NUFC Season Tickets

So, another new era NUFC milestone was reached this week as the club put around 1000 season tickets on sale. It was reported that over 30,000 people were sat in an online queue at one point, all patiently waiting, Willy Wonka-like for the chance to get their hands on a golden ticket.

Given the hysteria around the club for the last year or so, the numbers weren’t that much of a surprise. If you take into account the whole feel good factor created by things that range from being as small as team photos and painting the concourses in the stadium to being as big as signing world class players or indeed any players in what I’m reliably informed is called a ‘transfer window’, then it’s no wonder people want to watch their team again.

However, while it might seem simple that people want to see attractive football again, a lot of people still aren’t particularly happy.

For me, it seemed a simple equation. If you sit in a massive queue – nothing like the numbers that Everton get for Under 23 games or the launch of new mugs at the club shop mind, but massive all the same – trying to get something that’s available in a limited amount, then you might well miss out. And yet, still people seemed outraged.

Some said that they had a greater right than others to getting season tickets, while others bemoaned the size of the stadium. So here’s my take, for what it’s worth.

First of all, I’m not that sure that anyone has a greater right to watch a football team than anyone else. I’ve always been a bit of an advocate for supporting your local team, but even then I realise that people from other parts of the UK and the world have a connection to the club. And that connection makes it perfectly natural to want to go to St. James’ Park and see your team. It might not be perhaps as obvious a connection as being local, but it’s a connection all the same.

I was born and bred in Newcastle, growing up in Blaydon while spending a considerable amount of time with family in both Byker and Walker. I never thought I’d leave, but then a combination of university and Margaret Thatcher deciding the region didn’t deserve investment or jobs happened and I moved away, first to Stoke and then back north to Leeds. So was I only passable as a season ticket holder or even a supporter to some while I lived in Blaydon? It’s a silly argument really, but I guess some people are a little blind to real life at times.

Then we come to the question of what some see as loyalty. Some will tell you that season tickets and indeed any kind of matchday seat should go to those deemed the most loyal. But then, how do you define loyalty? Is it a simple matter of attending every game home or away? It can’t be, surely because again this is an area where life can get in the way. What if you work shifts or occasional weekends? What if work takes you away for periods of time or what if you live too far away to make it practical to get to every game? And what about the fact that there’s only a finite certain amount of people that can fit into the stadium or an away allocation. What if you can’t be ‘loyal’ because of that?

And as for loyalty, what even is it? If you’re going to every game because we’re successful – probably difficult to imagine, I know – then that’s an easy version of loyalty. I’d hope I was loyal during enough of the awful football that I’ve witnessed over the years to be able to be respected for boycotting when I’d had enough of seeing how badly my club was being run and the foresight, perhaps, to see it was going to get worse. So while I’d salute (not literally, that’s be daft) those who stuck with it, I’d argue that the reasons myself and many others had for stepping away were equally admirable.

Lots of people have had a real issue with those of us who boycotted because of Ashley’s ownership. It was an early and reasonably easy choice for me to make. Having held a season ticket for years, I was driving up from Leeds and my first thought on taking my seat was often, ‘What am I doing here?’ I was getting more and more frustrated by the lack of ambition and by what I felt like I could see was going to happen to the club. To paraphrase a now famous banner, I didn’t want a team that won all the time, I wanted a team that tried and from the owner downwards, I couldn’t see that. Everything came to a head for me at the fateful home game versus Hull, just after Keegan had resigned again. Here was my childhood hero being roundly abused by Ashley and his cronies. In fact, we were all having the piss taken out of us. I’d had enough. That was my last game. Even during Rafa’s time, despite the pull of something a bit brighter, Ashley kept me away.

Staying away has genuinely hurt. There’s something missing in my life every time we play. Tears have been shed over all manner of issues – various protests, Rafa leaving, Wor Flags displays, the takeover, Wilson’s goal against Spurs after the takeover was done, sometimes even just the sight of someone like Justin Barnes was enough to bring a tear to the eye! I’ve missed the social side of games, I’ve missed the atmosphere, the expectancy, the hope, the sight of The Angel signalling that I’m nearly home again on the drive up, Local Hero…all sorts of things. But I knew it was important to stick to my guns.

For people to now be telling me (or us, the ones that walked away, heartbroken) that I have no right to a season ticket is a bit of a joke. In walking away, what we did was incredibly difficult, but it had a purpose and I’d argue it had to be done. I couldn’t continue to give my money to Ashley and the thought that if he was denied our money he might sell up seemed reasonably sensible to me. So, I gave up one of the biggest things in my life and something that I’d been utterly in love with from an early age. It wasn’t a simple matter of having had enough and waiting for us to start winning and signing big names again. It felt like it had broken my heart.

As it happens, I’ve not applied for a season ticket. Somehow, I’ve got to the age I’m at and found that I lead a bit of a busy life and the thought of driving up and down the motorway to get to games just felt a little bit too much at the moment. My health hasn’t been fantastic over the past few years and so this was an extra strain that I felt unwilling to put myself through. I suppose I’m finding out that sometimes in life, the time just isn’t right, no matter how much you want to do something. But, I’d defend anyone’s right to try and go back, who’s been in the situation I’ve been in. Ashley’s season ticket giveaway of a few years back suggests that there’s a lot of us too. Like me, a lot of those will have been long term season ticket holders when they decided to boycott. Like me, a lot of them would have done plenty of time following Newcastle home and away over the years. That love, that loyalty and that history can’t just be switched off. Nor can it be ignored or cheapened.

As Newcastle United fans, it seems odd that so many are determined to have us divided. I understand that everyone has a view, but I’d also suggest that people don’t criticise or judge too much when they haven’t walked in the shoes that they’re so eager to denounce. Everyone has a view, but everyone has a story too, whether it be about why we love Newcastle United or why we had to loosen our grip a little bit. When it comes down to it, we all want the same thing; the hope and the pride that comes with supporting a competitive and ambitious Newcastle United.

Newcastle United: Some reasons to feel the love.

It’s been an incredible season. A season that started out cloaked in a sadly all too familiar pessimism, has somehow (almost) ended in an almighty celebration. No trophies – and you’ve been following the wrong club if that’s what you got into it for – and nothing hugely tangible to show for it, but still every cause for celebration.

But this isn’t an article about the takeover. Nor is it about being ITK and pretending I’ve got the inside track on some stellar summer signings. There will be a bit about our owners and their takeover, but largely this is just inner workings of my mind whenever I think about Newcastle United at the moment and the fact that not so long ago I’d almost fallen out of love with them. It’s about the little things. And the little things are often the best (or so the anti erectile dysfunction advert campaigners say). So here’s a list of 20 little NUFC related things to make you smile.

  1. The owners – meeting and greeting anyone and everyone, smiling, engaging with the fans, going to the games, trolling each other on social media, looking like they’re pleased to be here, enjoying the club and the city and setting about running our football club professionally and like they care. And it’s been that way ever since Amanda Staveley emerged from a hotel in Jesmond smiling and waving to everyone there. God bless the bloody lot of them!
  2. Team spirit – it looks like a joy to play for our football club again and I for one can’t remember a team spirit like this. No bad eggs and no scurrilous stories in the tabloids. The squad and everyone around them have big, beaming smiles on their faces and it’s just utterly refreshing.
  3. Eddie and his staff – for the first time in a few years we have a group of people running the team that take great pride in what they do, see it as a privilege to work at our club and are more than willing to go the extra mile in order to bring us some kind of success. Eddie and his staff obviously appreciate the fans too and I think that to a man, woman and child, we love them right back!
  4. Player Renaissance – under the previous regime it felt at times like we had a squad full of players who were rapidly falling out of love with the game. Many struggled for form. It almost felt like paddling pool recovery technology, wheely bin ice baths and a sulky, face pulling coach just weren’t enough inspiration anymore. However, since the dawning of the Eddie Howe era several players have scaled new heights. Ryan Fraser, Fabian Schar, Sean Longstaff and Emil Krafth are all good examples of players who’ve discovered scintilating levels of form since January. But of course, we can’t forget Joelinton; a man who has found himself receiving nationwide recognition for the upturn in his form. I’d add more, but you can read precisely what I think on the link below.

“He’s Brazilian…” – The Remarkable Rise of Joelinton.

5. The future – I mean. I wouldn’t class myself as any kind of optimist, but it’s bright isn’t it? 6. Bruuuuunoooo – it’s been a while since a player of this quality graced our team. It’s all been said by others, so I won’t write too much, but the boy’s a bit special. Cabaye is probably the closest we’ve seen to someone of Bruno’s class for a long time, but I truly think that those comparisons do him a disservice. A current Brazilian international who scores back-heeled volleys and sings his own terrace song around the house – Bruno is the stuff that dreams are made of. 7. The return of Wor Flags – again, it’s all been said before really. But what a spectacle! What a place St. James’ Park is again! And let’s not forget there’s a ‘BMX4sale 42 kwid o.n.o’. Genius. 8. The Jealousy of other fans – Look, there are certain issues involved in the ownership of our club that people are going to pick up on. Rightly so, too. But in many cases it’s just the green eyed monster. The amount of fans of other clubs who seem to have developed an overnight social conscience is only just dwarfed by the amount that didn’t realise how transfer window worked up until January. And you can bet that these are the same people who said we’d be the richest club in the championship too. Get used to it fellow Newcastle fans; these people are going to be crying river after river after river for years to come! 9. Shearer’s statue – the victim of another petty decision by the previous regime, Shearer’s statue is back inside the boundaries of the stadium, where it always belonged. It was an easy win for our new owners, so they did it. Seems simple really, doesn’t it? What a shame Ashley never understood. 10. Team Photos after a win – the target of hilarious snide comments from fans of other clubs, but the thing that we love to see. Birthplace of our knowledge of the Burn/Fraser bromance, while also humiliating those of us that carry a little bit more timber than we’d like with just the sight of some of the abs on show. I mean, Paul Dummett…who knew? Eddie’s simple idea is another thing that has made us fans fall back in love with the club (those of us who fell or almost fell out of love with it anyway) and I for one have looked forward to them after every fantastic win that we’ve been able to put on the board! 11. Sean Longstaff’s defence of Joelinton – straight after the home draw with Man Utd, after Joelinton had been awarded Man of The Match, the interviewer told Big Joe, “I didn’t realise you were that good.” After Joelinton’s cheery but bemused reply up stepped Sean. HIs defence of Joe was fantastic and showed the spirit in the camp, something that has deserted Newcastle frequently over the years. Longstaff said that the treatment of Joelinton had been disgraceful, revealing that everyone wants to be on his team at training because that means they’ll win! In an age of media trained monotony, this was refreshing and would have had many of us Toon fans shouting at the telly! 12. Big Dan Burn – put simply, I’m not sure there’s much better than a successful Geordie coming home story. 13. The Fraser/Burn bromance – with their immediately noticeable difference in height, I’m sure Ryan and Dan were the first to find those pictures funny. Surely standing together during those team photos was done on purpose? Same with the order in which they come on to the field. It’s a beautiful thing! More than that though, I hope it’s a sign of the spirit in the squad – two players prepared to have a laugh at themselves in order to promote a bit of harmony. Alternatively of course is the fact that they might just really get on and that their height doesn’t affect them being mates whatsoever. Still, it’s put a smile on more than a few faces. 14. Sam Fender offends mackems – a home town gig, Wor Flags and Local Hero. Cue social media meltdown on Wearside. Apparently though, they didn’t like him anyway (presumably they stumbled into a ticketed gig by mistake, having boarded the Metro to Newcastle by mistake), he was far too full of himself, there was no place for flags at a gig (maybe atmosphere’s not a big thing in Sunderland?) and where Sam was from wasn’t allowed to matter to him…just them. Very strange. But remember, we’re the ones that are obsessed. 15. Actual transfer windows – for much of the last 14 years these have been the stuff of legend, the place where other football clubs did business and bought players to improve things. For us, these were pretty desperate, yet predictable times. Lots of futile speculation, little or no action. The birthplace of the phrase, ‘we just couldn’t get it over the line’. January showed us how things could be and this summer promises to be memorable to say the least. 16. Jason Tindall’s tan – often to be found standing near to Eddie in a technical area, Jason is the tall, dark, handsome one whose skin tone resembles lump of teak. A thing of beauty. 17. Bruno referring to Joelinton as “bastard” on social media – it doesn’t seem to happen too much anymore, but for a short while it was funny and showed that Bruno’s English lessons, although a bit left-field, were paying off. It made me think he might have been taking Spender as his English inspiration. 18. Hawaiian Joelinton shirts – a stroke of genius really. Castore could learn a thing or two from those lads. 19. Owners’ kickabouts – it’s almost like they’re enjoying owning the club. But surely that can’t be right? I mean, Mr. Ashley made it sound like really hard work and now these lot are out after the game having a kickabout and filming it for social media. I do worry about their expensive shoes on that pitch though… 20. No more Sports Direct signs, talk of ground expansion and training ground improvements – there’s a lot that could be said about this, but for me it just shows that a top flight football club should be loved and invested in and not just treat as the world’s biggest billboard. Our owners seem to have fallen in love with the club and they are more than keen to improve it. It’s the stuff of dreams!

So there we have it. 20 daft things to love about the Toon. It could have been a ridiculously long list as well. For the first time in well over a decade times are good at Newcastle United. I hope you’re enjoying the ride!

“He’s Brazilian…” – The Remarkable Rise of Joelinton.

Some months ago, I was on the verge of writing a blog about Joelinton, It was to be headlined, ‘How do you solve a problem like Joelinton?’ and while it would be sympathetic – I really don’t like to crucify Toon players – it would also highlight the fact that here was a player that initially, no one seemed to have craved and yet now we were all stuck, the player included, not knowing what to make of him. I’ll repeat though, that my aim was never to hang Joelinton out to dry. I mean, I couldn’t if I wanted, given the size of my audience, but content is king with this type of thing and it had gotten to the stage where I felt like I couldn’t not write about him.

Something stopped me writing that blog post. I’d love to say that I knew Joelinton would come good, but the truth is, I didn’t. I think I just didn’t feel it was right to be so openly critical. Even when watching matches, I never found myself screaming and shouting about him. It was clear that he was working hard and that he wasn’t hiding from the ball. And he kept getting picked too. So, I just didn’t feel like it was being productive to be critical. I recall commenting on a Tweet that someone had sent out of a picture of Joe and his partner flying off to Brazil. I just put, ‘I hope she’s a striker’s coach’ and it was definitely just in jest more than being critical. Yet still, a few fans jumped on it like I’d just insulted their mothers. It was a joke at Joelinton’s expense and about his prredicament. But it was only a joke.

As a Newcastle United fan, I always wanted Joelinton to do well, but he was becoming a lost cause and the more I willed him to do well and he didn’t, the more he reminded me of similar lost causes that I’ve adopted over the years. One in particular sprung to mind- Kevin Dillon. Dillon was a mackem midfielder played for us between 1989 and 1991 and seemed to do everything he could not to score for us. I’d go to games, tipping him to score, week after week after week. Sometimes, when watching from the Scoreboard, a goal would go in at the Leazes end and I’d swear it was Dillon. It never was. Clearly though, Joelinton is no one’s Kevin Dillon!

On top of this, it seemed clear to anyone watching – apart from the likes of Bruce and the Steves, Mike Ashley etc – that it just wasn’t working out for Joelinton. It didn’t make me angry, it just made me feel sympathy for the player. He wasn’t scoring, he looked awkward even when just running and no system or position seemed to suit him. Even when Newcastle’s social media posted videos of him doing stuff like scoring in training, it looked like an accident. I began to notice the times he spent sitting getting treatment during games, thinking ‘here we go again’ but never once considering the fact that he was throwing himself into challenges that I’d just run away from!

Fast forward 6 months or so and I’m so pleased that I didn’t write that blog post! Joelinton is clearly a player reborn, seemingly brought back to life by our Lord and saviour, Eddie Howe (and his disciples Tindall, Jones et al).

As we’ll all no doubt remember, Big Joe’s redemption began in earnest on Tuesday 30th November 2021, in the game against Norwich at home. Ciaran Clarke’s early sending off forced Eddie Howe into a quick tactical change that saw Joelinton drop deeper into midfield, alongside Willock and Shelvey. The hope seemed to be that he could slot in there and do a job with his undoubted physicality. However, it was immediately apparent that Joe was going to provide much, much more than this. I remember watching and as each minute passed, just feeling more and more impressed. And I think we were all just delighted for him.

That night Joelinton was a hero. His work rate was phenomenal and he operated more as a box to box type midfielder than anything, linking things from back to front really effectively. He bullied the opposition midfield and his legwork allowed Jonjo Shelvey more time on the ball. Importantly though, in a game where we could easily have been picked off by a team with an extra man, he never allowed Norwich players to settle. If he was within touching distance, they were going to feel him challenging them. That night, after Clark’s dismissal, someone like Billy Gimour could have ran the game from midfield, but instead Joelinton took charge.

Four days later in the next game, against Burnley at home, Newcastle won their first match of the season. In what was a physical grind of a game, Joelinton again played in midfield and again put in an all action performance the like of which surely none of us had seen coming! Perhaps more importantly his status as a cult hero was growing as this was the first home match to hear the ‘He’s Brazilian’ chant.

In the final game of 2021, following on from a run of three heavy defeats, we played Manchester United at home. Not quite the daunting prospect that they once had been and yet no easy task for us, especially once Callum Wislon pulled up injured and had to be subbed off just before half time. Allan Saint Maximin had given us a lead early on, but Man Utd came after us in the second half, equalising with around 20 minutes still to go. It was all hands to the pump to secure a valuable point and once again Joelinton was brilliant with Eddie Howe commenting “I cannot praise him enough” afterwards. Howe’s influence has been amazing and he’s made it known just how valued Joelinton was from pretty much his first week in the job, which must have been a boost for the player after having to endure the poor man management of Steve Bruce.

However, it was Big Joe’s post match interview that would not only make headlines, but cement Joe’s place in the hearts and minds of Newcastle supporters. After a now typical all action performance, our Brazilian was awarded the man of the match by Sky. All good so far. But then the interviewer, Patrick Davidson, opened up with this,

Joelinton, can I be completely honest? I didn’t realise you were that good.”

To his eternal credit Joelinton seemed to see the ‘funny’ side of what the interviewer was getting at. As I mentioned earlier, probably not many of us could honestly say that we’d seen anything much in Joe, apart from a price tag up until that Norwich game. But this was disrespectful, sly and designed to get under the skin. I was disgusted when I heard it, as were a lot of other Toon fans. However, Sean Longstaff – stood alongside Joe for the interview – spoke for us all, telling Davidson how good Joelinton actually was and pointing out that “the disrespect he gets is a disgrace”. The revelation that players loved being on Joelinton’s team in training because it meant they always won also told us a lot about the player. I guess what you see in matches is never really the whole story. It felt like a night and a moment that helped to galvanise us all. We remained 19th in the table and now had 11 points, but there had definitely been a shift in momentum and performance levels, with Joelinton very much at the heart of it all.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Big Joe though. After all, he was in the side that lost to Cambridge in the FA cup and also played in the Watford game, after which I for one could only see us going down. But reinforcements were being brought in and fortunes were about to take an upturn.

After getting injured against Leeds, by the time we beat Everton at home Joelinton was back in the team and performing brilliantly. And now, in Bruno Guimaraes, he had a Brazilian compatriot in town too. We’d signed a Brazilian international midfielder who was about to be kept out of the team partly by our a Brazilian who we’d questioned as a player not long since. Joelinton’s rise was almost complete.

For me – and I’d imagine loads of others – one of Joelinton’s brightest moments of the season, and maybe of his Newcastle career, came in the away victory at Brentford at the end of February. Once again, he was dominant in midfield, but he also scored our opening goal, rising to meet a cross from the left by Ryan Fraser and plant a bullet header into the net. And then, brushing aside his team mates, he ran the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the by now adoring Newcastle fans, some of whom were dressed in fantastic Hawaiian shirts bearing Big Joe’s face. No one could be in any doubt about Joelinton now! At the end of the game, Joe returned to the fans, giving his shirt away and then being serenaded by the ‘He’s Brazilian’ chant for a good few minutes. At this point Newcastle were now 14th in the table with 25 points.

Eddie Howe has gone on record as saying that they saw Joelinton as more of a number 10 than a box to box midfielder, but there can be no doubt of his influence on Big Joe. It’d be unfair to say that Joelinton didn’t having the backing of the previous management who tried to incorporate him in various positions and systems. But whichever way you look at it, Steve and The Steves never got close to realising the player’s potential.

As I write, we’ve just got through a remarkable Joelinton dominated weekend which has certainly helped to illustrate just how far he’s come in his time at Newcastle United. His performance against Norwich proved something else about him. And it’s something that we probably all very much doubted initially, especially when he was given the number 9 shirt. Joelinton’s got a goal or two in him!

Joelinton’s two goals against Norwich proved that there is a striker’s instinct in there. His first – a stunning hammer blow into the top corner of the net – showed power and precision that for me personally, was evident in his first ever Newcastle goal, a crisp left footed finish against Spurs away that arrowed into the net. Similarly, the first against Norwich was a great connection that no keeper was stopping. Then his second goal was the type of close range finish that good strikers will see as their bread and butter. I thought he showed great awareness and a cool head with that one.

Once again, Big Joe was serenaded by the travelling fans and stuck around, enjoying the adoration for a good few minutes. I wonder what was going through his head as he stood their clapping? Imagine the delight and the weight steadily lifting from his shoulders in these past couple of months. One minute you’re finding the shot that you’ve just tried to hit smacking you in the face and then, in what must feel like the blink of an eye, almost everything you touch is applauded and thousands of Geordies are singing your name week in, week out. What a time to be Joelinton! If there’s not room for a statue, surely there should be a Bielsa style mural of him soon?!

All we need now is to see him getting called up to the Brazil squad and maybe even to make the World Cup in Qatar and the remarkable rise of Joelinton will be well and truly complete!

Super Sporting Sunday? It was anything but!

Sunday 3rd April should have been a glorious day for me. As a sports fan, it promised much and although it would prove tiring, I was aware of the fact that it could send me back to work on the Monday in a fantastic mood. And here begins a lesson in not building your hopes up!

Last Sunday was a day where sport dominated. Nothing hugely new here, I’m afraid, as sport has probably dominated much of my life. But on Sunday I was due to be ‘on the go’ with sport from early morning until well into the night. It should have been the stuff that (my) dreams are made of. A day away from the pressure of work where everything would come together and provide me with some reasons to be cheerful. Well, the day away from work bit was right anyway…

With a game for my Under 13 football team in the morning, Newcastle United away at Tottenham in the Premier League live on Sky in the afternoon and then a trip to watch Leeds Knights ice hockey team in their final regular season match, it should have been a fabulous day. But sadly, the gods of sport had other ideas.

I should have known. When we booked tickets for the ice hockey, I didn’t bother to look at the football fixtures. Nor did I pay any attention to the date and time of the hockey. You’ve guessed it – fixture clash! Newcastle would kick off in the Premier league at 4.30pm, while Knights would face off at 5.15, meaning that I wouldn’t get to see a single second of the football. Sadly, I only realised this on the Friday before and because we have adopted ice hockey as a family sport, there was no getting out of it. I didn’t want to either though as I’m really enjoying watching hockey this year. But I was gutted at missing out on the Newcastle game.

When we set off on the 13 mile trip up to Horsforth in north Leeds on Sunday morning, I was optimistic. It was very much an optimism that was hanging by a thread, but it was optimism all the same. Having endured a tough season so far, we went into this game bottom of the league, but facing a team that were only a couple of places above us. I also knew that they were struggling for players and form, so initially I’d hoped we could make it a fairly straightforward win. And then I put the message out about our own availability for the game. Out of a squad of 18 players only 11 were available! One of the stories of our season; despite having a good size squad, we’re almost always short on numbers. With only 11 players it meant that we couldn’t make any substitutions. Only 11 players meant that injuries – another key theme of the season – would cause us all manner of problems. Fatigue would also enter the equation now too, as no one would get a rest. To add to the problems, two parents had messaged to say that they were concerned about injuries with their sons!

It turned out to be an awful start to my sporting Sunday. We were beaten 1-0, but we outplayed our opposition for some of the first half and the entirety of the second. Our players were beyond frustrated, one even leaving the field crying at the end, having put in so much effort. We created chance after chance, but just couldn’t put the ball in the net. Had we scored one, we would definitely have gone on to win the game. I made sure to put out a message later that day on our WhatsApp group, thanking parents and players and telling them how proud I was of our team, their boys (and mine). But we still hadn’t taken a point from the game and it played on my mind for the rest of the day.

I should have known that it would be downhill all the way from this point of my sporting Sunday. But hope springs eternal and I was still thinking optimistically about the two fixtures to come. Little did I know that a narrow, perhaps unjust defeat in junior football, would actually turn out to be the highlight of my day.

I was already at the ice hockey arena when Newcastle kicked off their Premier League game against Tottenham. Armed and ready with the live updates of the match on my phone, I still thought we would be able to get something from the game. Sitting waiting for the hockey to start, I was checking my phone every couple of minutes, half expecting a Tottenham goal any second. And then, my phone buzzed. I pulled it from my pocket to check and found, to my amazement, that Newcastle had scored. This sporting Sunday might just be taking a turn for the better!

As the ice hockey began, I was only partly engaged, hoping that Newcastle could get to half time still ahead, surfing a tiny wave of optimism. Checking my phone once more I crashed off my imaginary board and was sucked under by this particular wave; Tottenham had equalised.

At half time in the football I was able to fully focus on the hockey. Leeds were more than holding their own as the puck flew from end to end and chances were created and missed on both sides. Was it possible that I could have some kind of fairytale ending to my day (not that a fairytale ever involved Premier League football and NHL English ice hockey)?

My question was answered with a resounding ‘NO!’ shortly afterwards. Three minutes into the second half of the football, Tottenham scored again. Then it felt like they just kept on scoring. Soon, Newcastle were 4-1 down and what little hope there had been had long since left the building.

Then, just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get worse Leeds Knights conceded! The game had been fairly scrappy and the Knights had had a couple of players sin binned for silly fouls. Gradually the tide had turned and it was Sheffield exerting all the pressure. Their goal was inevitable, even if I’d taken my eye slightly off the puck in favour of sulking about Newcastle.

The day ended with yet more negativity. Newcastle ended up losing 5-1, our first heavy defeat in a while and one that leaves us looking over a shoulders just a little bit at those behind us further down in the relegation fight. Leeds Knights would concede another and then labour through the rest of the game without ever looking too close to scoring, losing 2-0 in the end.

As we got in the car at the end of the match, I thought about how badly my sporting Sunday had gone. Three defeats in a day is quite something! Eight goals conceded by my various teams and only one scored…and I didn’t even see it! Sometimes sport can be cruel. Here’s to next week though, when I get to put myself through sporting purgatory all over again. Never lose hope, folks!

Newcastle United Stadium Tour

Having spent the morning and early afternoon of my first birthday treat touring a brewery before taking on a sampling session of wonderful beers, it was going to take a lot for me to budge from my stool on this particular Friday afternoon. To say that I was settled was the proverbial understatement and on any other day, I would have been more than happy to order another drink and carry on chatting about whatever subject cropped up next. But, a long held love was calling, not just for me, but for my drinking partner too. Newcastle United was once again whispering sweet nothings in our ears.

We’d been sitting in the Brinkburn Street Brewery and Kitchen for a few hours, so heading across Newcastle having drunk a sample of six amazing beers, it’s safe to say the legs were slightly unsteady. Not only that though, having not visited this side of the city for many, many years I felt like an alien. The city has transformed over the 20-something years that I’ve been away and this means that sadly, there’s not a lot left that I recognise. And I haven’t visited regularly enough to keep up with the changes in the skyline.

Where we were heading though, was probably even stranger to me. St. James’ Park, home of our beloved Newcastle United had been somewhere I’d spent a large chunk of my childhood and early adult years, watching any and every game played. However, reacting mainly to our previous owner and the early signs of his mismanagement but also the prospect of becoming a father of two, I stopped going to games. I gave up my season ticket early, feeling like I was falling out of love with the club and the game. Today would be the first time that I’d set foot in the stadium in nearly 13 and a half years. 4913 days, to be precise.

As part of my 50th birthday celebrations my wife had booked a stadium tour for my self and my mate David. I hope I don’t get it wrong when I say that we were both a little giddy as we arrived at the reception desk to check in. I think the beer helped a bit as well, if I’m being completely honest!

Once checked in, we put on our tour lanyards and were given an initial introduction to the tour by our guide Carol, who then ushered us in to the lifts that would take us up towards our first stop on the tour; the executive boxes.

I’ve never particularly fancied watching a game from a corporate box and although it was amazing to be inside the two that we looked at – in through Jonjo Shelvey’s and out again through Callum Wilson’s (steady at the back there fans of double entendre) – this didn’t do a great deal for me as a fan. That said, if anyone at the club or even Jonjo, Callum or any other box owning players wanted to invite me to a match to try and change my mind, I’m sure I could forget my working class roots and decades on the terraces in order to give it a go!

Our tour guide, Carol, was a mine of information at this point, letting us know everything we could wish to know about the corporate hospitality at The Toon, including the detail that would really put me off; the price! That said, if you have the money it looks like a pretty decent experience to have once a fortnight!

After the boxes it was Level 7, the highest point of the ground. You can take the rooftop tour at St. James’ as well and this was something I’d considered, despite not being that comfortable with heights. However, the reminder of how high Level 7 is made me thankful that I’d not taken that particular plunge. This was also the level where I had last had my season ticket and so walking out onto the concourse and then out towards the seats felt ever-so-slightly emotional. As far as I could remember, we even came out quite close to where I had sat in those days. However, I wasn’t going to let those kind of memories get in the way of the childlike giddiness I felt at being back in the ground, especially with everything that’s happened since October.

We took in the view, learning about the fact that on a clear day you can see the Stadium of Light – so if you’re ever sitting there, look the other way, claw your own eyes out or pray for cloud – as well as many other much more pleasant sights. We were told about the broadcasting facilities, matchday control and lots of other small details that as a fan, you probably don’t ever realise about.

After this we headed down to the dressing room area, starting by taking in the away dressing room which was a rather spartan affair as you’d probably expect. However, the best was yet to come. You’d imagine that sitting in the same dressing room as your heroes – and alongside their shirts – would be the kind of thing that would be most enjoyable to the several under 10s on the tour. Think again! This 50 year old was very excited indeed at being there and sitting next to those shirts! Ridiculous really, but what a thrill!

I had the same experience on the tour of the Allianz Arena a few years back and still found myself grinning from ear to ear at sitting next to shirts with the names of Davies, Lewandowski, Coman, Ribery, Muller and Neuer. No idea why, really, but it was umpteen times as exciting to be doing it at St. James’ Park. Isn’t it strange how ridiculously we behave when faced by almost anything to do with our beloved game? I struggled to get the grin off my face from that point onward though.

Once we left the dressing room, we assembled in the tunnel area and after a few minutes more information from Carol, it was time to make like a player and head for the pitch. Newcastle try to make that matchday experience side of the tour as authentic as possible by blasting out ‘Local Hero’ as you walk down the tunnel and even as a middle aged man, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Is that sad? I genuinely don’t care! I’ve followed this club for over 40 years, dreaming of playing for them as I grew up; of course walking down that tunnel is going to be exciting.

Seeing the whole place from pitchside was amazing and it makes you fully take in what a magnificent stadium we have. I somehow resisted the urge to skip over the rope and run onto the pitch, filling my time by taking photos and having a little sit down in Eddie’s chair in the dug out, again all done with a huge grin on my face. And then, it was time to go.

Newcastle United had made me feel like a kid again. Touring the stadium, somewhere I felt I knew so much about, was a brilliant way to spend the afternoon and I found out a lot of things that I didn’t actually know. Our tour guide Carol was excellent; the perfect balance of fun and knowledge – she knew her stuff and clearly loved her job making the whole thing even more of a pleasure.

If you’re a Newcastle fan, this is a must. If you’re a football fan (you know, of one of those other clubs) you’ll enjoy a look round St. James Park too. Either way, it made for an fantastic birthday treat and I’d thoroughly recommend giving it a go!

Poetry Blog: Kieran Trippier, over the wall.

I make absolutely no apologies whatsoever for the partisan nature of this poem. I regularly write poems and blogs, but only occasionally blog about my football team, Newcastle United. This week, I witnessed a performance and a moment that captured a great deal of what I love about my club. So what better way to remember it than with a poem?

Kieran Trippier, over the wall.

Once the outrage of the indiscretion has cleared, a buzz of expectation 
echoes round, filling the stadium like the hum of a million black and white bees.
Twenty five yards further down the field, a short armed keeper toils,
crouching low, shuffling this way and that, pointing, shouting,
the very definition of futility, as he attempts to arm himself against the inevitable.
A wall of bewildered men, where even a wall like those of Berlin or China would fail.
The referee directs traffic, keen eyed as grown men push and shove to pinch an inch wherever they can.
And then, as if in a parallel universe, three magpies stand;
Shelvey, Targett, Trippier, surveying all before,
debating height, angles and which one of them will fire the missile.
A hush descends and is then punctured by a whistle,
Shelvey ambles away, exiting stage left,
Targett twitches, as if to strike,
but Trippier strides forth, striking the ball, up and over the wall,
a curling exocet that pierces the air before whistling, untouched into the net,
beyond the despairing hands of the short armed man in green.
Continuing his run, Trippier arrows for the corner of the stadium,
leaving team-mates in his wake,
unadulterated joy and passion etched across his face,
eyes wild, already hooked on this feeling as he slides over the touchline,
fist punching the excited air now filled by the gutteral screams 
of every man, woman and child who ride this ride,
dream this dream, support this team.

I exiled myself from the club years ago now. I never stopped supporting them, but the love that I’d grown up with had changed, thanks to our new owner of that time. Over the years, Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United sucked the love from me until it was just a shell of what it had once been. But, as you might well know, Newcastle United is an addiction so I could never completely let go.

Last October, when the club was bought by our new owners, I took a step back. Yes, I was delighted, excited, overwhelmed, like we all were. But it’s the hope that kills you, so I didn’t dare hope too much. The last few months have changed that. My love has been re-ignited, a bit like the club. As we’ve heard loads of times before, we’ve got our club back.

Tuesday night’s game against Everton felt special. The noise, the atmosphere, the way the team represented the club and the fans. Even when we went behind, it didn’t feel that it would matter. We’d be OK.

Kieran Trippier’s free kick felt iconic. It still does. It feels like the spark that will iginite a fire that might just roll out of control. And in terms that aren’t quite so eloquent or intelligent, it was bloody brilliant. So brilliant that I had to write about it. I hope my poem does the moment justice.

Newcastle United and the January Transfer Window.

For as long as I can remember as a Newcastle fan, transfer windows have been almost exclusively no fun whatsoever. Yet, I’m sure I speak for loads of us when I say that it never really dampens the sense of hope you feel as the clock ticks over and the window opens once again. The absolute dejection when Sky announce that it’s “slammed shut” will be much the same as well.

Our present system was introduced back in the 2002/03 season and across the course of the time since, it’s fair to say that we’ve made some decent signings. Sadly though, it’s not the signings that have dominated. No, as we all know, it’s been far more about the anticipation and then the fruitless waiting as a Newcastle fan. Yet another thing that we owe Mike Ashley a big sarcastic ‘thank you for’!

When the new owners took over in October apart from the obvious outpouring of joy and relief, there was feverish talk of transfers. Names like Mbappe, Neymar,Haaland and Wood *cough* were being mentioned, although not really by any serious minded Toon fans. Regardless, it was exciting to think about what might happen and brilliant to be allowed to dream for the first time in years.

Within a few days of the opening of the January window we’d signed Kieron Trippier – a player far beyond our reach in the Ashley era. And then came Chris Wood for £25m. Not a popular choice, but a sensible one all the same and once again the kind of signing that we wouldn’t have made or even contemplated in the previous 14 years.

For the rest of the window we seem to have just had knock back after knock back, complication after complication, despite some very generous bids for a growing number of players. Others will have written about and discussed how fraught it’s been, so I thought I’d offer a few practical targets or ideas of my own (some of which have come into the NUFC picture since I started writing this a day ago).

Having watched on as we bid unsuccessfully for the next Mbappe – Hugo Ekitike – I wondered whether the owners would be looking at strengthening with the future in mind and looked at some more home-grown targets as well as the few that I have any knowledge of abroad (I don’t pretend to have any kind of encyclopedic knowledge of world football, am not ITK and don’t even play FIFA, so this is probably all bollocks anyway!)

I was really pleased when I heard of our interest in Todd Cantwell at Norwich and am still hopeful that we’ll do something here before the window shuts. I like Cantwell. He’s a hard worker, creative and strong when running with the ball. His age – 23 – means that he is coming into his prime but still has lots of time to develop, meaning that he could be a great investment for the future at the right price. With over 100 games for Norwich, he’s got experience too and to an extent, is fairly well proven.

Another player that sprung to mind was Forest’s Brennan Johnson, a tricky left winger. He’s only 20 years old and, from what I’ve seen, has lightning pace and the ability to get to the byline and supply a dangerous cross. A handy alternative should ASM pick up a knock and a useful supply line for the likes of Chris Wood and Callum Wilson when he’s fit again. Johnson has a good deal of experience having played over 70 games at Forest or out on loan in the lower leagues and he looks a player that’s ready to make the step up. Fittingly, he’s been mentioned as another one that we’re enquiring about in the last day or so, but we’d have to work quick as it seems like he could be on his way to Brentford.

Another player in a similar vein would be Fabio Carvalho at Fulham, who despite the Portuguese name has represented England at youth levels. He’s another quick, skillful forward player and again could make a very promising addition to the squad. I like the look of Keane Lewis-Potter at Hull as well. Again, another skillful, ball playing midfielder who, on the occasions I’ve seen him play, looks like he could have a big future. Others that spring to mind of a similar age and potential would be Jason Knight at Derby, Lewis O’Brien at Huddersfield, Djed Spence on loan at Forest from Boro and even Rueben Loftus Cheek, a player who seems to have lost his way over the last few years, but could still make an impact on the game under the right coach.

One player I’d wondered if we’d go for was Florian Wirtz at Bayer Leverkusen. His club have said he’s the best midfielder they’ve seen in 30 years and on the occasions I’ve seen him play he looks skillful, quick and confident beyond his years. I imagine he’d cost a lot of money, but at that age and with so much potential, I’m absolutely sure it’d be worth it and he’d have our crowd on its feet every week.

I also picked out a few wildcard defensive players that I think are a bit left field, but would still perhaps be useful additions to the squad and certainly players who might be better than what we already have.

Given the amount of money we were throwing at centre half options, I wondered if there might be better value elsewhere. I’ve never seen Carlos play, but have read and listened to quite a few people who know him well over the last couple of weeks and although he seems a decent centre half and better than what we have already, it also sounds like he’s prone to clumsy errors, so the suggested price feels like way too much.

I’m not saying the following choices are far better options, just that they’re perhaps more realistic targets in a notoriously difficult window. And given our league position, we’re quite a long way up the creek and looking like we might throw the paddles in at any time.

Nat Phillips at Liverpool seemed an obvious answer, as well as Conor Coady at Wolves. Then, I came up with Rob Dickie at QPR, a player who we looked at while he was at Oxford and who I think is a fairly mobile, ball playing centre half who seems to read the game well. I also liked the look of Joe Worral at Forest; a big, powerful defender who’s good in the air and useful on set pieces in both boxes. He’s one I’ve liked as a player for a while now. The other player that came to mind was Tosin Adarabioyo Fulham who, when I’ve watched him play, looks fairly comfortable on the ball and a big, domineering lad with a bit of pace. I don’t think any of these options would cost anywhere near the Carlos money, but I think they’d give us a better chance of staying up and I would imagine they would have been easier to sign.

As I end this it looks fairly sure that we’ll sign the Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes. I’m happy to confess that until a couple of days ago I’d never heard of him, but he seems to be a real quality addition. Those in the know – and plenty who aren’t, but claim to be – are very excited. His signing – if it happens – definitely gives us hope of still being in the division next year. As I write we still haven’t added a centre half and progress on signings of young like Ekitike or Johnson have stalled. Perhaps those ‘ones for the future’ will be exactly that and we’ll revisit them in the summer window, which promises to be just as tense and exciting as this one.

One thing’s for sure; it’s a pretty good time to be a Toon fan!

Newcastle United: Some words in support of Eddie Howe.

We all know that social media can be the domain of idiots. Twitter and in particular, football related Twitter is especially good at proving this. But recently, in a Newcastle United shaped corner, it’s begun to surpass all of its previous idiocy.

To preface this, I must stress that the idiot viewpoints to which I’m about to refer are from a tiny minority. Minority or not though; they’re still out there and in my opinion, they’re still particularly stupid and particularly unjust. So what is it that folk have been saying? Well, sadly they’ve already begun to criticise Eddie Howe, with some even going as far as to call for him to lose is job.

Eddie has been in the job for a short time and in that time we’ve lost more than we’ve won. Hardly a surprise though really, is it? Remember when he first arrived and we all got giddy about the fact that he was running around during a training session? Like actually joining in. Now that’s what he’s up against. Newcastle United had become so unloved, so neglected and us fans so used to just settling for third class standards that we were hooked from the moment he donned a tracksuit, demonstrated a drill and was heard telling players, “If you’re standing still, that’s not good enough.”

Such was the transformation of things just in the space of those initial minutes, that I think some fans may have begun to think that Eddie Howe was in possession of some kind of footballing wand. And now, when improvements on the pitch aren’t quite as noticeable as they wanted, doubt is beginning to creep in. And at Newcastle United, doubt can be toxic.

Let’s get one thing straight: No one was going to turn things around at NUFC very quickly. Howe told us in his first press conference that we were very much in a relegation fight and that the priority for now was short term. He admitted himself, “the task is huge” and that “The aim is to stay in the league. To avoid relegation”. We were never going to suddenly start playing open, expansive, attractive football. When he was appointed we still hadn’t won a game, but we have now. And while that’s not the most amazing of changes, it’s a start, And it’s a start that the previous regime never looked likely to bring us.

Eddie Howe has joined our club in a completely new era. But for all the money in the world, it’s going to take a long time and a huge amount of hard work to undo all the problems that the last era created. There are years of neglect to get past. Some people are expecting that a club that has been kept ticking along with the bare minimum of funds, insight and effort for 14 years, is suddenly going to take off because a young coach is running around in training. There will have to be countless hours of unseen work done before this particular ship starts to turn and sadly, he’s joined us just as we were heading at relentless pace towards an almighty iceberg.

It’s well documented that the group of players at Howe’s disposal are still dominated by those that brought us up to the Premier League in 2016/17. So ask yourself, how is Eddie meant to drastically change the form of these players, many of whom are simply playing beyond their level now? Yet, still a vocal few are beginning to question methods and wonder out loud why the boss and his staff haven’t turned the likes of Clark, Lascelles and Schar into a modern day band of Franco Baresis. Ridiculous.

Another issue with the squad is perhaps how cosseted they’d become. You get the impression that Bruce didn’t exactly promote a strong working environment. Towards the end of his tenure the amount of days off he was scheduling got ridiculous and although some players have come out since and expressed their concern in this area, you can’t imagine that lots of them would be pleased as punch at not having to go into work for 2-3 days at a a time. Surely that’s just human nature? When it’s public knowledge that the manager has sloped off to be on the beach for a few days during a run where the team couldn’t buy a win, you’ve got to imagine that lackadaisical attitude could rub off on more than a few.

Furthermore, it seems clear that Eddie and his staff mean business. They’re not here to be regarded as ‘great blokes’ by the players and that might just be a heck of a change for those who’d gotten comfortable under Steve and the Steves (not only shit football coaches, but an appalling sounding boy band too). I wonder if a sudden injection of professionalism coupled with staff who are trying to command a bit of respect might just have ruffled a few precious feathers. Well, it needed to happen. And even if this isn’t the case, I imagine Howe and his coaches coming in will have given the atmosphere around the place a real boost.

Currently there are a number of difficulties that aren’t helping Eddie Howe at all. I think we looked to January as a time where – whether we were comfortable with it or not – the club would splash the cash and we’d bring in better, more exotic players before gradually climbing out of relegation trouble towards safety. It hasn’t happened. And while I do think a Director of Football would have helped enormously, it’s still not the Eddie’s fault. The dithering we’d become used to is a thing of the past and the owners have definitely been proactive. But for one reason or another clubs are increasingly reluctant to do business with us. Eddie Howe isn’t at fault here, but the longer it drags on, the longer he’s left working with a squad of players who sadly, just aren’t quite good enough.

Then we come to the news that has got a few people speculating within the last week – Rafa Benitez’s sacking at Everton. Sadly, some Newcastle fans have latched on to this, adding 2 and 2 together to make about 360. Personally, I’ve found the social media calls for Rafa to be brought back a little ludiccrous. At best, this would be a sideways move, but the more consideration I’ve given it, the more I oppose it. Whatever way you look at it, Rafa Benitez walked away from Newcastle United. I understand that this was a very different Newcastle United, but it still involved a group of fans who adored him and yet, he still walked. For me, this one’s a no-go.

Eddie Howe is a young, forward thinking coach who wants us on the front foot going at teams. And fair enough, it hasn’t really happened yet, but there’s no reason to and no point in doubting him now. Rafa Benitez’s style of play and his ‘short blanket’ probably aren’t what we need. Sure, he’d tighten up the defence, but I still believe we’d concede too many goals with these players. In many ways Rafa represents a glorious time in the club’s history in that fans, management and players were utterly together, but I still can’t get behind bringing him back at the expense of Eddie Howe.

My final point would be this; as fans of Newcastle United we shouted long and loud about just wanting hope. Well, for me Eddie has already delivered. The frankly strange excitement at the fact that he was in at work on his first day before 7am. The footage of those early training sessions. The win against Burnley and his ecstatic reaction afterwards. The performance against Manchester United. The signing of Kieron Trippier. The fact that he’s not an overweight has-been who would willingly criticise both his players and the fans, despite his claims about being one of us.

We may get relegated this season, but after the last 14 years, it was always coming. Eddie Howe represents hope, graft and the future. As fans of Newcastle United we tell each other to keep the faith. So let’s do that. Let’s just get behind the bloke!

Dear Gabby Agbonlahor (and any other deluded, misinformed football pundits).

I’ve supported Newcastle United FC all my life. I don’t often blog about them, but occasionally something crops up that piques my interest and gets me typing. This is one of those occasions. Let me explain.

Over the weekend the TalkSport pundit and ex Aston Villa striker Gabby Agbonlahor offered his audience some rather stupid views about Newcastle United. Now, I’ve only seen a clip of this, but essentially his point was that no one would want to sign for Newcastle. By ‘no one’ I’m taking it he meant players of any great quality and those that might get us out of the kind of trouble that we currently find ourselves in. His argument was something along the lines of “If a player was offered £40k a week to play for Newcastle or £30k a week to play for Brentford, he’d choose Brentford because players don’t want to live in Newcastle, they want to live in London.” What, all of them?

Now, I’m not an idiot. I realise that there are players who would turn us down in order to go and live in London. But his comments got me thinking. At first, like many others, I thought of the many attractions of my home town. Then I recalled some of the brilliant players we’ve had over the years. In fact, several of these former players took to social media to refute Gabby’s argument. More of this later.

What struck my mostly, when I’d had time to think about it a bit, was how utterly absurd a point Agbonlahor had made. Because of course, even a small amount of thought would produce a list of players who signed for less glamorous clubs than those in London. Some went for money, others to play for a certain manager and others because doing their homework revealed a lot about the clubs they would sign for and the cities in which they’d live and told them that although there was no Harrods, they could probably have an excellent quality of life wherever they lived. I mean, taking Gabby’s £30k or £40k a week analogy, earning more than a average person’s yearly salary in a week might make life quite easy really. But not in Newcastle though. Never in Newcastle. Take less money, to play in front of less fans at a smaller club because…London. As I said earlier, utterly absurd.

It’s widely acknowledged that Diego Maradona was and is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – footballers to ever grace a pitch. A breathtaking talent, worshipped wherever he played. And yet, he was arguably happiest at Napoli. That’s in Naples, Gabby. That’s in Italy, Gabby. Europe, Gabby. Maradona left Barcelona and signed for a club in Naples; not AC or Inter of Milan, not Lazio or Roma, but Napoli, a city that while far sunnier is totally comparable to Newcastle in terms of its economic profile and appeal. And unless I’ve missed something, Naples doesn’t have a Harrods, a Thames, a London Eye or a Buckingham Palace either.

Fast forward to the present day and a player that many would deem the best in the world plays in an industrial city in northern Britain where, on first glance, it might not seem like the best place to live. And yet, Mo Salah is as happy as a pig in the proverbial. I understand the draw of Liverpool FC, but looking at what Gabby tells us, it proves a point. Liverpool is nowhere near London, yet even in their barren years they’ve signed a great number of quality footballers.

Explain to me also, the phenomenon of world class footballers from many countries of the world, joining clubs in the arse end of Russia or China to play their football. The quality of life or that of the shopping doesn’t matter if the right amount of money is waved in some people’s direction. And while the majority of fans would rather it was a direction we didn’t take, if money needs to be waved, we’ve got enough to tempt most players out of signing for Brentford. And that’s no disrespect to Brentford.

A little bit of thought also added the following names to throw at Gabby’s argument. De Bruyne at Wofsburg, Hazard at Lille, Ravanelli, Juninho and Emerson at Middlesborough, Sane and Van Dijk at Southampton, Okocha at Bolton, Carbone at Bradford, Yeboah, Strachan and now Raphinha at Leeds and anyone, literally anyone at sunderland. These players all dispensed with geography to play football and live in places that weren’t as glamourous as London for one reason or another. None of them hung around for a late bid on only slightly less money from Brentford, West Ham, QPR, Fulham or even bloody Watford. And yes, I know Watford’s not actually in London. You take my point though? Not you Gabby. You wouldn’t understand my point if it was projected onto a stand at Villa Park.

In other news, a lot of footballers are not rocket scientists. They just want to play football. They’ll have enough money to afford a nice place to live in a nice part of the area around their new football club. They may well not have heard of Newcastle, but history proves that they’re happy enough to sign for us and happier still once the decision is made. Because you know what, Gabby? It’s not a bad place and no one says these people have to stay there until the end of their days. These careers are nothing if not transitory and temporary.

Newcastle United and Newcastle Upon Tyne have a lot to offer. Whisper it quietly, but some might even enjoy it more than living in London, simply because it’s a fabulous city and area. The place is renowned for the friendliness of its people (although I’m not sure you’ve got too many fans, Mr.A), there’s culture – in case someone like Patrick Bamford ever wanted to sign for us – beaches, stunning countryside, nightlife and a night out that untold thousands would vouch for once they’d recovered from the hangover. We’re the home of Greggs – although I believe London has branches too – we have an airport with planes and everything, we have the Byker Wall if you want to see some rather unique architecture, we have the Metro, we have the Town Moor in case you do so well that you’re given the Freedom of The City and need somewhere to graze your cattle and best of all, we’ve got an absolute shitload of bridges. Probably more than London, in fact.

When I was 22 years old I left Newcastle. I had just finished university, couldn’t find a job and was in a long distance relationship that wasn’t going anywhere if we continued to live so far apart. So, I left home. And I stayed away. I’ve lived away for 27 years now, settling in Leeds for the last 24 with the lass that I left home for. So, good decision really. I love Leeds, but it’s not home. It’s not Newcastle. And let me tell you, there’s not a day goes by when I don’t feel some sort of homesickness, because I was born and bred in a very special city that sadly lots of people adopt a view of without knowing very much at all about the place itself. Isn’t that right Gabby? Well, as far as I’m concerned Newcastle is my home town, regardless of where I live and as much as it’s changed over the years – for the better – I still love it dearly. So, I see no reason why anyone else wouldn’t love it too, be they a foreign superstar or an up and coming young British player.

Which leads me on nicely to the final point I’d like to make to Gabby Agbonlahor and people like him. It’s a point that lots of others have made, but still, it’s worth repeating. There’s already an enormous list of gifted and cosmopolitan footballers who have moved here previously, despite what some may think. So let me jog your memory with a small sample of them. Tino Asprilla (clever enough to arrive in a fur coat), Yohan Cabaye (Dreamboat), Shay Given, Philipe Albert (arrived after a World Cup that meant he could have played anywhere), Gary Speed (legend of the British game), Robert Lee (an actual cockney), Demba Ba, Warren Barton, Hatem Ben Arfa, David Ginola (because while he was worth it, he thought we were too), Jonas Gutierrez (who traded living in Majorca to come to the Toon), Kevin Keegan (England captain and European Footballer of The Year, twice), Didi Hamann (left Bayern Munich to play for us), Hugo Viana, Les Ferdinand, Obafemi Martins, Nobby Solano (enjoyed it so much he signed twice), Patrick Kluivert, Laurent Robert and Gini Wijnaldum. Players from all over the globe. Some of them even from that there mythical London.

So when you think about it Gabby, what you said was a little bit daft, wasn’t it? Because footballers, primarily just want to play football, don’t they. And sometimes, just sometimes, London doesn’t even come into their thinking.

Poetry Blog: Farewell Mike Ashley.

This is a post that’s been a long time in the making. It’s a poem about one of the greatest loves of my life, Newcastle United. And if that seems like a bit of a pathetic sentence, then you should probably stop reading. But the football team that I support have been a constant in my life for well over 40 years now and let’s face it, around the globe there are plenty of us that fall in love with their chosen sports team. The club is something that I blog about sporadically as I like to write about lots of different things, but I couldn’t resist this one.

The poem itself was written in June 2019, when I’d finally allowed myself to think that Mr. Ashley, the owner of my football club, was actually leaving. For those who don’t know, Ashley has owned the club for 14 years and it’s been an incredible low point in our history; lacking in investment, lacking in ambition, lacking in hope and a time where balancing the books has been deemed way more important than success or even excitement and hope on the field.

When I wrote the poem a Saudi Arabian investment group seemed on the verge of buying the club, meaning that hopes and dreams could return. And then, to cut a long story short, it didn’t happen.

Fast forward 18 months or so from when the news of our takeover first broke and following high profile legal action, and almost at the drop of a hat, the club has been sold. So, here’s my poem.

Farewell Mike Ashley

When you first pitched up you were greeted optimistically.                                                                                                                                 A sportswear billionaire set to change the Toon fiscally.                                                                                                                                        But then, a reason to doubt your intelligence                                                                                                                                            when you sloppily disregarded your due diligence. 
But, your black and white shirt in the away end provided a distraction,
the drinks are on Mike, no need for (Sports) Direct action.
Then you brought back King Kev, a masterstroke,
yet the way that you treated was nowt short of a joke.
Wise and Jiminez, your plan to bring the good times back,
followed by Gonzalez and Xisco; two straws to break the camel's back.
Keegan gone and relegation drawing near,
your answer? Joe f***ing Kinnear.
A sleeping giant in an idiot's grip,
you were seemingly determined to sink this ship.
But you didn't reckon with Kinnear's heart
which inadvertently gave us a brand new start,
Shearer tempted, a legend returning
but his hands were tied, the ship still burning.
Relegation and Shearer left waiting for your call,
but you chose to ignore the greatest scorer of them all
Against the odds Hughton took us straight back up,
but still the chequebook remained shut.
In time you brought in Pardew and a Director of Football...
Kinnear again though; pissed and capable of f*** all
Years passed and we made it to the Europa League
but with little investment we fell away, fatigued.
As Pardew stuttered you committed the cardinal sin
out with SJP, the Sports Direct Arena in,
terrible and sinking with Pardew's palava
as he blamed the grass, the science, the fans, then left us with Carver.
Still there was time for you to behave like a wanker
by blanking poor Jonas, stricken with cancer, 
and oh the sweet irony when he came to the rescue,
yet still you got rid like a cockney Ceausescu.
And then more alarm bells as you gave us MaClaren, 
a hair island, no idea and his tactics board barren.
Even Benitez couldn't save us from our fate,
another reason for more Geordie hate.
But Rafa rebelled, he was made for these fans,
but your silence said you had other plans,
but the tide was turning, a truth became clear,
we were nothing but right not to want you here,
we didn't want Charnley and we didn't want Bruce
whatever you did there would be no truce.
Transfer windows where nothing was spent
anyone could see it was time that you went.
Protest groups, boycotts, banners and the Trust gave hope
now finally, deal done, get out of our club you fat dope.

The future looks incredibly bright for Newcastle United and it’s been a bit of a ridiculous few days. I’ve watched the celebrations in the city from afar, just wishing I could be part of it. Making do with social media footage and various reports on the telly has had to be enough, but it’s still been amazing to watch. Then you read the media reports and the quotes from Amanda Staveley and others involved in this new dawn and it’s been as bewildering as it’s been exciting.

There are other, darker issues to address with this takeover but for now I’m happy to just wallow in what it could mean from a footballing point of view and try to forget the last 14 years of penny pinching and constant disappointment under Mike Ashley. As someone who first sat in the East Stand aged 6 and has been in love with the club ever since, I’d resigned myself to the fact that we probably wouldn’t win anything in my lifetime. As someone who walked away from attending games 13 years ago as I realised what Ashley represented, that feeling was utterly miserable. But it’s time to look to the future, because the future’s bright; the future’s black and white.

I hope you enjoyed the poem. Feel free to leave a comment.

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