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On Newcastle’s oh so sad demise 27, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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This is my first and in last post on football (or soccer, if you’re so inclined). Newcastle, for those that aren’t aware of recent events, have just been relegated from the top division in the UK. This is despite spending untold millions of pounds for a decade now on players, coaches and in turning their stadium into the third largest in the Premiere League. The club carries with it something of an arrogant aire based on the (pure)  mythology of how the Geordie (someone from Newcastle) is ipso facto the greatest, most loyal and most fierce supporter in all the land. This is grating for supporters of other clubs, to say the least. This is why, on hearing that Newcastle slipped out of the Premiere League last weekend, most supporters in England would have smiled with a deep sense of schadenfreude.

Even if you’re not interesting in football, you ought to read this piece by The Times of London’s Matthew Syed, a plainly gifted writer who sums up the situation eloquently and with no little wit and – again – perhaps a touch of schadenfreude. Here’s his article in its entirety.

“Newcastle United needs to be filled with people who love this club”, Alan Shearer [the manager and former star player]  said on Sunday and in that one, endlessly banal, hopelessly misguided sentence the latest would-be Messiah laid his finger on everything that has gone wrong with Newcastle’s football club and why it would be madness for Mike Ashley to appoint the former centre forward as full-time manager.

This is a club that have had far too much love: the love of the fans, the love of their various managers, the love of other supporters who, until now, have been happy to rally behind Newcastle as their second team.

This is a club that have basked in an orgy of self-infatuation, living on myths, dreams, brown ale and anything else that could numb the senses to the catastrophe that has been ticking like a time-bomb all season.

And now they want to turn to a man who has an excess of love but who has no qualifications to lead the club out of the mire into which they have jumped, feet first, except an ironed shirt and an occasional turn of phrase. A man who ticks no boxes whatsoever except possession of a Geordie accent and a legendary status on Gallowgate that is so patently irrelevant to the club’s present predicament as to be almost laughable.

This club do not need love; they need to be stripped clean of all sentimentality. They need a man who feels nothing but contempt for the position Newcastle now find themselves in and who is prepared to ignore the mass of fans and their hare-brained schemes.

They need a man who can state the truths the supporters do not want to hear; who can perform reconstructive surgery on a team that have lost all semblance of unity and coherence; a man who is hard-headed, hard-nosed and has spent hardly any time on Tyneside and is thus untainted by the delirium.

They need a man with a proven track record of management; a man who can finesse an understandably panicky owner; above all they need a man with the deep and long experience capable of persuading the good players to stay (and, let’s be honest, there are not many of those), who can get rid of the dross without the whole thing descending into a fire sale, and who can go into an infinitely complex global marketplace, identify a new crop of talented youngsters and persuade them that Newcastle are not a busted flush, but a club that can ride high once again.

And the new manager needs to do this with a close eye on the rapidly deteriorating finances, a deep awareness of the long-term contractual implications of his manoeuvrings in the transfer market and with a nose for how his string of new signings will cope with the unique demands of the Coca-Cola Championship, a league that is different in style, pace, philosophy and tempo from the Barclays Premier League.

Shearer, it hardly needs stating, is qualified for none of these tasks and it is symptomatic of the delusional contagion in the North East that so many supporters think he is.

Perhaps the most darkly comic aspect of Shearer’s initial appointment was how often we heard the phrase “the mood on Tyneside has been transformed”, as if the fans might be able to emote an awful team out of the relegation zone; as if the level of intoxication inspired by the great man’s appointment was a good thing rather than a distraction from what was, even then, a formidable challenge; as if sentiment has any bearing on success and failure when a team are plummeting towards calamity like a man in a concrete overcoat.

I sat in that opening press conference, heard Shearer’s repeated protestations of devotion to “the football club” (as if we doubted that), watched the fans outside taking off their shoes in an apparent show of fealty to their new saviour, and then got the train home wondering if this tedious soap opera will ever end. First Kevin Keegan, then Shearer; give it a couple of seasons of failure in the Championship and they will doubtless turn to the ghost of Jackie Milburn for managerial redemption amid yet more scenes of jubilation outside St James’ Park, yet more dreams of a return to the glory days, yet more whimsy and surrealism.

For the record, Shearer’s tenure has been a failure in almost every possible way, bar his ability to deflect criticism from his own inadequacies during post-match press conferences. He managed a derisory one win in eight games, executed tactical shifts and machinations that made Claudio Ranieri, the Tinkerman, seem like a rock of stability, but, most damningly of all, the St James’ Park hero failed even to inspire the passion and resolve in the players in what was the whole point of the exercise.

In retrospect, Newcastle needed only a point from their last two games to retain Premier League status, but failed to manage even that; their meek, passive, antiheroic surrender in the final quarter of an hour away to Aston Villa symptomatic of a club that had expended all their reserves of emotional energy on irrelevant happenings off the pitch; a club that have, in truth, spent so long navel-gazing that they no longer had the wit or the wish to look to the fights — the real fights on the pitch — that needed so dearly to be won.

As Alan Hansen said on Match of the Day (which is where Shearer should have stayed, firmly on the couch) on Sunday: “Even then, in the last ten to 15 minutes there was nothing, absolutely nothing. You know their life depends upon this and yet we spent 15 to 20 minutes waiting for some sort of effort [which never came].”

Some will point to Keegan, who as a virginal manager brought Newcastle back into the top flight 16 years ago.

They will dare to believe that this sets some kind of precedent. That inexperience can be some sort of blessing in club management.

But what about Sir Bobby Charlton, who took Preston North End down from the old second division in his first season in charge? What about the dozens of other precedents that show that experience matters in football management just as it does in every other area of life?

The reality is that, lumbered with Shearer, things are likely to get a lot worse for Newcastle, a club that face a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvent themselves from top to bottom.

But has Ashley got the balls to ditch him, to make a decision based on the kind of hard corporate logic that has served him so well in amassing a fortune in the sports goods market? Would the fans even let him?

And with that last, rhetorical question we hit the bull’s-eye of Newcastle’s travails. Until the club have an owner who can ignore the myopic short-termism of the nation’s most capricious fans, there will be no bounce for Newcastle United. I am not saying that all supporters are burdened by overinflated expectations, but can it be seriously denied that Newcastle are weighed down by a critical mass of unrealism? That this is the underlying reason for the lack of a single major trophy in 40 years?

Shearer’s appointment would symbolise everything that is wrong at St James’ Park, past and present. Expect him to be unveiled by the end of the week.


1. Geordie - 11, June 2009

Have you ever met an arrogant Geordie or even met a Geordie at all?!? We don’t think we are great we just support our team like everyone else…you are another sheep that believes everything he reads…how said you must be to think that we are arrogant on the basis of what you read in an article or watch on TV. I suppose you think all gay people are perverts and black people are drug dealers. You are the arrogant small minded prejudiced one and I feel such sadness for you. I am a Geordie and the reason we are immensly proud of our region is because we have suffered prejudice for years at the hands of the rest of England…

davidbroberts - 12, June 2009

Unfortunately for Geordie, I am from the North East of England and have lived here for 18 years and moved back only a year ago after a few years away. So, have I ever met an arrogant Geordie? Errr…yes. Many. Countless. Thousands. Most.

The impression that Newcastle fans give is that they believe they have some kind of entitlement to be constantly challenging for the league and that they ‘woz robbed’ on various occasions. Nothing sums this up better than the sacking of Bobby Robson (after five games of the season!) after three successive top five finishes, going through the Champions League Groups stages and a Uefa Cup semi-final. Why did you sack him? Because you ‘deserve better’ ‘ought to be top 3’ etc etc.

I also think the sacking of Sam Alladyce is a case in point. Because you weren’t playing Samba football (your birthright) and weren’t in the top 3 (just natural…) you sacked him. Newcastle would never ever have gone down with Sam at the helm. Hilarious.

The fact that the board didn’t insert wage reduction relegation clauses in their player’s contracts just highlights the general level of conceit at St James’ Park.

So, in conclusion, I love it…love it, that Newcastle are down and ask, as the Villa fans did, who’s your next saviour? Ant or Dec?

(Incidentally, the way you confuse this trifling matter of football with serious issues like gay rights highlights how deluded you are. It is offensive and stupid.
Lastly, full disclosure: I am a Middlesbrough fan, but am far from a bigoted, rival-hating idiot. I was extremely pleased that Sunderland are staying up and, whilst it is nice to beat a rival in a derby, I just don’t care that much. My distaste for Newcastle is fully earned by their fans: indeed, much of the rest of the country seems to be coming to the same conclusion as me.)

2. Geordie - 12, June 2009

I don’t think football is the be all and end all, I think all people should be judged as individuals so to say Geordies are arrogant says more about you as an individual as it does about me. I also didn’t compare gay rights and racism to this and if you think I did again that says more about your lack of intellect than my comments. Anyway peace be with you and I hope you enjoy your life meeting all the arrogant Geordies out there. By the way the fans didn’t sack the managers it was the board.

3. Geordie - 13, June 2009

One more thing…if it’s a trifling matter of football why is it that you think Geordies are arrogant because of their views on football and it grates on you and the rest of the country…if it’s trifling why do you and the rest of the country get angry and worked up about us? To hate a group of people because they are from a certain area and support a certain football team shows you and the rest of the country for what they really are; small minded, prejudiced sheep. I suppose you will vote Tory at the next election because Sky and the times want you to! My comments about you thinking gay people are perverts and you saying I was comparing football to gay rights confirmed my belief that you are in fact stupidly stupid; how could you even equate the sentence I wrote as a comparison on football and gay rights? To help you out pet I was indicating that because you have prejudiced views and irrational hatred of Geordies you probably also have irrational views on other groups. This is my last post because I have realized you aren’t bright enough to have a conversation with. Yes most people in this country share your views on Geordies and that just proves to me that we are a nation of moronic sheep. It’s in The Sun so it must be true!

davidbroberts - 13, June 2009

Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

Did I engage in generalizations? Of course. That is because, generally, most Newcastle fans that I have met (and I’ve met a lot…) are as I have described. That is simply the top and the bottom of it. However, dear Geordie, I must say that for someone so apparently aghast at my crass use of such generalizations, you yourself appear to engage in them wholesale i.e. you belief that you know what the ‘rest of the country’ thinks.

Overall, I’d recommend sitting down in a quiet room, trying not to take everything so personally*, trying sometime in the future have a grown-up debate without resorting to childish personal insults, and psyching yourself up for Scunthorpe away next season.

*Though I do appreciate that this would interfere with the Newcastle-martyr mindset.

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