In the wake of his explosive – and very funny – new book, Roy Keane talks to ShortList’s Tom Ellen about drinking, fighting, Fergie and why he “sings for nobody”
The Schmeichel fist fight, the Robbie Savage “Wazzup!” incident, the bit where Adrian Chiles narrowly avoids being told “f*ck you”: whether you’ve read Roy Keane’s The Second Half yet or not, you’ve probably still got a favourite story from it. Not since Sir Alex Ferguson’s biography last year has a football book caused quite so sizeable a stir, but then a no-holds-barred Keane offering – written in collaboration with Roddy Doyle, no less – was always going to chart highly on most men’s ‘must read’ list.
Keane is that rarest of football stars: someone whose popularity straddles club loyalties and who even non-sport fans are interested in. This isn’t because he courts the limelight; the opposite, in fact. In this post-Beckham age, where players, managers and pundits are slickly turned-out and aggressively media-managed, Keane’s tendency to speak his mind frankly – and allow his facial hair a generous expansion policy – is hugely refreshing. Of course, it’s that same outspoken tendency that’s seen him fall out with some of the game’s biggest names (most notably Sir Alex), and consequently, makes The Second Half so fantastically entertaining.
In person, as we sit down in a London hotel to discuss the book, Keane seems oddly un-terrifying; charming, friendly and very, very funny. Just don’t get him started on awards ceremonies or David Fincher’s cinematic oeuvre…
The reaction to the book so far has been incredible. Do you look forward to seeing just how many feathers you can ruffle with these revelations?
Strangely enough, I’m quite relaxed about all that. I feel it’s out of my control. The things that make people go “Oh my God” don’t seem like a big deal to me. Like the Schmeichel fight; I could’ve easily forgotten about that. That wasn’t something I’d saved up for years, thinking, “Ah, this’ll sell a few books.” But sometimes bust-ups are no bad thing.
Did you feel that players were intimidated by you at United?
I really didn’t. If ‘intimidating’ means pushing people, demanding the best of them, I don’t understand it. When I was at Forest, Stuart Pearce was captain, and he was intimidating in that he pushed people, but I wasn’t scared – I loved it. I looked at Stuart Pearce, like, “Right, that’s what you have to do to become a great player.” So, I don’t think [United players] were scared of me. And if they were, my God, they’re pretty weak guys [laughs]. I wasn’t always a skinhead back then, either. Sometimes, I had long hair. So we can’t always blame the skinhead.
Speaking of hair, you’ve shaved your immense beard off. Why?
It’s funny, these little things in my life that turn into a big saga. Fighting with Peter Schmeichel, growing a beard… What’s the fuss? [laughs] The beard was just laziness. When I was a manager, people used to see my beard like a reflection of my mood. As if when I’m in a bad mood, I suddenly grow a beard. It was just too long, so I went to the barber. Nice little treat. When it’s that big, it takes me too long to shave it myself.
There’s an interesting chapter in the book about your ‘self-destruct button’ – the tendency to lose your rag when backed into a corner. Have you always been like that?
Breaking the rules – I always liked that. In football, you’re under orders all the time; it’s almost like being in the army. So, sometimes, I just feel: f*ck that. I did used to go missing for a day or two. I was late for training. Even as a manager, when my players have broken rules or challenged me, a bit of me is always like, “Yeah, well done.”
You also speak frankly about your drinking. Was that something that Alex Ferguson ever took you to task over?
Oh, of course. And quite rightly [laughs]. This idea that me and Ferguson just had one bust up right at the end… We had loads! We had disagreements about my drinking, as fans are happy to report you if you’re spotted out at 3am. But if we had a game on a Wednesday and the manager said to me, “I heard you were out Sunday night,” I’d say, “Yeah, I go out Sundays.” I was single, I was 21. I wasn’t a golfer. Drinking was my hobby, I suppose. I’m not giving it the thumbs up, but it was my trait. I don’t know why – because I’m Irish, maybe, because I lived by myself. Boredom kicked in.
Were you out at the Haçienda in your early United days?
No, that wasn’t my scene. I was more of a pub man.
So much has been said about your fall-outs with Ferguson. But you must have had some good times together…
I’m sure we did. It wasn’t my thing to be pals with him, but at some stage we must have had massive respect for each other. Even when I left, I think we both felt it was right for Manchester United. But things were said about me when I left that I felt were out of order.
So, what happens when you see him again? A handshake? A hug?
I don’t think that’ll happen. But if I felt for a second that he would apologise for the way he spoke about me when I left, I could say, “All right, let’s move on.”
Did you read his book?
Of course not. How can I read that when I know the stuff about me is nonsense?
There’s a great line in your book about how you always had Alan Shearer in the back of your mind as someone you wanted to “get” on the pitch. Would it be awkward to bump into him now?
No, because I was in the back of his mind, too. Same with Patrick [Vieira]. This wasn’t chess we were playing, it was high-level football. People always talk about the tackles I did – what about the tackles that were put on me? I was carried off at the 1999 FA Cup final, Gary Speed done me. That’s never mentioned. But that was the game. I didn’t go off crying on my “Twitter feed” about how unfair it was.
Do you ever feel that the public has the wrong idea about you? That you’re more light-hearted than people think?
Absolutely. But it’s like I’m supposed to act up to the public. Bottom line: my personality doesn’t suit being in the public eye. I’m not some monkey who can get up and act and do a show. People want you to behave in a certain way, and I’m like, “Nah, not today.” And if I don’t want to smile, I’m not going to. So, people go, “Ah, he’s a miserable bastard.”
Do you get approached a lot?
It happens. I find people dead nosy. You’re at a train station and they’re like, “Where are you going?” I’m like, “Where are you going?” Dead intrusive. They can’t comprehend you might be looking for some privacy. People want to take a photo, and it’s like: “I’m with my family on holiday. Can you not understand that? Are you stupid?”
Eric Cantona and Vinnie Jones have gone from ‘football hardmen’ to film stars. Would you ever consider acting?
Well, I couldn’t see it, but I am more open to stuff now. I’ve had the Celebrity Big Brother offers and the jungle stuff [I’m A Celebrity…]. I met the jungle people, but I thought, “Nah, not for me.” But the more you say no, the more determined they are to get you, so who knows? There’s more to life than football.
You recently criticised Jose Mourinho’s attempt to shake your hand before a match had finished. Did you feel that was a ‘mind game’ too far?
Yeah, I thought it was out of order. He said something about it later – and remember, he’d had a week to get his answer together. I’m sure he had all his PR people trying to come up with something. So, I thought he’d have come up with something a bit better [Mourinho said Keane was “polite and well-educated”].
The PR side of the game doesn’t seem like something you’ve ever been interested in.
I don’t get the PR stuff. I did a gig last week at Tesco with some really good people – Torvill & Dean, Gareth Thomas, The Stig – and at the end someone asked, “Why should we buy your books?” Oh God, I was cringing. They all gave nice answers, and I said, “To be honest, I don’t really care.” I’m sure the publishers were going, “Ah, this guy’s a disaster,” because I should have said, “My book will change your life... Join me on my journey.” But I’m not going to employ a PR to get a different “image” about me out there, to make myself popular.
“Let’s rebrand Roy Keane”…
Yeah, “branding” – absolute nonsense. Give out information, sure, but don’t try to make out that we’re all great human beings, great dads, great husbands. “Get a picture of me in the park with my kids, so it looks like I’m a great dad”: that’s what people do. And they get bloody awards. GQ wanted to give me an award for its ‘Men Of The Year’. [Laughs] What crap is that? Who says I’m a ‘Man Of The Year’? Some editor? These so-called ‘busy’ people collecting an award at some London do: utter nonsense. You’re dictating the ‘Men Of The Year’, but you don’t know what these people are up to. They could be drug addicts. They could be selling drugs!
I wanted to ask about your ITV punditry. The relationship between you and Adrian Chiles was always very entertaining – although it occasionally looked like you wanted to smack him…
[Laughs] It’s weird, the amount of people who think I don’t like Adrian. He’s great. I’m just quite serious when I’m doing TV, and Adrian’s light-hearted, cracking jokes. But the chemistry [between us] worked. Every now and again, he’d make me smile.
What do you make of Gary Neville and Paul Scholes’ forays into punditry? Neville seems to have won over even non-United fans…
I don’t think he has. Certain papers write stories about Gary winning everyone over, and he’s writing for these same newspapers, y’know?
Do you find it odd seeing Scholes on TV now, though? He used to shy away from that stuff as a player.
Yeah, but people don’t realise Scholesy could have done [TV appearances] at United, but he couldn’t be arsed. People thought he was camera-shy; he just couldn’t be bothered. None of us liked doing interviews, but it was a responsibility of the dressing room, you shared the load. “Scholesy’s too humble to do it.” Well, he’s f*cking doing it now, isn’t he? Maybe there’s more money involved now. And I’d tell him this if he was sat here in front of me.
As United captain, did you make players do initiations, such as singing in front of the team?
No, I don’t like that stuff. It happens now at Villa, but if I was a player at a new club and someone said, “You’ve got to sing tonight,” I just f*cking wouldn’t do it. I sing for nobody. People say it’s banter, but I don’t like that type of banter. I’d help players by making sure they settled in properly, making sure my wife touched base with their family. That was my way.
Finally, how do you de-stress?
I watch TV, walk my dogs. I like going to the pictures. It’s hard to watch a movie at home – I like the big screen.
What was the last film you saw?
Gone Girl. Rubbish. Absolute rubbish. I went with a couple of lads from the Irish team, but if I was on my own, honestly, I would’ve walked out.
The Second Half by Roy Keane and Roddy Doyle is out now