Head-to-head: Alan Shearer vs Roy Keane
“We tried to get to each other but we couldn’t. It would have been interesting.”
Alan Shearer recalled his most favourite on-field battle of his career, which had boiled over in the final minutes of a pulsating encounter in September 2001.
Manchester United and Newcastle United shared a fierce rivalry in the early years of the Premier League, but none were more thrilling than this one in the cauldron of St James’s Park.
To say that Roy Keane had some enemies during his career would be severely underplaying it, but his fight with fellow captain Alan Shearer early into the 2001/02 season was one of the most memorable.
Even at the time, it was an interesting one. Two players, renown for their aggressive, no-nonsense approach to the game going head-to-head.
With seconds remaining, and Newcastle leading 4-3, Shearer kept the ball near the corner flag to run the clock down. The Newcastle man tried to delay a throw-in being taken. Unsurprisingly, Keane was not too impressed. Shearer’s deadpan expression only served to provoke the Irishman further.
The Geordie recently said, “He got the hump at that and threw the ball at my head. I can’t remember what I said, but he tried to throw a punch at me and got a red card.”
“Our teammates wouldn’t let us get together to settle things”
Even after being dismissed, Keane ran towards Shearer again but was eventually restrained by team-mates Laurent Blanc and David Beckham.
As ever, Martin Tyler popped up with some well-timed words of summary, “Keane walks off with his head bowed, one hopes in shame.”
Keane walked past a surprisingly calm-looking Sir Alex Ferguson but the Irishman never made it to the changing room.
The United captain waited for Shearer after the match. “He was at the top of the tunnel. Of course, we tried to get each other and we couldn’t. It was like ‘hold me back, don’t hold me back…Our teammates wouldn’t let us get together to settle things.”
The incident simply boosted the post-match joy around Tyneside.
It was Newcastle manager Bobby Robson’s 100th match in charge of his boyhood club. In the post-match interview, he summed the feeling up nicely, “The game was on a knife edge – it was an absolute belter.”
In Craig Bellamy’s ludicrously titled autobiography, GoodFella, he called out Shearer’s cowardice after the match, saying he delayed his exit to avoid seeing Keane.
“If I ever see you in Newcastle again, I’ll knock you out”
The Welshman was no stranger to a bust-up with Shearer himself, who once text his ex-captain after an FA Cup semi-final defeat and told him his “legs were f*cking shot.”
Shearer text back instantly, “If I ever see you in Newcastle again, I’ll knock you out,” to which Bellamy responded with “I’m back in Newcastle next week, pop by and say hello.” All in good humour, you understand.
Burying the hatchet
Since the fracas in 2001, Shearer and Keane have made up, even making an appearance together as BBC pundits in 2015. They even spent the majority of last summer together during the World Cup in Russia.
The Premier League’s all-time leading goalscorer said, “Keane doesn’t like losing – and rightly so – but that’s what makes him such a great player.”
Ironically, that was the exact sort of restrained delivery which had Keane so riled up in the first place.
“Personally I think you would have knocked him out”
But in the end, it was just an old-fashioned, earnest battle between two fierce leaders. Despite the recent friendliness, Shearer cheekily poked the fire again in 2017.
Interviewer Brian Davis, known as the True Geordie, said, “Personally I think you would have knocked him out.”
Shearer replied, with a smile, “Of course I would have.”