Saturday, 26 September 2009

Time to reassess

I've had an epiphany over recent weeks (I know, the chemist will sell me some cream and it'll clear up shortly) - I started to enjoy watching football again. Obviously, I need to clarify that last sentence - I don't mean that I've been hanging around my local park avidly watching the local Sunday pub teams hack lumps out of each other (although I must admit that sometimes that does contain some amusement, normally generated by the half time pint, cig and pasties that are produced) but that I'm starting to enjoy Premiership football again.

For the past ten or so years I've been sure of my beliefs, for example, knowing that any team managed by Sam Allardyce would be dreadful to watch (including NUFC), that I was a fully paid up member of the ABU (Anyone But manUnited) club, and that Craig Bellamy could start a fight in an empty room. But since relegation I've started reassess my beliefs. This all started a couple of weekends ago when, with nothing else to watch on a Saturday afternoon I found myself in front of Manure v Spurs. I really enjoyed the game. It was only afterwards that I realised that it felt like watching a Spanish or Italian game. What I mean by that is, it was mildly interesting to watch, admire some of the football, but I didn't care who won.

I tested this theory further when watching Manure v Man Citeh. In the past I'd have been willing Citeh to beat their neighbours, but on Sunday I just watched the ebb and flow of the game, was mildly perturbed when the millionaire EMO got the winner and enjoyed getting the outraged texts from Citeh friends. So I started to think about the other Premiership games and realised that even if I was offered free tickets nothing would ever entice me to go and see Bolton v Stoke. In fact I'd go further, I wouldn't go if it was free tickets, free meal, free helicopter ride to the ground and getting to meet the teams afterwards. A draw in that game had to have been the least surprising result of all time.

The reason why I've stopped caring about the Premiership has nothing to do with the decline in the game, the over-exposure of the product, or even the over hyped players. Its simply that those teams are no longer relevant to the team that I care about the most - Newcastle United. Equally, my sphere of knowledge hasn't developed any of the irrational prejudices of teams in the Championship - I haven't merely replaced a dislike of Wigan with Preston or Manure with QPR (the parallels are there for them both) because I don't know enough about them.

So, recently I've started to live in a new footballing world, which is a happier place. Perhaps I have got something to thank Mike Ashley for after all... (that's irony by the way, for anyone reading outside of the UK). That said, this weekends game will reacquaint me with some old prejudices, Toon v Ipswich. Which re-ignites the Toon with the ex-mackem manager and half the ex-mackem team. It'll be an interesting game for a number of reasons, not least the likely debut of the man with the unfeasibly small head, Marlon Harewood. He sounds like a good loan signing and also looks like a typical Championship player - he's starting to make the right noises and he might make an impact. It's on the telly as further testament to the effect that Sir Bobby Robson had on both clubs and to the sport itself. No doubt, not a dry eye in the house...again.

Oh, and just in case you think that the epiphany has made me go all liberal and soft, I'd just like to make it clear, I sincerely hope that Hull don't get another point in the Premiership all season, and finish second bottom - just above the mackems.

Howay the lads!

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Set adrift on memory bliss

So, that was the summer then - a few rays of sunshine, intermingled with dark heavy storm clouds that have never really cleared. And as for the weather... The rays of sunshine (probable take over, Shearer as manager, prospect of any new players) have been eclipsed by the storm clouds (Ashley staying, no new investment). It's become apparent that the reactive management of Newcastle United probably haven't got a plan A, never mind a plan B. So, off the club trundle into the international break, with a wafer thin squad, an interim manager and top of the league.

Hang on, can that last sentence be right? If everything is so doom and gloom how on earth can the league table look like this...

1 Newcastle 5 4 1 0 8 1 7 13
2 WBA 5 3 2 0 9 5 4 11
3 Cardiff City 5 3 1 1 11 4 7 10
4 Middlesbrough 5 3 1 1 8 2 6 10
5 Bristol City 5 3 1 1 6 6 0 10

As with so many things with Newcastle United, it just doesn't make sense. The talk at the moment is that Chris Hughton will get manager of the month in the Championship. Don't the powers that be realise the irony of this? He is a manager who's business card must have the words interim, interim manager printed on it... He's been the stand in for the last couple of stand ins. He obviously is a nice man, and somehow despite (or because of?) the chaos going on around him seems to have managed to get the club into the top of the Championship pile. Maybe its that in all this adversity he's starting to learn about the players and the team that he is managing (obviously there are a few less on the list now) and because he's hung around the team have started to react positively to him.

Whatever the reasons, NUFC are top of the pile at the moment. The last time we were top of the league at this time of year was in the halcyon days of 1995, when the team stayed in that spot until March... and ended up 2nd. At the time that felt like a massive, crushing disappointment. If in March 2010 the league table looks similar then it won't be a disappointment - the storm will have been weathered. But I suspect that there is a typhoon approaching first.

Ok - I'll stop stretching this analogy any further...