By Scott Innes
The year: 2023. After Earth is decimated by pestilence and war, mankind attempts to colonise a distant planet. Here, Kevin Keegan sets up his new football academy...
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I forget who said that - possibly Bryan Robson. I’d ask him, but last I heard he was rounded up and forced to perform hard labour in the phlebonium mines on Gralka IV. He’ll be disappointed with that.
But either way, it’s true. You go through a great deal in your life and in my seven-or-so decades I’ve maybe seen more than most. Some things I’ll treasure - my Liverpool days, my time in Germany, taking over at Newcastle. But then there are the things I’d sooner forget - that header at World Cup ‘82, falling off that bloody bike on Superstars, giving Paul Ince my phone number (seriously, there are only so many times you can tolerate receiving a breathy phone call at three in the morning as Incey says, “Gaffer - it’s happened again”). And, of course, the lowest of the low. 1995-96.
Everyone likes to harp on about how my Newcastle lads threw away the league title that season, chucked a twelve-point lead in the bin and allowed Man United to pip us on the final day. But the thing that I’ve always said - and I absolutely stand by this today - is that if the league season had finished in January rather than May, we’d have won the title. And that’s what makes it such a bitter pill to swallow.
But whichever way you look at it, 1995-96 was a gut-punch. I really thought we were going to do it. We had Pete Beardsley and Les Ferdinand up top and Daz Peacock and Warren Barton at the back - and if you think you can name any other defensive pairing with more luxuriant hair than those two then, frankly, you’re lying. And yet it wasn’t enough. My one tiny consolation at that time was that I was convinced I’d never be able to feel any worse. I had hit rock bottom and Sir Al Ferguson was riding high. But the more things change the more they stay the same. Now it’s not Sir Al Ferguson that I’m up against.
It’s the bloody L’zuhl.
Adapting to life on a new planet is a lot like taking the reins at a new club - you don’t know your way around, you can’t remember anybody’s names and you worry constantly about being vaporised by an aggressive alien race. Well, maybe not that last one.
Life on Palangonia hasn’t been easy even a year down the line. When the L’zuhl invaded Earth and laid waste to everything mankind had built over however many thousands of years, I was already gone. Say what you like about politicians, but they had a plan and you have to give credit where it’s due. The Alliance Assembly (the big conference of galactic bigwigs) had been fighting the L’zuhlian war for generations while we on Earth were blissfully unaware - until the L’zuhl fleet was pretty much on our doorstep. The Assembly helped us to evacuate as much of Earth’s population to various distant planets as possible with the intention that we could regroup and then join them in the fight against the L’zuhl - we weren’t the first or the last planet to get that kind of treatment. Others sadly fell to the L’zuhl before the Alliance could step in. We were one of the lucky ones I guess. Depending on your point of view.
The human compound here on Palangonia is in many ways like a massive great prison - big thick stone walls, machine gun turrets, a heavy law enforcement presence. But at the same time it has a library, a cinema and three Costa Coffees. So I shouldn’t knock it too much. And aside from their occasional attacks on the compound gates with their spears and their bows and arrows, as well as their repeated claims that we’ve annexed their sacred land and defiled their heritage, the native Palangonian tribespeople have welcomed us with open arms.
But of course, the best thing about the compound is also the very reason I’m here. My football club. Palangonia FC. The beating heart of the community. Sure, it’s a small operation at the moment but listen, you’ve got to start somewhere. And yes, okay, there are some people who believe that funding a football team during a time of galactic war is an appalling frivolity - I won’t name names, that’s not my style, but General Leigh is one of them. The way I look at it is this: if not for the beautiful game - the unparalleled glory of a last-minute winner, the jaw-dropping splendour of an overhead kick, the agonising outstretched arm of the goalie keeping a well-struck penalty at bay - then what the bloody hell are we even fighting for? How can the displaced people of Earth (the ones who drew the short straw and ended up out here at the rotten arse-end of space, anyway) possibly hope to keep that stiff upper lip in place without the prospect of going to the match on a Saturday afternoon and watching my boys take on a side from a neighbouring nebula? That’s why Palangonia FC is here. That’s why Kevin Keegan is here. That’s why it matters.
It’s really all we have left.