Sunday, 28 December 2008

Thank you, Mr Ashley

Thanks Mike - just as the retail sector is gearing up for clearance bargains, you've decided to take the club off the market. Presumably you didn't fancy hawking a £200 million+ 'asset' around a marketplace already saturated with Woolies and Zavvi cast offs.

I wonder how many fans are going to choke on their pre-match hot dogs as they read in the programme :-

"For me 2009 will be the year in which we drive the club forward together"

Forward? Well, I suppose its a better direction than downwards. I keep hoping that there is a plan here somewhere...But I doubt it. I had to use this image... a barcode, not being sold...

I know that today's game will be remembered for one thing - that will be the tributes that are being paid to a great man - who has more dignity in his little finger than Ashley seems to have ever had. Sir Bobby Robson. Watch and learn Mike.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Pies, Damn Pies, and Statistics

Wigan 2 Toon 1

Well for 70 minutes was groundhog day... Boxing day at Wigan.. Spending the afternoon sandwiched between fully-grown, slightly inebriated, men dressed as Santa (including one guy who seemed to think that Santa wore a hat and boxers... and nowt else. It was freezing and he was tinged with a purple hue by the end of the game), Tweety Pie, Sylvester (the cartoon one, not the disco diva) four Smurfs, Darth Vader (a very weedy Darth at that) and numerous Spidermen. Watching Ryan Taylor score against a woeful Newcastle side and then seeing a spiteful, excessively aggressive Wigan midfield attempt to kick any creativity out of the game. It was as though I was reliving every game for the past four years at the JJB again and again... They say that you don't remember pain, until something painful happens to you again - well I'd say its true, because halfway through the first half, I just knew I'd experienced this level of angst before.

But then, just as I was cursing (which I do loudly and often) my sheer stupidity at trekking to deepest darkest Lancashire to watch the turgid fare that Wigan against Newcastle always is, I think that the referee got bored. I really can't think of any other explanation for Mike Dean's bizarrely erratic decisions towards the end of the game. At first he seemed to be happy to let the game flow (well, it would have done if the players had been up to doing anything as creative at 'flowing') but then Cattermole decided to stamp his authority onto the game.. literally. His actions had already cost Newcastle the services of Barton in the game at SJP, and now he's put Habib Beye out of the game for a considerable period of time. Git. Anyway, Dean decided that a yellow card would suffice.

In the second half Dean got even worse. He decided to give a penalty for a foul that was committed midway inside the half and that the lineman had given a full 20 yards outside the penalty area. Not content with that he sent off Bassong for the foul. Git. He then booked both Duff and Butt for having the gall to point out his ineptness at giving incorrect decisions. Almost as though he wanted to redress the balance, he then gave a penalty for a foul on Andy Carroll for a challenge by Kirkland that most goalkeepers would have gotten away with. But, of course he couldn't be consistent... he just booked Kirkland. Dean's final act of card-happy madness was to book Carroll for being fouled in the penalty area... Now, call me a traditionalist, but isn't that supposed to be a penalty? Double git.

The upshot of Mike 'git' Dean's invention was positive in a small way though - it was the most exciting end to a game at Wigan I've ever seen. Newcastle should have got a point at the end, if only Duff could have remembered that he needed to put the ball between the posts and and not around it. However, the negatives far outweigh any positives - for a team that was defensively light anyway; the loss of Beye, Enrique and Bassong is catastrophic. Liverpool tomorrow must be licking their collective lips and polishing their shooting boots at the thought of coming up against a very makeshift defence.

Wigan is famous for its pies - I assume that's what crossed Viduka's mind as he got halfway through the second half... "Humm, I'm a bit peckish - I think I'll see if the pie shop is open" so he wandered off the pitch and down the tunnel. The chants of "you're not fit to wear the shirt" were sung in anger rather than irony, but works on both levels.

So, thank you Mike Dean and Mark Viduka - 24 hours on and I'm still very angry at both of you. Gits.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Dear Santa

Well, Santa, I'm in a bit of a quandary...

Six games unbeaten and wins in the last two, the giddy heights of 12th place in the league have been attained and I find myself looking up at possible top ten place before the start of 2009. I'm also still in a state of shock that the goal scorers today were N'Zogbia and Duff - and I almost fainted when I saw the highlights and discovered that not only did Viduka play for 50 mins, but he also created the winner. Not only that but we've beaten Spurs, and I've just seen a dejected 'Arry Rednapp interview... Which has brought me a suprising amount of Christmas cheer.

So, Mr Claus, I'm in the habit of of asking for the 3 points on Boxing Day at Wigan (see last years list ) and I'm wondering if I should ask for something different this year. By my reckoning I've been to see Newcastle V Wigan four times and I've never seen us win.. in fact I've never seen us play even remotely well at the JJB.

So rather than ask for the traditional 3 points against Wigan from Father Christmas, I'm going to ask for a cracking game, a team display and JFK's happy face on the telly afterwards. I'm taking the Favourite Nephew to this match for his Xmas pressie... (But he doesn't know yet, so don't tell him... ) I just hope at 5.00pm on Friday he thanks me for it.

Thanks Santa

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Reflections on the Party Season

I used to work in banking....Christmas office parties were always produced a mixture of trepidation and anxiety. Traditionally the time for eating/drinking too much, telling your work colleagues what you really think of them (a years pent-up frustration can be a very dangerous thing) before finally getting round to abusing the photocopier creating facsimiles of body parts - all whilst wearing a slightly torn serrated paper hat. I then went to work in HE, the parties weren't that different, except we always had to go to pubs that students didn't frequent.. often a challenge.

As you may have guessed by the level of cynicism, I've never enjoyed these type of events - usually opting for the "I'll show my face and then slope off early" approach. However, this week the dreaded office party came around; and maybe its the different industry (I work for a software company) or maybe its because I'm older...But I quite enjoyed it. Much playing of Wii's and general natter with colleagues that often you don't spend enough time talking to during the usual working day.

Now, being as I work in software, a lot of my colleagues blog. Some are purely technology based and some are very general. As the conversation at the party meandered to blogging, a colleague, Nadeem, remarked that he thought it was odd that I just blogged about football. That got me thinking (keep awake at the back... I'll get round to the point shortly). When I first started this blog I had three aims, to vent my frustration, to keep a record of my views and to encourage me to hone my writing (ahem) skills. I think I've achieved this, but Nad's comment made me review my posts over the last year or so.

It's an interesting thing to do, what I didn't realise is that I seem to have wittered on over the past year on two main themes...

1. The manipulation of facts by the media in order to feed on Newcastle fans hunger for 'news'. And never letting something trivial like a fact get in the way of a good headline. See here for one of many examples
2. The disruption to the traditional business of football that has been caused by the huge amounts of money that has been poured into the game and the effect that has on the people who buy that product because they are fans and not consumers (well most of us anyway). See here and here for examples.

I guess my point is that yes, my thoughts are framed by football, but its a microcosm of many of the things that are going on in the world...

However, this bit IS about football. I'm still in shock since the result against Portsmouth last week... A group of us had watched it on the telly, and the end we were all slightly perplexed, the question was what do we usually do after an away win?? We couldn't remember. So, I really hope that we can carry on that form into the game against Spurs tomorrow. It feels like they owe us a home win... From Rednapp turning us down to them knocking a woeful shambles of a ex-Allardyce team out of the League Cup...Not least because of their odious mouth-piece, Dave Mason will no doubt be spouting his prejudices again... I hope EMO still has his mind on the for sale sign reminder to other clubs... A hat-trick and I'd almost start to like him...maybe.

Howay the Lads

(I wonder if the Newcastle players office party was spent discussing blogs? Somehow, I doubt it)

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Pot, Kettle and Fish

Ok, I'll admit it.... I'm starting to get obsessive about Owen's engineering of a move away from SJP. I understand that he's not happy with the way that the latter stages of his career is panning out. Not doubt he wants to winning medals, adding to his international caps and challenging some Portuguese bloke for the European Player of the Year. But instead he finds himself in a relegation scrapping side, with a club intent on pulling itself to bits and a manager who is admitting that he can't foresee EMO staying with us. Or at least that's what I think he means when he says:-

"I'm pretty confident about everybody else, but Michael is a different kettle of fish."

So, no co-incidence that EMO's form and fitness both pick up as the January transfer window approaches as his (alleged) £140k per week contract starts to wind down and he puts a huge sign on the back of his shirt saying "open to offers" and starts to hope that a more attractive club begins to show an interest. Earlier this year Man City were supposed to be interested in him... I said at the time that they could have him... I bet he'd give eye teeth to be going there now...

Part of me would happily see him walk away. He's got talent, but doesn't appear to have the application. It's frustrating, but as a player he just isn't motivated at Newcastle. He doesn't care about the club (and I understand that as well, why should he have an emotional attachment to his employer?) and I suspect that the money isn't really that important to him either - after all how much of Cheshire can a 28 year old want to own?

But the another part of me whats to see him scoring goals in a black and white shirt for a long time to come, for N'Zogbia, Duff and Gutierrez to be supplying him with crosses for elegantly taken goals and for him find the perfect striking partner with Viduka... Oh, and also the sun will always be shining, world peace will have broken out and the mackems will re-appoint Howard Wilkinson as manager... Idle dreams, all of them... In the meantime he's talking to the media reminding anyone who will listen that he is still about and also Newcastle benefit from his goals.

I guess the real question is who will replace him? Somehow I doubt it'll be someone who sets my pulse racing.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Score Draws

Sometimes a draw can feel as good as a win, sometimes a draw can feel vaguely disappointing and sometimes a draw can feel like a earth-shattering loss. It all depends on the expectations going into the game and the way in which the team plays in the game. I can recall a Monday night at Anfield - the first time that I'd been there, when a Shearer-inspired comeback secured a 2-2 draw and it felt so much like a win... The cliche of one point gained, rather than two lost was never truer.

Yesterday, the 2-2 draw with Stoke felt like the exact opposite. This was a game that should have been won by half-time and in fact appeared to have been won by half-time. As the January transfer window prepares to crack open, Owen is starting to find a bit of form (what an astonishing coincidence!) and comfortably put the Toon 2-0 up. And then of course the second half started and the team stuffed it up.

Having survived the rigors of Christmas shopping with my Mother, I'd slumped in front of the TV with Soccer Saturday on. Now, Soccer Saturday is an odd phenomenon - for a programme that is basically radio on the TV (a host and three so called pundits, watching a game and then relaying what they have seen with the added benefit of their 'wisdom' in order to explain to the viewer what is going on). Its one of those programmes that shouldn't work, but for some reason it does. I suspect that the reason it's watchable is Jeff Stelling, Hartlepool's most (only) famous supporter and all round football geek. His child-like enthusiasm and in depth knowledge (such as
the last time that Arbroath scored in the Scottish Cup... with a striker who's name started with Mac) make the fact that you can't see what is on the screen somehow watchable. He also manages to control the ex-footballer numpties who 'ohhh' and 'ahh' at the screens that are in front of them.

For yesterday's game Phil Thompson was 'commentating' on the game from St James' Park... I found myself from 4.30pm desperately hoping that Thompson wouldn't utter another word...that time would somehow move forward by another 20 mins and Newcastle would get hold of those elusive 3 points. Every time someone off camera uttered a "argggggg" or an "ohhhh" I developed a twitch and then a ridiculous amount of relief when Charlie Nicholas' was panned to, rather than "Tommo" (why is a school boy nickname like that on a man in his forties vaguely unsettling??). Anyway, as usual, Tommo got more excited, Stoke mounted a comeback and Newcastle had a draw that feels like a bitter loss. The exact opposite of the Liverpool game all those years ago.

Too many draws could ultimately prove the downfall - games like yesterday's should have been won...Two points lost, which may become crucial when the Soccer Saturday lot commentate on the last game of the season... Stoke staying up and Newcastle relegated?? I so hope not.

In the meantime the denizens of Wearyside are looking for a new manager... Which will mean the creation of a new chant - I've missed the surreal nature of the Peter Reid song, and the Roy Keane one always brought a titter... So, I wonder what the song will be for the next one? What rhymes with Allardyce??