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 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.

Saturday, 21 March 2009


As NUFC stumble towards the end of the season, the prospect of starting next season in the Championship is an increasingly real one. There are some bald facts, the squad isn't good enough, the players that we have out injured aren't coming back quick enough to make a difference, the team have already drawn too any games that they should have won (last Saturday being a case in point) and most importantly, the games that we have left to play are against better opposition than teams around us.

Yesterday's result was no surprise, I expected to lose against Arsenal and the lads didn't disappoint. What was perhaps more telling was that even though it was live on the TV, I didn't watch it. This wasn't some hissy fit protest over the rubbish that I traveled to watch at Hull (although it was tempting), simply real life got in the way. I was coming back home from visiting my Mother, it being Mothering Sunday and being unable to get to see her on the actual day. But, like Y I, Mum I chose not to watch the game. It was so predicable that Newcastle would slip into the bottom 3, and I can't really see us clambering out from that spot before May.

For a start look at the games left to play:-

  • Chelsea (h)
  • Stoke (a)
  • Tottenham (a)
  • Portsmouth (h)
  • Liverpool (a)
  • Smoggies (h)
  • Fulham (h)
  • Villa (a)
Even with my most optimistic head on, I can see only two wins and maybe a lucky draw from that lot. Which would make NUFC's points total 36, which isn't going to be enough.

The other thing is that Newcastle are simply playing worse than most of the teams around us, West Brom and the Smoggies excepted. No wins for the last five games and only 3 goals scored tells its own story.

What may be the final nail in the relegation coffin is the lose yesterday of Bassong. The only player to come out of this season with any real credit, a maturing young defender, and probably the best centre half I've seen in a black and white shirt since Woodgate managed to play two games on the trot for Newcastle. It isn't a coincidence that Arsenal scored their goals yesterday after he went off.

It's not going to be pretty over the next 8 games, but I believe it will be Blackpool next season, rather than Blackburn (which may be a blessing, at least it will be an Allardyce free zone)

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Metaphorical Football

Early on a Saturday morning, I'm up and about and preparing to go to a game. Its that wonderful quietness of an unsullied day, combined with the fervent hope that Newcastle United will make my 300 mile round trip worthwhile. Calm and excitement, stillness and anticipation all combining.

As ever, I find my mind wandering and in an attempt to think happy thoughts - I cast my mind back to the 95/96 season... The season of the 'ohhhh... that was close, maybe next year' for NUFC or the Keegan 'I'd just love it' season for those non-NUFC delusionalists. In fact, its with the benefit of hindsight that 95/96 season was the high-point of the last fifty years, Newcastle United (Sky dubbed the team "The Entertainers" - imagine that being applied to the current squad!) 12 points ahead at Christmas and then managing to come second...

I recall that season so well, I'd just moved to the North-West, and living and working near so many Manure fans was a challenge to say the least. Admittedly, it was a self inflicted challenge - as I'd got my gloating in early... before their team woke up, overhauled our lead with Ferguson allowing Keegan to implode with one of his best examples of mind-games ever (Benetiz please read your history books, you ain't going to win this one). The highs and lows of that season were so intense. I recall the most amazing game that I'd ever seen at SJP, when Newcastle completely battered Manure, and thanks almost entirely to a Dane and a Frenchman, Manure won 1-0. Then we all knew that things were slipping away. That was nothing thought to the pain of a televised 2-1 defeat at Blackburn, leading with 5 mins to go, only for a Geordie lad, Graham Fenton to score two goals against us - and effectively destroy any remaining hope that Newcastle United had of winning the league.

So, now that the history lesson is over, if I fast forward to today, one of the reasons that I started thinking about 95/96 season is that the performance against Manure was a watershed for that season, the team played extraordinarily well, but ended up empty handed. Sound familar? Perhaps Newcastle didn't play extraordinarily well in 2009, but it was a huge improvement on the complete garbage that I've witnessed over the past few months. With a pessimistic head on, I wonder if this will have the same effect as 13 years ago? If Newcastle do end up loosing against Hull today, it will have a disastrous effect on our season, just in the same way that Blackburn did...

Its also interesting to see what the ultimate effect of coming second had on the team - the same league position was achieved the next season, but without any of the panache or self-belief and ultimately the squad then disassembled and migrated back to the more lucrative areas of the Premiership, for those who were good enough. The what-ifs are legion, if Cantona hadn't managed to squeeze that ball into the back of the net, or if Graham bloody Fenton had said on the morning of the game that his ankle injury wasn't good enough for him even to be on the subs bench then everything could have been so different.

The last couple of weeks have been challenging ones for me in my job, I've experienced coming second as well for something that was important, and also combined with something that I expected to at least reach the semi final of.. and didn't. I've done a load of 'what-if' thinking and concluded that its important to learn, but not to obsess on the past.

It's time for me to move on - and its time for NUFC to move on... I'll be the lunatic at the KC Stadium, screeching for more effort and commitment from EMO (who appears in the press to be charging in on his white steed to rescue the whole of the season for Newcastle) and Graham Fenton will be completely forgotten.

Howay the Lads

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Building site

Bolton 1 Toon 0

As you can see from the picture, this was a grim game. The storm clouds overhead were a portent of doom for the Toon. To keep stretching the analogy, Newcastle resembled a team of hod carriers, whereas Bolton weren't a team of master craftsmen either. The best description of this game that I can think of is turgid... with more emphasis on the turd.

Stevie Taylor, Shola and Enrique were awful, Butt and Martins weren't much better and only Ryan Taylor showed any heart for the game. It was a sad indictment of Newcastle's midfield that Gavin McCann and Matt Taylor (yes, 3 Taylor's on the pitch - their ought to be law against it) completely ran the midfield after the first 20 mins. Oh, and the lack of potency in our attack allowed Andy O'Brien to look like a competent centre half again... and we know that's not true.

Two notable moments from the game - Peter Reid taking his seat in a box, directly behind the away fans... and graciously bowing as he was serenaded with "Sad mackem bastard" Just who thought it was a good idea to give him a seat there? A masterpiece of planning that one! A bloke in front of me said "he'll probably be our next manager"... a chilly shudder went around those who heard..

The second was one of those things that I never thought that I'd hear at a football game, said in a stage whisper... "Pet, I think I'm lactating"

Ah, the joys of going to football with a new mother.

Roll on Wednesday - I'd guess Manure will put double figures past the scaffolded defence.