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


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 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.