Thursday, 24 December 2009

Dear Mr Claus

Following in a long established tradition for this blog (well, here and here anyway - if that counts as traditional); I've been sitting in front of my log fire, sipping some mulled wine whilst composing a list of small requests for St Nicholas to consider if I've been suitably well behaved this year in order for him to grant me some favours.

Actually, I've been battling the other lunatics on the ice bound M6 and shopping at Tesco's at midnight to avoid the madness that is shopping over the festive season - but that's nowhere near as attractive an image... Reality bites.

So what would I like St Nicholas to bring the Toon for Christmas? Well, in 2009 I've seen the team relegated, a fire sale of the best players (and some rubbish ones), the worst PR machine since.....well, ever, and host of woeful and abject displays by 11 money-motivated journeymen footballers. Last year I was ludicrous enough to ask for 3 points from the Boxing Day fixture at Wigan (that didn't work) and the year before I asked that Charlie Zog stopped being played at left back (well, that one sort of worked, but selling him to Wigan wasn't what I had in mind). So, I need to think carefully about my requests for this year.

All sorts of things have flittered through my mind including:
- Continuing being 10 points clear of the rest of the Championship at the end of the season? Nah - that won't happen
- Not selling the best players during the January transfer window? Nah, Taylor, Enrique and Coco are all on the shopping lists of Premiership clubs
- For Shearer to be given some role in the club that obviously means so much to him - Nah, he's too champagne for a club with more sober tastes at the moment

So, really my list for Santa consists of just one request...

Please can you find a new owner for the team? I'm sure that there must be one somewhere at the back of your sleigh? I'm not asking for much, just a billionaire who understands that football is a business and not a plaything, someone who knows the value of customer relations and someone who has the wit to see that a five year plan will take five years to come to fruition.

I suspect that this request to Father Christmas will fall on deaf ears like my previous ones - but I can hope. Merry Christmas Mr Ashley - oh, and get out of our club.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Not so Proud


The past couple of weeks appear to have been a period of dust settling at SJP. It must have been at least two weeks since the press have been able to snigger in the direction of NE1... That said they had a damn good chortle prior to then.

Ashley has delivered his ultimate kick in the proverbials to the fans by trying to re-name the stadium. I've wondered this often in the past, but just who is advising Ashley? The re-naming has been positioned as 'temporary re-branding' until the end of the season. Now, I'm no marketing expert, but when has temporary re-branding ever worked before? The aim is that Ashley's firm sponsor the ground until the end of the season and then some other company will take over, oh and cough up the cash for a video screen at SJP. Apparently:

"Newcastle are currently targeting concerns including electronics giants and airlines, preferably with links to Far East and its attendant merchandising and marketing opportunities."

So that means that we can look forward to tales of Ashley and Llambias having another failed trip to some Far East hotspots [gawd, I'm even starting to write like a tabloid hack, as this is so predictable] along with the suitably embarrassing pictures. Doesn't Ashley make his money from retail? A quick Google search will show him that re-branding doesn't work. Pizza Hut to Pasta Hut, lasted no more than a few months and I'm of the generation that still looks for a Marathon bar or Opal Fruits (rather than Snickers or Starburst) when I wander into the newsagents. Just the same as when I walk up to watch a game of football, I'll be going to St James' Park.

The other problem is that it sounds like a crap email address: sportsdirect.com@stjames'park - its just utter pants. I can see Dave Whelan being the only one who would make even an offer for these "prestigious naming rights", JJB@stjames'park - has a ring to it, don't you think?

The only other thing that seems to have happened off the pitch is that Shola has decided that he is a Nigerian after all (odd, how he mentions this after Nigeria have qualified for the World Cup?). No doubt Hughton has his head in his hands, as if Shola makes the team, he'll be at the African Cup of Nations for all of January. But, in reality, when was the last time that Shola was fit for a whole month? Maybe it will give him some impetus to perform until then, so the team can only benefit from that.

Anyway, come Monday night I'm breaking my temporary leave of absence since the first game of the season - I'll be at Preston. The usual mixture of anticipation and fear are starting to descend.

Howay the lads...

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Grounds for divorce


As the wonderfully talented Mr Guy Garvey once intoned:-

I've been working on a cocktail called Grounds for Divorce
Polishing a compass that I hold in my sleeve
Doubt comes in on sticks but then he kicks like a horse


And that just about perfectly sums up my feelings towards the current events at NE1 4ST. The comedy club lurches from shambles to shameful, getting deeper on a daily basis into what has become lunacy. A few examples that have stopped me from blogging recently:

1. Chris Hughton. A man who has only ever been guilty of being in the right place at the right time. He must have a yoyo like piece of elastic leading too the managers chair. He's been interim manager on three occasions, and then just as he starts a four game win less streak, he gets rewarded with a permanent contract.

2. Keegan's court case. So much muck has been thrown at the current owner that I had the feeling that some of it must stick. I was wrong; it all stuck - every last fleck. From foisting a player that the manager didn't want (and advising him to watch him on YouTube), through to lying to the fans and press about Keegan having the final say in terms of the playing personnel. Its bad enough being glib enough to lie to your employees, but also admitting to lying to your 'customers' on a sustained and regular basis shows the utmost contempt.

3. The longest ever proposed sale of a business. It got to the stage that the unedifying hawking sight of the club being pushed around the markets, bazaars and auction houses was becoming as laughable as the proposed price - I was waiting for the eBay joke to become reality. The least surprising news of this week was the news that Ashley was hanging onto his shares for a while longer. I don't doubt that there is a sound business reason for this, getting promoted back to the financial nirvana of the Premiership will see Ashley recoup a lot more of his investment than selling from the second tier.

4. Renaming of St James' Park - Oh, for gawd's sake Ashley STOP IT. The idea of renaming the stadium is senseless and just further antagonises your customer base. The few extra million quid that you may get would just be counter productive... Do you really think that "The Aldi Stadium" or some such like is going to be used by the 45,000 souls who choose to sit in the seats they have purchased every couple of weeks? Its another PR disaster. I'm not usually one for signing petitions - but please have a look at this online petition from the Newcastle United Supporters Trust. I disagree with a number of things that the supporters trust are trying to do (but that's fodder for my next outpouring) but this petition is one that I've happily put my name to.

All of the above (and a whole heap more) have led me to reassess my ongoing commitment to the club that has been such a big part of my life for so long. Picking up on the song, I'm not going to look to divorce myself from NUFC, but I'm having a trial separation. Not been to a game since WBA, turned down a few tickets and didn't even watch a few of the live games (I went to see a ballet instead of watching the Forest game!) I'm still that glutton for punishment though, surreptitiously stalking the latest misdemeanours of the club via the press. It's not a healthy relationship at the moment.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Time to reassess


I've had an epiphany over recent weeks (I know, the chemist will sell me some cream and it'll clear up shortly) - I started to enjoy watching football again. Obviously, I need to clarify that last sentence - I don't mean that I've been hanging around my local park avidly watching the local Sunday pub teams hack lumps out of each other (although I must admit that sometimes that does contain some amusement, normally generated by the half time pint, cig and pasties that are produced) but that I'm starting to enjoy Premiership football again.

For the past ten or so years I've been sure of my beliefs, for example, knowing that any team managed by Sam Allardyce would be dreadful to watch (including NUFC), that I was a fully paid up member of the ABU (Anyone But manUnited) club, and that Craig Bellamy could start a fight in an empty room. But since relegation I've started reassess my beliefs. This all started a couple of weekends ago when, with nothing else to watch on a Saturday afternoon I found myself in front of Manure v Spurs. I really enjoyed the game. It was only afterwards that I realised that it felt like watching a Spanish or Italian game. What I mean by that is, it was mildly interesting to watch, admire some of the football, but I didn't care who won.

I tested this theory further when watching Manure v Man Citeh. In the past I'd have been willing Citeh to beat their neighbours, but on Sunday I just watched the ebb and flow of the game, was mildly perturbed when the millionaire EMO got the winner and enjoyed getting the outraged texts from Citeh friends. So I started to think about the other Premiership games and realised that even if I was offered free tickets nothing would ever entice me to go and see Bolton v Stoke. In fact I'd go further, I wouldn't go if it was free tickets, free meal, free helicopter ride to the ground and getting to meet the teams afterwards. A draw in that game had to have been the least surprising result of all time.

The reason why I've stopped caring about the Premiership has nothing to do with the decline in the game, the over-exposure of the product, or even the over hyped players. Its simply that those teams are no longer relevant to the team that I care about the most - Newcastle United. Equally, my sphere of knowledge hasn't developed any of the irrational prejudices of teams in the Championship - I haven't merely replaced a dislike of Wigan with Preston or Manure with QPR (the parallels are there for them both) because I don't know enough about them.

So, recently I've started to live in a new footballing world, which is a happier place. Perhaps I have got something to thank Mike Ashley for after all... (that's irony by the way, for anyone reading outside of the UK). That said, this weekends game will reacquaint me with some old prejudices, Toon v Ipswich. Which re-ignites the Toon with the ex-mackem manager and half the ex-mackem team. It'll be an interesting game for a number of reasons, not least the likely debut of the man with the unfeasibly small head, Marlon Harewood. He sounds like a good loan signing and also looks like a typical Championship player - he's starting to make the right noises and he might make an impact. It's on the telly as further testament to the effect that Sir Bobby Robson had on both clubs and to the sport itself. No doubt, not a dry eye in the house...again.

Oh, and just in case you think that the epiphany has made me go all liberal and soft, I'd just like to make it clear, I sincerely hope that Hull don't get another point in the Premiership all season, and finish second bottom - just above the mackems.

Howay the lads!

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Set adrift on memory bliss

So, that was the summer then - a few rays of sunshine, intermingled with dark heavy storm clouds that have never really cleared. And as for the weather... The rays of sunshine (probable take over, Shearer as manager, prospect of any new players) have been eclipsed by the storm clouds (Ashley staying, no new investment). It's become apparent that the reactive management of Newcastle United probably haven't got a plan A, never mind a plan B. So, off the club trundle into the international break, with a wafer thin squad, an interim manager and top of the league.

Hang on, can that last sentence be right? If everything is so doom and gloom how on earth can the league table look like this...

1 Newcastle 5 4 1 0 8 1 7 13
2 WBA 5 3 2 0 9 5 4 11
3 Cardiff City 5 3 1 1 11 4 7 10
4 Middlesbrough 5 3 1 1 8 2 6 10
5 Bristol City 5 3 1 1 6 6 0 10

As with so many things with Newcastle United, it just doesn't make sense. The talk at the moment is that Chris Hughton will get manager of the month in the Championship. Don't the powers that be realise the irony of this? He is a manager who's business card must have the words interim, interim manager printed on it... He's been the stand in for the last couple of stand ins. He obviously is a nice man, and somehow despite (or because of?) the chaos going on around him seems to have managed to get the club into the top of the Championship pile. Maybe its that in all this adversity he's starting to learn about the players and the team that he is managing (obviously there are a few less on the list now) and because he's hung around the team have started to react positively to him.

Whatever the reasons, NUFC are top of the pile at the moment. The last time we were top of the league at this time of year was in the halcyon days of 1995, when the team stayed in that spot until March... and ended up 2nd. At the time that felt like a massive, crushing disappointment. If in March 2010 the league table looks similar then it won't be a disappointment - the storm will have been weathered. But I suspect that there is a typhoon approaching first.

Ok - I'll stop stretching this analogy any further...

Monday, 31 August 2009

Bank Holiday Blues

I really dislike this time of year, for a start bank holiday's always mean some sort of personal disaster for me. The last one resulted in a badly damaged knee, and previous ones have resulted in various trips to A&E depts (for either me or family members), or some sort of irrevocable fracture in relationship/friendship occurs caused by spending too much time with those you wouldn't usually be with. The August bank holiday is always a trying time, summer is starting to fade (what's to celebrate about that), the weather is invariably crap, DIY and garden disasters beckon, and the roads are clogged with folk seeking the last bit of 'quality family time' before December.

Equally in football its a grim time, mainly caused by the corporate anxiety caused by the imminent slamming of the transfer window at the start of September. In the majority of boardrooms this involves a frantic set of player movements as those going through the out door are supposedly replaced by newer shinier and better models through the in door. By the end of the first week in September squads are supposed to emerge, fully formed with polyester clad badge-kissers proclaiming that "this is the move of my dreams - I've always dreamed of playing for [insert club name]". Before pocketing £50k a week and having a squad number in excess of 50.

Of course, Newcastle United do this differently. I have fond memories of 1995, when Keegan stood on the pitch at SJP proudly introducing Les Ferdinand, Warren Barton, Shaka Hislop and David Ginola to the faithful. We knew that this was a brave new dawn, and the anticipation was almost matched in that year. Fast forward 14 years, and the feeling is so different. At present its keeping an ear open to see whom else the club is hemorrhaging in terms of playing staff. The revolving door seems to have got stuck on out at the moment.

I'm realistic enough to realise that relegation wasn't going to bring in an influx of international quality players, but I'd sort of hoped for a bit more that just Danny Simpson on loan (who looked hopelessly off the pace against Coventry). Call me unrealistic, but I was looking forward to a few wisened journeymen to get us out of the clarts and back up to the Premiership, ably assisted by a few young players grabbing their chance to impress in a black and white shirt and show us what they can really do when unshackled from the shadow of the recent incumbents. But then I remember the club is for sale, the first team is still managed by an interim manager (and has been for almost a year now) and there were no relegation clauses in contracts. Call me unduly suspicious, but I find it a bit odd in Steven Taylor pledging his future to the club just a week after he's said that he wasn't happy with the team... A bit of pre-emptive PR perhaps? I hope not.

Still, tonight is a welcome distraction as attention turns to the pitch again. Leicester City - fond memories of a 4-3 win (before loosing 3-4 became fashionable) in February 1996 - but I doubt it will be the same this time...

Howay the lads (if any are left)

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Never Ending Circle

As I've mentioned before, I collect stuff. This is usually something that acts as a memory jogger from events that I've attended, mainly because I've got such a phenomenally poor memory for dates. For example, I've no idea of the date that I made the migration from the hallowed land of the North-East and tipped up in the North-West... I know it was a long time ago, and Newcastle United haven't won anything since I arrived in Manchester, put that doesn't really narrow things down does it? However, the memory jogger does help, for example I know that I saw Elvis Costello and the Attractions in 1978 - 'cos I've got the ticket stub still to prove it as well as recalling how brilliant Lipstick Vogue was.

Equally, as you'd expect I've got a load of Newcastle United memorabilia, from dog-eared, bovril-stained programmes to crumpled, torn and crushed away tickets (except the plastic Man City ones, obviously). At one stage these used to adorn my book-cases, but as real life and pragmatism have got in the way, I now have a large box under my desk filled with all sorts of interesting ephemera (or junk, depending on your perspective). One of the things that has happened is that friends and fellow Toon-suffers now see me as the perfect vehicle to offload the junk that has been cluttering up the spare bedroom/garage/loft-space. All of which I accept gleefully, like a small child on Christmas morning looking for something more than just another satsuma.

A couple of weeks ago I was given a gem, an issue of the magazine, The Mag from 1988. It was the third issue of this magazine, and a relic of pre-t'interweb times, entirely in black and white, full of spelling and typographical errors, with hand drawn cartoons and a letters page that consisted of a single piece of correspondence.

The other thing that really stuck me about this issue was that it could have been written yesterday, rather than 21 years ago... To quote from the editorial:-

"...any directors who hold out until the bitter end will remain what they are now, the most loathed men on Tyneside"

In 1988 the club was going through another transition, with newly formed Magpie Group trying to wrestle control of the board, which eventually led to John Hall's chairmanship. Fast forward 21 years and the only difference appears to be that rather than an unseemly squabble as to who should own the club, there is now an owner who doesn't want it, and no one interested (or stupid) enough to meet the asking price.

As the on-pitch results are really pleasant to see, don't be fooled. Sitting in an automatic promotion place after four games is great, but it won't last if the situation with the management of the whole of the club isn't sorted out. Playing staff are hemorrhaging out of SJP as the lure of more attractive contracts are waved in front of their avaricious faces with little sign of any sort of replacements coming in (Danny Simpson doesn't count, he's a Manure cast off), combined with the team having a temporary manager (with the spectre of Alan Shearer casting a long shadow over the first team). The current set of results aren't sustainable. A situation that has desperately needed resolving gets more acute.

To quote from the current edition of The Mag (no 238, if you are interested):-

"Sadly as the months have drifted by...Mike Ashley became precisely a unique villain in Newcastle's history. And that is some achievement at NUFC - purveyors of chaos since 1982"

And so the cycle of despair and hope (albeit in only small glimmers) continues.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Bagging a point

WBA 1 Toon 1

On the way to the game we played a new game to keep us entertained, 'guess which clubs are in the same division as we are?' It look us a while, and I'll confess that the whole of the car laughed hysterically when I inquired if we'd be playing Luton Town this season? (apparently they ceased troubling the league statisticians some time ago). It all felt a bit unreal yesterday, traveling to a game in blazing sunshine, going to a familiar ground, seeing a team playing in a strip that is an affront to the eyes; and then there was the tributes to Sir Bobby. We'd all thought that it was going to be an emotional day and it proved to be so.

The tributes to Sir Bobby, ranged from scrawled on bed sheets proclaiming adoration for the man to freshly minted shirts bearing his name. The applause started long before the scheduled one minute and lasted for a long time after. A fitting tribute to the man and to all those in football he touched.

The game itself was a mixture of the same hangover from last year with a little bit of added new angst. Shola had a shocker, Nolan looked unfit, and Gutierrez promised way more than he delivered. The positives were, Smith looks like he may make a good Championship captain, Duff finally hit a ball sweetly, and Stevie Taylor is going to do well in this division. Another positive was that Shola's clumsiness in sideswiping Harper's forehead meant that Tim Krul got a chance to show that he really is a class 'keeper. Without him I doubt Newcastle would be mid-table now, definitely one for the future, maybe along with Nile Ranger, who managed to get onto the pitch for the last 90 seconds.

A couple of additional observations from the game, the warm up was interesting (yes - I drove so we arrived a full hour early). It was obvious who the starting 11 were, they all warmed up together on the right hand side of the pitch. Whilst, the substitutes warmed up on the left hand side of the pitch, with one exception - Barton spent the 20 minute warm up kicking a ball back and forwards with the Newcastle mascot - no one talking to him, no one involving him in any of the planning for the game. His whole body language sets him apart from the rest of the team. More trouble ahead with this, ahem, character methinks.

Also, I wonder if Ashley is getting the message yet - the number of times 2700 folk felt the need to sing "Get out of our club, get out of our club...." (decency prevents me from writing the rest of the song). Seeing as the BBC are reporting this morning that he's now thinking of staying on and appointing O'Leary as manager, I'd guess that he's a little hard of hearing. If this man is supposed to be such a good businessman, how can he think that alienating the whole of the customer base is a good way to make more money? Madness.

A final thought, last season we started with a 1-1 draw in the sunshine, against the eventual champions and ended up relegated. I think that if things don't change in terms of ownership and management, the same could happen again. Newcastle United - never dull.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Sadness - Part 1

I'd just got out of a meeting yesterday and my phone chirruped with a text* - "Sir Bobby has passed away". Whilst this was probably the least surprising news, it still provoked an unexpected sense of sadness within me.

I never met Bobby Robson, but I'd stood in grounds singing his name "Walking in a Robson wonderland" as the team he created and I supported entertained me. He was responsible for a resurgence in the fortunes (no doubt both in a financial and footballing sense) of the football club. His passion and for his job shone through. I remember after one game, standing in a busy pub with the throb of conversation pulsing around me, all dissecting the the previous 90 minutes entertainment. As ever the TVs were all on in the background, merely adding to the noise. However, as the after match interviews started and the second that Bobby Robson's face flickered onto the screen a quietness settled over the pub. People wanted to listen to what he had to say about football - his passion, knowledge and honesty shone through.

Many of the tributes that are being given talk about his compassion. He directly touched my life once. In 2003 I was on my way to SJP to watch Toon v Man City. Now, living in Manchester and having a number of friends who are City fans, this was always one of the special fixtures that I'd make the trip to SJP for. I never saw that game - I had a bad car crash on the A1 and ended up in hospital for the next few days. I was lucky, I recovered fairly quickly but the friend who was in the car with me wasn't as fortunate, she broke her back. Over the next few weeks after the crash I helped out with whatever I could for her, and one of the things that I did was write to the club to see if they would send her something to cheer her up.

I'd explained that my friend was a City fan, and the circumstances of the accident. To be honest as I posted the letter I wondered if I was wasting the stamp. By return of post came a get well card, signed by Sir Bobby. The card was special, not a flashy corporate standardised card, but something that looked like it had been done in Wordart, signed in felt-tip pen by Bobby. We joked at the time that it looked like Bobby had done it himself on the computer... Thinking about it now, he just might have done. I hope that card is still treasured. It's one small example of the compassion that he showed for others.

His humour was also a overriding feature - apparently he regularly got players names wrong. One of those was Shola Ameobi, who when asked how Robson pronounced his name said "Carl Court". The other was Bryan Robson, who at the World Cup was called 'Bobby' by Robson... In the wrong context it would have been easy to dislike someone who gets your name wrong. But its interesting that Shola was one of the players who has laid a wreath for Bobby at SJP and Bryan has been keen to add his words to the tributes that have been given.

Next weekend sees the West Brom game, I'm going. Bobby Robson played for West Brom and managed Newcastle. The last game that I went to I was determined not to get emotional, not to shed a tear for the demise of my team. I'm not so sure it will be the same next weekend for Sir Bobby Robson.


* I've still no idea who sent me that text...

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Laughing Stock - Part 97


Just when I'd started to think it couldn't get any worse, NUFC reapply the 12 bore to the foot and pull the trigger - again. Not content with the pain of relegation, the debacle in the boardroom, the complete absence of a manager (Chris Hughton doesn't count), and a squad shuffling towards the exit door; the kit manufactures have now got in on the act with this debacle. Now, I'm aware that I moaned on about last seasons away kit, but this one is so bad it makes the purple one look tame. What is even worse is that its given the BBC the opportunity to wheel out some local window-lickers to comment on the kit - along with the snappy title "Crowds down for NUFC away kit" apparently three (fool)hardy souls queued for the 'honour' of purchasing one of these monstrosities.

A couple of weeks ago I took myself off for an evening of non-football related entertainment (so much more edifying, so much less stress) and went to see The Twang at Manchester Academy. Birmingham's finest band have a new album out in August and are getting back on the road after being in the studio for about a year. This was their first gig, of what I expect will be a long tour and a such the ticket prices were relatively cheap. The gig was great fun, the band interspersing tracks from the new album (which no one knew) with some of the old favourites. A good night was had by all (even though they only played a short set) and it certainly wasn't diminished at all when the band had to stop in the encore because they had forgotten the words one of their oldest songs... The crowd laughed, it added to the enjoyment of the evening and then we helped the band 'remember' the words.

I learned a long time a go not to pay any attention to pre-season games. They are full of over-weight and uninterested players who are either concerned about not getting injured or about getting a better contract. I long ago learned that if Newcastle have a stunning pre-season then a mediocre season will ensue (the reverse is also true, last season we managed to draw with PSV Eindhoven, and beat Valencia - and look how well we fared!), as a result I stopped going. However, I'd love to think that yesterday's result was just a case of forgetting the words, but somehow I think its a symptom of a deeper malaise. Still, at least its given the press to confirm our laughing stock status, oh, how Man City must be relieved.

However, like a moth to a flame, I still haven't given up. The half-feared text came through this week... "Want tickets for the Baggies game?" So despite the game being live on BBC, it being half-way through the holidays and all of the mess mentioned above, I'm going. I feel like I'm rubbernecking at a car smash... I know I shouldn't look, but I can't look away.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Sort it out

Says it all really.....

Talking of....

- Malaysian takeovers
- Player revolts [insert own joke]
- No manager
- A season that is starting in a months time

As ever NUFC manage to make themselves a laughing stock, even by doing nothing. For once doing nothing isn't an option.

Despair, disarray and disunity - the new watchwords at SJP

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Advertising Standards

It's no great surprise that the advertising industry is being hit hard by the economic woes of the world. Have you noticed that even TV is now having to advertise the power of advertisements? I'd guess this is one of the best barometers of both the state of the economy as well the change in the revenue models for TV. You always recall the good adverts, and if they are done well they become intimately associated with the product they are selling - for example Cadbury's Gorilla, Guinness Horses and Surfers or the Smash Martians. However, some advertising is just plain wrong. My current hate is the Iggy Pop, Swiftcover ad. After years of leaping around a dance floor to Iggy's Lust for Life, there is something deeply disturbing that Iggy has gone lusting after the adverting dollar. I have no problem with him needing to supplement his pension, but with a cheesy insurance ad? I develop tourette's every time I see the ad.

Equally, the emergence this week of a 34 page brochure advertising the *cough* icon that is Michael Owen, who 'may consider a move away from St James' Park' *really, I'd never have guessed* is just plain wrong. This glossy contains some interesting facts about Brand Owen, including 0.5 goals per game ratio, his current sponsors (Umbro, Tissot and BMW - in case you are mildly interested) and how he isn't really injury prone. Its the fact that he is being hawked around (in English, Spanish and Italian) that is so unedifying. Don't get me wrong, I'd not hankering back to the days of the bags full of cash in motorway service stations in order to transfer a player from club to club, this just feels so extreme, so impersonal, so desperate.

What is does demonstrate is that the corportisation and internationalisation of football is complete. EMO, will load up his metaphorical saddlebags of Newcastle United's cash and hightail it out of town. Like the mercenary that he is, he'll tip up somewhere new, do a job for a couple of years and quickly erase the memories of his time in the black and white shirt. When he arrived at the Toon he was damaged goods, and he'll leave us the same... only several million pounds richer. Brings a new definition to 'living on past glories'. Cheerio, Michael, shut the door on your way out - you won't be missed.

With regards to the rest of the squad, no doubt the exodus will start next week - rumours are legion, but I'm not paying too much attention. Far more pressing matters of managers/owners are taxing my thoughts...and depressing me. Unfortunately, I can see a fire sale of the talent (such as it is) from the squad, and administration is looming. A ten point deduction before we even start in the Championship - what joy.

On a lighter note - I've mentioned in the past that I live fairly near Old Trafford. This week coming back from work a Audi R8 appeared in my rear view mirror... Immediate thought was "*tut* footballer" I wasn't wrong, as he pulled next to me at the lights, I saw that the driver was Fellaini - him of the big hair fame.

You heard it here first.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Doomed


As the only thing that emanates from SJP current is a deafening silence (maybe that's because Newcastle have sacked their head of media relations, oh no, I recall now Ashley has always been rubbish at communicating with his 'target audience') it is safe to assume that the club is rapidly disappearing around a metaphorical U-bend and if we aren't careful its looking likely that its unlikely ever to come back.

No manager, playing staff who are pledging allegiance to their lucrative contracts with no relegation clauses in them (until a better offer comes along), an owner who invites bids for the club on email, a chairman who seems incapable of letting a word of truth escape from his lips - the list goes on and on. Even Shearer has given up on talking to the press.

A triple whammy; years of poor team management, add in the recent financial mismanagement, and then a dollop of relegation, mix them all together, leave to marinade for a season... Hey presto... I give you Leeds United. The final icing on this cake is the recent Setanta woes, which is bound to have an effect on the TV money and therefore the shaky financial standing of the club.

The sun may be shining, but its very, very dark in SJP at the moment.

Monday, 25 May 2009

New Adventures


Aston Villa 1 Toon 0

Well, that's it then, goodbye to the Premiership, goodbye to the hype, the overpaid and the under-performing. In the picture opposite is myself and my band of fellow Toon suffers. The five of us who have been to a large number of the debacles that have been loosely termed as entertainment this season (spotted on Sky Sports by a colleague). All of us reached the end of this game and after a few rousing choruses of support for the team, slowly shuffled off and dispersed for the summer. No tears, no anger and no recriminations; just a quiet resignation.

Before the game it felt like old times, thousands of Geordies grouped around pubs in Aston, singing, drinking and generally having a good time. The sun was shining, beer was flowing and everyone was determined to have a good time. It continued when we got into the ground. No fancy dress from the Newcastle fans this time, but just a steely determination to "Sing our hearts out for the lads" And we did.

Then the game kicked off. Typically, the players appeared anxious and nervy. About half way through the first half, news came through that Manure had scored against Hull, there was a ripple of excitement, but nothing too ecstatic - we could see what was happening on the pitch in front of us. Then the inevitable happened, a Barry punt from outside the penalty area, a huge deflection, one nil down... You just know its going to be one of those pub quiz questions in years to come "Who was the last player to score for Newcastle United in the Premiership?" Only if it had been for us, rather than against us, eh Duff?

This was a game that needed a hero on the pitch - the shame was that the 14 that appeared in the Black and White shirts were incapable or unmotivated to be that hero. The second half was pitiful - and expected. At the end of the game there was a raucous explosion of support for the team, no violence (despite what the police and stewards were expecting) no tears (despite what the Sky cameras were expecting) just a (semi) dignified out pouring of support for the team. It felt like a desperate attempt by a City to show the rest of the country that our club may make a mockery of the town, but the fans still have the pride. The players haven't been good enough, the management has been achingly poor, but there was a feeling that we'll be there long after the current wearers of the shirt and current incumbents of the directors box will have scuttled off from whence they came.

I took this picture just after the final whistle, and for me this is why I'll be going back next season and the season after. Blind faith? quite possibly, but the sense of belonging is hugely powerful and alluring.

So, the trip back up the M6 brought plans of trips to Preston, Barnsley, Blackpool and Scunthorpe, with an odd sort of optimism. It may be a case of the morning-after-the-night- before, but its all quite exciting. New grounds to visit, new players to look forward to, quite possibly a new manager to look forward to (we all felt that at least Alan Shearer understood how the fans reacted). It was a case of looking forwards and not backwards - the Premiership is dead, long live the Championship.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Forty Years On


I went to a party last night, it was a very civilized affair... In a beautifully decorated upstairs room of a eatery in a trendy area of Manchester. All bottles of designer beer and canap├ęs, low hum of conversation combined with low background music. As it was a 40th birthday party, the conversation was around children, holidays and jobs. However, there was a slight difference with this group - as with any gathering there was a plethora of accents, some Mancunian, some Irish, some Yorkshire and with a smattering of Spanish, Libyan, Scouse, etc. But there was also a large proportion Geordie - due to the birthday boy hailing from the North East, most of the members of our traveling band of foolhardy Toon suffers had come to join in the celebrations.

Needless to say much of the conversation was also about football. The topic of Sunday's game was broached with us the same hushed reverential tones that usually greet inquiries about the health of a terminally ill relative. The faux sympathy in the Manure fans eyes was a joy to behold and reactions of others was also interesting, from "your lot are too good to go down" (Liverpool fan) to "when they get relegated will you support someone else?" (Manure fan - really, I'm not making it up!).

The reality of this is that Newcastle United are in the position that they are in because of being the third worst team in the Premiership this year. The fact that the team have one more home win than the number of managers that have been through the door of St James' Park gives a good clue as to why the team is languishing at the base of the tree-trunk that is the league. Simple maths show that no team is 'too good to go down' and simple economics show that relegation will be catastrophic for the club.

My usual answer to these polite enquires was that I believe that Newcastle will get relegated, because the team has been atrocious this season. Now, of course the rational part of me believes this totally - however, the emotional part of me desperately wants this not to be true. I'm having a schizophrenic response to thoughts on Sunday's game - I won't be at all surprised if the scoreline is similar to last years capitulation especially as the lack of heart shown against Fulham may just pervade. But equally I'd really love the dream scenario of a Newcastle win and a glorious snatching of victory from the jaws of oblivion. Time will tell.

I'll be there to watch it; cowering at every Villa attack, spirits soaring at every half chance for the black and whites; hoping against hope that results from KC stadium, wearyside and smogland are going the right way to keep the club in the top flight. Savage amusement indeed.

As a footnote to the party. It was Phil's birthday - lifelong Toon fan... Born 40 years ago, just after the last time we won a competition. We bought him the commemorative shirt in the picture, and pointed out to him on more than one occasion that he must be the jinx!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Expensive

In light of all those terribly honest British MPs starting to admit that the sight of them with their snouts in a trough is slightly unedifying, and as a consequence humbly handing back sackfuls of misappropriated expenses (or something like that anyway), I wonder if some of those clowns in black and white shirts would consider doing the same?

Little Mickey O (he used to play for England, you know) owes us for at least a years salary, as do Xisco, Geremi and Alan Smith... As for Barton, he owes us the last three years salary and all his future earnings, wherever he chooses to 'earn' a living. The one that I would have added to this list would have been Viduka, but the performance on Monday may have partially atoned for some of the sackfuls of cash he's had from Newcastle United over the past couple of years.

Roll on Saturday - when the overpaid, underachievers will be playing a team of (comparatively) underpaid, overachievers...

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Shape of things to come

Last week I went to Leeds. I was visiting with my work and as the meeting was in one of the less salubrious areas of Leeds (actually an industrial estate to the West of Leeds) I drove, rather than taking the train. The journey from the Manchester took me down the M621 - past Elland Road. On the way there I was struck that I was approaching the stadium from the 'back' and that the appearance was that of neglect and abandonment. The car parks were largely weed encrusted and the surrounding area seemed to be littered with abandoned cars. It just had a feel of being run down and uncared for. However, when I was returning from my meeting, the view was very different, the huge imposing frontage to the main stand (despite the fact it appears to be sponsored by Lurpak ) which dominates the skyline. It is a reminder to the Leeds fans of the past glories of the club - whereas the hinterland of the stadium is more in keeping of the current plight of the club.

The decline of Leeds is so marked that the phrase "doing a Leeds" has come to be shorthand for huge overspending and a rapid hurtling down the divisions. At the moment, Leeds United have their fingers crossed that they might get back into The Championship via the play-offs, but no-one will be surprised if they fail again. They have become damned in a way that neither Brian Clough or David Peace imagined.

The parallels between Leeds and Newcastle are so obvious that they don't need drawing - and the shared factor of Dennis Wise warrants no further comment. However, I wish the team bus on its way back from Liverpool had driven past Elland Road. Maybe it might have jolted the likes of EMO, Nolan, Viduka and most of all Barton into starting to play like they actually care about something more than their pay packets.

I didn't watch the Liverpool game, thanks to a ruptured cruciate ligament (how much does that sound like a footballers injury? In fact it happens to 'real' people as well - a domestic accident) I spent much of the weekend recovering from surgery. But, not only was I not surprised by the result against Liverpool, I expected it. Not watching the Toon used to make me feel that I was missing something. Now not watching them saves me 90 minutes of disappointment and keeps my blood pressure down, which was quite important this weekend.

As far Barton, I've said it before, but just get rid... It looks like he's finally burnt his remaining bridge and the club has finally grown some balls and will get rid of him, there will be something poetic if he ends up at Leeds...

One final though... If Shearer is only managing until the end of the season, then why has he been able to get rid of Barton, and why were he and Dowie at the Wigan/Bolton game? Methinks he might be in the managers office for a while yet.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

For it is written

I avoided listening to any of the games yesterday - wandering (well actually, limping - but that's another story) around Tesco's with an iPod clamped to my ears. For me, the only way to cope with having to do the weekly shop on a Saturday afternoon is to have someone like The Killers help me blot out as much of the real world as possible. In any event I was pleasantly surprised on my return home to find that West Brom had demolished the mackems, Hull had succumbed to Liverpool and was even cheered to see that Stoke lost. However, to make it a perfect weekend; today Arsenal and Wigan need to win and then Newcastle need to beat Portsmouth on Monday. Even then, Newcastle will still remain in the bottom three.

So, to avoid thinking about the pain that is going to happen over the next month as the inexorable slide towards relegation continues for the Toon I was cheered to see that the worlds greatest canine perambulator, one Royston Maurice Keane is back in gainful employment. I can see this all unfolding in front of my eyes....

Newcastle get relegated on the last day of the season, Shearer, feeling that he can't leave the Toon now, agrees to stay as manager for the next season (after Ashley has offered him a Kings ransom to stay on - we'll need some box office pull). Midway through June the fixture list is announced for the Championship and the first away game for Newcastle is Portman Road. That way perhaps we'll finally get a reprise of this...



I'd pay good money to know exactly what Shearer said to Keane to provoke that reaction. I've always wondered... Well, at the very least there will be a rendition of "Keano, he walks his dog, you know" I think that's how the chant went??

I'll not be able to watch the game on Monday, so I'll be nervous as a kitten with my head in my hands listening to Radio 5 deliver the news... Gulp.

Howay the lads.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Ornithological flocking


A few years ago I was lucky enough to go on holiday to The Gambia. Apart from it being one of the most beautiful countries in West Africa, it also had the added advantage of further feeding my football obsession, as just about everyone that I met wanted to talk about football in general and English football in particular. It led to some of the most surreal evenings watching football, which I've mentioned before.

However, one of the other things that The Gambia is famous for is its plethora of bird life. From exotic Blue-bellied Rollers to the exotically named Senegal thick-knee (it does exist - and I'll let you insert your own El-Haj Doiuf joke) they all fly around the lush countryside of Gambia. At the hotel I stayed at, the two characters in the photo spent every day going through the bins, looking for scraps to feed off. These Vultures are huge versions of scavenging Starlings, they were also comedic as they would battle each other over a bread roll in the most ungainly scraping since Bowyer and Dyer. As I was on holiday with a couple of Man City fans, these vultures were quickly given the nicknames Dunne and Distin and became woven into the fabric of our two weeks.

It now feels like the Vultures are now circling over SJP, eyeing up whatever can be picked over for entertainment. As ever, the media is there to watch the oncoming train-wreck as they expect Newcastle to stumble to the Championship - but the fact that the next four games are being shown live on TV (as was last weeks Stoke game) seems to be an unhealthy interest. I understand the economics of this - after all Sentana are are going to sell more pay per view games to distraught Toon fans than worried Middlesbrough fans... because there a twice as many of us than the Smogmonsters. However, it does smack a bit of voyeurism. They aren't going to let Newcastle gently fade away - but then again I wouldn't want it any other way.

The Vultures are already starting to pick over the bones of the team as well. The Shearer/Martins spat seems to be a pre-cursor for Obafemi heading to pastures new during the summer. It doesn't take a genius to read between the lines, when the Assistant Manager has to come out and say that everything is really alright with Martins and that he's important to the club. Somehow I'd just bet that Dowie had his fingers crossed behind his back.

You can almost hear the sniggering as they gleefully announce that Viduka is getting ready for his 97th comeback game this season, just in time for the Spurs game - on Sunday. I'd be delighted if the Gregg's worrier scored the goals to keep Newcastle up, but there is as much chance of that happening as the two in the picture turning up in my back garden this afternoon.

Still, I'll have a houseful on Sunday, gathered round the TV, fervently hoping for a Toon win. If the unexpected did happen and Newcastle leave the capital with 3 points then maybe the Vultures will have to circle a little higher, for a week at least.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Perspective - lest we forget


Saturday's game was as poor as I expected it to be. When Andy Carroll's header looped into the back of the net I felt a outpouring of relief, but as the final whistle went reality well and truly bit. NUFC are still down amongst the bottom-feeders of the Premiership and likely to still be there at the end of this season. It comes to something when a 1-1 draw against Stoke City is treated as an earth-shattering breakthrough.

So, as is my wont, I stomped around yesterday in a state of mild depression, compensated only by the visual delights of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Feeling irrationally naffed off that it is quite likely that the team that I've supported for all my life are doomed and relegation will be the culmination of 10 years of slow decline and managerial incompetency. Then, yesterday evening everything was jolted into perspective.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a great one for radio listening a combination of spending far too much time on Britain's motorway network as well as enjoying getting a sports related fixed on at least a half hourly basis. Last night, I'd got the radio playing in the background and started listening to 'Hillsbrough Stories' on Radio Five Live. I was moved to stop doing whatever mundane task I'd been doing and sit, listen and absorb the pain that the people still feel 20 years later.

15th April 1989, 96 people went to a football game and never came back. No doubt on the morning of that game some of the Liverpool fans felt the same type of emotions that I feel before every game. The giddy mixture of anticipation, excitement, hope and belief. However, 96 of them ended up being suffocated and crushed to death because of appalling crowd control and lack of respect for human life by the so-called authorities. See here for more information.

Now, I wasn't there, I don't know anyone who lost a friend or family member at that match; so I'm not presumptuous enough to be able to understand what the families of the dead have had to experience since 1989. But, I do recall being at Filbert St (Leicester City's old ground) in the early 1990's trying to get out, and not having my feet on the ground but moving as 2000+ people tried to get through a passageway wide enough to fit two people side by side. I remember being very scared at that, and I wasn't in the slightest bit crushed.

So, whilst people (me included) whitter on about the lack of atmosphere at all seater stadia, at least the grounds like the one above (KC Stadium in Hull, if you are interested) mean that we get home after watching a football match. We need to be reminded that the alterations to these grounds and the removing of the fencing to pen in fans means that a tragedy like Hillsbrough can't happen again in this country. However, other countries are still learning the lessons.

The programme last night was a huge dose of perspective. Yes, I'll be disappointed if Newcastle United get relegated in May, but at least I'll be able to go to games next season - unlike those 96 folk who set out one sunny April morning to watch a game of two teams of men trying to kick a ball between a set of posts.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Anticipation

Normally on a match day I wake up with a sense of hopeful anticipation, which this season has been crushed by the time that the full time whistle gets blown. I've woken up a day early with the deja vu of every football fan's affliction - PMT (that's pre-match tension). This manifests itself in many ways and occupies far to many of my diminishing thought processes.

One of the things that is bothering me is that I turned down a ticket for the game at Stoke tomorrow. This is something that I rarely do, but I had a couple of mitigating factors, firstly I'd hoped that I'd be away for the Easter break (a combination of lack of organisation and the expense of a weekend away in Glasgow put paid to that). Secondly, I went to the Britannia Stadium last year for the FA Cup game. As ever, it was a grim game (the only upside of it was that it proved to be Allardyce's last one in charge) by my pervading memory of the match was the simmering threat of violence that the Stoke fans seemed to exude. A year ago that was for a fairly inconsequential FA Cup game, the thought of the tension that would be about for a game that if we don't win will see Newcastle United so deep in the clarts* that the only likely outcome is relegation, made it a deeply unappealing game to want to shell out my hard-earned for.

Tomorrow's game is going to be crucial in so many ways, Shearer will have hopefully had some time to put his mark on the team, to get them playing as a coherent unit. Little Mickey Owen might decide to have one of those rare games that remind us why the club paid £16m for him. Beye is now fit again after the on pitch assault that was given to him at Wigan, and Bassong might be fit again... However, there are a lot of mights in the last couple of sentences. None of it helping my PMT.

By 7.00pm tomorrow this will all be over... until the next game that is.


* For the benefit of any non-Geordies reading this - clarts is a word, see, I'm multi-lingual as well!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Shearer is an Outlier


I recently read a book... Cover to cover, one with no pictures in and one that barely even mentioned football (well it did, but it called it 'soccer'). The book is called Outliers and is about factors that come together to make people extra-ordinarily successful. Malcolm Gladwell gives loads of examples about the way in which things like circumstance can make people successful, culture makes people successful (there is a chapter on Korean Airlines that is both scary and brilliant) and he also talks about something called the 10,000 hour rule.

The 10,000 hour rule is about how to be successful you need to be obsessive in approach and put in loads of practice to be able to be successful. Galdwell mentions that one of the reasons that The Beatles were so successful was because of the amount of time that they spent on stage in Hamburg in the early 60's. It was due to that amount of effort put in that they perfected and honed their music and stage craft, all of which contributed to their success.

I was musing on this as the image of a football obsessed youngster is often recounted. A child with the desire to play football that is so strong that the description of them is that they "always had a ball at their feet". Its that obsession that has driven players like Beckham (who has characterised this as OCD) Messi and Rooney to get to the top of their profession. Just a shame then that some of the current NUFC squad see the ball, look slightly startled and then have to remember what they are supposed to be doing...

I suspect that the current incumbent in the dug-out at SJP was one of those obsessives. He'll have put in his 10,000 hours as a player, perfecting and honing his skill and understanding of the game. His muscle memory will have been perfected, so that most of the time he'll have been scoring goals without even thinking about what he had to do. It was this that allowed him to adapt his game as his body slowed down, and allowed him to still be productive as a player into his 30's.

However, as many have pointed out (including professional mackem - Louise Taylor) the part this is missing from Shearer's armory is his managerial experience. That may be, but he's been so steeped in the game for so long, and most importantly immersed in Newcastle United since those childhood times, that he does understand the workings of the club and the things that he needs to do.

Shearer may fail as a manager, he may not succeed in getting NUFC out of the parlous situation that the club is in. But one thing I'd guess is that Alan Shearer's 10,000 hour managerial clock is now running and he'll be driven enough to keep going until its reached the prerequisite level.

So, aside from the boost that every club gets as a new manager arrives, the arrival for the last eight games of the season will be a lifeline for little EMO... As no doubt he'll be freshly re-installed as captain and will probably start scoring again. EMO and Shearer are similar... but that's for another post... A point against Chelsea this afternoon will be a good start.

Howay the lads

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Hometown Boy

At the moment I only have a passing acquaintance with sleep and a very intimate relationship with insomnia (not the Charlie Zog variety I hasten to add)... So to help while away the hours of darkness I often listen to the radio... Last night(actually that should be this morning) I was counting my metaphorical sheep when the radio announcer issued a breaking sports news bulletin. "Alan Shearer is the new manager of Newcastle United" My interest has briefly piqued and then I remembered the date, tutted and went back to sleep.

However, I've got up this morning and apparently its true He's got until the end of the season and is in sole charge... So the rumours about Dennis Wise being on his way must be true, although I should imagine that Kinnear's recovery isn't going as hoped as the rumours that have been circulating this week about him taking over Wise's job look to have some semblance of truth in them.

As ever, the odds are stacked in Shearer's favour. Eight games to keep the club in the Premiership and if he doesn't succeed then he can walk away blaming the mess of the last 8 months on the previous incumbents with his reputation untarnished. However, if he does turn around this Titanic of a club then the comparisons with Keegan will echo down the years. It's going to be an interesting time, and despite my reservations about what Shearer's personality will be like for the club, at least he's answered the call. As NUFC.com say

Shearer becomes our fourth manager of a mad season and while he's totally unproven in the job, has more feeling for this club in his spit than Kinnear and Hughton combined.

So the hometown boy returns... somehow I guess the remaining tickets for Saturday's game will be sold out before lunchtime.... As ever interesting times at SJP.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Shirt Wars


As I mentioned before I went to the Hull game (I was far too traumatised after it to write a match report - perhaps best encapsulated in a four letter word... poor) in fact far the best part of the day was me and the Favourite Nephew spending time together. We saw several odd sights, not least of which was this dog, resplendent in a replica shirt. You probably can't make it out from the photo, but it appeared to be signed by several of the Hull first team.

Several random thoughts flashed through my head at this odd sight, how did the owner persuade the dog to put it on in the first place?, did the dog wee on it every time he wore it? and did the owner have to try several on the dog before getting the right size? I had visions of him stomping into the changing room in the club shop shouting "sit" with an armful of different sized shirts. The need to dress your pet up in the colours of your team, is a little excessive, even for me.

Last Sunday, I was picking my way through the Sunday paper when I stumbled on a mildly interesting article, about Sports Direct trying to prevent the restructuring of JJB Sports in order to see one of its main competitors go bust. Two sellers of replica shirts having a scrap. It was interesting as the respective companies are owned by Mike Ashley and Dave Whelan, who also own NUFC and Wigan Athletic respectively. I'd been aware of Ashley and Whelan clashing before, as apparently Ashley had reported JJB Sports and others of fixing the prices of football shirts, which led to a OFT enquiry and subsequent fines (JJB's was £8.3m - or one and a half Titus Brambles').

I'd guess that this was the final straw for Dave Whelan, who then decided to launch into attacking Ashley via numerous media outlets, including an interview with Radio 5 Live. Have a listen to it...I found it almost comical, the epitome of pique. I half expected him to finish off with a "and anyway, my Dad's bigger than his" and then flounce off in some sort of hissy fit. As ever the chaps at NUFC.com sum it up :-

It's a bit of cheap, sh*t-stirring based more on personal and business grievances than any football gripes and says more about Whelan's lack of class than Ashley's and that's saying something....

But one part of Whelan's tirade really bothers me, the assertion that Steve Bruce would never come to manage Newcastle. I know that the line was fed to him by the interviewer, but why on earth does he think that Newcastle would want Steve Bruce as a manager? The team has suffered having a plethora of managers, temporary managers, assistants, and part-time managers this season already, the last thing needed would Steve Bruce tipping up at the steps of SJP, claiming he knew how to keep the Toon in the Premiership merely because he understands the accent. I've said it before (on more than one occasion) Steve Bruce should never manage Newcastle United, his style would be as detrimental as Allardyce's was for the club.

However, the thing that does worry me, is was this Whelan trying to fob off Bruce onto Ashley? A sort of "you couldn't possibly afford him" type of statement, intending to goad Ashley into digging deep into his pockets and inflicting Bruce on the fans... Maybe its just paranoia brought on by being in the relegation zone, but I wonder...

Off now for a lie down in a dark room, with a damp towel on my forehead... waiting for the mists to lift.