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


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.