Rob Lee has revealed Newcastle United would have conquered for years to come had Kevin Keegan not been allowed to walk away from the club in 1997.

Keegan walked out on the club for the first time with Newcastle still in great shape in the Premier League and fighting for the UEFA Cup and FA Cup.

But a statement from United read Keegan had quit as he felt he'd taken the club as far as they could go.

Rumblings about the structure of the business behind the scenes were believed to have pushed Keegan too far.

But Tyneside is still remembering the halcyon days of the Entertainers and in a week in which Rob Lee was voted as the third most popular player in Premier League history, Chronice Live caught up with the former Toon star for an in-depth chat.

Recalling the time Keegan, who'd famously persuaded Lee that Newcastle was closer to London than Middlesbrough, resulting in a £700,000 move, Lee said: "I always say had Kevin stayed at Newcastle as long as Sir Alex did at Man United, English football history would be different.

"Newcastle would have been in a different position for a start.

"I'd say 100% we'd have won something.

"In 1997, when he left, we were still in the FA Cup, Europe and still in the title race.

"Kevin leaving proved a major downfall in the history of NUFC.

"Whoever instigated that made a major mistake.

"We'd persuaded Alan Shearer to turn down Man United and Barcelona.

"He was the best striker in the world at the time. Kevin did that.

"Yes, Alan wanted to play for Newcastle but what swayed it was that KK was in charge.

"It was the same for Ginola and Tino and Les Ferdinand.

"That was down to Kevin, he was the glue that kept Newcastle together.

"Sir John Hall as well, everybody was pushing in the right direction.

"We haven't had that at the club for a long time."

Lee also offered an insight into how Keegan managed to get so much from his teams and his belief on why fans are so fed up these days with the current side's style of play.

Lee said: "Kevin just used to always remind us we were in the entertainment business.

"He'd say: 'Go and entertain them - that's why they are here'.

"We have lost that down the years.

Keegan had moulded the Entertainers with Lee his midfield general and aces like Alan Shearer, Peter Beardsley, Tino Asprilla and David Ginola terrorising defences in the top-flight.

When asked if anybody in the dressing detected his resignation, Lee said: "Not at all.

"We'd played Charlton and drew in the FA Cup.

"We all knew Kevin had his ups and downs he was ecstatic when we done well and then unhappy when we'd not played well.

"But we didn't detect it.

"We knew things were going wrong off the pitch (club restructuring at boardroom level).

"Yet when a manager leaves a club they are usually struggling.

"It's very rare they leave when a club is doing well.

"We'd just missed out on the title, just paid a record for the best striker in the world to make us even better, and we were still in three competitions in January.

"A year later we got to the FA Cup final.

"We obviously had a good team that could challenge.

"It was a crying shame and a huge blow for the club.

"I still look back now to what might have happened if he'd stayed."

10 May 1996: From left to right, Robby Elliott, Steve Watson and Robert Lee display the new Newcastle away kit - and this may well be Rob Etherson's sign in the background

Just two weeks ago the Magpies streamed the 5-0 win over Manchester United live on Youtube with thousands of viewers tuning in to take in the superb victory.

Lee said: "It was a unique team if you think about it.

"Nobody usually remembers who finished second in the league in years gone by, just the champions.

"People know who were runners-up in 1996.

"That is a testament to the way we played and how many people liked us.

"It was a testament to how Kevin wanted to play the game.

"It was how we played.

"I still get people come up to me now in the street and they aren't Newcastle fans.

"They want to talk about the Entertainers.

"It's nice, they say: 'I used to love watching Newcastle back then.'

"Yes, you still have the old thing of people saying we won nothing and that's correct.

"We entertained a lot of people though.

"One nice thing from this has been that the retro games have been shown again.

"I loved watching the retro games.

"I think that era was one of the most entertaining.

"Even when this is over and the game comes back I'd like to see them continue the retro Match of the Days.

"You will be amazed at how many viewers they get.

"We had star players playing back then and it was all centred around attacking football.

"We had lots of goals and it wasn't so much a game of coaches playing football chess.

"Nobody was going out to try to avoid losing games.

"Managers wanted to win.

"I think that is maybe what fans miss."

Lee was thrilled to see his name flash up in third place on the recent Twitter poll on the Chronicle's social media feed.

He said: "I think that was the highest I could have finished given two Geordie legends Alan Shearer and Peter Beardsley were in the mix!

"They (the fans) had affection for me and I had it for them - it went both ways.

"I had an unbelievable 10 years there and I still miss it now, every day.

"Geordies like Alan and Peter along with Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan, you know they are the most loved people up there.

"It was good to watch the poll unfold on Twitter, I enjoyed it.

"It was good to see how fans rated the players over the years.
"It just shows in our era a lot of them were so popular.

"David Ginola was fourth and Les Ferdinand was right up there.

"I think they appreciated the team we had back then and still do."

Lee also joked on Twitter that he'd done well to get a mention as a "southerner", probably in reference to Dennis Wise and Joe Kinnear's claims that fans on Tyneside don't accept those from the capital.

But the former England man told me: "Geordies don't care where you come from.

"If you play well for them or do well and give 100% effort it doesn't matter.

"They just want you to give 100% for their club.

"That's all."