09.00 Set off from my house in Leeds (where I’m studying) at 09.00. Not too early. The usual decisions to be made before traveling alone on the train to meet the lads coming down from home. 4 cans or 8 cans? Alone on the train. Will I be too pissed? Should I get pissed? Today of all days decisions like this weigh heavy on the mind. What will I be like if it happens? If we lose? We won’t lose. We can stop up with a point. Man Utd will beat Hull. We’ll score. Won’t we? Walk into town to get the train from Leeds, hope there’s other Mags on the train. Friendly faces required on a day like today.
10.00 On the train and it’s bizarrely full of Villa fans – I didn’t know so many of them lived that far away. Oddly they’re up for this. Some of them are talking to (at) the few mags on this train about sending us down – there’s loads of them on, who are hitting the booze, signing and shouting down the train that they can’t wait to send us down. The whole thing is weird, amongst families and your usual Saturday morning train users. As it’s not an away game for Villa they aren’t dominating the train, it’s probably 70/30 them us, but they’re hitting the booze hard – like it’s an away game.
10.30 The train is now packed with Villa and they’re in party mode. Maybe it’s because it’s the last day of the season? I’ve been to Villa Park 4 or 5 times watching United (normally prosper) and it’s nothing but a 1/3 empty soulless, noiseless shell of a stadium. If their home fans were going at it every home game like this, surely there’d be a bit more atmosphere? They seem in celebratory mood. The highest they can finish is 6th, and the lowest the can finish is 6th. They’re in the Europa League after cocking up what looked like 4th place for the taking in March. They’re buzzing though, the Villa fans on this train – still, more important things to worry about today.
11.30 This is getting annoying – there’s only me and three other mags on this carriage – thank god I got 8 cans. Great call as these pricks are at it none stop – about 30 of them, 3 of us and all we’re getting is grief. ‘Going down’, ‘if you all hate Geordies clap your hands’ etc, all right lads, we get it. There are loads of passing snide comments – ‘the whole country wants us to win’ etc.
12.00 Arrive in Birmingham. It’s still shit. Really shit. Never mind, I’m not here for the tourist attractions, restaurants or cultural heritage (which is a good job as there is none). I’m here, at the end of a disastrous season for Newcastle United, to see us avoid the ultimate humiliation for a club of our size, which is relegation to England’s 2ne tier. The defeat to Fulham has landed us right in it – but every mag I’ve bumped into so far thinks we can do it. Shearer will have them up for it. I’m sure he will, but Villa are a good side, and we’re not.
13.00 In the one pub near Villa Park. £2 entry for away fans but at least there are no Villa fans about. The sun is shining, I’ve met the lads who’ve come down on the bus and the lads who’ve gotten trains from various parts of the country. Spirits are high. I confess to being nervous about the support today, but everyone is ragged up for this. Everyone is pissed and everyone is going to give everything in the stands for Newcastle United. Let’s hope the players do the same, for once.
15.50 One nil down, against the run of play and time is running out. It’s the best support I’ve ever seen from a United away end. None stop signing. Defiance. It continues all the way through half time. Hull are losing. It doesn’t matter though. The Villa fans are a disgrace. Two banners made for us especially. Cunts. Martin Larson, their club captain, is paraded before the game after being forced to retire through injury. Instead large sections of the support is obsessed by our end throughout the game. Constantly looking across, shouting, laughing. They hardly watch the game. They’re obsessed by sending us down. It means so much to them. It’s not just the minority. It’s the vast majority. I don’t think I’ve ever been at a game and just goaded the opposition. Even the 5 1 – it was funny, but you were transfixed on the pitch. This lot are looking at one thing only, and it’s not their team.
17.00 The worst has happened. No tears, just defiance. Villa celebrate like they’ve won the league. They haven’t. Huge celebrations at full time. The away end stops back and despite the disgraceful efforts of the owners and playing staff this season, we’re loud throughout. The Villa players and management do a lap of honour. The Villa fans don’t care. Songs of ‘going down’ etc probably embarrass the players a bit. ‘look at us not them’ a few of them must be thinking. We’ll be back. The arseholes in the lower stand behind the goal are full of it. Goading, laughing, “suggesting” that we come and “have a go”.
18.00 I’m back at New Street Station. Abuse, none stop. Women, children – they’re all at it. Laughing. Pointing and laughing. I’ve stopped even wondering why. Back on the train with most of the same losers who were on the train down. ‘You’re going to be the next Leeds’ etc. More laughing, singing. None of it about Aston Villa. One bloke makes a special effort to sprint across the platform to tell me he hopes we never come back up. We will, I tell him. A passing local train pulls in, full of Villa fans ‘partying’. No songs about Villa – all laughing at NUFC. Villa are a much bigger club than NUFC I’m repeatedly told, and we shouldn’t have sacked Allardyce. The journey back to Leeds isn’t fun. It’s shite actually. They’re silent compared to the Villa fans. All the way back. Laughing, at our expense.
This is a Newcastle United match preview. I’m not going talk about the fucked up mentality of a set of supporters from Birmingham who were for one day (at least), utterly obsessed by Newcastle United. Who knows what they’re jealous of. What made them hate us so much, when there’s never been any obvious needle between the clubs. You can speculate about that. I know what Aston Villa are jealous of these days – it’s the 10 point cushion we currently retain over them heading into Saturday night’s game at St James’ Park. Quite simply, it’s a chance for revenge. Thousands of mags, not just the 3k there in May 09, are desperate to win this game for reasons other than the obvious need United have for the points. I’ve had my fair share of satisfaction from Aston Vile. Away from our games against them, they’ve simply imploded as a football club. No one goes to their games anymore. Attendances have dipped regularly below 30k. The ground often has 15,000 empty seats. We have our own problems at United, but there’s (incredibly) still a passion for the club in the region, and we’ve been through worse than Vile. Their fans have deserted them. There are awful. Humiliation after humiliation. They got to the cup final in May. And were humiliated in a record cup final defeat.
They were the only club stupid (desperate?) enough to be taken in by Tim Sherwood’s bull shit. 4 points from 11 games when he departed. They’ve sold their two best players. Replaced them with worse. They shouldn’t be in the league. League finishes of 17th, 16th, 16th, 15th 16th in the last 5 years tell a story. They have 6 points from 16 games. No team has ever survived from this position. Like United, they picked up a fortunate win at Bournemouth this season. That’s it. Points at home to Sunderland and City and Southampton (very fortunately) are the only other games they’ve picked up anything. That’s 12 defeats from 16 games. That’s bad for the league to have a team so poor. Quite simply Newcastle United away on Saturday is a must win game for them. 13 points will be the gap if we beat them. That’s too much for them to bridge in the 21 games remaining.
Back to revenge though. We’ve had glimpses before. I love beating Vile more than anyone else. The mackems – everyone knows where they stand, but inflicting further misery on the gormless freaks at Villa Park that day, that’s what gets me going. The 6 0 was special. We were back, and they had been dumped by the fraud. O’Neil. They missed a pen, and we scored 6 in the sun. Beautiful. There have been two, special 2 1 wins at their place. Demons exorcized. That felt good, twice. To see their empty stands, no one interested, no one laughing anymore. Then there was February when we thought we’d done the trick. It was a terrible game but a big win, and Vile looked doomed. They survived though so revenge is still to be served. That brings us to this weekend. If Vile lose the game, 13 points. They’re already a huge seven points from safety, 8 if you take into account their far inferior goal difference.
This weekend is the chance to set up the real party in May. We travel to Villa Park on Saturday 07th of May. It’s their last home game of the season. I’d love nothing more than to relegate them at their place. But realistically I’d take them relegated by February and the mags turning up to revel in their demise. Saturday is an important step in that direction. Vile and their hapless new manager need this badly. Let’s not give it to them.
Remi Garde is an interesting case. He was widely tipped to take over from Pardew earlier this year (I can’t believe it’s less than a year ago since he moved in. It feels like 10) and spoke to United. He impressed on a budget in France and was sought after by many mags (me included). What possessed him to take the Vile job on only he knows. 4 points from 11 games with a terrible squad. Maybe he was desperate, maybe he just backed himself. He seems like an intelligent guy. Since he has come in he’s faced a tricky run of games including City, Everton, Southampton and Arsenal. Three of his 5 games have been at home and he’s lost one away game 0 4 to Everton and picked up a handy point at Southampton. Obviously he will hope the Southampton game sets a precedent, but again Vile could have been 3 or 4 down within half an hour, and then they got a flukey goal which gave them something to hang on to. The message is clear: score early, they’ll buckle.
That (finally) brings us onto Newcastle and what we need to do on Saturday. Sunday was incredible. I’m still buzzing. Despite the narrative on Sky Sports, I thought we were comfortable first half. Rob Elliot has made two decent saves and then should have done better on the goal. Hardly all hands to the pump. Spurs played OK and deserved to lead but on the balance of play, I thought we hung in there, as you have to do in these games if you want to take anything at all. Second Half we were exceptional. The much maligned (by me) Vurnon Anita was brilliant and the back 5 superb. Sissoko played like we know he can and the attacking players did their thing. Three massive, deserved points. Get in.
Like the Liverpool game, it doesn’t really change that much in terms of how we’ll play against ‘lesser’ sides at home. The Norwich game was mental as United were able to play like the away team at times as Norwich threw caution to the wind. Games against Watford, Sheff Wed and even Leicester tell a bleak story for United when we’re given the ball and expected to take the game to the opponent. Vile will come to do what we did to Liverpool and Spurs, sit deep and counter, hope to nick a goal and go from there. No doubt the longer the game stays at 0 0 the more restless SJP will become. I’d love to see a repeat of the noise and the passion against Liverpool. Realistically this is a bigger game, but we all know the crowd will be muted, despite an extra 2.5 hours to get in the mood in one of NE1’s many fabulous public houses.
I wish I could tell you that United will turn up all running and passion and we’ll score three in the first half. But I can’t. I’m delighted with the last two results and the players and manager deserve everything they get. It’s not sustainable though. The bread and butter will be putting away awful sides at home this season. It’s what McClaren’s paid to do. You make your way and get your points against the bottom ten teams in the league and go from there. This is a big game for McClaren. There’s a lot of talk from Mags about restoring Perez and Mitro to the line-up. Both struggled in similar games at home to Stoke and Leicester. On one hand, there’s no way they’re not more of an attacking threat than Cisse + De Jong, but I love having them from the bench compared to the other two. They’ll make an impact, guaranteed. The same can’t be said of Cisse/De Jong, but these two older pro’s have been better at closing down the opposition centre backs and holding up play. I’d keep things the same. The rest of the team picks itself. Dummet has been brilliant last two games, but it’s type of games where his place in the team becomes problematic. He offers so little going forward (‘cos he’s a CB) that it negates Winjladum and I’m desperate to see the Winjladum partnership with Mbabu which was so successful against Chelsea and the early stages at Man City before the latter was forced off with injury. It would be harsh to drop Dummet, I just hope he gets forward a bit more. Defensively he’s improved week on week while in the team.
Sissoko was very good second half against Spurs after a very good game against Liverpool. Many people said he can’t put two good games together and we got 1.5. We need him to put in a good showing for a third. I still worry about us defensively. We handled Harry Kane very well, but mostly as he’s a little like Rooney and if he’s not involved in the game he’ll drop deep and take himself away from the goal which is ridiculous as he then isn’t in the box a lot of the time. Rudy Gestede in 6 foot 4 and has been poor so far but he’s the type of player we struggle against. This game will be a nice warm up when Lukaku rolls into SJP on boxing day.
I really really want to win. We’ve had our fair share of luck the last couple of games and Vile are simply desperate for the win. So it’ll probably be a draw. Remember this time last year and we lost the home derby before Christmas. I was still foaming Xmas day. So please don’t do that to me again, United.
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892