I’VE MET KEVIN KEE­GAN – I CAN NOW DIE HAPPY

Western Daily Press - - Front Page - KATIE JARVIS news@west­erndai­ly­press.co.uk

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

An­drew Hig­gins/Thou­sand Word Me­dia Ltd

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

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