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Worst NUFC side ever? Sorry, but I beg to differ!

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There can be no doubt that these are dark times for Newcastle United supporters. And sadly that’s a sentence any one of us could have started an article off with at almost any point in the last fifty or sixty years. From the likes of Lord Westwood with his pirate eye patch, through the Seymour years, McKeag and most recently Mike Ashley, the ownership of the club has regularly been a shambles. I mean, if you think back, even Sir John Hall seemed, at one point, to be doing his best to mess things up by forcing Kevin Keegan to walk out. And those were the good times!

There have been questionable managers too. And that’s me very much using the word ‘questionable’ as a polite way of saying shite. In my memory we’ve had some shockers – Gordon Lee, Richard Dinnis, Bill McGarry, Jack Charlton, Ardiles, Gullit, Souness, Allardyce, Kinnear, Pardew, Carver, McClaren and the current incumbent Steve Bruce, who seems to be mainly getting by on his reputation of being a nice bloke who has a lot of admirers in the media. You can tell this as they constantly refer to him as ‘Stevie’ or Brucey’.

So, although I have to admit this season’s performances have largely been woeful and are getting worse, some of the outrage at our team and squad that I’ve witnessed lately has made me chuckle. And that’s what prompted this blog.

Now before some brave or eloquent soul labels me an Ashley apologist, a fan of Steve Bruce or the Anti-Rafa, well I’m not. Plain and simple. For the record I’ve been boycotting games now for the last 10 years, having given my season ticket up when cuddly Mike forced Kevin Keegan to resign. The whole Rafa thing simply strengthened my resolve to stay away. But it’s ridiculous to think that I could turn my back on my club entirely. Newcastle United are still my team, my birthright. As a result, I’d still say that I’m still worryingly obsessed with the club.

I’ve read a lot recently about how this season’s vintage is ‘the worst team we’ve ever had’ and I find that a little bit laughable, if I’m honest. It’s also a bit of an insult to quite a few of the squad. Let me explain.

I simply can’t agree that this is the worst team we’ve ever had. The tactical element is entirely down to our head coach and his team. Bruce, Clemence and Agnew, who by the way in my opinion has been given a very easy ride given his former allegiance to both Sunderland and Boro. But that’s something for another time.

Compare this team to several of the last twenty or so years and you can see how ridiculous a label it is to call them the worst. I mean, think back to some of the players in the teams sent out by Jack Charlton or Souness and you won’t have to look far to find some absolute duffers. However, for the purposes of the blog though I’ll focus my thoughts and the comparison on a team that almost had me throwing in the towel years before I finally did. For me, straight off the top of my head, the worst ever NUFC team that I’ve witnessed would be that of Sam Allardyce.

Allardyce, like the current incumbent of the job is coincidentally another media luvvie who seems to take every opportunity to ludicrously defend himself about the dullness of the side he put together at St. James’. For the record his team was clueless. The man, who still claims that if he was called Alladychio he’d be sitting pretty in a top job, was a disaster for us. Not only did he buy a load of absolute duffers, but he brought his horrible playing style too. We were awful under Allardyce. I would drive up from Leeds every other week and sit in my seat on Level 7 of the Leazes end wondering why I’d bothered. There was always hope, but that hope was usually destroyed within the first quarter of an hour of a match. The football bored me rigid. The idea always seemed to be to take a safety first approach and with some of the players in the squad – not many mind you – this seemed at best wasteful.

One particular match under Allardyce stands out as a beacon of drudgery and proof positive that times and teams have been worse. On 3rd November Newcastle played Portsmouth and I remember turning up full of optimism. Pompey were a long way from home and wouldn’t relish playing us at St. James’. How wrong I was. We were 0-3 down after 11 minutes and it genuinely felt like Pompey were playing a different sport to us. Our defending was described by the BBC as diabolical, our midfield was non-existent and up front Michael Owen wandered around like he was out for a walk with the dog. Sadly his dog seemed to have taken the form of Alan Smith and he was clearly on a short lead.

It wasn’t just the system though. Some of the players were amongst the worst that I’ve ever seen at Newcastle. There was Claudio Cacapa, who whatever your views on Joelinton, was quite simply the worst Brazilian to ever play first team football for the Toon. Centre half? Defensive midfielder? Even he didn’t seem to know what he was! He arrived on a free aged 31 and was given a deal worth £40,000 a week. He stayed for 2 years and played a grand total of 25 times. A woeful excuse for a footballer and part of, in my opinion, a far worse team than we have at the moment. In fact, if you think of those in today’s squad who could do that dual centre half/defensive midlfielder role you might well come up with the names of Isaac Hayden and Fabian Schar. Now, you’d be hard pushed to successfully argue that either of them lacks at least a bit of quality, Schar in particular looking a Rolls Royce of a player at times. And, if you were watching during Allardyce’s time, it wouldn’t take you long to work out that neither is the equivalent of Claudio Cacapa.

Alongside Cacapa there was David Rozenhal a Czech defender who, I must admit, I actually thought was quite a decent player at first. Turned out he wasn’t though. In fact he was very much a Czech version of Steven Taylor, who himself was also part of Allardyce’s squad. Rozenhal was Taylor, but without the Forrest Gump running and bad Platoon style acting when he’d handled the ball in the box. I daresay he didn’t wave at keepers either. He was very good at standing still while attackers waltzed round him though. So, in that way, very much a Taylor-alike. And again, simply not in the same class as the likes of Lascelles, Schar, Fernandez, Clark or Lejeune, all of whom would have waltzed into Allardyce’s side and all of whom are currently competing for places in what some would have you believe is the worst NUFC team ever.

Then there was Geremi, another alleged footballer brought in on massive wages by Big Sam. Inspired. Geremi came from Chelsea, who strangely seemed to make no attempt whatsoever to keep him. But in much the same way as we’re always the team that a stirker who hasn’t scored in ten games will break his duck against, we were similarly welcoming to high profile footballers that nobody wanted. Which brings me nicely on to another of the mainstays in Allardyce’s side.

Alan Smith had picked up a career-threatening injury at Manchester United and was never really the same player again. It was plain for all to see. All that is apart from Sam Allardyce who threw £6 million at our friends at Old Trafford and brought Smith to St. James’ Park on £60,000 a week. I remember reading about the potential deal before it happened and going through the same emotions I’d felt when it was reported that we were after John Barnes and Ian Rush some years before. Fear, panic…and a bit more fear.

Smith was at a stage in his career where it had taken such a bizarre turn that no-one seemed to know what to do with him. He could play up front, but had a happy knack of not scoring goals. He was never prolific in his heyday at Leeds, but by the time he reached us it was like he was the reason someone had invented that phrase about the cow’s arse and the banjo. Sir Alex Ferguson had used him as a defensive midfielder, but that didn’t work either. And as if you ever needed evidence of the man’s arrogance, Allardyce seemed to think he knew better.

Smith had even confessed that, ““My injury will restrict me from competing at the very highest level.” and said, “I know that I’m not as good as I was, simple as that.” Astonishing really. Imagine any of our midfield saying that now and think about your reaction. It was never going to work for Smith at Newcastle and under Allardyce, in my opinion, he was an integral part of a team that just didn’t work.  Another reason why this was a far worse team then the one we have now. And again, whatever position he’d have played in he doesn’t compare favourably to what we have now.

Allardyce’s team also included the player I rate as the worst I’ve ever witnessed in a Newcastle shirt. Abdoulaye Faye. Another who could play as a defensive midfielder or centre half – Christ, how many did Allardyce think he needed – words almost fail me when I think of him playing for us. Almost, but not completely. I can summon up the following. Slow, clumsy, tactically inept, couldn’t pass it, couldn’t control it, struggled to head it, made me think on more than one occasion of the bloke who rang Souness when he was manager of Southampton and claimed to be George Weah’s cousin and ended up on a short term contract; surely this wasn’t him again, but with a new name? I always wondered what my dad meant when he used to say players ‘couldn’t trap a bag of cement’. And then I saw Abdoulaye Faye and I wondered, for quite a while, if my dad was indeed some kind of wizard.

Faye is undoubtedly a brilliant reason why this season’s squad couldn’t possible be called the worst ever with any legitimacy, because it doesn’t contain Abdoulaye Faye.

Other notable names from Allardyce band of brothers? David Edgar, Peter Ramage, Mark Viduka and Charles Nzogbia. Look for their positional equivelants now and you could easily settle for the names of Ciaran Clark, Emile Krafth, Dwight Gayle and Alain Saint Maximin. Well I know who I’d rather have.

Times are hard at the moment. Hope is in short supply and frustration and anger is in danger of boiling over. But to suggest that this is the worst NUFC squad of all time is ludicrous. Blame Ashley and Charnley. Blame Bruce and his staff if you like. But don’t blame the players. Don’t include Ritchie, Saint Maximin, Almiron, Lascelles, Dubravka, the Longstaffs and any of the rest of them in something as stupid as your worst squad of all time.

 

Author: middleagefanclub

Man, husband, dad, teacher, coach, Geordie. Former street dancing champion of Tyne and Wear, guinea pig whisperer, developer of the best-selling fragrance, Pizzazz and alleged liar. Ex male model and a devilish raconteur. No challenge should be faced without a little charm and a lot of style.

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