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"Upside-down and eccentric" - the Guardian's view of Manchester City's 3-2 Premier League home defeat by Tottenham in the run-up to Christmas 2002. Jon Holmes spoke to Steve Howey, who scored that day, to talk about Maine Road life under Kevin Keegan and the late great Marc-Vivien Foe.
By Jon Holmes - @jonboy79
Last Updated: 23/11/13 9:41am
"There was always a glint in his eye - he used to come into work like a little boy in a sweetshop."
Those were the fond words of Steve Howey upon the occasion of Kevin Keegan's departure from Manchester City in March 2005, and it's an image of one of the game's most endearing characters that still holds true to this day.
Keegan went from being a bona fide superstar as a player with Liverpool, Hamburg, Southampton and Newcastle United, to being a manager of immense charisma whose teams were often considered a breath of fresh air. Brimming with attacking brio but liable to break at the seams, Keegan's spells in charge of the Magpies (twice), Fulham, City and of course England were often turbulent times but equally a thrill-ride for players and fans alike.
His arrival on the blue half of Manchester in summer 2001, after relegation from the Premier League had cost Joe Royle his job, sparked a swift turnaround in City's fortunes. With Shaun Goater, Darren Huckerby and Paulo Wanchope banging in the goals (the trio netted 60 of City's 108 in the First Division), they bounced back at the first time of asking, enabling them to spend their last season at Maine Road as a top-flight club again.
With Christmas just around the corner as Glenn Hoddle's Tottenham Hotspur came calling for a Monday Night Football clash on Sky Sports, City found themselves in 12th spot, four points and four places behind their visitors. Keegan referred to "ups and downs" in his pre-match press conference - in the preceding weeks, his team had beaten United 3-1 in the Manchester derby only to follow that up with a home defeat by Charlton Athletic - and it would prove to be a case of pleasure and pain again for the club's supporters against Spurs.
"The first season that I had at City under Joe Royle (having been signed for £2million on a four-year deal from Newcastle), we went down pretty badly," said Howey. "But the next year, when we came up, Kevin - as he always does - brought in some good players and we had a half-decent team. Something was just starting to build then for Manchester City, because they'd had a lot of years of struggling.
"And on nights like that, even though Tottenham weren't shy of spending money either, we fancied ourselves. Sometimes the London boys don't like a cold Monday night in December. We were more than up for the game.
"For me, there were a lot of parallels with Newcastle, when we first came up (from the 1993-94 season). We did a little bit better at Newcastle but at the same time, because we loved going forward, we were susceptible to leaking goals."
Kasey Keller had to make three fine saves to keep out City's bright sparks early on but could do nothing to prevent Howey from deftly back-heading in the opener from Kevin Horlock's 29th-minute free-kick.
"I can remember the free-kick and the header," added Howey. "Alan Smith, who was the co-commentator, implied I didn't mean it, which I wasn't too happy about!
"When I was at City, for a centre-half, I got my fair share of goals (11 in 94 league appearances). Kevin used to whip a great ball in, and he would tend to aim for me. Often it would be Paolo or Shaun who would get on the end of them, but we were all more than capable of sticking the ball in the back of the net. With Kevin's kind of delivery, like in that Tottenham game, there was such whip that you only had to get a slight touch on it to score."
Despite their dominance in the first third of the game, City went into the break level at 1-1 as Christian Ziege's corner found the unmarked head of Chris Perry on 38 minutes. Now Spurs sensed blood and after a Ziege 20-yarder forced Peter Schmeichel into a fine save, Spurs forged ahead three minutes after the restart when Robbie Keane evaded his Republic of Ireland team-mate Richard Dunne and crossed for Simon Davies to nod home.
"We were one of those teams that just looked to attack, so we did get caught by good players and good teams," admits Howey. City struggled to contain Tottenham, before another Ziege set-piece late on was stuck away by Gus Poyet, craning his neck back in order to connect.
Sandwiched between that Poyet goal and Ali Benarbia's sumptuous consolation effort was the dismissal of Ziege, the German wing-back shown a pair of yellow cards and then a red by referee Jeff Winter for twice kicking the ball away in a matter of minutes.
"I always found it ridiculous really that you could get sent off for kicking the ball away, because it's just petulance," said Howey, who is now a referee's assessor and is well versed in the varying styles of officiating. "Jeff was a good referee, but if he was half as good as he actually thought he was, he would have been a superb referee!"
Spurs rose to seventh spot, eight points behind then leaders Arsenal at the halfway stage of a season that would eventually be won by Manchester United - their eighth Premier League title in 11 years. City's fluctuating fortunes continued - they lost 5-1 at home to Arsenal in February and 5-0 away to Chelsea in March, but there were victories away to Tottenham and also Liverpool, and a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. Keegan's side finished the campaign in ninth - one place and one point above Spurs, as it turned out - and they also qualified for the UEFA Cup having topped the Fair Play table.
One-nil defeats by West Ham United and Southampton in the final two home games slightly spoilt the farewell to Maine Road, meaning the last City goal at the ground was scored against Sunderland by Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe, on a season-long loan from Lyon. Foe's return to the French city for a Confederations Cup semi-final against Colombia on 26 June, 2003, would result in his tragic death, with undiagnosed hypertrophic cardiomyopathy the cause. Howey has happy memories of his City team-mate.
"Marco was a great lad," he said. "He always, always, had a smile on his face. I felt sorry for him actually, because in the dressing room he was number 23, so at training he would sit between Richard Dunne and myself. It was no secret that me and Dunney liked to go out and have a couple of beers. Sometimes we'd turn up and Marco would say: "How on earth are you in training?" Dunney and I would sit there and just constantly laugh!
"I can remember playing for Newcastle against him when he was at West Ham. We were away at Upton Park and absolutely cruising (April 2000) and they brought on Paulo Wanchope - with Foe joining the attack, too. I just couldn't handle them - they were so big, good in the air and so strong - and they completely flipped the game around. So when Marco came to City, I was absolutely delighted.
"He was a really good player; it was underestimated really how important he was to the team. But more importantly, as a man, he was an absolute dream to work with. I was away at the time I found out about his tragic death. It was an absolutely horrendous loss."
By the time of Foe's passing, Howey had already left City for Leicester. The defender had fallen out with Keegan over an ongoing broken-toe problem, leading to a confrontation that he looks back on now with regret.
"When I was at Newcastle, I had three really bad injuries - major injuries - which sometimes players just don't come back from, so I managed to come back from each one of those," he explained.
"Each one kept me out for about a year. When I was at City, you get the odd hamstring strain and the like, but playing with a broken toe wasn't great. Yet Kevin had a great ability to convince you 100% that you were ready to play, even though you were in absolute agony - he did it for me at Newcastle, and again at City. But we had a big fall-out about it, and I ended up leaving the club because of that."
Having struggled through that heavy home defeat by Arsenal, Howey missed two games through injury before declaring himself available for the trip to Chelsea. However, when Keegan pinned up the teamsheet at Carrington before the journey south, the centre-back was listed among the substitutes. As he needed pain-killing injections to get through any game, Howey knew coming off the bench midway through would be much tougher for him than starting. He reacted angrily.
"In hindsight, if I'm being brutally honest, I should have just took it and done it," he added. "We were at the training ground, getting ready to go to leave. Derek Fazackerley came out and gave me the dreaded curly finger.
"At the time, I thought I was doing quite well, alongside Dunney and Sylvain Distin in the back three. But Kevin wanted to change it. I spat my dummy out, and said I wasn't going on the bench. Arthur Cox pulled me to one side, and said, 'have a think about it'. I stood there and looked at him, and said, 'well I've thought about it, and I'm still not doing it'. That was the end, really. The result didn't go our way at Chelsea, and Kevin held me accountable for that. My days were pretty much numbered then."
As it transpired, Howey may have burned his bridges with Keegan, but he struggled to build any in the first place with Leicester boss Micky Adams. The pair never saw eye to eye and Howey would move on again to Bolton Wanderers just six months later, although his playing days were drawing to a close by this stage. Sam Allardyce chose not to retain him and after stints in the US with New England Revolution and back home in his native North East with Hartlepool, Howey hung up his boots in summer 2005 at the age of 33.
Sunday's City v Spurs encounter is likely to be a less helter-skelter affair than that 2002 meeting, with Manuel Pellegrini considerably more circumspect than Keegan, and Andre Villas-Boas' side looking rather toothless.
But although few top-flight managers can expect their chairmen to tolerate the inconsistencies that the Keegan approach would bring, there was something rather delicious about not knowing what type of performance his side would turn in on a given day. Neutrals were frequently entertained, while the home fans went through the full gamut of emotions. Howey had it right - Keegan, the kid in the sweetshop, delving into a big bag of pick 'n' mix with a broad smile, hoping to pull out the fizzy cherry-cola bottle...
Watch Manchester City v Tottenham live on Sky Sports 1 HD on Sunday, with coverage underway from 12.30pm.