Monday, 8 August 2011

Charity Shield

Leeds United 3 Toon 2

Oh, Leeds was grim, but in a fun type of way. It's that remembered pain, the returning toothache, the headache that you can't quite shift - all of those sum up supporting the Toon. The game was 'wrong' in so many ways... Brilliant sunshine, NUFC playing in Orange (one of the amusing chants was "are you Blackpool; in disguise?", half-hearted players. But the result was the same, the Toon coming up against a team who just wanted it more..

I'd said before the game I was looking forward to seeing Cabaye and Marveaux, needless to say only one of them made an appearance. However, Cabaye looked promising and Pardew certainly seems to like him. The highlight of the game for me, was Haris Vuckic. When he came on in the second half, he (and is orange boots) lit up the pitch - loads of busy, bluster and a good goal as well. I'm sure I'd seen him for the Toon before, but he seems to have grown about 6 inches and put on a bit more bulk. He looked desperate to impress, it will be interesting if he gets a chance early season to get on the pitch. Give me Haris over Nile Ranger any day.

Most of the game wandered by in a blur of laughter and dissapointment. Partiluarlrly amusing was the away supporters reaction to a 'robust' challenge by Leeds Ross McCormack. Given that this was a friendly and only squad numbers and not names appeared on shirts - can there be anything worse than being abused by your squad number? For a full match report, from a proper website, see here - like most of the players, I can't be bothered to go into details.

However, in the last week since that game, things have got, well, interesting at NUFC. Firstly Barton spits his dummy out (again). Starts using Twitter to have a pop at Ashely and Co. Now, as I may have mentioned, I"m not a fan of Ashley (only EMO falls lower in my personal pecking order) but to me the recent actions of Barton seem to be him maneuvering his contract discussions to some sort of resolution. It will be either a 'on your way, son' or happy smiles as he has a new contract in his mitts. Either way, he'll get what he wants - more money... I did like his tweeting of Smiths lyrics though, although the Smiths lyric that has most often rattled around my mind when reading the guff he's been spouting is "Frankly Mr Shankly"

Frankly, Mr Shankly, since you ask
you are a flatulent pain the arse
I do not mean to be so rude
but still, I must speak frankly, Mr Shankly, give us money

And then of course, we get back to the on the pitch antics. Surely not much could go wrong with a friendly with an Italian Serie A side?? Wrong - only the Toon could have a game rained off at the start of August. What next - a plague of locusts?

Still, at least football is back on the telly, and it all starts in earnest next week. I saw some of the Community Shield game - but that got me pondering, why did it change its name? Ever since I can recall, the first 'proper' match of the season is the Charity Shield. However, for some reason, this has been altered to Community Shield.. No idea why...

That said, I've been thinking about charity a lot this week - if you haven't seen it have a look at I've been following this blog for some time, and Mark Allison's inspirational run across the US in 100 days, to raise money for two deserving causes. As I'm typing this he's painfully close to the finish line on day 100, but its been hard work for him. He's looking to raise £50k for the charities - about the average weekly wage of a premiership player from one of the top four clubs. There is something so wrong with that. Still, Mark has been doing a sterling job and he's almost there... If you can spare a couple of quid, I can't think of many better places to put it. Go on, you know you want to.

Howay the lads

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Starting over

Sunday morning. It's warm, no strike that its hot, humid even and I'm awake early. As is my custom I start planning the days tasks. Mundane stuff, cleaning, washing, ironing, going to the match, shopping... [Comedy double take moment] Going to the match... in July, surely not! Quite a few years ago I swore that I'd never go to another pre-season friendly... Lots of reasons why, mainly because its an waste of money and petrol to attend a pointless, meaningless kick-about in the sun. Its the pointlessness of it all, combined with the sure knowledge that the one meaningful tackle that goes in will completely knacker your most important player for at least half of the season... Shearer at Everton anyone?

That said, some of my funniest moments have come at some of the friendlies. I can vividly recall the chemically inebriated chaps in front of me at Burnley about 10 years ago, wondering how the players could concentrate with the dragon coming out of the centre circle... And no, it wasn't Nicky Butt.

So why are myself, the Favourite Nephew and the New Mum heading to Elland Road this afternoon? Part of it is to see what has happened to the team. I get the sense of a changing of the guard at NUFC at the moment. Some of the stalwart players have wandered away. Nolan will be a big loss in terms of his leadership, but he was getting slower by the day, and hardly a box-to-box midfielder. All the noises from Jose suggest he's on his way to join the likes of Carroll and his mackem mate at Liverpool, which will be a shame, but I can't blame him. The other 'new' players like Gosling and Ben Arfa will make a difference to the team. Its changing, as it should in order to avoid that 'difficult second season syndrome'. To me it felt like most of last season was a lot easier than I expected, and I suspect, a lot easier than NUFC expected. Staying in the Premiership wasn't really in doubt. The reason for this, was that a number of teams where in even greater disarray than the Toon... Odd sensation wasn't it? West Ham were a joke (possibly something to do with the number of ex-Toon players on their books), Blackpool were all bluster and enthusiasm, until they got found out... and Birmingham just had too many of our ex-players on their books as well.

Anyway, I have a frisson of excitement this morning. I'm looking forward to seeing the new players - especially Sylvain Marveaux and Yohan Cabaye, seeing what they can bring to the team. Also, it will be good to see Gosling and Ben Arfa... Oh, hang on - he got injured in a meaningless friendly last week didn't he?? Hear that noise? That's the sound of my case being rested.

Howay the Lads, lets see what jollity we can have this season...

Monday, 27 December 2010

One of our own

Interestingly, Pardew seems to be starting to have an effect at SJP. The logical place to start was with the players (ignoring the decision to take on Steve Stone as assistant coach - personally I think he's been taken on as a translator for Pardew... but, doubt he'll have quite a glittering career as Jose Mourinho) Staying put signs put over the names of both Carroll and Barton, as well as the news that Steven Taylor has just signed at new 5 and a half year contract (hummm... that period of time sounds familiar, doesn't it....). Needless, to say there is no news on how much the contact is worth - but, part of me is really pleased that Taylor wants to stay on Tyneside, rather than moving to pastures new. He's spent much of the last five years being the chest-thumping, warrior.

At times looking like the natural successor to John Terry - all passion, heart and sweat for the cause. A real captain in the making and heart-on-sleeve soul of the club. However, at other times he's looked like the successor to Titus Bramble - slow, ponderous and poor decision making. Also, he's had a a couple of years when he's suffered a lot with injuries - a persistent shoulder injury, along with aggravating Andy Carroll leading to getting his jaw broken, has meant that he's been a bit part player for the past couple of seasons.

I guess he's typical of the ying and yang of many players, some good points and some bad. He's never been afraid to put his head in, either to stop a goal, or to score a few as well. He's given us some fantastic comedy moments - such as the below

He's also been advised poorly, in my view... Paul Stretford ( Rooney's agent) has managed to contradict that NUFC-loving image by driving such a hard bargain during the contract negotiations for his client that Taylor has effectively spent the last 6 months on the transfer list. I, for one don't recall reading about a rush of clubs bidding for him. No doubt Taylor has an increase on the weekly wage - but it has damaged his standing amongst the fans. I wonder what price there really is on that type of public image?

But, ultimately he is one of ours... I'm pleased he is staying, but feel that he has much to prove over the rest of this season. I don't think that he's going to be the next captain of England (or even Newcastle United) but I'll be pleased if he really does stay for the term of this contract. However, I'm not convinced that he will. In the same way that I doubt that Pardew will see out his contract either.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Lack of Class

In my younger days I had a part time job in a print shop. It was a largely un-rewarding job, but I got to play with some new gadgets. I was shown how to do all sorts of exciting things, such as bind documents, use the high speed photocopier and laminate signs and posters. Needless to say binding wasn't much fun (I can recall wrecking one students thesis) and, beyond the obvious, photocopying was dull. However, the laminating machine led to all sorts of hilarity... This included getting various photos enlarged and making them more 'solid' than previously as they became poster sized. I only did one for myself...I can still remember it vividly. Shearer and Ferguson celebrating a goal, with the words "Form is temporary: Class is permanent" emblazoned across the bottom. I think I'd particularly liked it as it was at the time that Shearer was getting a tough time from the English press about him not being good enough to play for Eng-er-lund.

Roll forward 20-plus years and I was reminded of this moniker again, but this time the inverse. Mike Ashley has demonstrated time and time again that he lacks understanding of how to effectively communicate with his 'customers' and the sacking of Chris Hughton was another example of this. As a consumer of brand NUFC, it appeared to me that the football team was getting some stability, that the team - was starting to play like a team. The results were mixed, but it felt like the team was going in the right direction. The key to this was the continuity that had been given by the management team - Hughton and Calderwood appeared to have been doing a good job, with limited resources. As a watcher of the business of Newcastle United, it also appeared that Hughton was doing a fair job, mid-table and regular TV revenue coming in, combined with the asset that is Andy Carroll, being nurtured and therefore his value (both in terms of transfer value and marketing value) increasing.

But, obviously this wasn't enough for the owners of both the business and the brand. The reasons for the supporters as to why he was sacked are spurious. But perhaps the business ones aren't. I'd guess that Hughton was asking for money to shore up the depth of the team, that the money wasn't available or his choices deemed incorrect. From a cost perspective, Hughton will have been a lot cheaper to sack than either Allardyce or Keegan. So, as ever Ashley fails to communicate with his punters and the inevitable conclusion is drawn... he's got no class, and his form is temporary.

As a demonstration of Ashley's temporary form, he got lucky with Pardew's first game. Beating a sub-standard Liverpool team might have looked good on paper. It might have lessened the volume and nature of the protests against Hughton's sacking for that game. But, the cracks are still visible and unless some investment is made in the playing squad Ashely's lack of class with the dismissal of someone who appeared to be a genuinely decent man - and a good communicator; will come home to roost.

Saturday, 20 November 2010


"Its been an odd season so far" That's one of those understatements that is ludicrously simplistic. From the inevitable loss at Manure at the start of the season to the unbelievable high of 5under1and (as henceforth they shall be known) on Halloween its been one hell of a roller coaster of a season so far. I, like many others, would have been happy to see the Toon finish 17th this season, consolidate after the shock of the Championship and then start to rebuild. Of course, then came along Villa at home, and expectations were raised a little, then my personal favourite, the delight of the trip to Goodison and the ambitions grew a bit more. Finally, after the result at Highbury, errrrr.... Emirates, Newcastle United were dizzily in 5th place in the table.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not that delusional. I know that reality isn't so much going to bite, as take a chunk out of the collective backside of the club. Mid-table is as far as my ambitions for the team go to now. Usually, this would mean a season of relative mediocrity, a few scrappy wins and a greater number of draws than usual. Not so with NUFC - how can it be with a 6-0 and 5-1 wins at home, and even last weeks 0-0 against Fulham wasn't two teams settling for the draw at the outset... It was just one of those games when Newcastle couldn't manage to score.

At the outset of the season Newcastle were supposed to be in transition, I'd said that I thought this would be a big season for Andy Carroll (well, I got that right - and England call up and so far he's managed to stay out of jail), that Kevin Nolan was too slow to cut it in the Premiership (wrong - I still think he's too slow; but he is the heartbeat and brains of the team) that Sol Campbell was a mistake (wrong - he's hardly played, but when he did against Man City he was commanding) and that we'd need more bite and creativity in the midfield (right - but that was before Tiote was signed). So, if this is transition then I'm really enjoying it... Thanks lads

Today, brings Bolton Wanderers - I've been numerous times to the Reebok, and never yet seen a good game. The mists of time make most of these games roll into one, but I have memories of Dabizas getting sent off after about a minute, of Steven Taylor's debut and getting shoved out of the way for the only goal of the game; and most of all the annoying windowlicker that brings that bloody drum to each home game. Bolton have always been a team of stiflers (is that a word?) more intent on stopping other teams playing than being creative themselves. An effective tactic that has prevented relegation over the past ten years, but dull to watch. However, today might be different, Owen Coyle as a manager seems to have altered the ethos of the team - and they are starting to look a better side. By a happy coincidence of the fixture calendar, it's the Favourite Nephew's 17th birthday this weekend. I hope its a good one for him...

Howay the Lads

PS - I can predict sales of the above DVD topping 50,000 in Newcastle but maybe not quite as high on Wearside... I'll have to get a copy, for those rain-sodden Sunday's when there is just nothing on the telly and you really need cheering up...

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Team Ethic

Everton 0 Toon 1

Blimey - is an underused word, but it seems to be the most appropriate word to sum up NUFC over the past week. The last time we had the joys of celebrating two away wins in a week in the top division seems like it was in the pre-war days (the Iraq war, that is) the last time NUFC won at Stamford Bridge was during the last recession and the last time Toon won 4-3, as opposed to losing by the same scoreline, was when footballers walked to the ground, had real jobs, and handlebar moustaches.... Still, I wasn't fortunate enough to be a Chelsea on Wednesday evening, but I was at Goodison Park on Saturday to witness an away win on Merseyside for the first time since before the invention of the fourth official. Blimey.

There were several notable things about the win on Saturday... It also had an old fashioned feel to the game, but that will have been mainly due to a 3.00pm kick off on a Saturday and the wooden bench seats. As an aside, how on earth do they get away with having such a dilapidated ground? One of the funniest incidents was seeing an older gent handing a steward the back of one of these wooden seats, pointing out that it wasn't an act of vandalism that had broken it, but woodworm. Actually, the funniest moment for me was finally hearing the Coloccini song in full throttle sung by 2500 delirious fans....

After reflecting for a week on the performance I've concluded that the main difference was that for the first time in about five years the squad played as Newcastle United, and functioned as a team. Some of the team ethic has been instilled as a result of adversity, those players to stayed after relegation had a point to prove. Some of it has arisen out of sheer bloody mindedness, a desire to prove the doubters wrong; NUFC aren't just going to implode and go away. However, most of it is due to a determination that no one is bigger than the club itself, no huge star players, no one playing for themselves - just a group of 11 (or so) all pulling in the same direction and getting results. It felt good. It felt like football should be.

The result was all the more gratifying as we witnessed a fantastic match winning goal from Hatem Ben Arfa, (has anyone else noticed that he looks a bit like the bastard offspring of Laurent Robert?) saw a debut from someone who does for 90 mins what Nicky Butt showed us in flashes for the past two years, Cheick Tiote take a bow... Adding in two new personalities to a team could have really disrupted the balance and make up, but it didn't appear to do so at Everton.

I also need to apologise, I was wrong. Way back in 2007, I commented that the young left back that NUFC had signed from Spain wasn't good enough. I made lots more earthy, vociferous comments at games as this player seemed to be out of his depth in the English league. His first season was error strewn, he was slow and often made an incorrect decision. In my defence I think my views were coloured by a litany of overpriced and poor defenders, and I lumped Jose Enrique in with those mercenaries. Over the last three years his confidence has grown, he has adjusted to the pace of the game and has become the most outstanding performer for the team. Most of all, he stayed when other non-UK players started their exodus after relegation. A real team player. Jose, Jose, Jose.... indeed.

Sunday brings on the cloggers from the Potteries. I expect Wolves Mark II - it ain't going to be pretty.

Howay the lads

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Back to the Past

Wolves 1 Toon 1

Bank holidays. Always a strange concept. An extra long weekend when the roads become clogged with stressed families determined to make for a busy patch of beach to 'enjoy' themselves on. Chuck into this mix a couple of million folk heading to sporting events that won't wait to start until you arrive and you have the recipe for disaster. With full knowledge of this we set off for Wolverhampton last weekend.

Of course one of the joys of the bank holiday traffic is that you get plenty of opportunity to people watch your fellow travellers. As I was cutting short a holiday in Scotland to go to Wolverhampton (I bet that's not a sentence that's been written very often) I had added people watching time. One of the things that made me smile was the number of Hell's Angels on Harley's that wove their way successfully through the roadwork stymied queues. I guess their must have been a Harley Davidson convention somewhere in the North, judging by the number of riders heading south. After seeing the first few throaty roars in my rear view mirror, and getting over the jealousy of them getting past me, I was struck by the average age of the riders. They all looked as though they were at an age to have been old enough to see Easy Rider when it was first released, at the cinema, without having to lie about their age... It's not a young man's game - alternative culture.

The theme for the day was set - driving into Wolverhampton we'd joked about needing to put on flares to fit in... It wasn't quite like that but the game had a definite 'old school' feel to it. Both teams had heydays in the past, both clubs struggling to re-invent themselves in the current climate and both sets of players using tactics that haven't been seen for a few years. For the Toon, the main tactic was to lump the ball to Carroll as often as possible (by the way, maybe its just me - but Carroll seems to have grown by a foot since last season) and hope that he could batter his way through the defence. However, Wolves tactics consisted wholly of giving Barton a good kicking to see if he would loose his temper. It was apparent from the kick off - and continued until the final minute. This was interesting for a couple of reasons, firstly it didn't work... but they didn't alter the tactic. Secondly, Wolves obviously thought that this was the only way to beat Newcastle. Why? Hadn't they seen how Manure had ripped into us a couple of weeks before - using pace and width? Obviously they weren't imaginative enough to take this approach. So, it felt that we were watching a game from the 80's as lumps were taken from various Toon midfielders, accompanied by the shrill sound of the refs whistle.

One of the more bewildering chants from the Wolves faithful, was "Your going down with the yam-yams" No one around me had a clue what this 'insult' could mean. However, as someone who is lucky enough to work in the West Midlands, I was able to translate that they may just be referring to their near neighbours from West Bromwich. Looking around the crowd in the Toon end also struck me as this was an 'older' crowd than normal. More beer bellies and greying temples than young knacker-jacks having their first alcopops. We speculated on why... Maybe its just that travelling to away games on a bank holiday weekend also isn't a young man's game.