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...