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!

Steve Bruce…it’s time to go.

Another day, another 90 minutes, another desperately poor performance and another defeat. Newcastle United are, without doubt, hurtling towards disaster.

You might think that’s hyperbole in the extreme, but I’d disagree. It might well be next stop the Championship, but I’d join a growing band of supporters who believe that it won’t end there. If – and at the moment, when – we get relegated there will be no quick fix, no fun of a year spent invading small towns, beating teams left, right and centre and then celebrating as we win the league. In my opinion, and the opinion of lots of others that I’ve spoken to, going down will signal a much longer spell away from the Premier League. Relegation will be nothing short of a disaster.

Whether we ‘do a sunderland’ I don’t know. At the moment League One seems light years away and I feel that we’d have enough to compete in the Cahmpionship, but you never know.

We’ve been here before. In fact, take away winning the Championship twice and a fifth place finish in the Premier League a while back and the mindset’s been much the same at this time of year during the whole of our boot-leg jean wearing owner’s tenure. (It’s a sidenote, but please buy some clothes that fit, Mike). Mediocrity reigns, penny-pinching overpowers and any sense of optimism is squashed before it’s had even a chance of spreading. Joy, is a four letter word while hope isn’t even recognised as a word or a concept.

In the long term, Ashley must sell the club. But I for one am sick and tired of reading about that. I’ve had enough of people tracking helicopters, insiders on social media, informed journalists or the fact that Derek from Killingworth reckons he’s in a WhatsApp group with Amanda Stavely.

In the short term, Steve Bruce must go. He’s needed to go for around 18 months, but that’s besides the point. Getting him, Agnew and Clemence out of the club is the only chance we have of avoiding relegation and seeing the club saved from something more horrendous than Ashley and his lack of vision or ambition. If there’s not another viable option – and I mean not another serial failure currently on the managerial conveyor belt – give the job to Graeme Jones and let him have a go at getting the team organised enough to stave off the might of Fulham. Anyone but Bruce.

For me, I think that sacking Bruce is unnecessary. But this is only because I think anyone in his circumstances with any shred of dignity left would resign. I understand that he should be sacked, but it doesn’t look like happening any time soon.

I think it’s healthy to admit your failings. And Bruce has been failing for years and years. Look at the great Kevin Keegan when he managed England. It didn’t take him long to realise that he didn’t have the knowledge needed to make England successful. He couldn’t transmit what he did at club level to the step up and he admitted as much and resigned from the job. He told the press, “I’m not up to it. I can’t get the extra bit out of these players that I need.” Some called it cowardly. I call it honest, dignified. So if Keegan was honest and self aware about his capabilities in a job, it beggars belief that our present incumbent can’t be.

All Steve Bruce has to do is look at his record as a manager. When I looked, out of managers who had taken 200 or more league games his win percentage was 28.1%. From what I can see he’s won two trophies in his time as a manager; that’s two in over 20 years. Only once in that time has his win percentage exceeded 45%. I could go on. There’s no need. At the time of writing we’ve won 7 of 25 games this season. We’ve lost 14. The football has been generally awful. It isn’t working Steve. Any fool can see that. Oh, wait…

It’s easy to write about what we see on the pitch though. It’s far too simple to Google statistics, however much they prove your point. So let’s look at some other reasons why Steve Bruce should simply face facts, do the decent thing and walk away.

The Longstaffs. Prior to Bruce’s arrival we had, in Sean Longstaff, an academy graduate who looked like an England midfielder of the future. Better still, he looked likely to be a major part of our future. I wrote a blog about him as he broke through and the link’s below. We looked to have a player with a little bit of everything and one who was on a par with any other young English midfielder at that time. Under Bruce, he has gone backwards and his lack of form has been alarming to watch. He has looked nervy, ponderous and lacking in ideas. He has looked out of his depth and during the last transfer window he looked to be on his way out of the club. Any manager with any talent or skill would have been able to address such an alarming slide, yet Sean Longstaff is currently nowhere near the first team of a relegation threatened team.

Sean Longstaff & the Geordie dream.

Matty Longstaff actually broke through under Bruce and so his virtual disappearance from the group is unfathomable. Rumours of a falling out are rife, but again, any manager worth his salt could handle that. And I’m not saying that Matty Longstaff is some kind of world class answer to all of our problems. I just believe he’d do a better job than at least one of those currently filling the role. As it stands though, you or I have as much chance of lining up in that team as young Matty. And I don’t know about you, but both my knees are shot and my best days are so far behind me you’d need a telescope to see them.

For a moment though, let’s leave Steve’s failings alone. Let’s attempt some balance and try to see this from a human angle. A couple of weeks ago there were allegations of death threats from fans against our coach. The outrage was palpable and in many ways understandable too. It can’t be pleasant to know that people actively want you dead. And social media can be horrible sometimes, despite the fact that Bruce doesn’t have it and doesn’t read it. That said, as a father, he probably doesn’t want his family subjected to the bile and vitriol that comes with an anonymous online death threat. So, we can all hopefully empathise here and feel his pain, so to speak. There is one way out of it though. Resign. And I hope that doesn’t feel harsh or in any way that I’m justifying the threats; I’m not. What I am doing is saying that it’s understandable to walk away. It’s not weak.

And this leads me on to my next point. If he resigns, he not only frees himself from such hatred and stress, but as a man who has been richly rewarded during his years in the game, he can live a happy and comfortable life. I understand the competitive nature of professional sportsmen and women and the idea that they all have enormous self belief, but no one says you have to live like this continually. People in professional sport are still human; they can still make human decisions, like admitting to failure and walking away. Steve Bruce just has to look at the league table to see that he’s failing and if he really cares about his ‘boyhood club’ then he’d want better than this.

As for the notion that Newcastle United is his team, I simply don’t believe it. I never have. As far as I know, he’s never applied for the job. But I do know he’s turned it down before and some would say turned it down until it became too good to be true that at the back end of a less than average career in management, it was being offered to him again. This is not the dream job, Steve. You’re fooling no one. Something about Bruce just doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t hear or see the evidence of his support for my team. I recently watched a video from the half time analysis of a game between Newcastle and Manchester United and he was unerring in his bias towards his team. Only his team wasn’t Newcastle. When quizzing him about what the result would be, the interviewer even hinted at his background. Steve’s response? “Well, I’ve got to think about the family…” before tipping Man Utd to win. Nothing about his boyhood team. We’re not your team, we’re not your people and this isn’t your dream job. Walk away, Steve.

The team he’s produced almost defies belief. Bruce has overseen incoming transfers that other managers could only have dreamed about under the present regime and yet, here we are, 17th in the table and with the third worst goal difference in the league. Players like Fraser, Saint Maximin, Lewis, both Longstaffs, Schar, Gayle, even Wilson are underperforming and the manager doesn’t have the answer. Or if he has, it seems to be to persist with people like Jonjo Shelvey, Jeff Hendrick and Karl Darlow when they have clearly lost confidence, belief and the ability needed to play the game at the highest level. I can’t even bring myself to attempt to discuss Joelinton…but whatever he is, he’s on your watch Steve, so I think you know what I’m going to recommend.

The list goes on. Look at a player like Isaac Hayden; a man who has given everything this season and been one of few stars in the team – when Bruce has picked him. Here is a player schooled by Wenger and Benitez, who is now left jogging on the spot by Bruce.

Players don’t look fit. We can’t defend; there certainly isn’t the organisation created by the previous manager. We don’t score a lot of goals simply because we spend so much of games going backwards or sideways. Amazingly, we seem bewildered by the concept of a throw-in. But then again as Bruce himself once said, “I’m not really into tactics.” This of course explains why we’ve been out-thought at places like Newport, Sheffield Utd, Brentford and Blackburn this season as well as Rochdale and Oxford last year. (Yes, I know we won some of these games, but face facts; we were outplayed in all of them.)

At the moment, I look at Steve Bruce and see Joe Kinnear; just a shambles. None of the inspiration of a Joe Harvey, Keegan, a Robson or a Benitez. There’s not the confidence of even a Carver or Pardew, however misplaced that was. There is none of the quiet dignity and desire that we saw in Chris Hughton, the swagger, bravado or even track record of Allardyce, even the pride and talent (for a short while) of Roeder; just the breathless, thrashing for life and the semi-sane ramblings of a Kinnear, hallmarked by sulking with journalists, talking nonsense about false number 10s and criticising the fans.

Bruce is just a man railing at the modern world because he doesn’t understand it. Any pride or love of our club seems to be very carefully hidden, because there is never any indication of it. Compare Bruce to Sir Bobby Robson and the famous piece of film showing Gary Lineker around the improvements to the Milburn Stand. Bobby glowed with pride about everything NUFC – right down to the doors and the ‘architraves’. Can you imagine Bruce like this? No, of course not. Sir Bobby Robson understood. Steve Bruce does not.

Please, walk away from what you don’t understand, Steve. Resign and walk off into the sunset to enjoy what should be a pleasurable time of your life, enjoying things like your wealth, health and your grandkids. Give yourself and Newcastle United a chance of life.

Graeme Jones; manager in waiting or just a coach who got lucky?

It felt like we’d waited for years. We’d looked on as the predictable happened again and again. Watched the same mistakes being made over and over. And then it happened. That’s right, we got a coach in who wasn’t called Steve. Finally, a difference, a breakthrough! Of course, I’m being daft for the sake of it and as good as it was to see a new coach come into the set-up, the performance and result on Saturday were much better and much, much more important.

Much has been made via social media about the impact of Graeme Jones at the club. But how much of Saturday’s dramatic upturn was down to him and how much – as Steve Bruce has been hinting at – was coming anyway?

The answer of course is that it’s difficult to tell and I’ve found some of the coverage on the likes of Twitter over the weekend a little bit uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still completely anti-Bruce and have been since he was appointed. Whether we gave the bloke a chance or not, I think the trouble we find ourselves in at the moment has been inevitable since day one of his tenure. But can one man, who let’s not forget is working as part of a team of many coaches, make that much of an immediate difference?

It’s a interesting one to ponder. Part of me doesn’t doubt Jones’ impact. The so-called ‘new manager bounce’ is a common factor in top level football. We’ve witnessed it time and again with people like Sam Allardyce being hailed as some sort of hybrid Red Adair/Jesus figure for his work in fighting relegation at various clubs over the years. People seem to happily ignore the influx of players that usually follow his appointment, preferring to think that he has some kind of magical powers. He probably has, but I suspect they’re only relevant in making pies disappear. And pints of wine. All the same, it is possible that bringing in a new face gave the players a bit of a lift. Personally, any face that wasn’t Bruce’s or Agnew’s would probably make me try a bit harder.

So what do we know of Graeme Jones then? Well, his track record is fairly common knowledge and it shows us that he’s worked in some very high profile jobs. And wherever he’s been he’s been part of a coaching set up that has presided over some very good football. Working alongside Roberto Martinez, he worked at Swansea and Wigan, both low profile clubs that achieved amazing success in relative terms. These weren’t clubs where untold millions were spent so you’d have to put it down to excellent coaching as the reason why they performed beyond the sum of their parts. Then when Martinez went to Everton, Jones followed, so there’s experience of working at a high profile, ‘bigger’ club too, depending on your view of Everton.

After Everton came working with the Belgium national team, again as part of Martinez’s set up. That’s Belgium, the number one ranked international team in world football. So, safe to say that Jones has got a bit of pedigree then. After all, it’s not often you get some absolute duffer working with the best players in the world.

So, apart from anything else, Jones is a really good addition to the coaching set up. It was needed too, in my opinion. I can’t shake the opinion that Steve Agnew is not the answer to any positive question that I might have about coaching and I can’t see past a certain ever-present gormlessness when I think of Clemence. I don’t particularly understand Steve Harper’s role, certainly not in terms of the first team and I get the impression that although Ben Dawson has been promoted from the youth set-up and may well be highly regarded, his input won’t be taken on board by our dinosaur of a manager.

A lot has been made of certain images that appeared on social media over the weekend. Jones pointing and shouting while Bruce and Agnew just stand and stare and Clemence, comically, isn’t even looking. But how much can we read into that and the videos that surfaced? I’m torn. Part of me says that we can take quite a lot out of them. I’ve made the point that this type of thing hasn’t been seen this season under Bruce. All I even seem to hear Bruce shouting is the word ‘Up’when we manage to clear a ball, although I can recall a few ‘Go On Jo’ cries to Joelinton. However, social media (again) revealed that this might have just been encouragement to go and get his hair cut rather than anything football related. It certainly hasn’t seemed to inspire if it was meant in a footballing sense. So Jones standing in the technical area seems to me to be a lot more productive and positive than what we’ve witnessed so far this season.

As a coach myself – alright, it’s only Under 12s, but the game’s essentially the same – I’m definitely more an advocate of that style of management than those who stand and watch and tell me it’s better to ‘let them take responsibility’ or ‘let them make their own mistakes’. Even elite footballers need direction. And if Jones having a bit of animation about him made Jonjo Shelvey realise the value of hard work, then he’ll do for me!

Tactically it’s hard to argue that it was solely Graeme Jones that made the difference. But then again, we have a manager who has admitted himself that he’s not a fan of tactics. However, the odds of someone having input into at most a couple of training sessions and that being the sole reason for the performance we saw at Everton on Saturday, have surely got to be low. Jones – as stated previously – seems to have pedigree in terms of being a forward thinking coach, so he’s made something happen, but to what extent is surely anyone’s guess? Unless of course, you’re one of Twitter’s famous insiders with eyes and ears at the training ground…

Then you read Steve Bruce’s post match comments. Firstly, his affirmation that we’ve seen signs of this performance being in the offing. I disagree. Especially when he says the signs were there in the second half at Aston Villa. Sure, we didn’t concede again, but we still couldn’t string passes together, continued to look backwards or at best sideways instead of forwards and were ordinary at best. Against Leeds we toiled again in the first half and it was difficult to see what was keeping Bruce in a job. The second half was better, but the result remained the same – a loss, no points and an inability to put chances away.

After the Everton result Bruce also talked about ‘getting after the ball’ and playing ‘on the front foot’, but if you give those statements a little bit of thought they really just equate to putting effort in. So with his ‘nearly 500 games’ and twenty odd years of experience how had Bruce been unable to coax a bit more running, tackling and attacking out of a squad of professional footballers for such a long time? So you could read into that the fact that, of course, Jones has had an immediate impact. Certainly the signs that Bruce had talked about haven’t been so evident that such a dramatic change in fortunes could be said to have been just around the corner. It certainly adds fuel to the fire.

Talking about his time at Luton, Jones said that he’d wanted to attack teams but realised that they couldn’t beat every team without better players. So certainly no genius there then. But when you dig a little deeper into that it’s possible to see how we might actually be benefitting from his coaching right from the off. The fact is – and suspend your knowledge of what you’ve been watching for the entire season – that he is now undoubtedly working with better players. So is it really too much of a stretch to think that our more ‘front foot’ attacking and snarling approach on Saturday might not be down to the prompting of a certain Mr. Jones, rather than a man who’s coaching has failed to produce such a performance all season? It’s certainly hard to ignore the fact that Bruce has had Wilson, Saint Maximin, Joelinton (I know, I know), Almiron et al at his disposal for some time and produced a relegation battle.

Overall, I must admit, I feel optimistic about Graeme Jones. Is he waiting in line for the big job? I feel it’s possible. Could he do it? I really don’t know. I’m fed up of reading that a coach we’ve brought in is highly rated and then watching as their input makes no difference. Ian Cathro springs to mind here, as well as several who’ve had involvement with the academy over the last few years. But you can’t ignore Jones’ pedigree and experience, can you?

I am fully aware that we’ve won one game during his time in the set up and for all I know it was a moment of coaching genius from Steve Agnew that had the desired effect. But I have to ignore the rational side of my brain there. I had no faith in the management team 18 months ago and still no faith in them when we were getting beat at Villa. And while I laughed at the ‘Graeme Jones is my manager’ brigade on Twitter over the weekend, his arrival could just well have made a big difference.

Perhaps Tuesday night against Palace will change all that and a lot of us will end up with egg on our faces, so to speak. But I for one, can’t ignore the presence of the faint whiff of optimism in the air again. Fingers crossed for Graeme Jones’ Black and White Army and let’s get carried away!

Can we talk about last night again?

A lot of us will have felt exactly the same yesterday. We’ll have spent the whole day nervous, dreading 8pm rolling around and wishing that we could just avoid it and tell whoever we’d passed the remote control to put a film on. Sadly though, the aforementioned dread will have been punctuated far too regularly by the hope that has you asking, ‘What if’? because that hope is very much all we’ve had for years. And sadly, the majority of us will have sat through every last second of yet another dreadful performance, wishing we hadn’t have bothered..

It should be abundantly clear to anyone with eyes that it’s just not working at Newcastle United. Steve Bruce is failing. And I think I’ve said this before in a previous blog, but we knew that this would happen.

Last night was nothing remarkable. We’ve looked appalingly doomed for a long, long time now. There’s little in the way of ideas and imagination, there’s no heart, no desire, no fight. People might tell you that nobody gets relegated in January, but as far as I can see, we’re down.

We’re now midway through yet another morning after the night before and nothing has happened. No one at the club has taken what would surely be the right action. Steve Bruce remains in a job having overseen 10 games without a win and far too many hours without a goal being scored. He’s still gainfully employed, having failed to inspire any kind of performance from his team for months. Is there another club where this would happen?

So where do we stand? Well, while the pundits point to a seven point gap between us and the bottom three, we have a club that resembles a liner that’s lost all power in the middle of the ocean. And someone’s begun to put holes in the hull. And someone else has removed the rudder. The crew can’t be arsed and are busying themselves sitting on deck gazing out to sea while the captain stands on the bridge telling an empty room that everything’s alright.

Our manager – and I’m praying I’ll have to edit this as news breaks that he’s been sacked as I’m typing, but I don’t believe in God or Lee Charnley – has become a paranoid shell of a man. In recent weeks he’s criticised the fans for their ‘histrionics’, he’s desperately chopped and changed personnel, discovered players that he’d previously ignored and then dumped them within a game (Longstaff, Dummett), had a snide dig at a previous manager (“the mighty Rafa”) and amazingly labelled a performance that he presided over as manager as “absolute shite”. His mismanagement is absolutely astonishing. To put it in context, in recent years we’ve had Pardew headbutting an opposition player, as well as blaming the grass and ‘science’, Carver saying a player got sent of deliberately and Joe Kinnear acting like a homeless drunk in press conferences, yet calling his own players “shite” has to top them all.

Last night though, we reached some notable new lows. The performance on the pitch was dreadful, again. Bruce is picking talented players, but his coaching seems to have rendered many of them as completely ineffective. The £40m striker who he has repeatedly failed to get a tune out of was left on the bench all night. Possibly rightly so as well, but…£40 million and if we’re being informed correctly, rejected by our previous manager as clearly not worth the money! He picked a target man for the second game running and, for the second game running, subbed him just as he brought on two wingers. He picked Jeff Hendrick. He picked Jonjo Shelvey. He put them together in the centre of our midfield, while playing arguably our most effective central midfielder in central defence. And at the end of the game, not only did he tell the media that he was encouraged by the performance, he also said (and forgive me if these aren’t his exact words, but I wrote them down as he said them and still can’t believe them) “Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve got enough (talented players) to attack.” This after 18 months in the job.

The popular view is that he’s ‘lost the dressing room’ and we can’t really know the truth here, as we don’t have access to said dressing room. But how can this not be true? He is openly blaming the players, while occasionally slipping in the fact that he takes responsibility. All the evidence that is needed is surely on the pitch. The lack of desire is alarming. You don’t need to head to social media to view that clip from Leicester away from a couple of seasons ago to see that this is a shell of the team we once had. This is a manager with blood on his hands.

Let’s look at a couple of case studies as evidence, if you will. Firstly, Jamal Lewis. Before he signed for Newcastle and Bruce, he was heralded as an exciting, attacking wing-back, albeit as part of a Norwich side that got relegated. But he was good enough for Liverpool to take an genuine interest and look at signing him. Now, he is a player that I don’t like watching. I find it genuinely quite a painful experience. Here is a young player who had the footballing world at his feet not that long ago. And yet now, he’s a player who looks terrified of the ball. In an age of attacking wing-backs, I watch him move forward and know that he won’t attempt to beat the man and get to the byline. Instead, he will check back, look behind imploringly and then lay the ball off to a safer option. Often this is the beginning of a short chain of events that I like to refer to as ‘passing back to the keeper’ or turning attack into defence. While defending he is regularly caught ball-watching, possibly as a consequence of the kind of eroded confidence that just wants anyone else to deal with the ball. I won’t blame him and I won’t criticise him, even though I’m one of those Newcastle fans with unrealistic expectations. But I will wonder what another manager might have made of him.

Then we have Callum Wilson, our number 9 in all but number. Wilson is a player who should be at the peak of his powers; he certainly arrived in this state, in my opinion. Sharp, energetic, wily, quick; everything we wanted in a centre forward at a club where we worship centre forwards. Fast forward five months or so and he’s another who looks a shadow of the footballer he once was. The service he desires is frustratingly unforthcoming, but this is not the end of his story. For me, the change in Wilson goes beyond that. Remember the smile, the wink, the salute? Remember the guile that had him bullying centre halves? All gone. Playing football looks like a job to him nowadays; a chore. Sadly, he looks a spent force. And again, I’m not blaming him. I rate him as a player and was thrilled when he signed. But last night, while Villa players smiled, encouraged each other and generally pinged the ball about without a care in the world, Wilson looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. And he wasn’t alone by a long way. That’s the fault of one man and his staff.

The final word on Steve Bruce and Newcastle United must go, bizarelly to the two men on pundit duties last night. This is simply because, in terms of the strange and wonderful world of Newcastle United, they made some of the strangest comments I’ve heard, post match. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jamie Redknapp and Darren Bent. Firstly, Redknapp blamed the state of the club on kids in Newcastle. Apparently it’s their fault that the team are so awful because they’re not good enough to play in our academy. Lost yet? Me too. But Jamie actually asked – and admittedly I’m paraphrasing here – “Why aren’t they playing football in the streets?” The incredible assumption seems to be that we should be producing first team ready superstar footballers, year in year out in order to allow us to win a game of football every now and again. He referenced names like Beardsley, Waddle and Gascoigne (two of whom didn’t come through the academy) and claimed that we don’t produce the likes of these players anymore. But who does Jamie, who does?

With his frankly weird claim, Redknapp not only referenced players from decades ago, but also ignored players who have come through the academy to take their place in the first team at the club. Without resorting to Google, I can remember the likes of Dummet, Taylor, Carroll, Clark, Watson, Hughes, Ameobi, Howey, both Longstaffs and Caldwell. Now, I understand that they are by no means world beaters, but they are proof that we can and so produce players. I also understand Redknapp’s frustration at having to sit through what he sat through, but what else can he reach for in order to avoid blaming Steve Bruce? Picking on school kids was a new and incredible low.

Darren Bent meanwhile, brilliantly blamed our strikers, who he said “look like they’ve never played together before” and asked “why aren’t they working on it in training?” I would imagine they are, Darren. And whether they are or they aren’t, whose fault would you say that could be? I’ll give you a clue, looks like an over-baked potato, belongs in the 1990s and his name rhymes with please resign and get out of our club. OK, it doesn’t but you can guess it from the other clues, surely?

We play Leeds on Tuesday night. I live in Leeds. My wife and son both support Leeds, as do friends and colleagues. I work in a school with pupils who are Leeds fans. I’ve never been so grateful for a pandemic and school closures.

Newcastle United – About last night…

It’s the morning after the night before. I could have written this post last night, but thought better of it in what might have been some sort of rare mature, rational moment. Instead, I was up early this morning, trying to write and not rant. What else was there to do when I couldn’t get back to sleep?

I didn’t avoid the keyboard last night because I was angry, although I was angry. I avoided it more because I just felt so sad. So tired. So deflated and almost resigned, ambivalent. I imagine a lot of us feel this way about Newcastle United at the moment. The pride and the passion are still there, but for me, the stuffing has just about been knocked right out of me. I knew that I wanted to write something, but instead I just drifted through the rest of my night until it was time to go to bed. Perhaps somewhere deep down I hoped I’d wake up this morning and find that it had all just been a terrible nightmare.

Well, I woke up this morning – there’s a cue for a song there somewhere – and it turned out that it actually had all been a terrible nightmare. Unfortunately though, it’s not the kind that’s all in your head. This is just ongoing and in real time.

Around 18 months ago, the heirachy at Newcastle United decided that, having allowed a world class manager to slip through their grasp, they’d appoint Steve Bruce as manager. They might as well have ran a competition and drawn the new manager’s name out of a hat. Perhaps they did. When the news broke that he was the target I was struck with the same feeling of terror that I’d got when Alan Pardew’s name entered discussions. And Steve McClaren’s. I have no doubt whatsoever that thousands of us were all struck with the same feeling.

We knew that it was a mistake. We knew it wouldn’t work. But then again, what do we know? We’re only supporters. 50% of the time disgruntled, ranting and raging and the other 50% head in the clouds, ideas above our stations and completely oblivious to our place in the grand footballing scheme of things, apparently. But we knew it wouldn’t work.

There’s little point in banging on about Bruce’s previous record in management, suffice to say that it’s been dominated by the mundane, a lack of vision and tactics, failure and excuses and as we’ve got to know all too well in the last few months, the old boys’ network. But we knew he’d fail here. We didn’t buy him identifying as a Geordie or a fan and we remembered his failure at Sunderland and Villa as well as the lack of loyalty shown to numerous clubs. Bruce had been given chances to come and manage the club on several occasions before the one he finally accepted. He’d turned us down, most likely under the misguided notion that something bigger and better would come along. He accepted our manager’s job when the chips were well and truly down.

Last night was the culmination of 18 months’ worth of short sighted football management. You could say that Bruce’s vision was so short-sighted that it might have been accompanied by a guide dog. This was the management of the late 1970s and early 80s. The man famous for telling the media that he “wasn’t really interested in tactics” has proved the point over and over again throughout his time in charge. He’s looked like he doesn’t know what to do with the players at his disposal and has played people out of position time and time again. He’s failed to motivate or inspire, got rid of talented footballers when he couldn’t get them to play and alienated others. Players, some of whom were initially delighted at the freedom given to them when Bruce was appointed, look uninispired, unwilling to run, frightened and most damningly of all, bored witless with it all.

It’s well documented that Sheffield United hadn’t won a game all season, but it’s worth repeating just to accentuate the inevitability of what went on to happen on Tuesday night. Newcastle have always been good at lending a hand when the going got tough. If your striker hadn’t scored a goal in 25 games, he’d no doubt find his shooting boots against us. Similarly, if you’re on a losing run, we’re happy to get you out of that particular shit.

This was different though. While you knew there was a fair old chance that we’d lose, once you’d taken a look at the team sheet, it was heart sinking stuff. It was as though we were almost happy to lose. Like we were gambling that the ball would drop, we’d snatch an undeserved goal and Sheffield heads would drop at the thought of another defeat. It felt naive at best and naivety is not what we want in a top level football team. The least we can ask for are tactics, but as we know Brucey doesn’t do that. So instead, we got the usual – defend until you can lump it forward for Wilson to chase or better still, just go backwards until you’re forced to give it back or just hump it out of play and reset.

To set up with a five man defence against a team that hadn’t won in 6 months is nothing short of scandalous. Pundits have asked what we expect, called our expectations unrealistic and over the top, told us that we’re always moaning. Our own manager has referred to reaction to our losses as ‘histrionics’. But surely, it’s not too much to ask that we go there and have a go? Even our midfield was subdued, defensive and adopted a safety first approach. Everything was geared towards not losing. And I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough. It’s understandable against the top teams (although I think we’d all agree that giving them some sort of game is preferable), but this was simply waving the white flag against an opponent who were there for the taking. This was a team who you could say had forgotten how to win. How long before we’re that team?

Bruce did the usual. He stood on the touchline, gawping. He could be heard giving his usual single instruction, just repeatedly shouting the word “Up!” in the hope of catching the opposition offside. Then there was the face. Bruce stood there, as he always does, looking puzzled and pulling the expression of a man with heartburn who had forgotten his Gaviscon and was repeatedly trying to make himself do a massive burp. It’s truly strange the way that he makes those little ‘o’ shapes with his mouth. I daresay it does nothing at all to inspire his players either.

Bruce and his staff look like they don’t really care. There doesn’t seem to be encouragement, other than shouting names, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be anything other than a blank stare when we concede. Bruce, Agnew and Clemence aren’t at all animated and there’s no indication that any of this is actually affecting them. I have no doubt that it is. How could it not? No one wants to do a bad job. Unfortunately though, that is exactly the impression that’s being conveyed to supporters.

Team selection is mystifying and without any consistency, apart from putting 11 on the field and defending. Last night, for me, was crying out for the likes of Matty Longstaff, Almiron, Gayle, even Elliot Anderson (regardless of his lack of experience). And yet none of them left the bench. Jacob Murphy has shown that he can open up defences and yet, he didn’t arrive on the pitch until it was far, far too late. Instead, Bruce persisted with players whose confidence looks shot – the likes of Sean Longstaff who has undergone a remarkable transformation in Bruce’s time at the club and now looks a shadow of the player he was – and those who look to have simply had enough like Hayden, Schar. And that’s before we mention Jeff Hendrick, who is a combination of both of the types of player listed above as well as looking simply not good enough.

Against Sheffield United we repeatedly gave the ball away, often when under little or no pressure. We reverted to long balls into corners and channels far too quickly and readily. When we got into good positions we turned round and went backwards with the ball arriving back with a centre-half or Karl Darlow within seconds. We didn’t press, we didn’t snap into challenges (not you, Fraser) and we largely didn’t put ourselves about the place. And as usual – and this is becoming something that will drive me mad eventually – we took an age over every throw in, like a team of darts players with the ‘yips’.

The short answer is that Bruce needs to go. It puzzles me that as the proud Geordie he claims to be, he refuses to walk away. If I was alienating the same people I’d stood on the terraces with all those years ago, as well as all those who’ve done the same since, then I’d leave. It’s the right thing to do. If I was doing such an awful job I’d like to think I’d be self-aware enough to stop doing that job. Not Bruce though.

When we look to those calling the shots it can only serve to inflict more terror on us. Charnley and Ashley are sleepwalking through yet another season, gambling that we’ll stay up and that the club can subsequently be sold. In doing so they fail to heed previous warnings that the likes of Kinnear and McClaren have given. We’re clearly not too good or too big to go down and right now, we’re heading that way fast! I have no doubt in my mind that if things don’t change soon, it’ll be too late. Last night was an opportunity to calm things down by simply attacking a vulnerable opponent, but instead we looked like the vulnerable side and what unfolded in front of us was as inevitable as it was upsetting.

I don’t have any great theories as to who I’d like to see as our next manager. Eddie Howe has been mentioned and maybe he could ignite something at the club. What I do know is that there are managers out there who would want the job, managers out there who would do a better job and managers out there who would be capable of taking us forward. Like the majority I’d like to see Rafa back, but I’m not blind to the possibility that someone else could come in and work much more effectively with these players than Steve Bruce has. Even Jeff Hendrick. What price someone like Joey Barton? And before you dismiss that, remember, up the road in Glasgow, Steven Gerrard is doing an amazing job at a huge club despite a lack of experience.

Like most supporters, I’m angry and like plenty of us I’m losing my faith, falling out of love a little bit with Newcastle United. That’s hard to take after over forty years of obsession, support and loyalty that has more often than not gone unrewarded. The long and short of it is that regardless of results, I’ve always enjoyed watching Newcastle United play and I just don’t enjoy it at all anymore. I know I’m not alone. Like most supporters, I just want hope, ambition and a bit of excitement. Steve Bruce’s reign as manager is taking this all away.

Here’s hoping for a brighter future. Howay the lads and #bruceout.

The NUFC Takeover has me more worried than ever!

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We’re almost a week into the serious news about the latest Newcastle United takeover attempt. I say attempt, because history tells us that they never work out. Since Mike Ashley bought the club thirteen years ago and subsequently put it up for sale a couple of years later I’ve lost count of the amount of stories, rumours and consortiums that have entered all of our lives. I’m even still confused as to whether Barry Moat was actually a real person. I can’t have been the only one thinking that was a made up name, surely?

This latest story has me more worried than ever. It’s the validity that’s doing it. The hope that it brings, because as any good Newcastle fan knows, it’s the hope that kills you. Since the news broke about serious documents being submitted to Companies House, it’s felt like a long week. Day by day things look brighter. Hour by hour it actually seems like it could happen. But of course, with your sensible hat and especially if you’re of a certain age, on you could never actually believe it.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to pour cold water on what, on the face of it, seems like the best news we’ve had in many, many years. If you can get excited, then do it. Get excited! In fact, get a bit more excited for those of us who simply can’t allow themselves to do it. Because believe me, when the time is right, and one of our new board members is there at the edge of the pitch with a black and white shirt or a scarf, me and many others who are at the moment terrified to get optimistic will be celebrating long and hard. #Cans indeed.

We’ve been here before though. I seem to remember that way back when, the aforementioned Barry Moat (if he’s real) came close, but we were told that he couldn’t quite raise the funds and that the lovely Mr Ashley was unwilling to give any leeway on price. At that time the price was a lot less. Typically, I built my hopes up. The man who’d taken my club away from me was on his way out. Chairman Barry was going to somehow find the money and bring Alan Shearer along for the ride. And what a ride it would be. But of course he didn’t and it wasn’t.

The club had been put up for sale and Ashley, Charnley and co had done so by putting an advert in the papers asking interested buyers to respond to a specially set up email address.  As professional as ever. If memory serves me rightly there was even time for a Sunderland supporter to launch a false bid for the club, which although it was quickly found out, was still a source of hope for a little while. A source of hope in Sunderland too, I suppose – one of their own had finally worked out how to do the internet.

Amanda Staveley, don’t forget, has also been here before. As ever, it all looked rosy. She attended a match and as a result, as well as seeing the team and sampling the atmosphere around the stadium, was presumably able to see at least some of our bridges. So with that kind of thinking, I imagined she was writing out a cheque at the end of the match in the player’s lounge. Any shortfall was being taken care of by trading in her Nectar points. Wor Amanda was the symbol of a very bright future.

Then she wasn’t. Despite the rumoured backing of oil money and the involvement of the Rueben brothers it all fell through. Mike Ashley himself called the whole thing off, referring to Staveley and the whole negotiation process as a waste of time. See, the pot can call the kettle black after all.

Despite all of this, there was time for more fun via Peter Kenyon and the Bin Zayed group. Again, both bids failed, despite appearing in an absolute blaze of glory and despite both looking legitimate and plausible. At one point during talks with Peter Kenyon, Ashley himself went on Sky to say that a sale had never been closer. It still never happened. If you hadn’t given up years ago, you probably had by this point. It may have shortly after this time that Ashley himself dropped the line into an interview that “I think I’ll own this club forever.”

Apart from the many failed bids, the fact is that things like this don’t happen to Newcastle United and its fans. As much as I worship this club – as we probably all do – I wouldn’t expect it to be bought and have money literally thrown at it. As much as I love my home city, we’re just a small city in the far north of England. I’ve never really imagined that anyone was taking a great deal of notice. The news that we could become the richest club in the country – and perhaps the world – just sounds ridiculous to me and as much as I’d love to get carried away, I won’t. The whole thing just makes me worry.

This week, I’ve spent a long time thinking about this takeover. As usual. I’ve tried not to think about it, because not thinking about it might just make it happen. A twisted logic, but mine all the same. Yet, it seems to be creeping ever closer. But I can’t allow myself to be sucked in.

I didn’t choose to support Newcastle United. It was a birthright. An addiction, something that was always going to happen. I was born in the city, brought up just down the road in Blaydon and so it was fated that I’d set foot inside St. James’ Park one day and fall in love. Like many before and after me. Because, there’s no glory to chase here. No trophies to talk about at work as if they were you’re own. Just disappointment, mainly. So the thought that someone might come in and turn us into something different is quite simply too outrageous for me to not worry about.

I’ve read lots of comments about us being the richest club in the world, the £250 billion that the owners are worth, signing Mbappe, Bale and all the rest. We’re going to target the Premier League title and the Champions’ League, apparently. But we don’t support this club for that type of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’d got to a stage in life – I’m 48 – a few years ago now where I resigned myself to the fact that I simply wouldn’t see us win a trophy in my lifetime, so if someone does come in with serious spending power and transforms the place, then I’ll take it. But, at the moment it’s just another reason for me to worry about the fact that this whole thing might not go through.

I find it hard to understand that we may be utterly transformed from what we know as a club. We see ourselves as a so-called big club anyway. History, fan loyalty, the stadium, they all point to that as a fact, rather than just the usual bluster you get from fans. I’ve always believed us to be a big club. But now we could become the kind of club that none of us would have believed we could become in a million years. It’s so close you can almost touch and taste it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the stuff of dreams. And because of that, I simply can’t be calm about the whole thing.

Apparently the whole process that would lead to an announcement is a number of weeks off. And everything I read worries me even more. As if a global pandemic wasn’t enough to occupy our minds, now this! I sincerely hope that it goes through. For the simple fact that it would mean getting rid of Mike Ashley and his cronies it’d be more than worth it. Then we can start to look at who the owners are and what they plan to do. But we’ve been here before.

I, for one can’t do anything but worry!

 

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.

 

Newcastle United – a football club divided?

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Unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture of the newly painted wall at SJP.

I’ve supported Newcastle United for forty years now and I feel like I’ve seen a lot. I watched blokes who looked like they’d just stepped out of the nearest pub representing us for years, but I’ve also witnessed the likes of Gascgoine, Keegan, Beardsley, Cole, Cabaye, Ginola and many others who have more than graced the shirt. I’ve watched us lose away at Bournemouth long before they were a Premier League club and I was there when Andy Griffin scored the goal in the Champions’ League that beat Juventus. And while I’ve never sampled the corporate hospitality of Premier League football, I’ve stood in a very different St. James’ Park to the one we know today. To paraphrase Lindisfarne, I’ve “wet on the wall” in the Gallowgate end, which if you’re old enough, is actually probably quite a pleasant memory.

I’ve sampled the agony and the ecstasy that goes with supporting Newcastle and I’ve sampled it in spades, but I have never felt as confused and conflicted as I do today.

Back in 1989 I walked past my cousin on the way into St. James’ Park for the opening day on of the then Division 2 season. Nothing remarkable in that, you might think, unless you’re a bit younger and have no concept of what Division 2 was. However, in terms of our support for Newcastle United that day, we were a family torn apart. That day I walked through a boycott in order to support my team. My cousin, on the other hand, was prepared to protest to end the rule over the club of a particularly unambitious regime.

With Gordon McKeag as chairman Newcastle had been run on a shoestring budget for years. We were the very definition of mediocre, with years of selling our better players and under-spending on their replacements and as a result were destined to stay beneath the top tier for years to come. The ‘Supporters for Change’ group had had enough and they organised a boycott of this first match. Thousands stayed away, some standing at various entrances to St. James’ Park, imploring those going in to change their minds and stay out. Despite my cousin’s plea – and some abuse at my ‘scab’ status – I went in.

I was rewarded with a 5-2 win against Leeds that included four goals for Micky Quinn, our new number 9, making his debut that day. I think I still have the issue of The Pink from that evening. But I was left desperately frustrated at the end of the season – as with many other seasons – as we failed to get promoted, losing to Sunderland in the Play-Off semi-final. Perhaps I should have boycotted. It didn’t work in that particular season and I continued to attend. However, within a few years McKeag and his cronies had been ousted by Sir John Hall, a movement at least in part brought about by boycotts and protest. By that time I’d begun a small protest of my own which I would carry out at every game attended. Ever in fear of authority though, I’d simply scribbled ‘McKeag Out!’on to the back of my scarf in marker pen and would furtively reveal it during matches, all the while fearing being kicked out by an over zealous McKeagite steward. With rebels like me about it’s no wonder social media does so well nowadays.

Almost thirty years on and there’s another boycott. This time though, along with many others, I’m taking part. And like myself back in 1989, many others are not. Newcastle, once again, doesn’t feel very united at all. Thirty years on and nothing has really changed. Yes, there’s been relative success in between times, but after 12 years of Mike Ashley’s ownership we’re faced with a club that is not only divided, but is sleepwalking through a period of utter mediocrity. For myself and thousands of like-minded souls now is the time to take action. A disregard for cup competitions in favour of the race for 17th place, a world class manager traded in for a journeyman from the managerial old boys’ club and a lack of consistent investment on players, the stadium, the training ground and the academy. The list could go on and on, but those are some of the headlines.

And yet, many fans continue to vow to attend matches. Somehow, the blatant disregard for our club doesn’t seem to matter. Somehow, it’s not enough.

I understand. I can empathise. I get it. But I can’t follow suit. Not again.

The lure of your football team is enormous. Look away now Premier League tourists, but silverware doesn’t have to matter. Glory doesn’t have to be a Champions’ League campaign or wining the league. What matters is the pull of your club. The feel for the town, the city, the region. The feeling of being surrounded by like-minded people from all kinds of backgrounds, all pulling in the same direction. The love of the club and those players and that shirt. That badge. So I understand that people don’t want to boycott. I understand that people don’t want a matchday without St. James’ Park or a trip down the country to watch Newcastle. Especially as, in my opinion, we have a special club in Newcastle United. But it is possible to stay away and in many people’s view, it is all we have left if we want change.

It’s sad to see but our fanbase is now split. Boycotters are criticising those who attend and those who attend are questioning the loyalty of those that boycott. And it’s exactly what the likes of Ashley, Charnley and Bishop want. Divide and conquer, right? The club know that the supporters will find it nigh on impossible to give up on their team.  After all, that trophy drought – 50 years and counting – is well publicised. And yet we still fill the stadium every other week. So Ashley and co have gambled for a while now. Keep the spending low, survive in the Premier League and they’ll still turn up. And in doing so, there’s a big chunk of money to be had as a reward, as well as all the free advertising you can cram in.

Every so often there’s talk of a takeover to placate those who are genuinely disgruntled and by the time it comes to nothing you’ve renewed your season ticket in some act of blind loyalty. And as fans, we’ve fallen for the same tricks for the last 12 years. So how long before more change their minds and decide that enough is enough?

The trouble here is a question of loyalty. As the song goes, “we are the loyalist football supporters the world has ever seen”, so staying away goes against the grain. Our loyalty has been blind for a long time now. Take out Keegan’s, Robson’s  and Rafa’s teams – and in fairness a season worth of Pardew – and recent history doesn’t leave a lot to be loyal to. But we’ve stayed loyal. Rafa brought us more hope than we’d had in a long time and meant that the loyalty was more than worth it. So now, post Rafa, thousands are staying loyal and criticising those that have had enough. The fans who are boycotting are largely pro-Rafa, while those that choose to still attend matches seem to now be picking Rafa apart. Turns out they never really liked him or his tactics after all. And there are many who are calling those who boycott out on the question of loyalty. In my own case, for example, after forty years of support, where thirty odd of them have seen me attending games, I’m not a fan.

But, in my opinion, loyalty can be shown in different ways and there’s a big picture that needs to be looked at here. The boycotters can see that the club have broken their transfer record twice in the last 6 months or so. We can see that other money has been invested in the playing squad – although, net spend, net spend, net spend…but let’s not get too bogged down there. We can even see that an entire wall at St. James’ Park has been given a shiny lick of black paint. Oh, and that the players’ entrance has been revamped. However, this isn’t enough to buy our loyalty. And it’s not enough to ignore the last 12 years of mismanagement and neglect. Not by a long way.

My loyalty is to Newcastle United, not Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United. I owe nothing to the Sports Direct Arena and nothing to the large scale advertising project that has been inflicted on my club for over a decade. My loyalty tells me to stay away from all of that, because in staying away I live in the hope that myself and thousands of others are forcing change. Hopefully change of ownership. This is loyalty to a cause. A cause for the good of Newcastle United. And in sitting in the stadium and handing that man your cash every week, nothing’s going to change. You can support the team, but I fear that it won’t change a thing. It won’t be enough.

For myself and thousands of other Newcastle supporters – and like it or not, that’s what we are – it’s time for change. In effect, thirty years on, we are still supporters for change. We can’t ignore over a decade that’s served up JFK, Wise, Pardew, paddling pool ice baths, awful kit deals that lead to awful kit, the horrific mismanagement of commercial link-ups, threatened player strikes because of year in, year out bonus cock ups, Lambias, Yohan Kebab and Charles Insomnia, sneaky, childish V signs from owner to fans, staff pizza nights by way of reward for professional sportsmen and world class coaches, pitch side headbutts, exclusive interviews that fail to ask pertinent questions, the open derision shown to fans by not only the ownership, but at times the management – Steve, Pards, Joe, I’m looking at you – , players signed from YouTube, banning the local paper, press conferences where journalists are referred to as c**ts…face it, the hits just keep on coming and this could be almost an inexhaustible list. Suffice to say though that my loyalty doesn’t stretch to that.

The mess made of Rafa Benitez’s contract was too much for me. It was too much for a lot of us. The disingenuous claims made by the club hierarchy since Rafa went have left a bitter taste. Out of it all has come The Magpie Group, the NUST and several other protest groups, all fighting for the same cause – to oust Mike Ashley and end his disastrous tenure of Newcastle United. All too predictably though, I still class myself as a Newcastle United supporter. I can’t completely desert the club. I was brought up with this club and it’s in my bones. Yes, I made a decision almost a decade ago now to give up my season ticket and not go back to St. James’ Park until Mike Ashley was gone, but I resent the views of people who still attend and now question my loyalty or accuse me of not supporting the club.

And this is what it’s come to. Name-calling, bitter claims on either side, ignorance and especially online, a whole host of smart-arse remarks. But the people who still populate the ground on matchday cannot question our loyalty in boycotting the games. All those years ago, I felt embarrassed walking past my cousin and his mates in the Supporters For Change. But there was no abuse on either side. I understood what he was trying to achieve and he understood my need to go and support the team. Nowadays, I won’t criticise those who attend. I don’t really understand what it’s going to take to see them vacate their seats, but I won’t criticise them. Perhaps, by the time the next game comes around, some more will decide to boycott. Perhaps, it’ll take a season or perhaps, like me, it’ll take decades of misery.

The point here is that Mike Ashley isn’t doing a very good job of running Newcastle United. An understatement if ever there was one! And we’re not talking about winning trophies here and fans making unreasonable demands. The mantra has always been about a team that tries and pride in the shirt. No one supports Newcastle United as part of a pursuit of trophies. Ashley himself has admitted that he’d give himself ‘1 out of 5’ for his ownership of the club. He admits he’s a negative. He simply hasn’t got the skills to run this particular football club. And despite all of this there are still thousands of fans that are quite prepared to stick by him, which makes us more divided than ever.

And the we get to the appointment of Steve Bruce as the new manager, Rafa’s successor. Now, I’ve nothing against Steve Bruce. He seems like a nice enough bloke and I particularly liked the Twitter account where he turned up at people’s weddings. Not real, you say? Well, I’ll have to look into that. Serial wedding crasher or not, in my opinion Steve Bruce doesn’t have what it takes to manage Newcastle United. He’s never done well at Premier League level and his appointment smacks of a managing director who is out of ideas. Uninspiring, unambitious and in many ways, desperate. Surely even those who are still attending, those that renewed season tickets, can’t actually believe that Steve Bruce is the right choice.

Newcastle United are more divided than ever. An owner who is despised, a managing director who doesn’t appear to be up to the job and a manager that isn’t wanted and deep down, must realise that he isn’t wanted. Add to that a fanbase who are now very much in two opposing factions. For me, this boycott has to work otherwise it’s terrifying to even think about the future.

 

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