I’VE MET KEVIN KEEGAN – I CAN NOW DIE HAPPY
FOOTBALL-MAD Jo Smurthwaite has always had one goal of her own – to meet her alltime hero, former England captain Kevin Keegan.
And her dream finally came true on Tuesday night, when Keegan was signing copies of his new book in Gloucestershire.
Armed with some of her Keegan memorabilia, Jo played his 1979 single Head Over Heels on full volume as she approached the bemused player.
But he couldn’t have been more delighted, not only to meet his super-fan but to accept a personal donation from her of £777.77 – in honour of his famous Liverpool shirt – for a charity of his choice.
“He was genuinely shocked and grateful,” said a shaking Jo, who was equally delighted with her reward of a kiss, as well as several autographs on Keegan posters she bought as a teenager.
“I never thought it would happen. If I die tomorrow, I’m happy.”
Nailsworth resident Jo, who’s a keen supporter of the town’s Forest Green Rovers, narrowly missed her one other chance of meeting Keegan back in 1977, when she was 11. “My dad got us tickets to see Bristol City play Liverpool at Ashton Gate on May 16, a Monday night.
“I don’t know how he got them because we didn’t have a lot of money, but I can remember to this day the excitement of it all. I was so hoping to see Kevin Keegan play.
“I can see myself now, being held up on the railings by my dad so I could see the pitch. The sad thing was that Kevin didn’t play that day because they were in the FA Cup final that weekend – and that had been our whole reason for going. But we did get to see the likes of Emlyn Hughes, Ray Clemence, Tommy Smith and Ray Kennedy.”
It didn’t stop the adoration, though. While other girls her age were drooling over Donny Osmond and David Cassidy, Jo kept cuttings every time she saw Keegan’s name mentioned in the news – she still has the scrapbook – and papered her shared bedroom with his posters. Her own copy of Head Over Heels has a scratch on it, “because my dad got so fed up with me playing it, he dragged it off the record player”.
She said: “When I was 13, I saved up my paper-round money and bought a Kevin Keegan rug from a carpet shop in Lydney, where we lived. They put it by for me and I paid it off bit by bit every week. It’s my prize possession – it’s going to line my coffin.”
Although Jo never played football herself, at 16 she became the first female referee to qualify in Gloucestershire. “I did mainly youth matches,” she said. “The stick I used to get from parents on the sidelines was terrible. I think they were worse because I was young and female.”
During their chat, the two spoke about Jo’s late dad, who used to play in goal for the Lydney metal foundry Brico, where he worked.
On hearing how much she missed him, Keegan promised he would research charities for children who’ve lost parents, as a suitable recipient for her generous cheque.
“It was absolutely wonderful,” Jo said. “I never, ever thought I’d get to meet him. My dad would be so proud.”
Keegan was signing books in the Waterstones tent after giving a talk at Cheltenham Literature Festival.
The 67-year-old, who had the crowd chuckling, said it was the first time he had been to Cheltenham without losing money.
He also predicted that Jose Mourinho would “probably” show enough character to come through his tough time at Manchester United.
Keegan said: “It’s easy in life when you’re winning. The character comes out when you’re not winning. He’s got to handle it and he probably will.”
I never thought it would happen. If I die tomorrow, I’m happy JO SMURTHWAITE
Jo Smurthwaite with some of her memorabilia; below left, with the Kevin Keeganrug she saved up for as a child; below, the moment she actually got to meet her hero