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.