October 22, 2021

Atletifo Sports

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What Happened When Kevin Keegan got Arrested at Belgrade Airport?

For a man who was a two time European player of the year, Kevin Keegan suffered some hardships in 1974. It was a mixed year for the Englishman, who was partnering future Real Madrid manager John Toshack up front for Liverpool. He scored twice in an FA Cup final win over Newcastle, but was sent off against League Champions Leeds United in the Charity Shield. Leeds captain Billy Bremner punched him in the match, and both men were banned for 11 games. However, that would be nothing compared to what Kevin Keegan faced in Belgrade.

England’s Tour of Europe

Keegan, then 23, was just establishing himself in the England side, having made his debut the year prior. He was travelling with England on a tour of Europe. They had played East Germany in Leipzig, where a Mick Cannon equaliser earned England a 1-1 draw. This was followed by a 1-0 in Sofia, where Frank Worthington scored the winner against Bulgaria.

Keegan started both of those matches and was considered one of the stars of the team. He made 7 appearances for England in 1974, showing himself to be one of the best forwards in Europe.

The team was managed by Joe Mercer. Mercer was a former manager of Manchester City, who took over as caretaker after Alf Ramsey was sacked in 1974. He was a candidate to take over permanently after his seven games in charge, but was unsuccessful. The Football Association wanted to take England in another direction, and appointed Leeds manager Don Revie as boss instead. This was unpopular, with the press and fans wanting Brian Clough as England manager instead.

Kevin Keegan

Keegan, then 23, was just establishing himself in the England side, having made his debut the year prior. He was travelling with England on a tour of Europe. They had played East Germany in Leipzig, where a Mick Cannon equaliser earned England a 1-1 draw. This was followed by a 1-0 in Sofia, where Frank Worthington scored the winner against Bulgaria.

Keegan started both of those matches and was considered one of the stars of the team. He made 7 appearances for England in 1974, showing himself to be one of the best forwards in Europe.

The team was managed by Joe Mercer. Mercer was a former manager of Manchester City, who took over as caretaker after Alf Ramsey was sacked in 1974. He was a candidate to take over permanently after his seven games in charge, but was unsuccessful. The Football Association wanted to take England in another direction, and appointed Leeds manager Don Revie as boss instead. This was unpopular, with the press and fans wanting Brian Clough as England manager instead.

FA Mix Up

The England team arrived in Belgrade, and the trouble started almost immediately. They landed in Belgrade ready for an upcoming match against Yugoslavia on the fifth of June. The team entered the baggage claim at the airport, but unusually were not greeted by any Yugoslav football officials. Usually, the teams would be greeted by an official to help them through the airport and to navigate the cities.

The Football Association has failed to consider the time difference in Great Britain and Yugoslavia. As a consequence, the official was to arrive in an hour. This left the England team to their own devices, and the trouble continued.

“Souvenir Pottery

The England team entered the airport, but you wouldn’t know it was them. It was a stark difference between the smartly dressed, professional looking players of the modern day. They were dressed in casual clothes, looking sloppy by modern standards. According to Kevin Keegan, they were “wearing casuals instead of uniforms and feeling in a jovial mood”.

Keegan was one of the first off the flight. Clutching two bags of souvenir pottery he had bought from Bulgaria after the previous match, he was in a less excitable mood than the squad. Kevin Keegan had slept most of the journey to Belgrade, and was in a groggy mood as he sat alone in the baggage claim.

His teammates however, were in a more playful mood. The players had been drinking on the flight before and were feeling rather boisterous. One player, Alec Lindsay, jumped on top of the baggage carousel and starting jumping and messing around.

He was dealt with by airport security. The onrushing security knocked Lindsay off of the carousel and onto the floor, with force.

Kevin Keegan was sat alone, on the edge of the carousel, still clutching his ceramic souvenirs. However, he was abruptly grabbed by the security, and hauled into a back room by two large security guards.

Kevin Keegan Belgrade Beating

Keegan was dragged into the back room in the airport, and forced to his knees by the onrushing security. It was in there where he was subject to a beating for his accused digressions. Keegan described what happened next as “being treated like a prisoner of war”.

Keegan was punched and kicked whilst on his knees, as well as being clubbed by batons. His assault was overly aggressive and misjudged, with Keegan unaware of what he’d done to earn such a beating.

As it turns out, one of the stewardesses on the flight to Belgrade had accused one of the England team of groping her whilst on the plane. He was also accused of assaulting a security guard, disturbing the peace and the obstruction of justice. Where these charges came from was beyond Keegan, who had been asleep throughout the flight and minding his own business in the airport.

It wasn’t until charges were filed and the Yugoslav officials turned up that Keegan was found and helped out of his situation. Manager Joe Mercer, FA Chairman Sir Andrew Stephen and FA secretary Ted Croker managed to intervene, along with the Yugoslavia officals. Keegan, now in tears from the ordeal, was released from custody and back into the care of the England team.

Kevin Keegan's 'I will love it' rant still memorable 20 years on | Football  News | Sky Sports
“I did not love it when they beat me. Did not love it”

What really happened?

Foreign Officials after the fact released their versions of events.

“He was dragged off for interrogation and undoubtedly roughed up, returning after 30 minutes with a bleeding nose, although not otherwise marked”. Said a foreign official in Belgrade.

It was reported that players had move into the customs area, which was not permitted. Kevin Keegan reportedly ignored the security in Belgrade, which led to his detainment.

Police also claimed that Keegan had hit a policeman in the airport. “It is only in the interests of Anglo-Yugoslav relations, international football, etc, that the police are not pressing well-justified charges against him”. The official report claimed.

The English players threatened to go on strike due to the treatment of their teammate. The British Officials also accused the Yugoslavia’s of unfair treatment of Kevin Keegan in Belgrade.

The players did, however, end up playing against Yugoslavia.

In less than ideal circumstances, England managed an impressive 2-2 draw against the Balkan side.

Kevin Keegan scored the equaliser.