Saturday, 31 January 2009

Sensitive Soul

Man City 2 Toon 1

For a match review please see Ten Thousand Holes - if the players can't be bothered to perform better than they did at Blackburn, then I can't be bothered to write a report. However, I commend the comment from Michael - who said it would happen again... It did.

Following on in the tradition of using comments from folk around me to sum up the match, this time from City fans.
Man 1 - "They were awful, weren't they?"
Man 2 - "Yeah, terrible"
"Worse than Hull?"
"Yeah - at least Hull showed some spirit, Newcastle didn't"

I buried my head in my coat and continued scuttling up the hill to find my car - firmly biting on my lower lip. The main reason for my reaction was simple, I was embarrassed. To check my ailing memory, I got back and looked up the City v Hull score - 5 - 0.

Of course the embarrassment has continued since then
. N'Zogbia taking umbrage at JFK's mispronunciation of his name, and flouncing off to a big club in a galic manner... err, Wigan that I'll be then. If Charlie has got upset by being called "Insomnia" by his manager, how do you think he would have coped being managed by Bobby Robson. It's a good job Shola Ameobi has thicker skin... Bobby called him "Carl Court" at least once. Needless to say the press has jumped all over it, using it to point an accusing finger in the face NUFC and jibe that no one is happy [which, coming to think about it is probably accurate] On the embarrassment continues.

One thing that this defeat does seem to have provoked is some reaction in the transfer market. I was completely
underwhelmed at first by the signing of Kevin Nolan. I never liked him when he played against us, combative and whining at the same time and he seemed to promise a lot going forward, but not ever really deliver it. However, after thinking about it a while, the buying of Nolan does make sense. The spirit that the City fans saw as missing, could well be provided by Nolan - also he appears to be a leader, another thing that is sadly lacking on the pitch at NUFC.

The result of this game does make Sunday against the mackems vital now. Even if this wasn't a derby game, 3 points against a team who are 3 points better off than us in the table is a statement that the Toon is going in the right direction, a loss and I'm checking out which Championship grounds I'll be visiting next season.

One footnote to the City game: De Jong had one of the best debuts I've seen for a long time, I classy hard tackling midfielder, quick and reads the game really well. I just wish that Newcastle had been in the market to attract a player like him to the team, rather than Nolan. Ho Hummm

Friday, 23 January 2009


Seeing as the Toon won't be troubling any statisticians on the pitch this weekend, I've been giving the latest NUFC accounts some thought. Some of the 'highlights' include

Total wage bill: £62.3 m - up from £52.1m in 2007
Monies owed to Allardyce: £4.6m
Amount Ashley paid for club: £134.4m
Extra cash Ashley has poured into club: £110m
Total loss for year ending June 2008: £20m

One of the most concerning things for Ashley must be the size of the wage bill. The turnover is about £100m and the wage bill is at about 65% of that. Apparently the accepted safe limit in terms of percentage is around 50%. Therefore, the natural assumption is (as the Times Online says)

"This may explain why the club have been eager to cut the salaries of senior professionals such as Michael Owen, Nicky Butt and Steve Harper, all of whom are out of contract this summer, provoking disaffection in the dressing-room. "

I had to read the sentence several times, to understand what Caulkin is saying - not that EMO, Butt and Harper are causing the unrest but that the unrest is caused because of the need to cut salaries. I guess this makes sense in the face of declining revenue - when was the last time SJP sold out? There are still tickets on sale for the mackem game, which has to be a first. Financially there is a conundrum, is it more important to shift EMO off the wage bill or hope his goals keep the Toon in the Premiership? It's a tough call, but ultimately it boils down to either a long or short term strategy. I'd guess it will be the latter as Ashley isn't showing signs of moving on, but its going to require a large amount of holding of nerve, which we haven't seen thus far from the current management team. Also these figures sound a large claxon-like Family Fortunes electronic farting noise to the prospect of any new signings in the January transfer window.

As for the pay-off for Allardyce, yes, its obscene amount of money for the seven months of purgatory that he inflicted on the club, but the pay off will (I'd assume) been dictated by the contract that was negotiated prior to the Ashley regime. What will be interesting to see is how much the Keegan pay off will be? No doubt we'll have to wait another 12 months before we can find out, but it will be interesting to see if its a similar amount. I wonder which enhancements could have been made to the playing staff for that amount of money? Allardyce's pay-off alone would have bought either Bullard or Heskey... Now there's a thought.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that Allardyce should have stayed, nor even that I feel any sympathy for the current incumbent of the SJP boardroom. I just feel that its been so much waste and instability that shows no signs of stopping. Stability is what this club is crying out for, on the pitch, in the dug-out and finally in the directors box. But that's not how the roller-coaster ride plays out, is it?

Anyway, hopefully the players will have been making good use of the free time this weekend, especially Barton/Enrique and Carroll/N'Zogbia. It would be great to see a team performing at Man City on Wednesday - but, seeing as I'm going and the scars of the Blackburn game haven't faded from my memory as yet; I'd be surprised.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Ten thousand holes

Blackburn 3 Toon 0

By god this was a grim game.

I think the most telling comment from the whole day was an overheard one.

If you can picture the scene... It's now dark, the wind is driving rain into our faces so hard that it stings, we are trudging up a hill with an incline of about 1 in 4 (in old money). We've just seen an abject display by a group of individuals in black and white shirts (note: not a team); a journeyman striker (pictured on the front of the programme) has put two goals past us and the other was from a dodgy penalty. We know we are plummeting down the table and we will be in serious trouble soon. One of our senior players (well, in age anyway) has been sent off, and then blasted the ball at the referee (he missed, of course) and then our returning 'star' and Stevie G wannabee (when not being detained at Her Majesty's pleasure) then decides to start a fight with our Spanish left-back - again they can't even muster the enthusiasm for anything more than a bit of finger wagging and a push.

So, the conversation by the two guys in the black and white shirts in front of me went something like this (I've removed the expletives for those of a gentle disposition.)

Man One - *sigh* "That was poor"
Man Two - "Aye, but the football was just a bonus part of the day. At least we've got out of the house"
Man One - "Aye, true"

I've decided that this exchange is a healthy perspective. Sanguine was an understatement. I can't take this seriously anymore (well not until the derby game anyway). Bastardising Mark Twain's quote

- Newcastle United, a good Saturday afternoon spoiled -

I've warned the Favourite Nephew that if he doesn't behave - I'll take him to some more away games.... That should keep him on the straight and narrow. So that game is behind us now. Lets just forget it ever happened.

One small prediction. If Kaka signs for Manchester City this week (I'm still cringing at the obscenity of the numbers on this transfer) his home debut is quite likely to be a midweek game against the Toon. I wonder what odds will be on Mr Barton welcoming him to the Premiership with a tackle that does him some serious damage? Written in the stars that one...

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder

I'm such a creature of habit. For instance, have you noticed how often I blog on a Saturday morning? Its becoming part of my weekend ritual (and far more pleasurable than many other mundanitites - is that a word? if not it should be - of my Saturday mornings, like doing the washing, cleaning etc.) I seem to need the framework of routine in order to get things done.

One of my 'habits' is to give up booze for the month of January. There are some sound reasons for this :-

1. The need to dry out after the excess of the festive season
2. To prove that I can
3. To save cash as a result of number 1
4. To break the habit of looking at the football scores and immediately reaching for the Merlot/Lager/Southern Comfort/Bleach (delete as appropriate according to the atrociousness of the result)

Normally this isn't too much of a problem - however I never quite make it to the end of the month, as some party or event crops up where you are expected to toast the happy couple/new offspring/divorcee (again, delete as appropriate).

The downside of this is that I always have to 'cope' with the demise of another year of Newcastle United's hopes of winning something stone cold sober. I had to suffer the game against Hull via t'inteweb Radio Newcastle - and even the partisan commentators couldn't put anything much positive on the game. There seemed to be such an air of inevitability about the game, it was only ever going to get settled by one goal - and it was unlikely that Newcastle would score it. Hull are a poor team - but they were better than Newcastle on Wednesday. Depressingly true and I can't even seek solace in the bottom of a pint pot at the moment.

Oh well, another day, another game. Blackburn this afternoon, a chance to put one over Allardyce. As ever travelling more in hope than anticipation. Just had the phone call confirming that their are tickets for me and the Favourite Nephew - looking forward to catching up with everyone. Meeting in Blackburn at 2.00pm.... in the pub. Doh!

Howay the lads

Friday, 9 January 2009

Money Talks

As I've mentioned before, I travel a lot with my work. I love The frustration that comes with flitting around the UK is the inevitable delays. However, in the "every cloud and sliver lining" category it means I listen to a lot of either radio or podcasts. Nothing quite helps relieve the tedium of the M6 than a radio show that either a) makes me laugh or b) gets me so involved that I end up, ahem, 'discussing the content with the presenter [translation - I shout at the radio in a manic way alarming anyone else stuck in the traffic jam that can see me]

This week I found myself so engrossed in a discussion on Radio5Live that I arrived home and ended up spending 15 minutes parked outside my house, in the car listening to the end of a panel discussion. Despite enhancing my reputation with my neighbours' as the street eccentric, I was intrigued by a programme "Finance in Football". This was an state-of-the-nation look at the Premiership business models and what was expected to happen as the recession bites. The panel consisted of Robert Preston (BBC correspondent who is bringing a new meaning to 'ubiquitous'), John Madejski (Chairman of Reading) and Keith Harris (an investment banker).

The reason that it was so interesting was that Harris isn't just a grey-suited money man; he's had a long involvement in football. From what I can gather he was instrumental in the early days of seeing ways of making vast sums of money from football as he was involved in the ITV Digital TV contracts that started the split of money between the Premiership and the rest of the football league, right the way through to him brokering the deal for Man City to be sold to Shinawatra. There were several really interesting things discussed; Liverpool being the most 'at risk' club from a financial background because of the way that their debt was structured, West Ham being quite likely to go under by the end of the season as well as Harris' involvement in selling clubs.

However, the bit that had me stuck in the drivers seat was Harris' assessment of saleable clubs at the moment. He has been tasked with selling West Ham, Everton and Newcastle. He thinks that Newcastle is one of the best placed to be sold - large loyal fanbase, one-club city, huge stadium and large robust merchandising sales. Needless to say he was then pushed to say why Ashley hadn't managed to shift the club when it had been touted around the super-rich as the next new shiny toy. Harris' explanation was that the club had come very close to being sold to an American investor, but this deal had collapsed due to the investor loosing 'millions' to Madoff's Ponzi scheme

It was just as well I'd parked by this time... because you really couldn't make it up. Newcastle United - after suffering decades of mis-management off the pitch are bought by Mike Ashley, a multi-millionaire who has so little understanding of the business that he neglects to do the due diligence to uncover that transfer fees are paid in installments, and then the club is almost sold to someone who has been conned out of millions. If it wasn't the club I supported then I'd be laughing.... as it is I'm just increasingly bewildered. The worst of it was that Harris thought this was perfectly reasonable.

I have a feeling that Ashley is now in it for the long haul - he'll need to protect his investment (keep the club in the Premiership) whilst imposing tight financial controls (no new players of note, 17th place will do). The only consolation is that at least Newcastle aren't in as much of a mess off the pitch as West Ham. Today's game will be a good clue as to which club is in a worse state on the pitch... Apparently they've got some bloke called Dyer playing for them.

Finally, welcome to the newest member of the Toonarmy - Erin Baird, born last weekend to a couple of fellow Toon sufferers . Erin, I intend to take my duties as your "Fairy Toon-mother" very seriously indeed and look forward to indoctrinating you, as I have done with the Favourite Nephew. Remember the old adage "nothing in red and white is any good - whatsoever"

BTW - it wasn't the same Keith Harris as the one in the picture... In case you wondered....

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Leaking Sieves

I found myself looking at the official NUFC site today. This isn't something that I do on a regular basis. There are a couple of reasons for this, firstly it is one of the most poorly designed websites that I've the misfortune to visit - a crass amalgamation of random adverts and poor navigation. In fact I've never forgiven them for years ago when to access the site you had to register, the worst example trying to collect a marketing database that I've ever known.

The second reason for not visiting the site is that it tells its own version of the truth that would make even Pravda in its heyday blush. The official NUFC site tells its own version of the 'truth' in a mind-numbing ostrich style - I don't expect criticism of the board or even of players - but when one of the most prominent post-match comments after the Liverpool game was "Reds Star Pays Tribute to Mag-nificent Geordies" its really toeing the party line too far. No mention of the result? Ah, well we only lost 1-5; no mention that the "Reds Star" then went out and got arrested for punching a DJ? Nope, not that either. It must be a lovely world that inhabit - lets just ignore any of the bad stuff and make it another 'good news' day.

The reason I was trawling around the official website (I think there may be an h missing from that last word) was I wanted to find out the name of the Newcastle United Press Officer*. Why? Well, mainly because I want to know what on earth this person does for their wages. It seems to be that the club piles one gaff on top of another. Why is it that other clubs seem to be able to control the flow of information and misinformation from within? I know that Manure do it by Ferguson refusing to speak to a lot of them, which does have the effect of staunching many of the rumours that come from Old Trafford. However, when Allardyce tried it at Newcastle the press just printed whatever they wanted anyway. Wenger sometimes gets a rough ride at Arsenal but overall most clubs seem to be able to keep some stuff behind closed doors and stop misinformation leaking all over the place.

In the leaky information sieve that is Newcastle United the Press Office must spend all its time looking for a plug. This week has been no exception, the diary runs something like this
Sunday: Newcastle get hammered by Liverpool, at home, live on the telly
Monday: JFK hails Given as the best keeper in the Premiership
Wednesday: Transfer window opens
Thursday: Shay's 'solicitor' says that he is despondent and is considering is future at the club
Friday: JFK has a cup of coffee with Shay and declares he's not for sale. Also, ominously, Wenger states that he's not interested in Given.

I fully expect that Given will leave, and I don't blame him. His stock has risen, he's playing some of the best football of his career and he isn't going to win anything at Newcastle. He needs to move if he wants some medals to show his Grand kids (apart from the Inter Toto Cup Winners medal that is). I joked before the Liverpool game that Given was playing for his place.... at Arsenal.

The thing that concerns me is why on earth does the whole charade get played out in the press? I know the argument that its because Newcastle United are a one-club town, but any press office or press officer worth their wages would be able to control some of this... Owen and now Given, it just all adds up to the comedy of a club that Newcastle United has become.

* Needless to say, the website doesn't name the Press Officer - or if it does I couldn't navigate my way to find it.