So then, we’re still in it. We are climbing out of the bottom three and although the pundits continue to make Sunderland the favourites to escape relegation and they do have an extra game to play over us, we are the ones with momentum behind us and we are the club with belief and passion coursing through our veins. We are the back-lane scrappers who are coming back and refusing to give in. There is unity all over the pitch and from the dug-out to the stands. For the moment Ashley, Charnley and the orchestra of imbeciles at the top of United aren’t the story. The story is all about Rafa Benitez and his players. That is only right.
The game with Palace was a must-win game which had several sub-plots to the potential 90 minute story but we came through it and we won. It wasn’t easy. Palace are a physical and cynical team and they gave us lots of problems. I made them the better side in the first half and I was a bit spooked to not be kicking towards The Gallowgate in the second half. I try in life to be a sceptic, I only believe stuff on the strength of evidence but there I am in my SJP spec wearing my lucky trainers and cursing which way we’re kicking. This game and this football club make fools of us all.
In the second half we were improved, which seems to be a pattern. I felt our back-line was immense with Lascelles in particular looking every inch the tyro in the backline that we’ve longed for, for so long. Passionate, intelligent, capable – I’m really liking the cut of his jib but in Mbemba he has a partner whose talents he compliments really well. We’ve conceded one goal at SJP in three games and the one we did (Aguero’s for Man City) was outrageously offside. We are looking solid at the back and at no time in the 17 years I have been editing this fanzine have I written those lines. I’ll be away for a lie down. Vurnon Anita cannot be moved from that right-back spot. He has made it his own. He gives us everything Janmaat has going forward but so much more going the other way as well. I like Paul Dummett – he gives everything for the shirt and whatever his limitations, hard-work and commitment aren’t amongst them.
Chieck Tiote has maddened me in his time at United and I think for a long while he has been agitating to be away but now he is back to his best. He is a beast in that midfield. He is absolutely, fucking nails and he is guarding that back-line as if his life depends upon it. He’s excellent. There were also times when Jack Colback was moving around that midfield dropping off nice balls to team-mates and breaking up their play and I was absolutely purring. We were playing long balls too often in the first half but as the second half wore on, the potency of getting the ball to the feet of Townsend and Sissoko (the former in particular) was obvious. Fair play Cisse who ran his bollocks off – that is the trait we once adored the much loved David Kelly for and although Papiss didn’t have the iconic goal all the elements of Kelly were in his game and I’m sure he was knackered as he headed down the tunnel.
The game of course turned on two moments of absolute genius. I will watch Andros Townsend’s superb free-kick flying into the back of the Palace net many, many more times and likewise I don’t doubt Darlow’s fabulous penalty save will be on repeat in every Mag household for a good time to come. It was a pleasure to be in The Gallowgate and to witness it and be part of the celebration that followed.
Of course, we still have it all to do. Off we go to Villa Park this coming Saturday with survival very, very much on our agenda whilst they have gone already. Villa has been atrocious this season but if anyone thinks this is an easy three-points then they have not been paying attention. Villa has scored two goals in their last two games so there is life in them yet. It’s only natural many of us still harbour a grudge from the behaviour of their dickhead fans on 24/May/09 but it is too dangerous to think of revenge or any of that stuff. They are already down, so we can’t get revenge. We can rub it in but the timing is all out of whack isn’t it? We are far from safe ourselves so we can travel with a cold, steely determination to get three points and make it ever more difficult for Norwich and Sunderland. That is the only objective this coming Saturday – win the game, get away from that shit-hole and start thinking about Spurs on the final day at St James’ Park. No thoughts about taking the piss or any of that stuff. We are in no position to do so – we have to stick to the script we have followed since Rafa’s arrival – support our lads and our manager. Nothing else.
As we have without question, the greatest set of supporters in the world, we have sold out the full allocation for Saturday. There will be over 15,000 empty seats at Villa Park on Saturday but Villa won’t release any more spaces for us. The way the mood is at the moment, we could take at least twice the allocation we have been given, and I’d wager a good 10,000 Mags could be at Villa Park were their places for them. It’s a real shame and a bit of an indictment on Premier League football that there is somehow a preference to keep a seat empty rather than fill it with someone prepared to pay for it without breaking important rules about segregation.
One thing I do know however is that the support we take to the West Midlands, just like it was at Liverpool and Norwich, will be different class. The support is getting its mojo back along with the team and everyone knows the support from the away end will be full-on, committed and relentless.
We are all together now – manager, players, supporters. UNITY IS STRENGTH!
This last week has been a momentous one for the families of those who died in the Hillsborough tragedy, for survivors and for those who have campaigned tirelessly for justice. I was a young man at the time of the Hillsborough disaster but perhaps like many of you who are reading this I had enough experience of going to away grounds and of the Police to understand the attitude of the authorities and the arbitrary nature of how you might be treated at any given time. I have memories of being pinned up against a wall at Carlisle by a snarling Police dog and a swearing PC for some kind of infringement I’m yet to understand. Likewise at Bolton, I recall a truncheon to the back for the sum total of absolutely nothing. I got off fairly lightly. I was as wary of the Police at aways as any firm of hooligans hanging around the back streets of an inner city football ground.
In the 83/84 season I travelled to Hillsborough with about 12-14000 Mags for a really big game with Sheffield Wednesday as we bid for promotion from the Second Division against one of our rivals (Chelsea would join us and Wednesday by going up that season). I was on the terraces in the Leppings Lane and I was in the central pen where five years later the tragedy would unfold. It was horrendous on that terrace as we were packed tight, unable to move and with feet off the ground. I remember being unable to move my arms and I recall the Police and stewards completely indifferent to how we were caged in. At the left of that central pen were two other sections which looked far more sparsely populated and one completely empty for reasons of segregation. To my left, I saw Mags climbing over the iron railings and into the emptier sections. I saw Police attempting to stop them and I saw Mags fighting with PCs and getting the upper hand. Police hats were knocked off and thrown around the away end. It had the element of comic about it. Well, it often does with us, doesn’t it? Hundreds spilled into the emptier pens and in the central pen we were more comfortable as a result. We lost the game 4-2 and our ex-striker Imre Varadi (binned so we could buy Peter Beardsley) starred for The Owls. I have recounted that story many, many times and in the last week I received a text from one of my best mates who was reading the Hillsborough Inquest coverage on a train and recounted the tale. We’d gone to that game together. We were quite possibly moments from serious injury or worse in what was a death-trap of a football ground. Myself and many others have a load of daft lads, quite possibly those who might have been described as hooligans to thank for that – we certainly have nothing to thank the South Yorkshire Police for who had constables with truncheons drawn, striking the hands of those on the fences. There was quite possibly a worse scenario that might have unfolded a few years later at White Hart Lane in a Cup tie but somehow we survived without injury. I went to that game and didn’t see a second of it, trapped, squashed, facing more or less into their stand (The Shelf) and catching only glances of the action.
The truth has long been known about Hillsborough by those of us who were at football over that period – those of us who
travelled to that ground and others to do nothing more menacing than support our football clubs. Indeed, the truth was spelled out in 1990 by Geordie Lord Justice Taylor but it has been hidden from view. I fervently believe the Thatcher Government did everything it could to hide from view the painful truth and the establishment acted to defend itself and those who had acted as its instruments during the Miners’ Strike (Orgreave is another pack of lies that needs to be exposed) and other arenas of social unrest throughout that decade. It was a failure of the Blair Government that this was not expedited earlier. The latest is we hear of Masonic links within South Yorkshire Police that might have explained the wholly inexperienced, incompetent Duckenfield being promoted and even allocated responsibility for this game. But it goes further, how could the FA allocate tickets for the game in the way they did? Why weren’t Liverpool, with far greater support than Forest, allocated The Kop end? Why did the FA allocate a game of this size to a football ground that had not received a safety inspection for over ten years? Remember this tragedy followed those at Ibrox, Heysel and Valley Parade. It was incompetence and neglect on a grand scale.
But it is the cover-up which taints so many public institutions and it reaches from coppers having their statements doctored by superiors to Chief Constables briefing press against the supporters, to checking the blood of dead children for alcohol and tampering with evidence. It reaches also to the very top of the Thatcher Government. A government with history for being less than truthful about the sinking of the Belgrano, alliances with fascist dictators such as the mass murderer Pinochet, the gross hypocrisy and bigotry of Clause 28, sympathy for the Apartheid regime, a litany of grotesque injustices in the North of Ireland and of course the series of industrial disputes at Wapping and with the Miners that have not been resolved yet. They remain open sores.
Hillsborough also provided opportunities for the printed media, the slavering, barking attack dogs of the right-wing to indulge in its well-rehearsed hatred for those not like them. In the 1980s, Liverpool (like Scotland, the NE and many others) were devastated by Thatcher’s industrial policies. For those who didn’t live through that decade in a place like the NE it is difficult to express the hopelessness of mass unemployment as many good men and women were thrown onto the scrap-heap. Alan Bleasdale’s Boys From The Blackstuff is a moving drama about the tragedy of those times whilst our own Auf Weiderhsen Pet is a classic comedy, it is also set in a time of mass unemployment which sets the context for a group of lads getting on their bikes to look for work (thank you Norman Tebbit). Most obnoxious of all amongst the Thatcher press was The Sun with its repellant editor, Kelvin Mackenzie, erstwhile prostitute of letters for Murdoch and Thatcher. Those that died at Hillsborough weren’t the first to have been traduced by this disgraceful excuse for journalism. The GOTCHA headlines of the Falklands War trivialized the deaths of real people and throughout the decade there was a sequence of hate-filled lies about black people, left-wing councils, the Irish, gays and anyone else who Thatcher might have decided wasn’t “one of us”. Liverpool, for better or worse fought back through a Militant led council. Liverpool became the enemy for Thatcher in the same way as the Miners and an entire city, became beyond the pale. Clearly, the events of Heysel in 1985 was not a great one for Liverpool FC and its supporters from which it must accept culpability. But not for one moment do I believe any other supporters would have been treated any favourably than Liverpool’s. Football was a hugely working class game in that era and its followers most definitively, outside of the Thatcher constituency with some exceptions made for the loadsamoney, sign-on pricks at Spurs and Chelsea.
It was utterly shocking even at the time that The Sun should lead with such a virulently, poisonous line against supporters without conducting even the most cursory of research. That the infamous The Truth headline should have been a toned down from Mackenzie’s preferred You Scum says everything. The city of Liverpool has pursued a Don’t Buy The Sun campaign since that time and those of us who sympathized with the Hillsborough campaign followed suit. It wasn’t a hard sacrifice for me to be honest. I wouldn’t have wrapped my chips in that shite before Hillsborough so I doubt they will ever notice any like me who formalized their stance.
If ever anyone wanted vindication for the antipathy towards The Sun it was found in the phone-tapping scandal for the sister paper, the News of the World but it was also in the re-employment of Kelvin Mackenzie as a hate-filled, know-all, pig-ignorant columnist and his tasteless joke about being made a member of the House of Lords as Lord Anfield. The man is absolute vermin and so is a newspaper owned by a man (Murdoch) who is a cancer on the democracy and public life of this country. Even last week, The Sun prosecuted its venality in relation by declining to feature the news from Warrington on its front page unlike virtually every other newspaper in the country bar one – The Times – another title owned by the man who has outstayed his welcome on earth.
But some might be reading this thinking – why is this daft so and so going on about this Hillsborough stuff yet again? Why is he grinding that left-wing axe of his against Thatcher et al? Well, because I believe it matters and it also affects everyone one reading this as football supporters. Hillsborough might have easily had been us. It was our good fortune that it wasn’t and by fact of their being involved routinely in big games such as FA Cup semi-finals that they were at greater risk and so it came to pass. Politically, “Liverpool” was toxic to the right wing establishment but in many ways so would we have been with our history of not voting Tory, supporting strikes and thinking differently to the Yuppies and Loadasmoney types who were Thatcher’s disciples. It was all by chance.
I was delighted by the gesture of sympathy and solidarity before the game with Palace. Whether Rafa requested the
minute’s applause or not I don’t know but his support for the Justice campaign via the donation of £96,000 shows a man with substance and soul. A man I want desperately to keep at Newcastle United for so many reasons. The Gallowgate breaking out into You’ll Never Walk Alone was heartfelt and completely unscripted. It came from our collective heart.
But to return to The Sun for one moment! It depresses me that a proper football person like Alan Shearer, perhaps the greatest living Newcastle United legend has any kind of association with this newspaper. Let’s get one thing straight – Alan Shearer is a good person. Alan puts a hell of a lot of work in for various charities and he has used his fame to change the lives of a lot of people. He is a great son of Newcastle upon Tyne and he is a great Geordie advertisement. He should be an ambassador for our club. That is a wasted opportunity, though not unexpected. Listen to Alan talk about United on MOTD etc and he speaks like a supporter. He is a supporter. His own Foundation does great work within our community and I’m aware of excellent work he has done for several other charities, not least of which is the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. But Alan is a good friend of Kenny Dalglish, who for all of his shortcomings as a manager for Newcastle United has been immaculate in his support for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and likewise Alan is a friend of Alan Hansen and a former team-mate of Peter Beardsley who both played for Liverpool on that tragic day at Hillsborough. It ill befits a fanzine gobshite like me to make pleas to Alan Shearer about how he develops his post-playing media career but I’m sure a lot of us would be a lot more comfortable in our admiration for one of our greatest ever servants if he ended his association with The Sun, a newspaper that is no friend of football supporters.
But back to the here and now! We were all bouncing post-match in the bars of NE1 after the Palace game. The air was being punched, faces were wreathed in smiles and ale was taken. It was great to see so many fantastic supporters of our club feeling good about Newcastle United. That is what Rafa Benitez has brought back to our club. Like many of you, I am absolutely desperate for Rafa Benitez to stay at United and be given full control of all football matters. To have a chance of that, we have to stay in the Premier League. Onto Aston Villa. Come on United.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
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