So, that’s the pre-season over and its exactly one full week until the visit of Southampton on the first weekend of the 2015/16 season. As things stand, we have signed three promising, young, though unproven players from Holland and Belgium and Darlow and Lascelles have joined us after being at Forest last season as part of the deal. We have some lad on trial from Northampton with a very small fee spoken about. Since last season we have lost Santon, Ben Arfa, Mbwia, Jonas and Ryan Taylor. Sammy Ameobi has signed a new contract and then gone directly out on loan to Cardiff in a move that is baffling. The senior players we had at Rangers in the Scottish Second Division – Ferguson, Vuckic, Bigigrama as well as Marveaux back in France are now back in the first team pool. I almost forgot about Ferreya leaving.
There has been a poor reaction to several players who have demonstrated they aren’t good enough for the Premier League, let alone one with a stated aspiration of attempting to get into the top eight, still being in the first team picture. Mike Williamson has become a totemic figure for what many perceive as Mike Ashley’s under- investment at United. It seems to be the received wisdom amongst supporters that of those who turned out at centre half last season, none are really good enough. I find that harsh on Colo who has been a good servant of the club and who has spent too long alongside Williamson who is a Championship defender at best. Colo may be a fading force and we have all heard the gossip about his personal life but I think he’s the only proven central defender at the club worthy of a shirt. I accept he wasn’t great last season. Steven Taylor has now become a parody of himself with the big, look at me I love The Toon gestures to the bairns in The Gallowgate but he’s frequently injured and it seems a long time ago since anyone spoke about him being a potential England International. The most I’ve been impressed with him in recent times was him tipping up for the North Shields coach to take them to Wembley for the FA Vase. He, like Colo is in the last year of his contract and United seem in no rush to offer him one. I’ve heard whispers of him having been close to moves to Hull and QPR. We know where those two clubs are now.
Those of us who would like to hold onto any kind of positivity about United (and believe it or not, I honestly do) point to four weeks remaining of the transfer window for the club to complete its business and that patience so far this summer having proven to be a virtue. There is merit in this sentiment however there is also a back-catalogue of previous windows when the only decisive action the club has taken in the transfer market has been as sellers. It has also taken United an incredible amount of time to sign three players this season, so at the current rate of progress, the outlook doesn’t look great. I want to be proven wrong but I’m starting to get those horrible doubts and fears creeping back in about what can be achieved with the players McClaren at his disposal.
In his interview before the West Ham game last season, Ashley spoke of a summer of investment and new ambitions. He also made a clear statement about how it was all being left to a board led by Lee Charnley. We know there is money at United. At the end of June/14 there was £34m in the club’s funds as surplus and an £18m profit. I’m guessing there is at least the same amount from June/15 though we won’t know that until January/16. I’m not suggesting Charnley should go on a massive splurge of buying players and do our dough. Frankly, I’m not arsed how much is spent on players really and if bargains like Cabaye and Ba can come in and perform really well, then great. But what cannot be used as an excuse is that the club is skint because it just isn’t. Unless of course Ashley is planning on pulling a load of money out of United to reduce his debt! There should be no problem in spending money on players this summer if that isn’t the case.
It is obvious where our priorities lie. We need another central defender (and that’s before Colo leaving becoming a reality), we need creativity down the flank as it appears Cabella has few fans on the new coaching set up and what we do have is unproven and fragile (Aarons) as well as not good enough (Obertan) and of course we need another striker.
You could make a case for a recruit to left-back as well but I’d be happy with the club meeting its priorities and picking up those positions in later windows. Realistically, we can’t buy a whole new team in one window.
Names have been bandied about all summer most notably Thauvin at Marseille and of course Austin at QPR who its thought is now attracting the attention of other PL clubs as we get closer to the bewitching hour of the season starting and the transfer window closing. I’m no longer hearing us being linked to central defenders and although McClaren claimed there were players off the radar under consideration that line is yet to be substantiated with arrivals from left-field.
I’ve had a pretty good nod that Sissoko will leave this window. Liverpool is possibly the likeliest destination though Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea are all credited with an interest. I don’t think he’s good enough to get into the Arsenal or Chelsea sides. However, for all of us who questioned him last season (with justification) the talk is of him going up the football ladder from United and not down it. Personally, I’d love to see him played in a United side with a greater attacking commitment and with better players around him.
Of course there are others who, given their ages, United’s philosophy and contract situations might be expected to be leaving SJP. I don’t imagine Tiote or Cisse will be offered new deals by United. I would expect they will be looking to secure what I expect will be their last big contracts and have agents working to that end. Where they end up is anyone’s guess.
We also have a pool of fringe players who serve little purpose – Obertan, Abeid, Riviere, Anita with the others returned from Rangers are not going to be able to meet the apparent pledge to get in the top eight this season and actually have a bash at the cups.
In short, not enough has changed but to be fair there is time to put it right but the club has to get its arse in gear and push deals over that ‘kin line. Another season of gut-wrenching frustration is just not going to be accepted and the flood of season tickets bank debits being cancelled could turn into a tsunami. I desperately hope we don’t get to where we were last season, in the stands or on the pitch. I really don’t like the divisions opening up between supporters. It isn’t healthy. Like the vast majority of you reading this, I want to feel positive about supporting Newcastle United again but frankly, there has to be evidence for that. Blind, empty optimism isn’t going to do it.
I’m a season ticket holder. That sounds like the opening line to a self-help group but I’ve started to wonder if there is any advantage to having a season ticket at all. In years gone by United would offer discounts to those who renewed or bought season tickets before the end of May. If you went to every home game, the price of a season ticket made it cheaper than paying on a match by match basis and generally speaking, the club wanted to treat you well as a prized, loyal and committed supporter. It hasn’t been that way for a long while but as Ashley’s people become more desperate to find ways to fill the stands as people have chucked it, then the offers for match-tickets become ever more generous and I’m left scratching my head wondering why I am paying up front for something I could get cheaper on a game by game basis it seems.
As an example I recently received an e-mail from some corporate club type thing I’m in through work. It was offering me a ticket for the Southampton game in the middle tier of the Milburn for £20. Frankly, a much better seat than the one I have in the Gallowgate for which on average I pay something like £26 per game, up front and in advance. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of offers like this though many years ago it was something we mercilessly took the piss out of the Mackems about. We’re little different now as more people write the club off as a bad job under Ashley. Now, I’m all for cheaper ticket prices but the question I’m hearing from long term season ticket holders is this – what’s the point in being tied into direct debits and all the rest of it, stumping up in advance when it’s cheaper to get better seats than the ones we currently have though all of these offers? Answers on a post-code etc!
The summer has flown by – there doesn’t seem to have been a day when the club has not occupied our waking thoughts and yet here we are again ready for another season aboard the good ship Newcastle United.
This will be another season we have been covering the club and other football related matters. We started off in 1999 as a 32-page, 2 colour fanzine and continued down that merry way adding to the fanzine so it became by the end a 64 / 72-page full colour fanzine with professional design and all the rest of it. We ended that in 2014 after 111 issues because the print media is failing. We couldn’t get the fanzine distributed because that part of the print media is crumbling. So, we drew a line under it. It’s over. There won’t be fanzines like true faith any more – not as professional and as widely distributed and read. It is the dying of the light in that world. Talk to your local newsagent about his/her newspaper sales. They are going through the floor.
We set off in a completely different direction last year and embraced the whole digital world and its possibilities. What it means to be a fanzine is changing completely as the technology becomes available – this is what has always happened.
This coming season, we’re hopeful to have the new website up and running and we’re close to having that spot on for you. That will be a great step forward. We are looking at how we do the digital fanzine as well. We want to make that better, continue the progress. We will be continuing with the weekly podcasts and as I type this we’re attempting to work out how we can finalise our Video Blogs etc. We will also be publishing our match-day e-newsletter, The Special which was hugely popular last season.
So, I hear fanzines are dying … that’s not quite true. They are changing and they are becoming more of an integral part of the football media than they have ever been. As a care-worn editor of this title since 1999, I seem to be spending more time than ever before pulling the whole thing together and I couldn’t do it without the help I get from the many dozens of writers who have come to us over the years and stuck the course. Glenn Ashcroft’s contribution cannot be understated.
So, here we are in 2015/16 – fanzines – all digital, podcasts, video-blogs, e-newsletters, across social media and God knows what else. Is what we do a fanzine? I don’t know and care less about the classifications.
I wondered where we’d go after calling an end to the hard-copy paper fanzine just over a year ago but frankly our audience has never been bigger and it’s still growing. We know loads of fans don’t agree with what they read here and that’s fair enough – everyone can explain what they think in the comments box under this piece and in everything we do here online. Anyone can write for true faith in whatever format you like.
But we seem to be able to pull people back to us because I’d like to think they know whether they agree or not with us, we’re honest.
Putting this thing together has been a privilege and an honour. I’ve met some great people who support our football club. They have become great friends and allies. There have been a minority of goons however whose conduct towards true faith and others has been very close to criminal. I doubt they will ever go away completely but in their poisoned vendettas against us and many others over a long period of time they have shredded their dignity and reduced themselves to incredible levels when the long overdue response has come to their idiocy.
But like many of you reading this I’m looking forward to next Sunday, meeting friends, comparing theories on players, managers, owners, having a laugh, a moan, a groan, taking the piss, getting the beers in and realising that it is us that make up Newcastle United and it always will be.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …