As a result of the joyless defeatism of Mike Ashley and the people he has recruited to turn
our club into a meaningless, free bill-board for his businesses, we had a free Saturday just gone and we have just one more game this season that means anything to us. This Saturday is The Derby. The one game we have left this season that will really get our juices flowing – that will be anticipated with genuine anticipation by match-going Mags and exiles all over the world. Despite their league position, the Mackems will make their trip to the NE Regional capital a bit full of themselves. They will be justifiably buoyed by reaching their first Wembley final in 22 years and have an unusual confidence built on two successive derby wins with their last win in NE1 less than 12 months ago when Di Canio left Gallowgate with a 3-0 win and the sky fell in on us. The defeat at the SoS earlier this season meant United had lost two derbies in succession for the first time since the 1960s. If we were to lose a third on the bounce, my understanding is that would be the first time that has happened since the 1920s. Almost one hundred years.
Pardew has one derby win to his name but the memory of that is fading and given his appalling record in domestic cup competitions, he really needs to deliver us the convincing derby win we crave. He has no excuses not to do that. As we know, there is no Europe to tire us, no Cup competitions to distract us, we are at home and we have better players. There is a question over his ability to deliver a win over Poyet however. To my knowledge, Pardew has sent out teams to face Poyet sides on three occasions. Twice in the FAC we were defeated at Brighton, with Cardiff-like performances in their limpness. And of course once at Sunderland when Poyet’s players, for most of the game, looked to have more spirit and more grit and courage than our own!
In the last two derbies a general consensus has formed that Di Canio and Poyet had Sunderland more pumped up, more motivated and more committed than Pardew had Newcastle United. Typing that doesn’t do much for my general mood and I doubt it will do much for yours reading it but it is true.
We know we have a better collection of players, more accomplished technically etc. but that won’t win the derby. Heart, amongst other elements will win the derby. Obviously, we don’t want players attempting to con us they are up for it by committing ridiculous challenges like Cattermole. But we do want our team to be faster, harder, to track every run, to close down and work harder than them from the first minute to the last. That is the minimum requirement.
We have had some great results this season – Chelsea (h), Spurs (a) and Man Utd (a) being the pick but we’ve also had some dire days as well against the likes of Hull (h), Swansea (a) and West Brom (a) too. We’ve put in good displays against Man City (h), Liverpool (h) and Arsenal (h) but if I have a misgiving with the mind-set of this collection of players it is in their approach to playing the so-called lesser sides. It appears they are in England for the big games with the big teams. Maybe that is what has enticed them over the channel? Well, that and the money and more generous tax-allowances.
Maybe the problem is the foreign players failing to understand the meaning of a game against a side most of them won’t ever have heard of back home. Maybe they don’t get the derby. I never had those thoughts when we had Shearer, Speed, Beardsley, Lee, Barton, Nolan, Kelly, O’Brien in the side but in the interests of balance I think if any of us wound up in France or other places we’d struggle to feel the derby as much as those who have grown up amongst that culture.
But every single one of our players has been here long enough to understand exactly what the derby means and at a club that has no ambition for the Cups and with an owner who doesn’t have the ambition to attempt to break into the Champions League places, these derby matches have taken on a greater significance. Finishing eighth and getting out of the Cups and avoiding Europe might please Ashley’s spirit-crushing accountancy and this game means fuck all south of County Durham or North of Berwick but for us, right now, that’s all we have.
If Pardew can’t deliver a convincing derby win over this Sunderland team, if he and Carver can’t get our players like dogs at broth, then really, what is the fucking point of them at all?
I’m not expecting much in the last few days of the transfer window. All I’ve learnt in this window is that the club are happy to get shot of Cisse, will listen to big bids for Cabaye and want to get Marveaux, Gosling and Obertan off the payroll as quickly as they can. The target we tracked all last summer, Gomis now seems to be on his way to Inter Milan with us showing absolutely no interest whatsoever. Luuk De Jong appears to be our only credible target and that deal has no urgency about it because we are in no danger of being relegated and the club has a phobia about the Europa League, no real ambition of having a crack at Champions League qualification and for them is satisfyingly out of the Cup competitions. There are no pressures to buy given the complete lack of ambition at the club. Then there is Kinnear in charge of negotiations so you can add incompetence to lack of ambition.
And now something of a plea! A few weeks ago, pressure brought to bear by this fanzine in concert with others on both sides of the NE divide with the leadership of the Football Supporters Federation led to the abandonment of a “Bubble” trip for Sunderland fans travelling to SJP this coming Saturday. The civil liberties of football supporters were preserved! Watching football is not a crime. For those who might think it was a bit hard to swallow seeing Mags supporting Mackems, then consider this – we know absolutely had this Bubble had gone ahead, that would have set the precedent and we’d have been all on the buses to Wearside next season (if they stop up) and the freedom of movement of travelling Mags completely compromised. It was a rare win for ordinary football supporters and I won’t attempt to kid anyone that the battle was won without reference to any commercial considerations but a pretty surreal week saw a few lines being drawn in the sand. Both United and The Mackems want later kick-offs. So do supporters. We think the derby fixture should be treated no differently to any other local derby around the country. The Police think differently. It has been Northumbria Police who have for years agitated behind the scenes with the football authorities to bring early kick-offs and inconvenience thousands of football supporters whilst being less than honest about their activities behind the scenes. This time the clubs have had enough, fed up they can’t get later fixtures (and money from those TV slots) and in Sunderland’s case more than pissed off at being hung out to dry by our Polis in the PR skirmishes. That joint statement from NUFC and SAFC utterly exposed the Police for their lack of integrity in my opinion. Our information is Northumbria’s top brass were absolutely incandescent at being completely out-manouvered by both clubs under pressure from a supporters’ campaign that was coming together nicely.
Now then, where does that leave the Police ahead of this Saturday’s derby? In my opinion, it leaves them desperate to substantiate their dire warnings of Armageddon in NE1 should a few hundred Mackems take the Metro from Wearside to Central Station and have to be escorted a half a mile up to SJP. Call me cynical (and plenty do) but I fear the Police will be out looking for any possible example of bad behaviour to justify their draconian position on the derbies. Those of us who have been following football long enough have witnessed plenty dubious behaviour from Police and whilst most games pass by without much incident these days, this game is different and tension is greater.
We know that of 96 arrests made last April, only 6 had actually been inside SJP for the match. The culprits for the scenes after the match (in my opinion, unedifying but blown out of all proportion by a local press whose devotion to football hooligan porn is equalled only by its fascination with local gangsters) were overwhelmingly pissed up teenage charvas who had been getting tanked up in NE1 whilst Newcastle United fell apart on Barrack Road. The vast majority of football supporters, on both sides are committed to only supporting their teams. I’m aware of the occasional carry-on as Sunderland fans are escorted from Central to SJP but in the main it’s empty posturing. But I think for the long term future of this fixture supporters need to be really careful about their behaviour this Saturday, particularly near the Sunderland escort going to and from SJP.
I’ll be honest I’ve long enjoyed the visceral atmosphere of our meetings with Sunderland. In the air-brushed, sanitised world of the EPL (sic) this game has stood out as something of a throwback – full-on, edgy and all-consuming. It’s different and all the better for it. But like the vast majority of supporters I’ve been able to carry-off a frothing mouthed passion for the fixture without completely losing self-control and wanting to attack anyone. I’ve bounced out of SJP and the SoS on enormous highs but also slunk away at the bottom of the lowest lows. It’s what we sign up for as football fans. The highs and the lows. If you can’t take it, then maybe football isn’t for you.
Then there is the whole antipathy towards Sunderland. As I get older, I think I’m mellowing a bit. I find it absurd supporters on either side call each other “scum”. That is an expression I’d reserve for paedophiles, burglars, racists, bullies, murderers, rapists, drug-dealers, people who are cruel to animals and members of the Conservative Party.
We’ve all had conversations with older fellas about our games with them in years gone by. As a boy, I watched the 1973 FA Cup Final in a Tyneside house filled with die-hard Magpies fans urging Sunderland on to beat the then hated Leeds United. Indeed, during that period, people from Sunderland were happy to refer to themselves as Geordies (before the expression came to have an exclusively football connotation and refer to Tynesiders alone) and I’ve been informed by Sunderland fans that singing the Blaydon Races (Collingwood St., Scotswood Road references et al) was common at Roker Park back in the 50s and 60s. I’ve heard tales of no segregation at derbies, of people who went to SJP one week and Roker the next and I’ve observed older Mags appalled at the vitriol their younger contemporaries have spat in the direction of Sunderland. I’ve heard older relatives from mining and shipbuilding traditions rebuke younger fans for their lack of solidarity with people “just like us” from down the road. The vast majority of my closest friends are Black & Whiters but like many of you reading this have strong friendships with Sunderland fans and I’ll confess to regarding some of my acquaintances from Wearside as the salt of the earth whilst I know some Newcastle United supporters who are not worth a light. Anyone who believes the football clubs we all end up supporting imbues a quality of character upon them needs to get out the house more. That cuts both ways. No football club has a monopoly of virtue or villainy in its stands.
That all might sound a bit rich coming from this fanzine, given the piss-taking, wind-ups and all the rest of it we’ve been responsible for down the years (some of which has been near the knuckle and below the belt admittedly) but really, this local difficulty needs to be put into proportion. I’d love St James’ Park to be a bear-pit this coming Saturday, with noise and passion coming from every nook and cranny of our grand old home. I’d like every touch a Sunderland player has on the ball to be met with a cacophony of jeering, every decision against us to be met with a ferocity of disapproval from the stands and I’d like that support to the boys in Black & White from the first moment to the last. And I want Newcastle United to repay its supporters for the backing the club gets week in week out, season after season and out of all proportion to what is delivered on the park. I want Newcastle United to pulverise Sunderland on the park, to leave them shattered and I’d like us to be celebrating a derby win long into Saturday night in the city we love so much.
I’m not going to call for a good-natured derby because that sounds a bit shit to be honest and the kind of thing said by people who just don’t get what being a football supporter is about. I’m not suggesting we should go all pink and fluffy with the Mackems. But I am suggesting we just let them get to and from SJP without too much bother (I think we are entitled to take the piss if we win, mind) because anything else, might just be what Northumbria’s finest is looking for.
We play Norwich this week as well. That’s a match to get out of the road before the main event.
I was at the Newcastle United Supporters Trust’s Annual General Meeting this last week having just renewed my membership after not being arsed to do so and kept putting it off for years. I know you are just the same. It was the first NUST AGM I’d attended and I was impressed by how well-ordered it was, by the sincerity of those on the NUST board and their diligence in keeping the Trust going. I’m occasionally disgusted at the poisonous criticism the Trust gets from some quarters and from those who have been notable by their absence in previous campaigns at various times over the last twenty years and more. We have something of a rump of critics with no shortage of ideas about what should be done but who go missing when the work needs to be delivered. I’m also frequently flabbergasted at the extravagance of the demands made upon a group of ordinary supporters balancing work and family commitments with running the Trust. That’s not to say the NUST is beyond criticism. At the AGM there were calls for greater visibility and participation in wider campaigns. I agree with that and I noted the acceptance that this needs to happen. The NUST is the only members-based representative organisation, open to everyone that we have. It is properly constituted with levers of democracy and accountability. It is connected to the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct. A lot of hard work has been put into giving us a Supporters Trust that is well, proper.
I heard the informed accounts of the club’s disgraceful decision to ban the NUST from the Fans Forum and left the AGM even more depressed about the people who run Newcastle United FC.
But the NUST needs more members. You can join here.
I’d say if you are sincere, are a quiet grafter, discrete and who is a fit and proper person with a commitment to progressing the interests of fan ownership of football clubs, then you should consider standing for a position on the NUST board.
Find out more here.
We’ll have a new issue of true faith out this weekend. TF109 should be in the shops around this Thursday but we’re currently putting the finishing touches on it before we take it to the printers and with all of the nerves about a big sale or big buy (ha-ha) that we might miss in the last few days of the transfer window. We’ll have a full update on the site as to what’s in it but before we do that, I’d really like to thank all of you that bought TF108. Sales of that issue went brilliantly and I think I can say it sold out. We only have a handful left in the true faith bunker. Traditional paper fanzines are incredibly difficult to establish these days and we live a hand to mouth existence finance wise but I’m sure the fanzine purists out there agree, there’s nothing quite like the feel, touch and smell of a new fanzine (oh, that’s just me?) and as long as you continue to indulge us by buying the little fellas, we’ll continue knocking it out. More gen in the week.
If you are still awake, you’ll be grateful to discover, that is all.
Have a great week.