rate when he was playing?
“Neville Southall was by far the best keeper of my era. Hugely under-rated, yes Shilton and Clemence were fantastic but Neville was up there with them for me. Goalkeeping has changed a lot over the years. I remember getting battered in a challenge by Billy Whitehurst; he’d pick me up and batter me again. They don’t get that these days!”
“Sadly, today there are not many British keepers playing at the highest level, but the main one Joe Hart has every attribute required. He is still young and I am really looking forward to watching him progress and develop. He will be England goalkeeper for many years to come.”
“Cech, Vorm and Al-Habsi are all quality keepers as is Mignolet at Sunderland. You might think I am bound to say that, but I have watched and scrutinised his play closely and think he is under-rated.”
Back at Watford and with a talented keeper in his way, Keith was awaiting his chance.
“I started the season as understudy to David James. When he then moved on to Liverpool I was going to step in and take his place, but unfortunately I picked up a knee injury and I was out for about a year and missed my opportunity. 32/33 is a bad age to pick up an injury like that and have such a lengthy absence. You wonder if it is the end of your career. To get back playing again was the main thing, even though it wasn’t necessarily in the first team.”
“I did play a few games for Watford, most memorably when Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle, who were then top of Premier League, came to Vicarage Road in March 1993. It was my first game for 14 months and I kept them at bay as we held on for a 1-0 victory. I guess being a Sunderland fan makes it even more special.”
The Independent report of the match describes two saves in quick succession early in the second half as outstanding; denying both David Kelly and Andy Cole. When his contract expired Keith was released by Watford, but a brief coaching career was about to start.
“Glenn Roeder took over as manager and asked me back to take the Youth team. However, after a very enjoyable year, Glenn told me that Kenny Jackett wanted to go back to running the Youth team and I had to make way for him. I was left with a difficult decision to make. I had worked really hard to get back playing and my first stab in coaching hadn’t worked out. Should I look to stay in football or make a clean break?”
Keith was out of work for 10 months, which was hard after 21 years in football. He had reached a decision that he didn’t want the uncertainty of a career in football and needed a new career and security. He joined the police force in the Bedfordshire Constabulary, who he still works for today.
“It was hard at first being out of the game. It was all I had ever done and all I ever thought I would do. It is easier now. I look back to when I finished and it would have been great to pass my skills and experience on, these days there would be roles for goalkeeping coaches, but it wasn’t really the thing back then.”
“I still go to Sunderland games on the supporters’ minibus from where I live. I am also a member of the Former Players’ Association which means I meet up with old friends and teammates at events. I get to most home games and things have gone full circle and I am back to being a supporter again, where it all started and with the team closest to my heart.”
“I still look out for the results of all my former clubs including the Blades. I obviously live close to Peterborough and I do get to see their games now and again.”
Looking back Keith has few regrets.
“After being released as a free agent at 19 I still had a playing career lasting another 17 years, won medals and played at Wembley. I met some fantastic people and made great friends. I played for great clubs with tremendous support and I look back on it all with great pride.”
Keith was great company to talk to and I want to thank him again for his time. I also recall that Keith was great with the supporters as a player. As much as I would like to think that the 8/9 year old me scored a penalty past Keith at a Bramall Lane Open Day, I think the reality was that Keith let it in, giving a young Blades supporter a great story for school the next day. In fact, he probably let a few in, not that I noticed. I was enjoying my moment. Thanks Keith.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Interview with Keith Waugh - Part 2 (Champion, Injuries & Wembley Winner)

As we left Part 1 of the interview, Keith had left Peterborough and had joined up with former Sunderland team-mate Ian Porterfield at Bramall Lane. The challenge was to help lift the Blades, in the 4th Division for the first time in their history, back to the 3rd Division at the first attempt.
"We made a slowish start, the addition of new players and the hangover from relegation for those who were still there. I think we lost a couple of games early on, but from October onwards we started to progress. The signings of Keith Edwards and Colin Morris were important. Keith had already scored past me, playing for Hull, earlier in the season. As you might imagine, knowing Keith, he didn't let me forget it!"
Colin remains one of Keith's good friends now, visiting the former winger in his new home in Portugal.
“I think that the belief of the players increased as the season went on. There were huge expectations from onlookers, we were the big fish in a little pond, and as I said I think at the start of the season that some of the squad were suffering a hangover from relegation, new players were fitting in. The win at Bradford City was when things started to click. The momentum grew. We had a hiccup three quarters of the way through the season but it was like a snowball effect, picking up results and growing in confidence until we were unstoppable nearer the end of the season.”
 “I think we believed we were good for promotion when we beat Peterborough 4-0 at London Road in late April, we knew then that non-one was going to stop us. In fact we did the double over Peterborough that season winning 4-0 in our final home game to secure promotion.
“There were other highlights, beating Arsenal 1-0 at home in the League Cup (United lost on aggregate), beating Bradford City 2-0 when they were top of the league. On a personal level I think I save a few penalties that season and I remember saving a last minute penalty in the 1-1 draw at Tranmere Rovers. I think we only lost 4 games all season.”

Keith also has a bad memory of that season. It was rare for 4th Division games to get much TV coverage, so when the Match of the Day cameras went to Layer Road, Colchester for United's visit hopes of putting on a show for the cameras must have been high. Things first started to go wrong when United had to play in the Colchester away kit, due to the sponsors on United's shirts not being allowed on television coverage at the time. As for the game…..
"I still have nightmares about the match. It was one of those games and it just had to be on Match of the Day. Nothing went right, I had an absolute stinker and we lost 5-2. I just couldn't bring myself to watch it that night. Afterwards Ian (Porterfield) was great. He said, "It is a one-off game, you have had a great season so far, put it behind you." I got clean sheets in the next two games which we both won 4-0 and the confidence came back quickly."
United had secured promotion by the time they travelled to Feethams, Darlington for the final game of the season in a match that has gone down in Blades folklore.
"I have never played in a game like it. You would not have believed that you were playing away from home. United fans must have been on three sides of the ground, all in fancy dress. It was a real carnival atmosphere. We still had to remain focused though and despite all that was going on around us (fans were sat virtually on the touchline) we took the game really seriously. I remember Ian Porterfield telling us all, "We have got to win the league, we have come this far. Yes we are promoted, but promotion means nothing, unless we win the title.""
With the 4th Division title in the bag, United carried great momentum into the following season. Sadly for Keith, injury was about to disrupt his plans.
"I was playing in our final pre-season game at Lincoln and I broke my collarbone. It kept me out for three months and Steve Conroy started the season in goal. I tried coming back but it was too soon and I broke it again. It was a nightmare. After such a fantastic start at United, that second season was soured by that injury."
Keith eventually returned to the first team in December and remained first choice until the end of the season, with United finishing 11th.
"The season after I was back in and playing okay when I got an abscess on my leg, it was really horrendous and if I had landed on it, it would have been terrible. I missed a game and Tommo (Paul Tomlinson) came in and did really well. They kept him in the team and I never really got my place back."
That season was a successful season for United as they were promoted for the second time in three years with a third place finish in Division Three, but it had been tough for Keith watching on from the side-lines after 16 league appearances at the start of the season.
"After my injury setbacks in the second and third seasons I was determined to come back and win back my place the following season. I was really focused in pre-season and worked my guts out to be in tip top condition. I was absolutely flying. In pre-season Ian Porterfield said what was in the past was past and that he was going to pick the best player. For our opening league game versus Wolves I played which we drew 2-2. I was probably playing the best football of my career and then in mid-October we lost 3-0 to Boro and following that game he left me out. I was absolutely devastated. He didn’t even give me an explanation as to why he had left me out, nothing. I was so down, I was so gutted."
After that Keith never really played for United again. Paul Tomlinson was back in the number 1 jersey and then the club signed John Burridge. The writing was on the wall, leaving Keith a disappointed man.
"The end at United was so sad. I loved the place, the people, where we lived. My kids were born in the city. I had come to the realisation that I didn’t have a future there and would have to move on."
"I went on loan to Cambridge to get games. My old United team-mate John Ryan had taken charge there and I had four games with them. Then I went to Bristol City on loan. They wanted to sign me, but the clubs were haggling about fees so I decided to sit it out til my contract was up in the summer."
Keith signed for City on a free in the summer and was joining a club that was slowly on its way back from the brink. Three years previously the club had been declared bankrupt and 8 players had accepted termination of their contracts on vastly reduced deals for the good of the club. Terry Cooper had brought them out of the 4th Division 12 months previously and they were now consolidating their position in Division 3. Keith was about to have what he now describes as “four great seasons at Bristol City.”
"City had gone from the 1st Division to the 4th and hit financial problems. Terry Cooper was steering them back and he was really good manager to work for; a fantastic, salt of the earth football man."
Within 12 months at Ashton Gate Keith was to fulfil boyhood dreams and add a medal to his trophy cabinet.
"In my first season at City we reached Wembley in the Freight Rover Trophy, beating Bolton Wanderers 3-0 in front of 60,000 fans. The fact that it was the Freight Rover Trophy didn't degrade it; I was playing at Wembley, a childhood dream."
"I was so excited before the game. I remember going out on to the pitch and the turf being so lush. City had taken a fantastic following, they were a really well supported club and I remember our end of Wembley was packed out like it would be for a FA Cup final and they made a tremendous noise. It certainly wasn’t a lesser game; it was a cup final for us.”
“We gave the fans a convincing win and what made it special for me was that my parents were there watching me; knowing how proud they were about it all. They had been brilliant throughout my career and I wouldn’t have achieved what I did without what my parents gave to me all the way through. It was a reward for them as much as it was for me. It was a magical experience; the best."
"We returned the following year in the same competition, but lost on penalties to Mansfield. I made a conscious decision to go the same way for every penalty in the shoot-out. I reckoned on the law of averages they would put at least one down that side and I saved the second penalty from Keith Cassells and decided to keep going with it."
In the end it was a former United team-mate who was to beat him with the winning penalty.
"Yes, Mr Tony Kenworthy took their winning penalty and I was used to facing him in training for United. He was a great penalty taker and took all United’s penalties until Colin Morris took over. I've spoken with him since and I think he was really nervous, but they had twigged that I was going the same way each time. To be fair, I think he just closed his eyes and smashed it! I was gutted."
“In my third season we faced United in the play offs, pushing for promotion as United were trying to hold on to their 2nd Division status. We took a 1-0 lead from the first leg to Bramall Lane and I remember there was an awesome noise generated. We drew 1-1 and Colin (Morris) scored a brilliant goal past me. It felt like the Alamo second half as United battered us, but we held out. I felt very sad for United being relegated in those circumstances.”
It was Colin Morris’s final game for United and a great sign off. Meanwhile Keith was preparing for what should have been a two legged final versus Walsall. City lost the home leg 3-1, but then went to Fellows Park and won 2-0. In the absence of away goals counting the match went to a replay the following Bank Holiday Monday, again at Walsall. Sadly for Keith and City, the Saddlers ran out 4-0 winners.
The 1988-89 season saw City close in on more knockout cup success, the 3rd Division side reaching the League Cup Semi Finals, only to lose 2-1 over two legs to Nottingham Forest. They were defeated only after an extra time defeat in the second leg at Ashton Gate.  
“Forest had a great team at the time with a few internationals and to lose the second leg 1-0 in extra time, live on TV, was desperately disappointing.”
In Part 3 we look at Keith's decision to leave Bristol, his time at Coventry and Watford and a few reflections on his career and football today.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Interview with Keith Waugh - Part 1 (Black Cat goes Posh)

In the latest of my interviews with former Blades heroes I have spoken to a player from a slightly earlier era to those that I have spoken to before. He joined United as the club was at its lowest ebb and played a key role in the team’s immediate revival. As United won the 4th Division title, goalkeeper Keith Waugh played all bar one league game earning the respect of his fellow players and being chosen for the PFA Divisional Team of the Season.
His career also took in spells at Peterborough United, Bristol City, Coventry City and Watford and garnered league and cup medals alongside Wembley success.
As his twitter username (@blackcatkw) suggests, Keith is a big Sunderland fan. Growing up in the city and representing Durham Schoolboys.
"The county borders differed back then! I played local school football and progressed to county football. I did well for Durham and I was invited to international trials for England schoolboys. Sadly I didn't make it. However I was noticed by my home town club. I signed schoolboy forms with Sunderland and then as an apprentice at Sunderland in the summer of 1973, just as I left school at 16. As you can imagine it was a terrific time to join the club, a poignant time for Sunderland fans, on the back of the Cup final victory over Leeds."
As a regular at Roker Park prior to signing, I ask if he made it to Wembley to support his team?
"Yes, I got two tickets through being associated with the club. It was quite strange as my mum and her family were all Sunderland fans, whilst my dad and his family were all Newcastle supporters. It was fun growing up in my family, I can tell you. I actually took my dad to Wembley with my spare ticket and my mum and all the rest of her family queued for tickets at Roker."
It was a family influence that led to Keith being a goalkeeper.
"Well my dad had always played in goal in local football and I heard his stories of being a keeper and so I naturally followed in his footsteps. Watching Sunderland as a lad I idolised Jim Montgomery, he was my hero and I tried to model myself on Monty. Then when I joined the club he was the goalkeeper"
“My strength was shot stopping, I was known for having good reactions. I guess my weakness was commanding my area and dealing with high balls. The criticism for this bugged me at the time; I’m not that bad I used to think. People always had an opinion and as a keeper you worked on all aspects of your game, but when one mistake can prove fatal that sets people’s viewpoint.”
Sadly, Keith never made a breakthrough at Sunderland.
"I mainly played junior and reserve team, football. I was always going to struggle to knock a club legend like Jim out of the team. I was released at 19 and in reality I could have no arguments about it. When Bob Stokoe told me I felt hurt by it, but I could see it was probably for the best at my age. It was very sad, I always wanted to play for my hometown club, but sometimes you have to move on to progress your career."
It was a big time in a young player's career and Keith was facing a career defining decision about what to do next.
"I was facing the likelihood of moving away from home and integrating into a new club. That was assuming I would find a club, something I was a bit concerned about. I was 19, without any first team experience. My name was circulated and I was lucky enough to go for talks at one or two clubs; Crewe and Grimsby. I was travelling back on the train from Blundell Park and I called my mum from Doncaster Station. "You haven’t signed anything have you?" she asked. "Because Peterborough are interested and would like to meet you." I got back home and met with Posh Assistant Manager John Barnwell at a Newcastle hotel where we discussed future plans. I then went down to meet Noel Cantwell, who was in charge at London Road. I felt comfortable with them and so I signed.”
This was the summer of 1976 and Peterborough were then in the old 3rd Division.
"I loved the set-up at London Road and immediately felt comfortable. Eric Steele - now coach at Manchester United - was the goalkeeper at the time and was reasonably well established. It was my job to work hard and try and put pressure on him for his place and see how things would progress."
In the end, Keith didn't have to wait long for his opportunity and it went nearly as well as he could have hoped, apart from the score line.
“It was mid-October 1976 and we had conceded 6 at Preston North End on the Saturday. In the week after the Preston game Noel Cantwell approached me to say I was going to make my debut the following Saturday, away at Brighton & Hove Albion. It was incredibly exciting and a potentially tough match, as Brighton were top of Division 3 at that time and I think they had scored 7 the week before."
"It was a bit worried, thinking about making my debut against a team doing so well, when we were having a bit of a hard time. I remember it feeling so different, I was used to playing in large football grounds, but they were usually empty for youth and reserve team matches. The Goldstone Ground was a proper, old fashioned football ground, large banks of terracing on several sides. I think the crowd was around 20,000 and they generated a great atmosphere. The other thing that sticks in the memory is the distinct smell of a football stadium."
"I was extremely excited going on to the pitch and didn't really feel the nerves. I felt that I had a decent, steady game and despite our 1-0 defeat I got decent write ups in the match reports. It was a good introduction to league football. I was in the team and it was up to me to keep my place. I got a great lift from my performance and I didn't want to lose the feeling. I wanted to forge a career as a professional footballer."
Keith successfully established himself in the first team at London Road and went on to spend 5 years there.
"After a couple of seasons I was linked with moves. I think Ipswich (then under Bobby Robson) and Tottenham had reportedly been watching me. It was great to hear yourself linked with big clubs, but you never knew if anything was going to come from it."
"In my final season at Posh we had a successful cup run, reaching the FA Cup 5th round where we lost 1-0 to Manchester City, who eventually lost to Spurs in the replay in the final thanks to Ricky Villa. It was a full house at London Road, a cracking atmosphere. I guess that increased exposure, at what was then a 4th Division club, helped raise my profile further."
With Keith coming to the end of his contract a call from old Sunderland team-mate Ian Porterfield led to a move to Bramall Lane.
“Ian knew me from my days at Sunderland and had just taken over as manager (United had suffered final day relegation and entered the 4th Division for the first time in their history) and I had a call from him inviting me down for talks. I felt at home straight away, arriving at Bramall Lane and thinking "Phwoar! This is for me!" I’d been linked with 1st Division clubs, but everything about the place said anything but 4th Division; the infrastructure, the support, the team that was being built and I was really bought into Ian's plans to take the club back to the top. I thought here was a club who I could go up through the leagues with. I had no hesitation in signing."
Porterfield had been given an unprecedented 10 year contract by Chairman Reg Brealey, who was keen to see his impressive on/off pitch plans come to fruition. United had a large number of players from the North East in the team at the time and this helped Keith settle.
“It helps you settle and bond as a team. There was a strong Sunderland connection as well – thanks to Ian Porterfield’s recruitment. Mick Henderson, Kevin Arnott, Joe Bolton and John McPhail were all in the squad. John played with me at Bristol City and I still see him occasionally when I go to Sunderland matches.” 
In Part 2, we talk about successful and disappointing times with the Blades and Wembley success with Bristol City.