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On This Day in 1977: Kevin Keegan Leaves Liverpool For Hamburg

Kevin Keegan was a huge hit in Hamburg - both on the pitch and in the pop charts
Kevin Keegan was a huge hit in Hamburg - both on the pitch and in the pop charts

On July 26, 1977 Kevin Keegan followed in the footsteps of fellow Liverpool icons the Beatles by leaving Merseyside for Hamburg; and in his time there, not only did he win the Ballon d’Or twice and the Bundesliga title, he topped the singles charts too.

When John, Paul, George and Ringo headed to Germany in 1960 on their way to world domination, they couldn’t have imagined that they would ultimately be beating a path that one of the biggest names in football would follow some years later.

That’s because when one of the first superstars of the game rocked-up in Elbe some 17 years on, he didn’t just take the soccer world by storm, he also left a lasting impression on the country’s cultural scene too.

Fresh from celebrating a League Championship and European Cup double with Liverpool in May of 1977, Kevin Keegan, a dynamic player whose goals were behind much of the club’s success at the time, would soon be leaving the club where he had achieved so much.

Having joined the Reds in 1971 he won three First Division titles, two UEFA Cups, an FA Cup and the European Cup, but that didn’t stop one of the most confident characters in the game telling the club that he wanted-out and starting a bidding war between some of the biggest names in the game.

Never one to question his own ability Keegan had even insisted on a £500,000 buy-out clause in his own contract and despite deterring a number of clubs from making an offer the figure was nothing to Hamburg SV; a club who had recently received significant investment from Japanese firm Hitachi and saw money as no object.

The newly crowned European Cup Winners’ Cup champions were under the guidance of General Manager and huge Keegan admirer Dr Peter Krohn, who was prepared to do whatever it took to get his man and he was as good as his word.

Hamburg were looking to make a name for themselves having spent years in the shadows of Bayern Munich and signing Keegan was the perfect opportunity to lay down a marker. It was also a smart move for both parties, as the player’s earnings apparently shot-up from a modest £12,000 a year at Liverpool to £250,000.

Germany’s most famous import since the “Fab Four,” complete with trademark bubble-perm, wasted no time in capitalising on his off-field fame, putting his name to anything from aftershave to football boots; but his newfound stardom, combined with cultural differences, would mean the boy from Doncaster would struggle in those early days.

Spending his first few weeks as a Hamburg native holed-up in a city centre hotel room along with his wife and family sheepdogs Keegan struggled to settle at his new club and there were even reports of resentment among the fans who saw him as a brash and costly addition to a down-to-earth, working class club.

But by the end of his first season in Germany Keegan’s form had taken a turn for the better and such was his incredible transformation that he would even be awarded the Ballon d’Or for his efforts thanks to his performances - despite his side finishing only ninth.

In his second season at Hamburg, Mighty Mouse - as he’d been Christened due to his tenacious style - was thriving under new coach Branko Zebec and playing up front with Horst Hrubesch, who was very much in the same mould as his former partner in crime at Liverpool, John Toshack.

He netted 11 times in the final 12 games of the season in an incredible unbeaten run that eventually secured the Bundesliga for Hamburg and his contribution also ensured he was voted World Footballer of the Year for the second time in as many years.

In his third and final season in Germany Keegan narrowly missed out on a second European Cup medal when his club were defeated in the final by Brian Clough’s defending champions Nottingham Forest; but that didn’t stop his single: “Head Over Heels in Love,”  which was a collaboration with Yugoslav team-mate Ivan Buljanselling, selling a quarter-of-a-million copies in Germany alone.

So after three eventful seasons, Keegan finally departed Germany to join Laurie McMenemy’s Southampton having won the Ballon d’Or twice, the Bundesliga title and almost single handedly taking Hamburg to the European Cup final, not to mention releasing a hit record.

And thanks to his industrious work ethic, never-say-die attitude and warm persona, not to mention his ability to hold a note, Keegan endeared himself to the people of Hamburg forever more; just as four mop-topped lads from Liverpool had done a decade or so before him.

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