Circumstances meant that I couldn’t get to a keyboard for much time following this season’s disintegration in Manchester, which is probably just as well as regular readers of this old toffee have probably reached their limits when it comes to reading another rant from me. Like last season, I walked out way before the final whistle. Unlike last season it was when the sixth goal went in (as opposed to the fifth) when I went slunk in resigned fashion past the Blue-Moon Burger Van en-route to Manchester’s enviable light-railway system and back into the town centre and some agreeable company. For the avoidance of doubt this was not to attend a fringe meeting of the Young Conservatives. Just thought I’d clear that up.
Leaving matches early is no longer a taboo for me and looking at the hundreds hitting the coach park as we contemplated the football genius that imagined Vurnon Anita and Yoan Gouffran could provide any kind of resistance to anyone in any kind of Premier League football match, I’m not alone. The stoicism that was once our signature as a travelling support is crumbling. Though, to be fair we had almost a full allocation at £44 a throw which is a bigger turnout than last season when we had our arses tanned x five by the nouveau-riche arrivestes in M11. I really get the impression that our support is now at a point where our defiance is almost as limp as the team we support. It’s hardly surprising and I don’t think any group of supporters anywhere in the world or at any time in the modern era could retain any sense of optimism or enthusiasm given the diet of thin gruel we’ve been fed on for so long.
One argument I’ve heard repeated a few times by those who believe the current era we are experiencing isn’t as bad as what we’ve had before and the implication is supporters should to use the modern idiom, “man-up”. I’ve followed United since the early 70s and I can pin-point two eras when we were really on a low. One of those was in the late 1970s/Early 80s and the other in the late 1980s/Early 90s. Don’t get me wrong seeing United sell Macdonald in the 70s and then Waddle-Gascoigne-Beardsley in the 80s led to a mass gnashing of teeth but this is worse.
Here’s why. In the period from 1974 to 1984, Newcastle United had two runs to Cup Finals in 74 and 76 and although we lost both, the days and games are still talked of fondly by those of a certain vintage. I’d also suggest the 82/83 and 83/84 seasons aka the Keegan Years were amongst the two most enjoyable seasons I’ve ever had following the club even though both were spent in the Second Division (old money). Likewise the period between 1988 and 1998 bore witness to the best football some of us have ever and will ever witness from a team wearing Newcastle United shirts. Sandwiched between both those periods were the McGarry years (Shinto, Rafferty, Clarke et al) and the period following the Play-Off SF defeat which led to a bleak couple of seasons prior to the sunshine of KK’s return in 1992.
That’s why this is worse. The unremitting gloom of the Ashley era has tested many beyond breaking point. Remember it is eight long years since that unbearable Tory gobshite John Hall sold us out to Ashley. He’ll still be counting his pieces of silver now.
There have been very, very few ups to sustain us beyond a very brief but enjoyable tour of the Championship, tanning the Mackems 5-1 and a few decent trips to Europe. There are a few Mags in their mid-to-late 20s whose devotion to United is as committed as any of any other generation I’ve known, but I worry about what is sustaining them through this long, endless winter of Mike Ashley. Where are the Cup runs, the days out in Europe, the bravura displays and wins that make it all worthwhile and give us the emotional blanket to keep us warm in our supporting lives? The things to talk about in years to come when today’s young Mags become tomorrow’s old farts (hello there)?
We are not deluded to believe Newcastle United deserves more than what Ashley and the people he has appointed to keep it ticking over are providing. Let’s start from that point. Let us never ever forget that or concede that point. Ever.
The other points have been made by The Chronicle’s Mark Douglas this last week. This is, in terms of results, the worst calendar year in the history of Newcastle United Football Club. It is as things stand the worst start we have had in the Premier League era. As McClaren’s request to judge him after ten games stretches now to twelve, the season is starting to develop a feeling of desperation about it. It is not a season which has come out of the blue or is the coincidence of a lot of random factors which might convince us we are experiencing some rank bad luck. The context for this season is another of entirely predictably dreadful results on the back of previous seasons when we have looked closer to the trap-door than the mythical land of top eight finishes and cup runs, an increasingly clueless Steve McClaren talks about.
So, who is to blame? It is inescapable. It has to be Mike Ashley. He has appointed every single person to a position of authority (ha) at United, he has set the budget, he has plotted the course and he signs the cheques. It is easy to imagine (and I’ve heard some articulate the argument) that Ashley is engaged in some form of spite against us because we had the audacity to challenge his running of the club and maybe called in some horrid names. But I think it’s worse than that. I don’t think he even gives a fuck really. All of his actions suggest he is supremely indifferent. I regularly hear about a complete lack of communication between him and anyone at the club. You read in the post-Man City humping Steve McClaren say quite clearly he does not speak to Ashley. Imagine that, the owner of a football club having no relationship with the man who picks the players and stands at the side of the pitch in the full glare of football’s microscopic attention. Oh, I beg your pardon, Ashley sent McClaren a text.
You can look elsewhere beyond Ashley and point to the grotesque inadequacies of Lee Charnley as someone to steer the club to anywhere out of the bottom quartile of the Premier League. You can set a harsh spotlight on Graeme Carr’s increasingly frequent flops in the transfer market. A squad of has-beens and never-will-bes is all the work of Northampton Town’s ex-manager. A first team populated by poor characters with the losing mentality Alan Shearer speaks of is the culmination of too many bad buys courtesy of Mr Carr, another of United’s executive team who lives in the shadows. Fingers will point at a manager who was sacked by Forest, Derby, Wolfsburg and most memorably by England with only a Dutch title with Twente providing him with any credibility whatsoever. How does the sack at Derby in the Championship prepare you for Newcastle United in the Premier League?
As for McClaren, he may be supping deep from the poisoned chalice of Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United and is attempting to get a tune from a selection of players completely disconnected from our just and righteous cause and pursuing the narrow agenda of self-interest they were tempted here to pursue. The formations change, the tactics are amended but the same rotten results continue. The big question is, how long will it be tolerated before Ashley sees the PL millions disappearing down a massive Lee Charnley shaped toilet and act to completely over-rule the football board he entrusted to run the club for him? Personally, I can’t see McClaren surviving the next two PL games without gaining 4 points. There, I’ve said it.
Congratulations to the Football Supporters Federation for organizing and leading an excellent Twenty’s Plenty series of protests that had an impact at every single Premier League ground in the country so far as I’m aware. A big well-done to everyone who supported the protest at our game with Man City on Saturday. It was good to have a natter with members of Man City’s 1894 Group and I think special mention must be made for members of the Everton Supporters Group, Blue Union and their Scouse brothers and sisters Spirit of Shankly who turned out to give support outside the Etihad. Fair play to them. I’m a fine one to talk as I turned up late as a result of traffic problems but it was a little disappointing to see so few of our own who thought about giving the boozer a swerve to support a really worthy cause for an hour. Good on those who did turn out and they deserve full credit. However, it’s disappointing after reading so many plaintive calls for supporters action via this site and across social media that when the call goes out to support a worthy cause, the numbers we turn-out often give cause for disappointment.
We’ve had a good response to the news we are now going to be offering our true faith fanzine completely FREE of charge
in its digital format. We’ve done reasonably well as a subscription digital fanzine since we brought the curtain down on the hard-copy format the season before last and in all honesty, it makes no business or financial sense to now do it for FREE. But we really do want to grow the readership and offer our writers the biggest possible audience we can. That’s what we’ve always done and what we’ll always do. We’ve had a few suggestions that readers can make donations to help pay the fanzine’s costs and obviously that would be fantastic if readers did tip up that way. We’ll look at how we can offer that facility. The main thing we do need though to help us meet some costs and build what we do online is a regular advertising revenue. So, if you fancy some advertising for your business or whatever, just drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll have a natter about it. Our prices start as little as £25 per month or £200 per season. Obviously, the more you pay, the more you get.
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Mercifully, there is no Newcastle United this weekend but there is plenty football and we’ll be doing our bit to promote the Football Supporters Federation’s Non-League Day. For our own part we’ll be making the journey to North Shields for their Northern League game with Dunston and we’d really encourage you to get along to The Morgue for the game. You won’t be disappointed I’m sure. But wherever you go, make sure you go and spend a few bob.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …