By Far The Greatest Team

The football blog for fans of all clubs

Kevin Keegan: Head Over Heels in Germany, Part Two

After six years at Liverpool where he became one of the most well-known and recognisable players in Europe, Kevin Keegan felt he needed a new challenge. In the late 1950’s & early 1960’s several high profile names from British football moved abroad to ply their trade to varying degrees of success. Players such as Jimmy Greaves, Dennis Law and John Charles all played in Italy, but since then there had been a dearth of British players playing anywhere other than at home. The North American Soccer League (NASL) had just taken off in 1976 when Pele and George Best signed up, and so an exodus of British players made the journey across the Atlantic, but they were effectively only playing in America during the summer. Keegan had upped sticks and moved lock, stock and barrel to West Germany where he poured his all into his new career.

Hamburg had won the German Cup for only the second time in their history, in 1976 and gone onto win the European Cup-Winners’ Cup beating Anderlecht 2-0 in the Final. They certainly weren’t one of the more fashionable clubs in West Germany, but they could be considered “up-and-coming”. The last of their three Bundesliga titles came back in 1960 although they’d finished second in 1976, the year they won the cup. All this recent success had been masterminded by Kuno Klotzer, but the fifty-five-year-old was off to manage Hertha Berlin, so in came Rudi Gutendorf, who’d managed four different nations during 1976!

Hamburg was an ambitious club with a General Manager who had an eye for marketing to increase the club’s income. Liverpool had set Keegan’s transfer fee a year earlier at £500,000, which put off Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, but Hamburg gambled a name like Keegan at the club would boost the attendances and associated sponsorship deals.

The fee was then a British transfer record and when they brought him to Volkparkstadion they also made him reportedly the highest paid player in West German football at the time, which considering the country were reigning World Champions, showed how much he meant to them. The rules in German football  were such they could buy two foreign players, so they chose Keegan and a Yugoslav defender, Ivan Buljan.

Difficult Beginnings

Keegan struggled to adapt to life in West Germany at first. His wife, Jean, could speak German and so he immediately set about learning the language but his greatest struggles were with the Hamburg squad who seemed to resent the intrusion. Gutendorf would later claim the players came to him and said they didn’t want to play with “this Englishman” as they didn’t believe they needed him at the club. The opening game saw them lose 2-5 to MSV Duisberg. But they turned things round winning their next four as Keegan scored his first goal for his new club in a 3-1 win at home to Kaiserslautern. To make matter worse, Gutendorf was moved on in October and in came Ozcan Arkoc. Arkoc, a Turk, had been a keeper with Hamburg during the late 60’s-early 70’s and was now part of the coaching team. Hamburg would be his first managerial appointment.

Keegan had scored in his first game, ironically against Liverpool in a pre-season friendly. But towards the end of November he’d only found the net twice and the team were mid-table. They then took on Liverpool in the European Super Cup. The First leg was at the Volksparkstadion and Ferdinand Keller gave the home side a first half lead, only for David Fairclough to level things in the second half and the game ended 1-1. Just before the Second leg, Keegan scored his third of the season when they threw away a 2-goal lead to only draw against Hertha Berlin. They then made the trip to Anfield.

The game was billed as Keegan v Dalglish. Liverpool’s preparation was to be held to a 1-1 draw at home to Bristol City and were lying fifth in the League. Keegan received a warm welcome from the Anfield crowd but after Phil Thompson and Terry McDermott gave the home side a 2-0 lead at the break, the crowd were giving him some stick. McDermott then completed his hat-trick in the second half as Liverpool thrashed them 6-0. For Keegan it was a bitter pill to swallow but he was pragmatic about events, in his usual ‘never have any regrets’ manner.  He publicly stated how he believed Liverpool were in great shape, and the difference between the state of his old side and his new one was stark.

Up to Christmas, Hamburg were still lying in ninth and had just been held to a 2-2 draw by bottom club, 1860 Munich. The Bundesliga was about to go on their break for the winter. Their £500,000 striker had scored just four goals in nineteen matches and they needed a boost in the New Year. They didn’t get it, as in one of the mid-season break friendlies Keegan punched an opponent and was sent-off and banned. He wouldn’t return to first team action until the beginning of March. By then Hamburg had only gained another eight points from the nine matches he’d missed. They’d won just one match and even been thumped 1-6 by Cologne.

Keegan’s first game back made the necessary difference as they beat Eintracht Braunschweig, 4-2. A week later he scored in a 5-3 at FC Saarbrucken. The season ended with them being thrashed 2-6 by an old foe of Keegan’s, Borussia Monchengladbach, despite leading 2-1. They shouldn’t have felt too bad after that result as Gladbach went onto beat Dortmund 12-0 on the final day and narrowly lose the title on goal difference. Hamburg finished the season in tenth place having won as many games as they’d lost. They were now run by Gunter Netzer, the flamboyant German midfield player who Keegan had faced in the 1973 UEFA Cup Final. Things changed at the club now he was General Manager.

On the international stage England had a new manager, Ron Greenwood. Greenwood had replaced Don Revie after the summer tour to South America, which concerned Keegan a bit as Revie had installed him as his captain for those matches. Greenwood impressed on Keegan how important he considered him to be to the squad, but argued Emlyn Hughes should be captain as he was at club level too. In November as World Cup qualification looked almost impossible, Keegan inspired England to pull off a famous 2-0 win against Italy at Wembley. A partnership with Trevor Brooking was beginning to blossom and they laid a goal on for each other in the game. Keegan did get the armband back when Brazil visited in April and he scored the equaliser in a 1-1 draw.

European Footballer of the Year

To cap off his first season in West Germany, French magazine, France Football voted Keegan European Footballer of the Year. He became only the third Englishman to win such an award after Stanley Matthews and Bobby Charlton. He went into the new season in good spirits.


Netzer immediately set about some changes and an important one was to appoint Branko Zebec as coach. The Yugoslav had been coach at Bayern at the end of the 1960’s then managed at Stuttgart and Braunschweig before arriving at the Volksparkstadion. Zebec was strict and he installed a punishing training regime, of which Keegan would claim was the toughest training he’d ever experienced in his career. It had the effect of improving the stamina of the squad and prepared them for a long campaign.

The opening game of the 1978-79 season saw Hamburg up against Borussia Monchengladbach. Gladbach had won the Bundesliga for three successive years before they just missed out last year on goal difference. Last time they arrived at the Volksparkstadion, they had thumped Hamburg 6-2.  Today would be different. In the summer Hamburg had signed a big centre-forward, Horst Hrubesch, from non-league Rot-Weiss Essen and he helped change the team’s fortunes that season. Keegan too, was now finding his feet as was the whole team and they were 3-0 up inside twenty two minutes and never looked back.

They only lost once in their first seven matches although Keegan still hadn’t found the net. In mid-September they travelled to the Mungersdorfer Stadion and beat the Champions, Cologne, 3-1 with Hrubesch scoring his first for his new club. The week before they’d beaten Hertha Berlin, 4-1. They were third in the table after seven games on the same points as leaders, Bayern Munich, and things were going well. There were four teams all locked on the same points at the top of the table.

They then lost to Kaiserslautern, one of the teams on the same points as Hamburg, but bounced back with wins over Nurnberg and Fortuna Dusseldorf. After a surprise defeat at Braunschweig, came another memorable win as Dortmund were cast aside, 5-0 and Keegan finally opened his account for the season. They were now second in the table, three points behind Kaiserslautern.

The Braunschweig defeat may have been a wake-up call as they then went seven games unbeaten. During that run, in mid-November, Schalke arrived. In front of over 61,000 Keegan scored twice in a 4-2 win. It was the first time he’d scored more than a goal in a game in West Germany and was a real hit with the fans, who’d by now nicknamed him “Mighty Mouse”.

Before the winter break they had to travel to the Olympic Stadium in Munich to take on Bayern, including Rummenigge, Muller, Breitner, Schwarzenbeck, Augenthaler, Durnberger and Maier – all internationals. Hamburg won 1-0. A week later they were at home to Armenia Bielefeld and Keegan capped a wonderful first half of the season with a hat-trick, and Hamburg were just a point behind Kaiserslautern.

This time Keegan got through the break without any mishaps, but the team were sluggish as the season resumed and they failed to win any of their first three matches. This run included a trip to Monchengladbach where they lost a thriller, 3-4. They got back to winning ways when a double strike from Keegan gave them a 3-1 win at Hertha Berlin but were still third in the table. The week before, they’d lost at Bochum where Hrubesch scored his tenth of the season, and this lead to an unbeaten run of thirteen matches.

At the beginning of April they entertained League leaders, Kaiserslautern. Keegan was again amongst the goals, along with Felix Magath and Peter Hidien in a 3-1 win. They were still third but had a game in hand on the leaders, three points ahead. They then suffered a setback when 3-1 up at Nurnberg and ended up with just a point. But from mid-April, Kaiserslautern began to stutter.

Goals from Hrubesch and Manny Kaltz gave them a win over Dusseldorf on the same day Kaiserslautern lost at Duisberg. Keegan then scored his tenth of the season when they beat Braunschweig as Kaiserslautern dropped another point against Schalke. Stuttgart beat Monchengladbach to go top as the top three were separated by a solitary point. When they won in Dortmund, Hamburg moved into second place, still a point behind Stuttgart yet still with a game in hand.

Keegan scored goal number eleven for the season when they beat Duisburg and they then welcomed Cologne. The defending League Champions were down in ninth and almost certain not to retain their title. Hamburg’s performance made sure of that. This was Hamburg’s game in hand and they took full advantage as Memering and Hartwig gave them a two-goal lead and then Keegan made it 3-0 before the break. Keegan grabbed his second of the game in the second half to which Kaltz and Magath added for a memorable 6-0 win. They’d done the double over the Champions and proudly went to the top of the table.

More was to come when another Keegan double saw off Schalke on the same day Stuttgart drew and Kaiserslautern lost.He scored again the following week against Eintracht Frankfurt giving him six goals in his last four matches and taking his tally to sixteen for the season. They were two points clear at the top with just two games to play.


They travelled to Armenia Bielefeld, who were in the relegation zone, but a nervous performance resulted in a 0-0 draw. It wasn’t until the game had finished they heard the other results and Kaiserslautern had lost 1-3 to Werder Bremen and, crucially, Stuttgart had been beaten at home, 1-4 by Cologne.

Hamburg were champions.

It was their first Bundesliga title for nineteen years and the investment in Keegan had really paid dividends. He ended the season with seventeen goals. All memories of the difficult start he’d had were erased and now they could look forward to competing in the European Cup.

Internationally things had also been going well as England were unbeaten throughout the season.  He scored six times in nine games. He only missed one game when he was required by his club. The season was capped off with a fantastic performance to beat Scotland, 3-1 at Wembley where Keegan was captain and scored again linking up perfectly with Trevor Brooking.

European Footballer of the Year – Again

As if to underline his overall popularity, he turned his hand to pop music and released a single, “Head Over Heels in Love” written by Chris Norman and Pete Spencer (the other one!) and reached Number 31 in the charts. In addition to this he was named European Footballer of the Year for a second successive season, something only Johan Cruyff (1973 & 1974) had ever achieved.

Keegan had initially signed a two year contract at Hamburg and now that was up. Real Madrid were reportedly interested and so were Juventus. Surprisingly it was Washington Diplomats in the NASL who almost signed him for a four month contract. It was Netzer who had suggested the temporary move and Keegan had his bags packed when he discovered that UEFA’s registration rules meant he wouldn’t then be able to play in the European Cup until the Semi-Finals. He changed his mind and stayed at Hamburg, leaving Washington to choose Cruyff as an alternative.


The new season began with two 3-0 wins against VFL Bochum and Borussia Monchengladbach, both of which Keegan missed. But he was back for the visit to Bayern where Kaltz equalised Augenthaler’s goal and the game was squared, 1-1. A week later two goals from Hrubesch helped them thrash Hertha Berlin, 5-1 and they were again top of the table. Inexplicably they were then given a lesson by MSV Duisburg, beaten 0-3. Kaltz was again on target to get them back to winning ways against Kaiserslautern and then it was the first game in the European Cup. They travelled to Reykjavik to play Icelandic champions, Valur, where Hrubesch, Wehmeyer and Buljan gave them an important 3-0 win from the away leg. Hrubesch and Wehmeyer then scored in the home leg giving them a 5-1 win on aggregate. Their hopes of lifting the European Cup were improved when Liverpool were knocked out of the First Round by Dinamo Tblisi, who would provide Hamburg’s next opponents.

Keegan then scored his first goal of the season when they beat Cologne, 3-0, and then a goal two minutes from time from Hrubesch saved them losing to Werder Bremen. They were still second in the table and now turned their attention back to the European Cup. Dinamo Tblisi arrived and took an early lead through David Kipiani, but Kaltz levelled things at the break. Early in the second half Keegan put the home side in front and then Hartwig gave them an important 3-1 advantage to take to Georgia. Once again they struggled in the League immediately after a European Cup match and Keegan scored a late goal to earn a point at home to Bayer Uerdingen. 1860 Munich were dispatched 2-0 with Keegan scoring again and then it was the trip to Tblisi.

They conceded early but Keegan equalised to wipe out the away goal advantage and then Hrubesch put Hamburg 2-1 up before Kipiani levelled things on the night. Buljan made things certain in the second half and Hamburg progressed to the Quarter-Finals, 6-3 on aggregate, where they would be up against Yugoslav champions, Hajduk Split.

The fitness work Zebec had put them through was really starting to pay off as illustrated by their return from Georgia saw them in a top-of-the-table clash with leaders, Borussia Dortmund.    Hurbesch put them in front and in the second Keegan doubled the lead. The 4-0 win was rounded off with two goals from Buljan and Hamburg were back to the top of the table. Although they had to work hard to stay there as they were 0-2 down at home to Stuttgart before they came back with Keegan scoring the winner.

Their nine-match unbeaten run came to an end just before the winter break when Schalke beat them 1-0 and Bayern were back on top. January began well with a Hrubesch double seeing off Bochum and then Keegan scored his sixth of the season in a draw with Monchengladbach, who now included a young Lothar Matthaus, but no longer Bertie Vogts. Meanwhile Bayern had lost at Leverkusen and so the stage was set for another showdown between the top two at Volksparkstadion.

Hamburg again came out on top with an impressive 3-1 win. Hrubesch scored again and they were top of the table again, with Cologne moving into second. But just as they began to think about the European Cup again, their focus slipped and suffered back-to-back defeats against Duisburg and Kaiserslautern. So by the time they met Hajduk Split they were lying in third in the League. Reimann scored the only goal of the game to give them a slender lead to take to Yugoslavia.

Their form between the two European Cup legs was good, beating Eintracht Frankfurt, 5-0 and Cologne 3-2. The Cologne side now included players like Bernd Schuster, Pierre Littbarski and Toni Schumacher.  They also fielded Tony Woodcock who’d moved from Nottingham Forest after winning the European Cup the year before, encouraged by the success Keegan was having. The win took them back to second place, two points behind Bayern with a game in hand.

The Second leg of the European Cup Quarter-Final began well when Hrubesch scored in the opening two minutes. This gave them a vital away goal. Vujovic then equalised on the night, only for Hieronymus to put Hamburg back in front and well in control in the tie. It meant Split needed to score three times, but when Dordevic and Primorac scored there was a nervous last few minutes for Hamburg but eventually they were through on away goals. The Semi-Final stage would see them meet the legendary Real Madrid, with Ajax playing Nottingham Forest in the other tie.

As if Zebec was a genius in preparation, their form going into the Madrid clash was superb. Three games, three wins, three clean-sheets and fourteen goals scored. Werder Bremen (5-0), Uerdingen (3-0) and Hertha Berlin (6-0) were seen off, although remarkably Keegan only scored once, but Hrubesch bagged six including a hat-trick against Hertha. They were top of the table on goal difference from Bayern, having now won their game in hand.

Their visit to the Bernabeu was disappointing as Carlos Santillana scored twice to give Real a crucial 2-0 lead to take to West Germany. That Madrid team included Englishman, Laurie Cunningham, as well as future managers, Jose Camacho and Vicente del Bosque. Back in the League they improved their goal difference further when a Felix Magath hat-trick helped beat 1860 Munich, 6-0. Keegan scored in that game too, but Bayern were knocking in the goals as well when they thumped Werder Bremen, 7-0. The following week Hamburg cracked, giving up a two-goal lead to drop a point against Dortmund, allowing Bayern to leapfrog them back to the top.

Putting this aside, Hamburg then embarked on the Second leg of their European Cup Semi-Final against Real Madrid. Manny Kaltz gave them a good start converting a penalty after ten minutes, and then Hrubesch doubled the lead on seventeen minutes. Things were now level in the tie, but Laurie Cunningham scored a vital away goal, only for Kaltz to grab his second. Hrubesch then came to Hamburg’s rescue giving them a 4-1 lead at half-time and 4-3 lead on aggregate. Hamburg saw out the second half with Memering scoring in the ninetieth minute and Hamburg were through to their first ever European Cup Final. Keegan had now helped two clubs, Liverpool and Hamburg, to their first ever Final in the competition. Hamburg were to meet Nottingham Forest.

A European Final

Forest were managed by Brian Clough, who had been in charge of the Leeds United team Keegan met in the Charity Shield in 1974 when he got sent-off for fighting. Clough was rumoured to have asked Keegan to consider a move to the City Ground when the player joined him in ITVs studios for the 1978 World Cup.

It must have been tough to concentrate on the League, but they were unbeaten in their next three matches with Keegan scoring in a 3-0 win over Braunschweig. They were still top, but unbelievably they were level with Bayern on points and goal difference. Bayern had just beaten 1860 Munich, 6-1, and Fortuna Dusseldorf, 6-0, where Rummenigge scored a hat-trick. There were just two matches each to be played.

Hamburg blinked first. They went to Bayer Leverkusen and inexplicably lost, 1-2, at the same time as Bayern went to Stuttgart and won 3-1. In the wake of the Leverkusen defeat, Hamburg travelled back to the Bernabeu to play the European Cup Final against the holders, Nottingham Forest. The game was a drab affair, punctuated by John Robertson’s goal on twenty minutes. Forest spent most of the remainder of the match simply defending their lead and Hamburg just didn’t have enough to come back into it, particularly as Hrubesch started the game on the bench.

Forest had pulled off an amazing feat of becoming the first club to have won the European Cup more times than they had won their domestic League. No second winning medal for Keegan, as they looked tired and began to wonder whether Zebec’s methods may have been too much. The season ended in style with a 4-0 win over Schalke where Hrubesch scored his twenty-first of the season. Keegan was subbed at half-time and would never be seen in a Hamburg shirt again. Bayern Munich had won the Bundesliga for the first time for six years and would go onto retain it a year later.

The 1979-80 international season was a busy one, culminating in the European Championships in Italy. Of the thirteen matches England played, Keegan was involved in eight, scoring four goals, including a sublime brace against Republic of Ireland. His second goal, an audacious chip from outside the box, was a real contender for his best ever in an England shirt. He also scored when Argentina, featuring a young Diego Maradona, visited Wembley in May. The workload domestically and in Europe meant he sat out the Home International Championships but was back to captain England in Italy. It was England’s first major tournament since Mexico 1970 and would be the only one Keegan played a real part in, during his career.

Keegan was clearly too tired, as England relied heavily on him. A draw against Belgium, defeat against Italy meant their win over Spain was irrelevant as they went out at the group stage. Keegan’s club teammate, Hrubesch, had a great tournament scoring twice in the Final as West Germany lifted the trophy.

Keegan’s time in West Germany was over. In February he had negotiated a transfer fee of £500,000 and if any club was prepared to meet it he would be gone. He made no secret of his desire to return to England, mainly for his family as they now had a young daughter. But the destination of his move would remain a closely guarded secret.

Keegan left Hamburg in great shape, evidenced by their performances after he left. They won back-to-back titles in 1982 and 1983 and also won the European Cup in 1983 when Felix Magath scored the only goal of the game against Juventus.

Keegan’s German adventure had been a resounding success. A Bundesliga title and runners-up medals for another Bundesliga and a European Cup, not to mention two European Footballer of the Year awards. Hamburg were now a force in European football, but it was time for chapter three of the Keegan story.

Part Three sees the destination for his next move, and no one saw this one coming

Scroll to top