May 25, 2024

Roy Keane – Zenith Data Systems Cup

According to Roy Keane’s autobiography [Page 40] Jack Charlton called up the young Nottingham Forest player for the Republic of Ireland in 1991 “…to travel abroad with the Irish Squad” soon after Forest had beaten Newcastle United in an FA Cup fourth round replay. The following is Keane’s account in his autobiography:

“This trip clashed with Forest’s Zenith Data Systems Cup-tie away to Barnsley. It was clear that Brian Clough wanted me to travel to Barnsley. Forest were my bread and butter, so I informed the Football Association of Ireland that I wasn’t available. I received a phone call from Maurice Price, my old coach from the FAS course. He told me that I had to travel. I explained my commitment to Forest.

‘Well, Roy, Big Jack has told me that if you pull out of this trip you’ll never play for Ireland again,’ Price replied.

Stunned for a moment, I made a quick calculation. It didn’t take me thirty seconds to work out what to do. ‘If that’s the way it is, Maurice, so be it,’ I responded as politely as I could. I owed everything I had to Brian Clough and Forest. I was proud to be Irish, but Forest paid my wages.” [Page 40]

There are some things that don’t ring quite true about this account as presented by Keane.

Why was Roy Keane so ready to walk away from his international career? The club / country tug-of-war was nothing new. Keane is an intelligent man and if he felt under pressure from Brain Clough why didn’t he try to make Price understand his dilemma? Keane must have known that Price had encountered this situation with other players and would have some ideas on how to get around the problem.

Brian Clough Indulged Roy Keane

If Keane really was so “proud to be Irish” and was truly interested in playing for his country then why did he not appeal to Brian Clough to let him play.

As Keane states repeatedly in his autobiography Clough indulged Keane’s many requests to go home to Cork – even though Keane used these trips home to go on serious drinking sessions. “Brian Clough was very accommodating to my regular requests for a few days’ home leave. I’d go to him after a game on Saturday, usually after a good result, and his response was invariably, ‘Off you go, son, see you on Thursday.’…I’d head off to Cork on Saturday night…”.[Page 36]

In the same chapter, that Keane relates this tale of his first international call up, he also tells us that after Forest had beaten Norwich City 0-1 at Carrow Road he asked Clough for a “… few days’ home leave. This was granted: See you on Friday,’ was Clough’s curt reply.”[Page 41].

This suggests that after Forest had beaten Norwich on 9th March 1991, and with a home match against Manchester United on Saturday 15th March 1991 coming up, Clough allowed Roy Keane to go home to Cork and he was not expected to return to Nottingham until the day before the Manchester United match.

Irish Match Clash With Zenith Data Systems Cup Tie

On checking the records for the period that Keane refers to in his autobiography the only international that Ireland played “abroad” around this time was a 0-3 victory away to Wales in Wrexham on Wednesday 6th February 1991. Apparently this was the international “trip” that “…clashed with Forest’s Zenith Data Systems Cup-tie away to Barnsley.” on Wednesday, 30th January 1991. Wrexham is a two / two and a half hour car journey from either Nottingham or Barnsley. The Zenith Data Systems Cup was a very minor cup competition that was staged in the seven seasons between 1985/1986 and 1991/92 and was then discontinued. Keane even admits that it “..wasn’t a competition the big clubs paid much attention to” [Page 55].

In summary the following facts apply to Roy Keane’s first call up to the Irish national soccer squad:

1) The Zenith Data Systems Cup tie against Barnsley (from the old second division) was a full week after the Irish international match that Keane refers to in his autobiography.

2) By his own admission the Zenith Data Systems Cup was not an important competition “…but it was a welcome distraction from league football…” [Page 55]

3) There was no major international travel involved for the Wales V Ireland match.

4) Clough had always been “very accommodating” when Keane regularly asked for time away from the club. On at least one occasion he even allowed Keane to return to the club just one day before a high profile league match, against Manchester United.

5) Defending why he did not join the Irish squad Roy Keane said that he owed everything to Brian Clough and Forest because they paid his wages. Nevertheless Keane had no problem repeatedly asking for time off between matches to go to Cork. He neglected to mention to Clough that on those visits to Cork that he went on extended drinking sessions with his friends and family. Surely these were acts of dishonesty and disloyalty to those that he “owed everything”.

Questions to be Asked of Roy Keane

Keane does not say explicitly that Clough told him he couldn’t join up with the Irish squad rather, “It was clear that Brian Clough wanted me to travel to Barnsley.” In what way did Clough make this clear to Keane?

In 1991 international squads assembled two or three days before an international match. How would joining the Irish squad for a match on the 6th of February affect Nottingham Forest’s performance in the Zenith Data Systems Cup a full week earlier?

At the time Keane couldn’t have known that the threat, that he said Jack Charlton had made, i.e. that Keane would never play for Ireland if he didn’t join the squad, was an empty threat. Charlton’s reputation was one of belligerence and stubbornness so Roy Keane had every reason to believe that Jack Charlton was serious. Why was Keane so quick to make a decision to play in the minor Zenith Data Systems Cup at the risk of his entire international career?

Making one’s international debut is a major ambition and achievement for most Irish soccer players. There was a very real prospect of him winning his first international cap for Ireland. If Roy Keane was so “…proud to be Irish…” [Page 40] why did he not ask Brian Clough to be allowed to join up with the Irish squad especially when there was the possibility of never playing for Ireland hanging over him?

Is it credible that, in such circumstances, the indulgent (by Keane’s own admission) Clough would deny Roy Keane the opportunity to earn his first international cap and in the process save his international career?


There was no clash between the two matches in question. The Zenith Data Systems Cup Barnsley tie was of minor importance. Brian Clough clearly liked Roy. Keane’s international career was potentially on the line.

Keane says he didn’t need to think twice about making a decision in favour of a, now defunct, minor cup competition over his entire international career. Keane’s own account makes it abundantly clear that he didn’t hesitate for “…more than thirty seconds…” about walking away from Ireland. It is also very clear that even at this early stage of his career Roy Keane was, at the least ambivalent but as is more likely, really didn’t care if he played for Ireland or not. Surely if playing for his country actually meant anything to him he would have told Maurice Price, during their phone call, that he would talk to Clough.

If Keane had actually asked Clough he almost certainly would have acceded to Keane’s request. But Keane didn’t ask. Why not? Is it possible that Clough never actually refused to let Keane join the squad and that the decision was actually Roy’s? Based upon all available evidence the answer is most probably ‘yes’.

NOTE: Unless stated otherwise all quotations are from:
Keane: The Autobiography; Roy Keane with Eamon Dunphy (2002); Michael Joseph Ltd

Roy Keane – Irish Captain

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Saipan Table of Contents Roy Keane & Eamon Dunphy
Saipan Introduction Roy Keane & Cork
Methodology Keane’s Aversion to Being Away From Home
Saipan Conclusions Roy Keane’s Relationship with Ireland
Roy Keane – Mick McCarthy Relationship Roy Keane – Zenith Data Systems Cup
Roy Keane Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Jack Charlton Relationship
Mick McCarthy Version of Saipan Incident 1 Roy Keane’s Flawed Character
Mick McCarthy Account of Saipan Incident 2 Roy Keane’s Good Character
Niall Quinn Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Footballer
Jason McAteer Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Team Captain
Matt Holland Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Family Man
Roy Keane & Saipan – The Backdrop Roy Keane & Faking Injury
Roy Keane & Saipan – The Issues Roy Keane – Bad Boy
Keane / McCarthy Boston Row 1992 Roy Keane – Career Lows
Keane Misses Iran Playoff Game Roy Keane – Red Cards
Keane Misses Niall Quinn Testimonial Roy Keane – Cruciate Injury
Countdown to Saipan Incident Roy Keane & Alf-Inge Haaland
Roy Keane Saipan Tirade at Mick McCarthy Roy Keane & Gareth Southgate Red Card
Roy Keane / Tom Humphries Saipan Interview 1 Roy Keane & Alan Shearer Red Card
Keane / Humphries Saipan Interview 2 Roy Keane / Alex Ferguson Relationship 1
Roy Keane / Irish Times Saipan Interview 3 Roy Keane & Sir Alex Ferguson 2
Roy Keane / Paul Kimmage Saipan Interview 1 Roy Keane & Charity
Keane / Kimmage Saipan Interview 2 Roy Keane & Autobiography Contradictions
Roy Keane / Sunday Independent Saipan Interview 3 Roy Keane & Contradictions
Roy Keane / Tommie Gorman Interview 1 Roy Keane – Integrity
Roy Keane / Tommy Gorman Interview 2 Roy Keane – International Matches
Roy Keane / RTE Interview 3 Roy Keane – Football Record
FAI Involvement in Saipan Affair Roy Keane & Sandwiches
Saipan Reaction of Irish Players Roy Keane – Walker
Mick McCarthy – ‘crap player, crap manager’ Saipan – Pacific Island
Roy Keane / Mick McCarthy Playing Record I Keano – The Musical
Colin Healy – Forgotten Man of Saipan Roy Keane – Football Manager
Saipan Ten Years Later Roy Keane’s Dog Triggs
Roy Keane’s Autobiography Saipan Bibiliography


Roy Keane – View Seven Years After Saipan
Football Quotes on Saipan


Triggs – The Autobiography of Roy Keane’s Dog
Ireland at 2002 World Cup Finals – Irish 2002 World Cup Squad – Irish Group Matches
Ireland V Cameroon – Ireland V Germany – Ireland V Saudi Arabia – Ireland V Spain