Paul Kimmage: Getting inside Roy Keane's mind is the Greatest Story Never Told
The definitive book on Keane is still out there, waiting to be written, argues a lustful Paul Kimmage
In November 1976, during a memorable interview with Playboy, Jimmy Carter said something that few would have expected the 39th President of the United States to say: "I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something God recognises I will do -- and I have done it -- and God forgives me for it."
Confession: I know exactly how that feels.
I was reminded of it recently during a car ride to Belfast with Eamon Dunphy. I get on well with Eamon, and have liked and admired him for some time, but he did something once that I've never quite got over. And with our business concluded for the day, there was time to ask: "How did the book with Roy Keane come about?"
I could still feel the pain as he began to explain it; the pain of loss; the pang of lust. The pang of lust. Yeah, lust is the word that probably best describes it.
It started with a phone call in March, 2001; I can't remember what I was doing that night or who tipped me off but I can still feel the thump of my pulse when I first heard the words: "Roy's thinking of doing a book."
Five months had passed since I'd given birth to Tony Cascarino and sworn he would be my last. But Keane was a book to die for. I paced the room and tried to make a plan.
Was the deal already done?
I didn't know.
What if he had someone else in mind? I didn't care.
I just had to let him know I wanted to do it.
But first I needed to contact him.
Tom Humphries from The Irish Times was the only journalist in Ireland with his number. Luckily, we were friends. I called Tom and explained how desperate I was. He gave me Keane's number and after three failed attempts I left a message on his answer phone:
"Roy, I would never dream of calling you at home but I've been told that you're thinking of doing a book and if I don't throw my hat in the ring, I won't be able to live with myself. Give me a call if that's something that might interest you. If it's not, there's no need to even mention it when we meet again."
That was a week later at Old Trafford, after a 3-0 defeat of Sturm Graz in the Champions League. Roy had scored the third and was in very good form when we met in the mixed zone. He didn't mention the book but agreed to sit down for an interview with this newspaper before the World Cup qualifier in Cyprus. "We'll sort it out when I come over," he said.
But ten days later, on the eve of our departure to Cyprus, it was as if the conversation had never happened and he absolutely lit on me at the team hotel.
"What did you mean by calling me at home?"
"I'm sorry, Roy, I . . ."
"Where did you get my number?"
"Yeah, sorry, it won't happen again."
I felt about two inches tall.
The following morning, Humphries joined the press pack on the team charter to Nicosia. He knew what was coming. I'd told him what had happened. In his book, Laptop Dancing and the Nanny Goat Mambo, he describes what happened next.
There are people in this world who you don't want making short cuts through your personage and Roy Keane is one of them. You see him coming at you, menacing as a shark's fin above the water's surface on a crowded beach. He has that vein on his temple that looks as though he's got a worm crawling under his skin, and his eyes, the heat off them could give you third-degree burns.
We were at the airport in Cyprus when Roy came to ask me why I had done it. I had planned to use a variation on the old Groucho line about not wanting to be a member of any club that would have me as a member. Any number Roy could give me could hardly be a secret number. Yet when Roy came after me, I blurted that I thought I was doing him a favour.
'Favour?' he said incredulously. For all Roy knew, of course, I had published his number on a website. You give the number to one person, you can't be trusted not to give it to anyone else. Telling him I thought I was doing him a favour was exactly the wrong thing to say.
'Doing me a favour? You think if I want to talk to Paul Kimmage I can't use a phone book?' His voice is so high at this stage that only myself and dogs can hear it.
'If I wanted to talk to Paul Kimmage, I'd pick up a phone book and find out his number,' repeated Roy, his nose about an inch from mine, his eyes completely black. 'Wouldn't I?'
Paul is ex-directory, but I could see the general point.
'Can I ask you another question? You think I'm some kind of fool?'
'No, I was just . . .'
'Did I ever ask you for Paul Kimmage's number?'
'Did I ever say to you that it was really important that I talk to Paul Kimmage, that I'd love to have him calling my house?'
This all lasted no more than 30 or 40 seconds. Then he was gone. I felt like I'd been splashed with battery acid though. When it comes to giving a bollocking, Roy is world class.
People have said to me since, 'Why didn't you stand up to him? I wouldn't have taken that, no way.' I agree. Next time Roy Keane comes towards me at pace with murder in his eyes and asks me if I think he's a fool, I will tell him straight out that yes, I do think he's a fool, that I find him comical and that his physical buffoonery just cracks me up.
Bury me near water.
The following afternoon, we watched the team training and stayed well out of his way. At the end of the session, as they were walking towards the bus, he sidled over: "I'll do that interview tomorrow if you're still interested."
"Great, thanks Roy."
You could have knocked me over with a feather.
That was the thing that fascinated most about it him -- the extremes of darkness and light. But a year later, when his autobiography was released, there were only shades of grey. I almost cried: 'What a missed opportunity.'
"It was the worst thing you've ever done by a long way," I tell Dunphy.
"I was under time pressure but that's not an excuse," he replies. "Why did you think that?"
"It didn't scratch him," I opine.
"Okay, I'll take that. And I agree with it, because he didn't give me anything. I got nothing. And the ghosting thing is really hard. And then the Saipan thing happened and by the time it was published, it didn't matter what it was."
"Because it sold by the truckload?"
"Yeah. The only thing I could get ten-out-of-ten for was doing the research."
"How interested was he in the process?" I ask.
"No, he wasn't really. We got to the end of it and I said, 'Have you read it?' He said, 'Yeah, it's fine.' And then I went back to work and he went to manage Sunderland and he did something stupid -- attacked his players or something -- and I wrote about it in The Star. And the next thing Michael Kennedy is on the phone: 'What's the story Eamon? Roy is very upset.' I said, 'For fuck's sake!' Because I did defend him, didn't I?"
"Totally," I reply. "You were his man."
"Well. I thought I had proven I had some kind of backbone but he thought I was a friend. But I think you're probably right about him; that I didn't get him. All I saw was him with his children -- and he is clearly a very loving father -- and then we would sit down and do the interviews.
"And maybe I didn't . . . I hate to impose on people and maybe that element of my character didn't help with the project."
On Tuesday, during his tete-a-tete with Patrick Vieira on ITV, Keane showed glimpses of a man we have not seen before . . . the boy who left school with "no real education" . . . the player driven by a fear of losing and letting his family down . . . the regret about Saipan. And glimpses of the man we know too well. Alex Ferguson? "Take that you c***."
But if the programme told us anything, it's that the great Roy Keane book is still out there and waiting to be written.
Em, does anyone have his number?