LONDON — Soccer fans are being kicked around in the Thatcherite free market fostered by Conservative governments for nearly two decades.
Last week, stunned fans of Britain's national game learned of the resignation of former England captain Kevin Keegan as manager of Newcastle United, a top club in the country's super league.
Mr. Keegan's departure, sports analysts say, was not because he was a bad manager. It was forced by "fat cats" in London's financial district who saw him as an obstacle to the club's pending plan to offer shares in the team on the stock market.
Newcastle United plans to follow other super-league clubs and become a public company later this year. A source at National Westminster Bank, which is organizing the stock flotation, expected to be worth about 200 million ($340 million), says Keegan was "imperiling the share offer."
There had been reports that he wanted to resign at the end of the year, the source says. This would have disturbed investors, so "he had to go now."
Keegan's fate is part of an escalating trend that has turned soccer into a boom industry. The launch of a super league in the mid-1990s whetted the appetites of investors who saw the huge opportunities offered by a game watched on television worldwide.
Last year, in a measure of the cash available for trading players, Keegan paid L15 million ($25.5 million) to bring World Cup star Alan Shearer to the Newcastle team.
Fellow managers have suggested Keegan came under financial pressures he could not handle. Brian Clough, one of England's most successful postwar coaches, says: "The stress involved in today's game can be unbearable."
Attempting to soothe bereaved Newcastle fans, Terry McDermott, a close Keegan friend, told them: "All that matters is the game."
But sportswriter Kevin Mitchell asks: "How many people still believe that?"