This Sunday coming’s game at Elland Road will bring back a lot of memories for older Mags who traditionally view a game with Leeds as a really big deal. As someone who formed a view of the world of football in the 1970s as a child and teenager, Leeds United will always represent something of a contest to be relished given the pride and passion of both United supporters and those of the team from West Yorkshire.
I’ve had the experience of being in massive way supports at Elland Road and victories down there are always to be relished. I’m more than keen for another one this coming Sunday. I’ve not had time to look at the Premier League fixtures this weekend but I do know that football supporters of a certain vintage will look at Leeds United v Newcastle United with anticipation. Our two clubs don’t belong in this division in terms of support and stature but this game will elevate interest in the Championship, which is why partly I guess the game is live on TV.
We might ask why clubs like Leeds and ourselves are in the second tier of English football. I’ve heard some make a case that there are now so many clubs in the south now dominating the Premier League as representative of some kind of economic imbalance between north and south. Whilst that might be partly true in terms of what can be charged at the gate and the prospect of corporate custom, I don’t really buy it. Stoke, Hull, Middlesbrough, Burnley, Swansea, Everton and Sunderland are in amongst the most economically disadvantaged parts of the UK whilst West Brom hardly has the catchment area of say, Chelsea and Arsenal. Watford like Bournemouth doesn’t have the infrastructure of a top-flight club and I’d guess Sunderland pays higher wages to its players than Southampton and quite a few others in the Premier League.
The answer is, like Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds we are in the division because of incompetence. There have been people running football clubs who have behaved recklessly and made far too many mistakes. Bad players have been signed, poor managers have been appointed and huge amounts of money has been wasted. As fans of QPR, Portsmouth, Wolves et al might point out rank incompetence, corporate greed or malevolence isn’t the preserve of clubs in what constitutes the North. North of the border at Ibrox, Rangers, one of the biggest names in world football has been crucified in recent years because the people running that club have behaved spectacularly badly. No other explanation. If Sunderland go down this season it won’t be because of any economic factors outside football it is because Ellis Short’s expertise in moving money around as a US Hedge Fund investor doesn’t match his ability to run a major football club.
Football supporters often talk about what constitutes a “big club” and our claim for United to be regarded as a “big club” is down to the size of our support, stadium and profile. Others will point to the numbers of trophies won and the arguments will run forever. They are of course utterly pointless debates and form part of the pissing competitions we have as football fans, harmless as they are. For me, there are only two types of football clubs – good ones and bad ones. I don’t mean there is something inherently bad about any club or its supporters but what I mean is are they run correctly, do they have the correct ethics, business strategy, engage correctly with their supporters and is everyone who works for that club giving 100% to make that club better on and off the pitch. And are they the right people or the best people to do that.
Right across football in this country there are supporters of numerous clubs seriously questioning how their clubs are run. We’ve had our moments at Newcastle United over an extended period of time and that goes back to the days of Westwood Is A Pirate chanted on the old Leazes End up to Ashley Out campaigns, currently on the back-burner as Rafa Benitez works his magic. Hull, Charlton, Blackpool and others are studies in discontent and our opponents this Sunday have been in a despond of despair for as long as some supporters care to remember. I’ve scratched my head at what Ken Bates was ever doing at Leeds United, though certain voices on the Gelderd Kop can provide blunt explanations. The new question then turns to wondering what the hell Massimo Cellino is similarly doing at Yorkshire’s biggest football club. I can guess the explanations from those in the know at Leeds might be similar to those enlightening us as to Bates’ previous motives.
But back to the football. Elland Road will be packed to the gills this Sunday and we could have sold our allocation out five times over. I’ve no doubt pubs and clubs on Tyneside will see bumper trade this Sunday lunchtime. Supporters are flocking to these games because of pride and love for their respective clubs. There will be better football played elsewhere this weekend of that I’m certain but tradition, history and passion will have supporters of Leeds United and Newcastle United spending the rest of this week looking forward to clicking through the turnstiles and hearing the roar of the crowd. It is what makes Leeds United v Newcastle United a massive game. The support.
On the pitch I see this is as a major test of United’s credentials. This fixture is the nearest we’ll get to a local derby this season (and the less said about our record in them in latter years, the better). There will be a level of hostility towards United than we’ve not experienced before under Rafa and I don’t need to tell anyone about the largely poor standard of refereeing in the Championship. This isn’t a game at Rotherham, Barnsley or Preston when we’ve had 5-6000 in the away end. Rafa and the team will be up against it and I’m certain the Leeds’ crowd will raise their players as they have done previously in Cup ties against better sides than ours. Let’s not forget, Leeds are probably at their strongest now than they have been for a long while and their position in the table should be respected. I’m 100% confident Rafa will know all of this and it will be part of our preparation as we make the short trip down the roadA1. Whatever, the line-up, the tactics, for me the biggest requirement for United going into this game is determination, intelligence, hard-graft and professionalism.
News that Jonjo Shelvey may be facing a charge related to alleged racial abuse of an opposing player during the Wolves game (league) was disappointing, not just because it might result in Rafa being without his best players for an extended period but because I imagined we might have been beyond all of this shite now. No-one can really comment upon this until it is formally settled but it’s a bad turn whatever the outcome.
There was better news regarding season ticket sales this week as United announced we have sold 37,000 to date. That is an incredible number for a relegated team but it is testimony to the impact Rafa Benitez is having at United both on and off the park. Results at a football club matter than more than anything but the mood music around the place counts for a lot too. Rafa meeting the people behind the wonderful Sir Bobby Robson Foundation as we detailed on the site in the last few days demonstrates this man understood the community that identifies with United but so did his surprise visit to delight some young lads involved in the Newcastle United Foundation and playing football on the West Road. As I’m hearing everywhere I go lately, supporters seem to agree: “Rafa gets it”. I’m hopeful we get to 40,000 season ticket holders to mark our return to the Premier League (fingers crossed) not only because of the benefits this brings to United financially and in other ways but because it illustrates in the best possible way that Newcastle United has in no way fulfilled its potential. It may appear ridiculous for the supporter of a Championship club to be expressing this but I’m strongly of the view, Newcastle United should be looking at a capacity for SJP nearer 60,000 than 50,000. That is what United should be thinking about.
Many thanks to those of you who have donated to Gallowgate Flags and made the displays we have enjoyed this season possible. Like true faith there have been substantial donations from the Newcastle United Supporters Trust and NUFC.COM, both of which have joined us in actively promoting the work of Gallowgate Flags this season. Gallowgate Flags next plan is to raise funds to purchase one or more, large surfer style flags for display on the Gallowgate End. These will complement the flags that have already been purchased and add to the spectacle when the next display is organised, hopefully in spring-time and we are closing in on promotion.
It should be a source of pride in ourselves as supporters that Gallowgate Flags is a completely fan-ran enterprise. It is entirely funded from donations made by supporters and the designs etc. all come from fans. The displays that are developed can become as big and varied as we want them to be. But obviously it all needs to be paid for. Gallowgate Flags works closely with United who have been really supportive.
Please consider making a donation to Gallowgate Flags and help show the world what our support for Newcastle United is all about. Please donate here.
Finally, it should be recognised what Newcastle United and NEXUS have achieved in putting on public transport on to enable supporters to travel to and from our game with Sheffield Wednesday this coming Boxing Day. Both United and NEXUS have been heavily criticised for the lack of public transport on public holidays when United are playing at SJP so it is only right they are lauded in responding to the needs of fans getting to and from this match. Well done to both.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
This is the new issue of true faith (TF127). This issue is over 90 pages of some cracking writing about the fortunes of Newcastle United from every different angle and the world around it. We occasionally go off topic but the material we publish is always well-received.true faith is Newcastle United’s longest running, most popular and respected fanzine. We have been providing the alternative view on everything at the club since 1999. We made the switch to digital after publishing 111 hard-copy issues and our readership has gone stratospheric. The fanzine is free of charge and reads really well on any device though we recommend i-pad and tablet in particular. We all hope you enjoy it.
Just click on the image below to get full and instant access no matter where you are in the world or whatever time of day.