It’s August again, a time when football fans across the country should be licking their lips in anticipation of a new season to come. So are many Newcastle United fans doing that at present? I doubt it. Whilst, to be fair, there are still a few weeks to go until the closing of the summer transfer window, I can’t help getting the feeling that we are being left behind again, despite having the third highest attendances in England again last season.
Perhaps Joe Kinnear really will pull a few rabbits out of the hat between now and the beginning of September and I have to confess that I certainly didn’t see the fifth place two seasons ago coming. It will also be argued that this season we won’t have the distraction of European football – and by the way, can anybody tell me when European football became a ‘distraction’ rather than the glorious adventure it was in 1968/9? Perhaps the new season will be a successful one. But am I alone in having the sinking feeling that a cup run to the quarter-finals and 10th in the Premier League will be viewed and proclaimed by the board as success?
It shouldn’t be this way and we all know it. In my 45 years as a supporter, the true potential of the club has only really been glimpsed once, during that remarkable spell from 1993-1997. I say remarkable with a heavy heart because it shouldn’t be. Yet that was the only time we really threatened the usual suspects, the heavyweights of the English game, the Manchester Uniteds, the Arsenals, the Liverpools. Other than that, we had a couple of runs to Wembley in the 1970’s and did well under the stewardship of the late great Sir Bobby Robson.
Mostly though, as is well documented in Ged Clarke’s book Fifty Years of Hurt, and that book of course stops before some of the recent shambolic events, the recent story of Newcastle United has been and remains one of sadly unfulfilled potential. It isn’t always easy to compete with oil billionaires and such like, but we should and could be doing so much better.
The same could be said for the British economy. We have just seen growth figures of 0.6% for the last quarter and this is being hailed in some quarters as a vindication of George Osborne’s austerity measures. Yet, as Will Hutton has argued all that is really happening is that a natural bounce in the economy has occurred and a very small one at that. Hutton has also pointed out that, “exports are effectively unchanged, even to faster growing non-EU countries, despite a 25% devaluation. Company investment has collapsed by 34%. Real wages are 9% below their peak – they rose in every other post-war recession – and are set to fall further”. Just as the welcome victory against Chelsea last season did not really do anything to hide the deficiencies in the squad, so any small good news on the economy cannot possibly do any more than temporarily paper over the huge cracks that have appeared.
Again the story is of unfulfilled potential. It was reported on 19th July, on the BBC News website that, “the number of people out of work fell by 57,000 to 2.51 million in the three months to May, according to the Office for National Statistics. The unemployment rate of the economically active population was down 0.2% to 7.8%” Again this seems like good news, but surely over two and a half million unemployed, nearly 8% of thwe UK work force out of work, these are still terrible figures. Like a football club, with the third highest attendances in the league finishing tenth in the league table, these figures are simply not good enough.
What is worse is that according to stockmarketwire.com, the unemployment rate in our own North East is the highest in the country at 10.4% Over in one-in-ten of our friends and neighbours, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters are out of work.
The most depressing statistic of all has to be the news in July that youth unemployment, that of young people between the ages of 15 and 24, is a shocking 16%, (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/09/youth-unemployment-long-term-effectso) or nearly one-in-six of all young people in the country.
No doubt any top ten place or half-decent cup run this coming season will be hailed as Newcastle United making a worthy recovery from last season’s malaise. It won’t. Similarly a growth rate of 0.6% hardly means that the UK economy is now good shape and George Osborne’s austerity policies have been the correct policies all along. Indeed the fact that there is any growth rate at all is because Osborne has belatedly pumped some money into the economy for home-buyers and in a small number of other ways.
An insight into what life is like for somebody living in real poverty in Britain today, can be found at the blog agirlcalledjack.com, written by a 25 year-old single mother Jack Monroe. In one post she wrote, “poverty is the sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one Weetabix and says, More, Mummy, bread and jam please, Mummy’, as you’re wondering whether to take the TV or the guitar to the pawnshop first and how to tell him that there is no bread or jam.”
In the last year, Monroe has become a powerful anti-poverty campaigner, including working on behalf of the global Enough Food If campaign, which highlights that today, in the second decade of the 21st century, between two and three million children die of hunger across the world, every year and this has alleviated her position somewhat. However, Monroe has stated that she is, “not going to stop championing causes, campaigning and stamping my feet about things that are wrong, just because I may not be in that position any more. Until people realise benefits doesn’t mean scrounger, and austerity isn’t a fun middle-class way to grow your own vegetables, there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Speaking of finding it hard to make ends meet, Papiss Cisse has of course now agreed to wear a Newcastle United shirt bearing the logo of wonga.com, but it seems that another opponent to Wonga has taken his place. It was reported recently that Wonga do not only fall short of standards expected by Muslims, but seemingly Christians too. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, formerly Bishop of Durham, has said that he intends the Church of England to set up a network of credit unions to help the poor and reportedly told Errol Damelin, chief executive of Wonga at a meeting that, “we’re not in the business of trying to legislate you out of existence, we are trying to compete you out of existence.’
The Church of England is already in the process of setting up a credit union for its staff, but I wonder if Welby’s time in the Northeast has also helped him appreciate the very great suffering among poorer people in our country and the need for practical community solutions. Unfortunately for the archbishop, it has also been revealed that the Church of England has what has been described as an ‘indirect stake’ in Wonga to the tune of £75 000. Despite this, I wish Welby good luck with his plan and it is good to see ‘the church’ doing what it should be doing; helping the poor and the marginalised in our society.
It does seem that on so many occasions, when Newcastle United have a little success, the momentum is lost and the opportunity squandered. It happened in 1969 after the Fairs Cup win, it happened after the excitement of the 1983/4 promotion season and of course it happened most recently last season after the 5th top finish in 2012. In each of the three occasions mentioned above, there was a different board, but on each occasion there was the same lack of vision, the same inability to match the ambitions and desires of the supporters.
In the same way, we have a government now which lacks vision and seems to care little for the hopes of millions of people in this country. A good government would promote policies which could help all its citizens fulfil their potentials as human beings. This government seems only concerned about helping the wealthiest few to fulfil their potential for acquiring, I won’t call it earning, even more wealth. A good government would have policies which were inclusive and looked after the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginalised members of society. This government only seems determined to bash them at every opportunity, in an attempt to get voters to support those policies which make the fabulously wealthy even more rich. A good government would put learning and community at the heart of its policies. This government seems happy to see hundreds of libraries across the country shut down, including ten in Newcastle.
I sincerely hope that Newcastle United can soon add to the squad of players who underachieved last season and put in a real challenge in both the Premier League and the two cup competitions. I also hope that the Chancellor can see that austerity is not working and that if he wants even better growth figures next time round to facilitate more investment in our economy. What is sure is that both long-suffering Newcastle United supporters and the people of Britain generally, deserve better than what we have had to put with recently from those in power.
Here’s hoping anyway! After all, after Andy Murray became the first British men’s champion at Wimbledon for 77-years last month, perhaps this season….