Roy Keane: the only interview you need to read

12/10/2014

14_Page_31_Perry When former Town manager Roy Keane released his new book this week, there was frantic media attention. Peregrine Cuttlefish, society columnist for the East Anglian Daily Times from 1871 – 1903, occasional Turnstile Blues contributor, and the only man to have spent three solid hours flicking rubber bands at Charles Dickens’s nose, instantly recognised the potential for a meeting of wizened minds, and was first in the queue for an interview. We are proud to present the full text of what can quite literally be described as a historic encounter. Transcribed by Gavin Barber.

Peregrine Cuttlefish: Thank you, Mr Keane, for agreeing to an interview. When I read your book I realised that we should meet. We have each spent our lives at the very forefront of history: living and shaping the moments that define our respective eras.

Roy Keane: You say that. I could agree with it or not agree with it. It doesn’t matter.

PC: One notices straight away your antipathy towards Sir Alex Ferguson, a man whom you chastise for being distracted by horses. This instantly reminded me of Thomas Hardy, who was notorious for tearing up drafts of his latest novel if he saw a moth in the room. A little-known fact is that Far From The Madding Crowd was only completed because me and a troupe of jobbing performers from the Lambeth Music Hall were on a 24-hour patrol outside his study, swatting moths with our banjos lest any should disturb Hardy’s concentration. Did you ever meet him?

RK: Thomas Hardy? Aye, a miserable fuck. Sure he could pull a sentence together but why be so bitter about everything? I look back on what I achieved as a footballer and see no acknowledgement of that in Hardy’s work. None at all. That to me seems disrespectful. I’ve no time for the man.

PC: There’s a passage in the book in which you say that Sunderland chairman Ellis Short spoke to you “like you were something on the bottom of his shoe”. I remember Queen Victoria herself saying this after an unfortunate encounter with the King of Norway. What are your views on the dowager empress?

RK: Queen Victoria? Ah, listen. She’s achieved a lot, there’s no doubt about that. But I don’t get the need to be flouncing around with the big black dresses and the moody face. OK, so the guy with the knob-ring died. Get over it, move on. The way I see it, you look back over some of the proper monarchs, your Henry Vs and what have you, and they never saw the need for that sort of showboating. They just got their heads down and got on with the business of oppressing people. I just don’t get why Victoria had to show off like that. Why the flouncing? Can’t be doing with it.

PC: Thinking back over my own time as one of the leading lights of the literary circuit, I recall a cocktail party in Woodbridge in which Lady Login-Error of Shotley caused quite the stir by reading to the assembled company from her diaries. She shocked the guests by revealing that she had tapped a servant-girl across the ankles for insolence. Your new book reveals several such confrontations. Is this a regular feature of your life?

RK: Listen, I’m no different from anyone else. People think I’m this kind of monster, always getting wound up and fighting people, but I’m just a normal guy. Yeah, I’ve had a few rucks. Jon Walters and Pablo at Ipswich, that’s in the book. Schmeichel at Man United too. And yeah, it happens occasionally. I was in the hotel this morning and there weren’t enough hash browns at the breakfast buffet. I don’t even like hash browns. It shouldn’t matter to me. But it’s about standards of professionalism. So, yeah, I smashed up the kitchen and pinned the chef against the wall. But it’s just part of life. Happens to anyone.

PC: You’ve said in the book that when you were a player you had a ‘character’ that you got into, and that all sports professionals are, to an extent, playing a role. I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the company of your fellow countryman George Bernard Shaw. Like you, he was perceived by some as a troublemaker: in reality he was studious and diligent, but with a playful side. I remember one occasion when we were dining at White’s with Horry Walpole: Shaw carefully arranged all the peas on his plate into a perfect pyramid, then toppled it just as the Prince of Wales walked past our table. The bumbling royal lost his footing amidst the leguminous sea, and clattered face-first into the Duke of Fife’s sherry trifle. Shaw was roaring with laughter. Which of the classical thespians did you follow in developing your role as a footballer? I thought I could see Stanislavski’s influence in the fight with Alan Shearer in 2001 which got you a red card.

RK: Sure, there’s an element of acting there. Stanislavski is nonsense though. Method acting? Don’t give me that. You’re either in character or you’re not. What business do you have calling yourself a professional if you’ve got to immerse yourself for hours? Get in there, do the job, get the fuck off the stage.

PC: And finally Mr Keane: a contemporary of mine was Charles Darwin, who like you attracted disdain, opprobrium and horror in his own time, only to be regarded as a visionary in later years. What are your views on human evolution? Have we reached optimum physicality or can we adapt further? Do you think it will ever be physically possible to…

RK: Stick it up your bollocks.

Roy Keane’s new book, Stuff That Makes Me Cross When I Think About It, is out now. Peregrine Cuttlefish’s memoirs are due to be published just as soon as he remembers the details of that hilarious thing that Edward Elgar once did with a goldfish. In the meantime, an excerpt can be found in the new issue of Turnstile Blues, on sale at Portman Road next Saturday or via this website soon afterwards.


Roy Keane Ha Ha Ha (or The Snapper)

07/10/2014

 

gloria

Roy Keane has written about his time at Portman Road. Susan Gardiner took a quick look and these are her first impressions.

I did wonder whether Roy Keane would say very much about Ipswich Town in his new autobiography, The Second Half, co-written with Irish novelist, Roddy Doyle. I enjoyed his previous book with Eamon Dunphy (with whom he later fell out. Obviously.) and I felt some sympathy with him when he came to Ipswich – here’s a man who will never be able to build a career away from the cameras, journos and their tiresome ringing mobile phones, and keyboard warriors high on male pheromones – but that has been severely strained by a quick glance at the relevant chapter of the new book. Given that I don’t have the context of the entire book, it wouldn’t be fair to comment too much on Keane, the man – although it’s hard not to.

It’s quite obvious that Keane regards his whole time at Portman Road as a mistake. He claims that he and Ipswich were a “bad fit” and the omens were there from the start: hardly anyone came to his first training session which was open to the public, he says. Oh, and he hates blue: “I don’t like fuckin’ blue. City were blue. Rangers were blue. My biggest rivals were blue? Is that childish?”

Yes, Roy. It is.

I’m quite glad that I was unaware of that level of irrationality when he was our manager. Although this book was written with hindsight, it’s a curious method of self-justification and that particular bit doesn’t ring true. I wonder why he says it. It’s not particularly edifying. He goes on: “I couldn’t feel it. Me and the club. I get annoyed now, thinking that. I should have been able to accept it.”

This is the tone of the section I’ve read: slightly regretful, mea culpa, I should have accepted the situation and have done my best with it. But I don’t buy it. It seems to me that, at Ipswich, he felt like Gloria Swanson, playing the ageing Hollywood star, Norma Desmond at the end of Sunset Boulevard (“I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.”) He moans about his office, “like a school prefab,” and it makes me long for the humility of an Alf Ramsey or the pragmatic cheeriness of a Bobby Robson (“good fits”).

The question springs to mind: why was Roy Keane appointed at all? What was in Marcus Evans’ mind when he (presumably) decided to sack Magilton and replace him with this man? Magilton was not doing particularly badly. In retrospect, it seems very harsh that he was sacked and, although we’re happy to have Mick McCarthy, I do wonder how well Magic Jim would have done, had he had the time to build a team. The only explanation that I can come up with for the arrival of Keane is “publicity.” And he definitely created huge opportunities for a certain grey and white logo to be displayed all over Britain’s press and TV screens.

Keane is certainly self-deprecating at times: “I made another mistake. I should have looked at the bigger picture.” He writes of what he describes as “the dreaded conversations with the owner” during the close season. It’s interesting to see that, for all his anonymity, Evans is not averse to interfering with managerial decision-making. Perhaps Town fans became too used to the completely hands-off approach that the Cobbolds took for decades, although it seemed to work for us. I was most surprised by the picture Keane draws of sitting with ME discussing tactics, with a tactics board. Perhaps this explains a lot:

ME: “Well, why can’t he play there?”

RK: “Because he’s this and he’s not that.”

ME: “Let’s go with the younger players.”

So, according to Keane’s book, he was told to go for youth rather than experience against his better judgement. “The average age of a promoted team is twenty-eight or twenty-nine.”

Keane puts the failure to recruit (33-year-old) Sean Derry firmly at the feet of the club. He wanted an experienced pro, which is understandable, but whether Derry was the right “fit,” we’ll never know. He’s respectful towards Town fans, says some kind words about Connor Wickham but what he says about some of his other players demonstrates an absence of rapport to say the least. When shaking their hands and wishing them luck going on to the pitch “sometimes I’d wonder what they were putting into my hand.”

He wanted to physically attack Pablo, and his bust-up with Walters is the stuff of legend (vomit selfie, anyone?) but what he says about selling Rhodes is interesting, at least to me because I always suspected that was a club decision rather than Keane’s and he confirms it.

Most interesting of all are his revelations about CEO Simon Clegg. And that there was never an occasion when he, Clegg and Evans were ever in “the same room together.” His comment on Clegg (“This is the face you have got”) being answerable to Marcus Evans rather than working with the manager rings true and it’s perhaps one thing that we can be sympathetic with Keane about.

While I find him surprisingly unanalytical and lacking in self-awareness (that ego gets in the way too often), I think he’s right about not being a good fit with this club. I despair that he compares us unfavourably to Sunderland and even more when reading these words: “Chris Kiwomya was there, and Bryan Klug, and Steve McCall was the chief scout. They’d all played for Ipswich. It has the feel of a family club that didn’t need breaking up. But that was exactly what it needed.”

Ultimately, it was the wrong appointment at the wrong time and for questionable reasons. Keane clearly found it onerous to “discuss mobile phones for hours” when Wickham has been thrown out of his digs. I was struck by the comparison with our great managers of the past, Ramsey and Robson, who patiently performed far more menial administrative tasks for the club and had a genius for good relationships with their players and other staff, well documented elsewhere. As Kevin Beattie recalled of Bobby Robson: “It didn’t matter if you were the best player in the team or the worst player, he treated you the same and got the best out of you. He could make an average player into a good player and a good player into a great player. It was uncanny ability and that made him stand out as a manager. Wherever he went, he seemed to get the best out of his players. I know at Ipswich, we all just wanted to play for him.”

Roy Keane wasn’t blessed with players of the ability of Beattie, Mariner, Wark or Mills, and it’s arguable that things may have been different if he’d had a different kind of owner and chief executive to deal with. In many ways, Keane was a symptom of the changes made to our club’s character in recent years rather than the cause of our problems. Let’s hope that in Mick McCarthy we now have someone able to deal with that, yet retain respect for the nature of our club.

 

The Second Half by Roy Keane and Roddy Doyle (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2014). Borrow it from your local public library, they need your support.


So farewell then, Rocky Michael Chopra

25/07/2013

chops

By Susan Gardiner.

I don’t know about nominative determinism, but when Mr. & Mrs. Chopra of Newcastle-upon-Tyne named their new son Rocky back in December 1983, they could not have known quite how boulder-strewn his life would turn out to be.

Michael Chopra will not be the most fondly remembered player ever to have graced the deteriorating turf at Portman Road. Long before his arrival at Ipswich Town his life story had been well-documented in the tabloids. Suffice it to say that we knew what we were getting when Paul Jewell signed him: a talented striker who had never fulfilled his obvious natural ability on the football pitch largely due to personal problems and an addiction to gambling.

Jewell’s predecessor, Roy Keane, had also tried to bring Chopra to the club. We’ll never know how that would have worked out. Keane’s tough approach to players may have been better for Chopra than Jewell’s laissez faire approach. In an article in the Daily Mirror on 28th November 2009, Chopra said that Keane had “rescued” his career when he was at Sunderland: “I owe Roy a lot. He was a massive help to me when I had some off-field problems at Sunderland. If I had a problem I knew I could go and speak to him. All I had to do was knock on his door. He was the one who told me check into rehab and sort myself out. I did that and came back a better player. After everything he did for me, I’ve got a lot of time and respect for him. I will always be grateful for the help and support he gave me. I’m looking forward to seeing him again.”

Paul Jewell – who, let’s face it, has had his own off-pitch issues – did give Chopra his support, as the Telegraph described after the player checked in to the Sporting Chance clinic as he once again battled with his problems. It was later revealed that the club had made Chopra a loan of £250,000 to pay off his creditors. This is an aspect of Ipswich Town – even during the difficult period when Simon Clegg was Chief Executive – that many supporters, myself included, feel is important, part of what makes us special. It’s possibly the kind of thing that Bobby Robson – famously caring and supportive of his players – would have done, although I suspect there was an aspect of Robson, the coal miner’s son with a strong work ethic and a steely determination underneath the soft-spoken charm, that would have viewed Michael Chopra with a very beady eye indeed.

His reasonably high strike rate at Cardiff City raised expectations among the Town faithful who had long been suffering from goal starvation. The thought that we now had a player who could actually place a ball in the opposition’s net, rather than just over the bar, or into the side-netting, perhaps raised those expectations too high. In addition, the Paul Jewell era will not go down as the greatest in Town’s history and although Chopra put a few goals away (18 in 78 appearances) he failed to achieve what had been hoped for.

Predictably, it was Chopra’s behaviour away from football that lost him the support and sympathy of the fans. Despite the immense goodwill shown to him by the club in making him that substantial loan, he appears to have been deep in trouble connected with his gambling problems. In October 2012, the British Horse-racing Authority charged him (and others) with involvement in corrupt betting practices, including offering bribes. Still supportive, ITFC allowed Chopra to make this statement about the case, but in January 2013, he was found guilty and banned from involvement in racing for ten years.

It was by this stage clear that Chopra’s problems with gambling were even more deep-seated and intractable than many Town supporters had realised. Once again, however, Chopra did little to help himself. Instead of keeping away from social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, where he would inevitably receive abuse from disgruntled fans and keyboard warriors, Chopra seemed to be unable to understand his responsibilities as a footballer using such media – as Gavin Barber pointed out in When Saturday Comes in March 2013.

On Twitter, he answered his critics by posting this photograph of a bag full of cash:

ash

Perhaps worst of all, he used social networking media to verbally abuse a young female sports journalist because he disliked something she’d reported in the course of her work. (He called her, bizarrely, a “prick.”) The journalist complained to the club, but to date has not had any kind of formal acknowledgement or response from ITFC.

The club remained either supportive of the player or silent on the matter – although it has taken action against players and fans for offensive posts on Twitter and Facebook before and since. From taking a generally sympathetic approach to Chopra’s problems, many fans were beginning to lose patience with him. No doubt the fact that the player wasn’t performing on the pitch didn’t help either.

Following this and several other incidents involving Town players, Turnstile Blues wrote a letter to the club in which we expressed our concerns about some aspects of the players’ behaviour off the field and suggested ways in which there might be better education and pastoral care given, particularly to younger players. The letter wasn’t specifically about Michael Chopra so I am only including a short extract here:

“We are a group of season ticket holders and long-standing supporters who wish to raise our concerns about the behaviour of some players at Ipswich Town Football Club. For obvious reasons, we won’t be making any reference to individuals or commenting on current legal proceedings, but we’re sad that, in recent years, some people associated with this great football club have hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. Generally, professional footballers have an extraordinary life. They receive, from a young age, the adulation of fans and also great material wealth in some cases. …

“We feel that players should receive education and training in the following areas: media training (in particular, the sensible use of social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter), how to cope with success – including managing money – and conversely, how to cope if they have to leave the club or professional football altogether…

“Recent comments made by some players on Facebook and Twitter suggest that these areas are not being addressed. There does seem to be a wider systemic and long-standing problem about some footballers’ attitudes to women. It’s not just an ITFC issue, of course, but Ipswich Town is the club we love and we want continue to be proud of.

“There are some excellent local charities which can provide such training. We would really like to see the club tackle these issues, preferably with the involvement of the PFA.”

We sent the letter to ITFC in March 2013 and are still waiting for a reply. While we applaud the club’s initial attempts to provide support and help for Michael Chopra, we think that there are times when players cross rather obvious lines and their behaviour becomes unacceptable and question whether that support should be continued in those circumstances.

I’m sure that the majority of Town fans wish Michael Chopra well at Blackpool and in the future and we hope that he will get the help he needs to address his problems but overall, it is probably best for all parties that he is no longer a player at Ipswich Town Football Club.