Monday, 27 December 2010

One of our own

Interestingly, Pardew seems to be starting to have an effect at SJP. The logical place to start was with the players (ignoring the decision to take on Steve Stone as assistant coach - personally I think he's been taken on as a translator for Pardew... but, doubt he'll have quite a glittering career as Jose Mourinho) Staying put signs put over the names of both Carroll and Barton, as well as the news that Steven Taylor has just signed at new 5 and a half year contract (hummm... that period of time sounds familiar, doesn't it....). Needless, to say there is no news on how much the contact is worth - but, part of me is really pleased that Taylor wants to stay on Tyneside, rather than moving to pastures new. He's spent much of the last five years being the chest-thumping, warrior.

At times looking like the natural successor to John Terry - all passion, heart and sweat for the cause. A real captain in the making and heart-on-sleeve soul of the club. However, at other times he's looked like the successor to Titus Bramble - slow, ponderous and poor decision making. Also, he's had a a couple of years when he's suffered a lot with injuries - a persistent shoulder injury, along with aggravating Andy Carroll leading to getting his jaw broken, has meant that he's been a bit part player for the past couple of seasons.

I guess he's typical of the ying and yang of many players, some good points and some bad. He's never been afraid to put his head in, either to stop a goal, or to score a few as well. He's given us some fantastic comedy moments - such as the below

He's also been advised poorly, in my view... Paul Stretford ( Rooney's agent) has managed to contradict that NUFC-loving image by driving such a hard bargain during the contract negotiations for his client that Taylor has effectively spent the last 6 months on the transfer list. I, for one don't recall reading about a rush of clubs bidding for him. No doubt Taylor has an increase on the weekly wage - but it has damaged his standing amongst the fans. I wonder what price there really is on that type of public image?

But, ultimately he is one of ours... I'm pleased he is staying, but feel that he has much to prove over the rest of this season. I don't think that he's going to be the next captain of England (or even Newcastle United) but I'll be pleased if he really does stay for the term of this contract. However, I'm not convinced that he will. In the same way that I doubt that Pardew will see out his contract either.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Lack of Class

In my younger days I had a part time job in a print shop. It was a largely un-rewarding job, but I got to play with some new gadgets. I was shown how to do all sorts of exciting things, such as bind documents, use the high speed photocopier and laminate signs and posters. Needless to say binding wasn't much fun (I can recall wrecking one students thesis) and, beyond the obvious, photocopying was dull. However, the laminating machine led to all sorts of hilarity... This included getting various photos enlarged and making them more 'solid' than previously as they became poster sized. I only did one for myself...I can still remember it vividly. Shearer and Ferguson celebrating a goal, with the words "Form is temporary: Class is permanent" emblazoned across the bottom. I think I'd particularly liked it as it was at the time that Shearer was getting a tough time from the English press about him not being good enough to play for Eng-er-lund.

Roll forward 20-plus years and I was reminded of this moniker again, but this time the inverse. Mike Ashley has demonstrated time and time again that he lacks understanding of how to effectively communicate with his 'customers' and the sacking of Chris Hughton was another example of this. As a consumer of brand NUFC, it appeared to me that the football team was getting some stability, that the team - was starting to play like a team. The results were mixed, but it felt like the team was going in the right direction. The key to this was the continuity that had been given by the management team - Hughton and Calderwood appeared to have been doing a good job, with limited resources. As a watcher of the business of Newcastle United, it also appeared that Hughton was doing a fair job, mid-table and regular TV revenue coming in, combined with the asset that is Andy Carroll, being nurtured and therefore his value (both in terms of transfer value and marketing value) increasing.

But, obviously this wasn't enough for the owners of both the business and the brand. The reasons for the supporters as to why he was sacked are spurious. But perhaps the business ones aren't. I'd guess that Hughton was asking for money to shore up the depth of the team, that the money wasn't available or his choices deemed incorrect. From a cost perspective, Hughton will have been a lot cheaper to sack than either Allardyce or Keegan. So, as ever Ashley fails to communicate with his punters and the inevitable conclusion is drawn... he's got no class, and his form is temporary.

As a demonstration of Ashley's temporary form, he got lucky with Pardew's first game. Beating a sub-standard Liverpool team might have looked good on paper. It might have lessened the volume and nature of the protests against Hughton's sacking for that game. But, the cracks are still visible and unless some investment is made in the playing squad Ashely's lack of class with the dismissal of someone who appeared to be a genuinely decent man - and a good communicator; will come home to roost.

Saturday, 20 November 2010


"Its been an odd season so far" That's one of those understatements that is ludicrously simplistic. From the inevitable loss at Manure at the start of the season to the unbelievable high of 5under1and (as henceforth they shall be known) on Halloween its been one hell of a roller coaster of a season so far. I, like many others, would have been happy to see the Toon finish 17th this season, consolidate after the shock of the Championship and then start to rebuild. Of course, then came along Villa at home, and expectations were raised a little, then my personal favourite, the delight of the trip to Goodison and the ambitions grew a bit more. Finally, after the result at Highbury, errrrr.... Emirates, Newcastle United were dizzily in 5th place in the table.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not that delusional. I know that reality isn't so much going to bite, as take a chunk out of the collective backside of the club. Mid-table is as far as my ambitions for the team go to now. Usually, this would mean a season of relative mediocrity, a few scrappy wins and a greater number of draws than usual. Not so with NUFC - how can it be with a 6-0 and 5-1 wins at home, and even last weeks 0-0 against Fulham wasn't two teams settling for the draw at the outset... It was just one of those games when Newcastle couldn't manage to score.

At the outset of the season Newcastle were supposed to be in transition, I'd said that I thought this would be a big season for Andy Carroll (well, I got that right - and England call up and so far he's managed to stay out of jail), that Kevin Nolan was too slow to cut it in the Premiership (wrong - I still think he's too slow; but he is the heartbeat and brains of the team) that Sol Campbell was a mistake (wrong - he's hardly played, but when he did against Man City he was commanding) and that we'd need more bite and creativity in the midfield (right - but that was before Tiote was signed). So, if this is transition then I'm really enjoying it... Thanks lads

Today, brings Bolton Wanderers - I've been numerous times to the Reebok, and never yet seen a good game. The mists of time make most of these games roll into one, but I have memories of Dabizas getting sent off after about a minute, of Steven Taylor's debut and getting shoved out of the way for the only goal of the game; and most of all the annoying windowlicker that brings that bloody drum to each home game. Bolton have always been a team of stiflers (is that a word?) more intent on stopping other teams playing than being creative themselves. An effective tactic that has prevented relegation over the past ten years, but dull to watch. However, today might be different, Owen Coyle as a manager seems to have altered the ethos of the team - and they are starting to look a better side. By a happy coincidence of the fixture calendar, it's the Favourite Nephew's 17th birthday this weekend. I hope its a good one for him...

Howay the Lads

PS - I can predict sales of the above DVD topping 50,000 in Newcastle but maybe not quite as high on Wearside... I'll have to get a copy, for those rain-sodden Sunday's when there is just nothing on the telly and you really need cheering up...

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Team Ethic

Everton 0 Toon 1

Blimey - is an underused word, but it seems to be the most appropriate word to sum up NUFC over the past week. The last time we had the joys of celebrating two away wins in a week in the top division seems like it was in the pre-war days (the Iraq war, that is) the last time NUFC won at Stamford Bridge was during the last recession and the last time Toon won 4-3, as opposed to losing by the same scoreline, was when footballers walked to the ground, had real jobs, and handlebar moustaches.... Still, I wasn't fortunate enough to be a Chelsea on Wednesday evening, but I was at Goodison Park on Saturday to witness an away win on Merseyside for the first time since before the invention of the fourth official. Blimey.

There were several notable things about the win on Saturday... It also had an old fashioned feel to the game, but that will have been mainly due to a 3.00pm kick off on a Saturday and the wooden bench seats. As an aside, how on earth do they get away with having such a dilapidated ground? One of the funniest incidents was seeing an older gent handing a steward the back of one of these wooden seats, pointing out that it wasn't an act of vandalism that had broken it, but woodworm. Actually, the funniest moment for me was finally hearing the Coloccini song in full throttle sung by 2500 delirious fans....

After reflecting for a week on the performance I've concluded that the main difference was that for the first time in about five years the squad played as Newcastle United, and functioned as a team. Some of the team ethic has been instilled as a result of adversity, those players to stayed after relegation had a point to prove. Some of it has arisen out of sheer bloody mindedness, a desire to prove the doubters wrong; NUFC aren't just going to implode and go away. However, most of it is due to a determination that no one is bigger than the club itself, no huge star players, no one playing for themselves - just a group of 11 (or so) all pulling in the same direction and getting results. It felt good. It felt like football should be.

The result was all the more gratifying as we witnessed a fantastic match winning goal from Hatem Ben Arfa, (has anyone else noticed that he looks a bit like the bastard offspring of Laurent Robert?) saw a debut from someone who does for 90 mins what Nicky Butt showed us in flashes for the past two years, Cheick Tiote take a bow... Adding in two new personalities to a team could have really disrupted the balance and make up, but it didn't appear to do so at Everton.

I also need to apologise, I was wrong. Way back in 2007, I commented that the young left back that NUFC had signed from Spain wasn't good enough. I made lots more earthy, vociferous comments at games as this player seemed to be out of his depth in the English league. His first season was error strewn, he was slow and often made an incorrect decision. In my defence I think my views were coloured by a litany of overpriced and poor defenders, and I lumped Jose Enrique in with those mercenaries. Over the last three years his confidence has grown, he has adjusted to the pace of the game and has become the most outstanding performer for the team. Most of all, he stayed when other non-UK players started their exodus after relegation. A real team player. Jose, Jose, Jose.... indeed.

Sunday brings on the cloggers from the Potteries. I expect Wolves Mark II - it ain't going to be pretty.

Howay the lads

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Back to the Past

Wolves 1 Toon 1

Bank holidays. Always a strange concept. An extra long weekend when the roads become clogged with stressed families determined to make for a busy patch of beach to 'enjoy' themselves on. Chuck into this mix a couple of million folk heading to sporting events that won't wait to start until you arrive and you have the recipe for disaster. With full knowledge of this we set off for Wolverhampton last weekend.

Of course one of the joys of the bank holiday traffic is that you get plenty of opportunity to people watch your fellow travellers. As I was cutting short a holiday in Scotland to go to Wolverhampton (I bet that's not a sentence that's been written very often) I had added people watching time. One of the things that made me smile was the number of Hell's Angels on Harley's that wove their way successfully through the roadwork stymied queues. I guess their must have been a Harley Davidson convention somewhere in the North, judging by the number of riders heading south. After seeing the first few throaty roars in my rear view mirror, and getting over the jealousy of them getting past me, I was struck by the average age of the riders. They all looked as though they were at an age to have been old enough to see Easy Rider when it was first released, at the cinema, without having to lie about their age... It's not a young man's game - alternative culture.

The theme for the day was set - driving into Wolverhampton we'd joked about needing to put on flares to fit in... It wasn't quite like that but the game had a definite 'old school' feel to it. Both teams had heydays in the past, both clubs struggling to re-invent themselves in the current climate and both sets of players using tactics that haven't been seen for a few years. For the Toon, the main tactic was to lump the ball to Carroll as often as possible (by the way, maybe its just me - but Carroll seems to have grown by a foot since last season) and hope that he could batter his way through the defence. However, Wolves tactics consisted wholly of giving Barton a good kicking to see if he would loose his temper. It was apparent from the kick off - and continued until the final minute. This was interesting for a couple of reasons, firstly it didn't work... but they didn't alter the tactic. Secondly, Wolves obviously thought that this was the only way to beat Newcastle. Why? Hadn't they seen how Manure had ripped into us a couple of weeks before - using pace and width? Obviously they weren't imaginative enough to take this approach. So, it felt that we were watching a game from the 80's as lumps were taken from various Toon midfielders, accompanied by the shrill sound of the refs whistle.

One of the more bewildering chants from the Wolves faithful, was "Your going down with the yam-yams" No one around me had a clue what this 'insult' could mean. However, as someone who is lucky enough to work in the West Midlands, I was able to translate that they may just be referring to their near neighbours from West Bromwich. Looking around the crowd in the Toon end also struck me as this was an 'older' crowd than normal. More beer bellies and greying temples than young knacker-jacks having their first alcopops. We speculated on why... Maybe its just that travelling to away games on a bank holiday weekend also isn't a young man's game.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Angry Mob

A week later than last year the merry-go round is about to start again. About a month ago my phone started its text chirrup with messages like "Wolves away - I'll go if you'll drive" and "How much for the Manure tickets?!? I'm not going" as plans start to be made, familiar grounds revisited, friendships that have been on hold for the summer re initiated.

All the fun of the fair starting again as NUFC join the "elite" clubs in the "top flight". Obviously, there are some advantages to being back in the Premiership, not least of which is the wadge of money that the club will receive from the TV, which probably help to keep the club afloat. There are also some disadvantages to this elevated status, not least of which is the price of the tickets - away tickets now routinely cost over £40, so the cost of a few away games increases as the likelihood of seeing Newcastle win away decreases (not that this puts me off, which probably says more about my psyche than anything else). The other disadvantage is that the press as turned its attention to the club and Newcastle become the comedy club of the Premiership again.

Some of the recent 'news' has been quite fair. The club seem to have managed to sign a player on a free from another Premiership club who have made a mess of his contract negotiations, have managed not to sack any players/managers/club officials over the summer and therefore have stayed quite quiet for the start of the season, with a notable exception - Sol Campbell. I have mixed feelings about Campbell joining the Toon. He's not a player that would have been on the top of my list for defensive cover for the season. I, and many, others remember Ian Rush turning up in a Black and White shirt for a season, which was a signing of Kenny Dalglish's mate and an unmitigated disaster. Campbell is Hughton's friend, has moved to the North East and there is a feeling that he's turning up just for the money. That said, he was a decent defender and no doubt some of the other players could learn from him.

Still, none of that comes into play when the press get hold of a photo, which shows that he may not be in peak physical condition. Apparently, this has whipped up the fury on the message boards and therefore none of the of the fans want him to play.... Now call me old fashioned, but I really want to reserve judgement on players until I've actually seen him pull on the club shirt and kick a ball in anger (actually, remembering Pancrate last season I'd like to give him 3 or 4 games). But, then again why let a few facts get in the way of poking the laughing stick at Newcastle United again.

To slightly misquote Leeds finest band...

We are the Angry Mob
We read the papers every day
We like who they like
Hate who they hate
Were all so easily swayed

I have a solution to this... Don't read the papers, don't buy 'em and ignore the nonsense that permeates through other media sources.... And they wonder why the newspaper industry is on its knees?

Actually, the real reason that the newspaper is on its knees is the change from physical to digital, so we are going through a time of change as business models are disrupted. One of the consequences of this is that I'm unable to link to a snippet that I found genuinely funny last week. The Sunday Times last week published a review of all the Premiership teams and suggested what type of cartoon characters they would be (I read it in the Pub before I get accused of hypocrisy). I can't recall many of them, but Newcastle's was Dr Seuss's Cat in the Hat - because it causes chaos wherever it goes for the general amusement of others... Sums up perfectly the view of Newcastle from the rest of the Premiership. Why can't I link to this article? Cos the Sunday Times online has become pay per view... I hope that isn't the future...

Anyway, as it stands today Newcastle are mid table (before a ball has been kicked, due to an alphabetical accident) I'll settle for this next May. Bring on the fun.

Howay the lads

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Learning Points

As the World Cup recedes into history I've been reflecting. From the distance of a couple of weeks I didn't really enjoy the tournament much. There were a few highlights, Germany V Argentina, Italy V New Zealand and Spain V Portugal (but that might just have been the joy of seeing Ronaldo look crestfallen), but these were few and far between. The majority of the games were stale, mundane and lifeless. I found myself getting more enjoyment out of watching Maradonna's press conferences and speculating about who's suit he was wearing than I got enjoyment out of most of the games.

As for the final itself, it was like watching a Toon v mackem game from about five years ago. One team was so technically superior to the other that the only way that the lesser team could hope to compete was by hoofing players up into the air. For Mark Van Bommel substitute Nyron Nosworthy, for De Jong think of Paul McShane etc etc.... It was pitiful to watch, but Spain didn't have the ability to outplay them either. The tournament just seemed to leave a sightly bitter taste - it just didn't live up to the hype. That said I did learn somethings from the World Cup - for which I'm grateful. A few of these things are:-

1. Gutierrez is no more a right back than I am
2. Vuvuzela is a fantastic word to roll around your mouth, but the instrument itself is pretty limited
3. Despite the press reports South Africa's infrastructure was able to cope with a major sporting event.
4. England's players are rubbish (on the whole)
5. Diego Forlan was a good player after all
6. Germany will win the next World Cup
7. The French players are worse than the English (temperament-wise that is)

So - lots of useful, if incidental, things picked up over the summer... Speaking of incidental things - how about this for a match made in heaven? Titus Bramble to be reunited with Steve Bruce at Sunderland I was driving when I heard the news and laughed so hard I swerved. I'd guess that he wrote his application for this job some time ago (that will be in crayon and not in joined up letters). Titus, I recall this only too well.... Looking forward to seeing you at SJP again this season...... Not.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

The Great Debate

Well, all the talking is over and the battle for a trinket the size of a pot plant has started in Africa. Thirty two nations, some playing entertaining football, some playing measured football, some playing dull football are taking part in the quadrennial festival of football that enlivens my TV screen. Most of the time I don't really give a rats-ass about England 's (or to be more accurate Eng-er-lund's) fortunes in these competitions. The hype and hyperbole are wearing and misplaced, I'm of an age whereby I can still remember the racist connotations of a number of those who follow Eng-er-lund and the horror of riots at various competitions in the past.

So some time ago (I think after England drew with Poland and failed to qualify for in 1974 World Cup) I decided that I'd much prefer watching Newcastle V Carlise rather than England v USA... Simply, I cared more about the former rather than the later. Occasionally I have been sucked into the joy of supporting the country of my birth, but on the whole I've been a passive observer.

That said, there always used to be a horror when watching England... Which Newcastle player would get injured and therefore miss the start/middle/whole (delete as appropriate) of the next season? Shearer, Lee, and most notably England's Michael Owen all fell pray to the same set of worries, and they were usually lived up to.

For the South African World Cup, its very different. Not a Newcastle player within a beery breath of the squad, now no worries there. But, its replaced by a different one. Enter, stage left a mercurial winger, wearer of the black and white stripes and the finest Spiderman since Tobey Maguire...Jonas Gutierrez. Not for one moment do I think that he's likely to get injured (he falls over far too easily to get hurt by anyone) but my concern is that if he has a storming world cup he'll have his head turned by a more glamorous team - like Everton or Wigan and he'll leave the bright lights of the North East for pastures new. Equally I don't want him to have such a rubbish world cup that he comes back completely demoralised...

My internal debate rages on....

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Whilst I've been away

Ermmmm... Sorry, I've been a bit remiss lately. In fact, depending on your definition of lately I've been positively tardy. But, I wouldn't want you to think I've not been paying attention. Some of the 'highlights' of the last 6 months include:-

- Defying all the gloom-mongers (*cough* including myself) NUFC have managed to win the Championship at a canter, remaining unbeaten at SJP for a whole season.
- Most of the players have (so far) stayed with the club
- We still have the same manager, who has been quietly dignified through out the barrage of nonsense that has been stirred up in the press

So, NUFC are looking forward to the start of August with the prospect of turning out against Manure, Arsenal and the Mackems next season , and all that this entails... Higher price match tickets, greater speculation about players in/out, even more pressure on Hughton as well as the unforgiving glare of the press spotlight being shone even brighter on those at SJP.

In an attempt to combat this the Board at NUFC put out a statement last month. Have a look at the full version here. This is a spectacular example of standing on a chair, hoisting corporate skirts up and shouting "Thomas!". Surely, statements like this

There will be no comment from the Board regarding the purchase of players.

There will be no comment from the Board regarding the sale of players.

There will be no comment from the Board regarding ongoing contract talks with players presently at Newcastle United Football Club or with those that the club may enter into negotiation with.

Will only serve to pique the interest of the press pack. What is the phrase about keeping your friends close, but your enemies even closer? A certain amount of openness and transparency can only benefit the understanding of what the current Board are trying to achieve... How does this help?

In simple terms this is a transparent policy that will feed through and inform all aspects of the running of Newcastle United Football Club's first team. There will be no comments from any member of Newcastle United's Board in the future regarding any issues surrounding Newcastle United to the press/media at large.

That said, I sorta agree with this one.... Not the ethics of it, but because the Daily Mail is pure bile filled spiteful garbage...