GAS & AIR
I’m banging the keyboard on Sunday morning 4/Aug/13 and looking at the fixture list. Our opening game of the 2013/14 season is now a mere fifteen days away and counting when we make the daunting trip to Manchester City for our “curtain raiser” ©. So far, there have been no additions to the first team squad yet we have lost … roll of the drums, Harper, Perch, Simpson from the senior squad whilst we have put Ferguson, Abeid, Richardson and Tavernier out on loan, told Gosling and Amalfantino they have no future at the club and allegedly informed Shola Ameobi as soon as we sign a striker, he can leave. His brother, Sammy is expected to go out on loan somewhere and the same is possibly true of Adam Campbell. Though in Campbell’s case I wonder what the plan is as I’ve read Pardew variously quoted as saying he’ll get more games this season but elsewhere there have been strong sounds he will possibly go to St. Mirren on loan as Paul Dummet and Conor Newton did before him. Pardew seems to make it up as he goes along.
With a few players on the books who few fans have much in confidence in – Williamson and Obertan, I’d say we were heading towards the new season weaker than the one which ended 2012/13 narrowly avoiding relegation. At the end of last season, we were promised a root and branch review of what went wrong last season and a new strategy to put everything right. What this essentially has resulted in is the baffling appointment of Joe Kinnear as the brains of the St James’ Park operation, Derek Llambias’ resignation and the appointment of Faye Downey as conditioning coach. Pardew is selling our non-participation in European competition as something to be celebrated and the targets for next season as survival in the Premier League and having a pop at the top ten of the Premier League providing we get a fair wind. I expect our involvement in Cup competitions to continue to be as piecemeal next season as they have been so far on Pardew’s watch.
Honestly, there is managing expectations and then there is a complete lack of ambition whatsoever.
In this close season we’ve watched as Carroll has signed for West Ham without a flicker of interest from United, despite heavy hints last season that he was on our radar, Wilfred Bony sign for Swansea City, Aubameyang go to Dortmund whereas where we were on the verge of bringing Douglas from FC Twente to Tyneside, saw that deal capsized by Kinnear and the Brazilian defender move to little-known Italian club, Inter Milan instead. We have other priorities of course, mainly defensively but these aren’t even being discussed because of what is now becoming a major cause for concern with our striking capabilities.
Last week though even hardened Mag cynics (hello there) dropped their guards and allowed a little ray of optimism to shine into our B&W worlds. Wages and a fee had been agreed with Lyon for Gomis and this deal seemed all over bar the shouting. Perhaps this one would actually get over that fucking line we all keep hearing about. Now the issue appears to be all about the wedge for the agent(s). I have no sympathy for these leeches but the longer this drags on then the more I fear Gomis going elsewhere and with Marseille apparently with an eye on him, I have some concern about this deal.
Then there is Remy. Back last season after Remy did the dirty and joined Redknapp at the eleventh hour there was an emphatic statement from the hierarchy at United (I know because I heard Llambias say it personally) that we would not be going back in for him, emphasised with melodramatic throat-cutting gesture popular in West London in the 1980s. One rape allegation and a relegation later and a deal to pay QPR £2m and his inflated wages for a season-long loan apparently is a deal on the table.
We now seem to be involved in a peculiar situation with Darren Bent. Bent, by all accounts was interested in a move back to Newcastle, where he previously lived whilst with the Village of the Damned’s First Eleven down the road. Nothing however, about our interest in this player stacks up with the “ethos” (cough) Ashley has insisted upon at United i.e. sign young, usually foreign players as cheaply as possible on the absolute minimum wages they will accept, with a plan to increase their value and possibly flog them at a handsome profit fitting with the Sports Direct criteria.
Bent is 29, this will likely be the last big move of his career, his value will decrease season on season now and he’s already on massive money at Villa. That Kinnear made a bid of a risible £2m to Villa for Bent and made it plain he’d have to take a big hit on his wages would suggest we’ve been going through the motions with Bent and this could be interpreted as something of a snub to Pardew, who has been quoted as making Bent his preferred choice.
As things stand currently, we’ll be travelling to Ibrox Stadium for our penultimate pre-season game without a single pre-season signing through the door. If this situation is not addressed then I don’t think I’m being unduly negative to suggest that we are sleep-walking into a torrid 9 months.
Of course, there is also the prospect of players leaving United. Yohan Cabaye’s departure for PSG, AS Monaco or more fancifully, Manchester United has been mooted all season. Although the press reckon there has been little real interest in Cabaye, I think I’ll be amazed to see him still a United player after 1/Sep/13. That we are being linked with McCarthy from Wigan as his replacement hardly fills me with optimism given the club’s inability to negotiate transfers over the whole summer let alone what might be a few days if it comes to that.
I’m not sure about Papiss Cisse either. These stories linking him variously with clubs in Germany, Russia and Turkey makes me wonder whether something is afoot. Who knows whether the whole loan-shark (just my opinion) sponsorship crap has really gone away and if there are agents agitating to get their man extra money elsewhere and their own cut into the bargain as well of course. The bigging up of Dummet makes me suspicious about Santon and of course it wouldn’t be the first time a player was kept out of action with an “injury” ahead of a sale at United and that makes me fret about Tim Krul and his admirers at AC Milan and Arsenal.
Paranoia or not, all of this is really depressing shit going into the new season. Feedback from my occasionally morose musings on Twitter has drawn criticism from some Mags about what they perceive as undue negativity. That is absolutely fair enough. No-one should open a Twitter account and not expect at times disagreement put in the strongest terms. It’s Newcastle United and it raises passions.
I’d hope though, no-one thinks anyone at true faith, least of all me, takes any kind of enjoyment in the club entering what seems to be a tail-spin of decline. The reason many of us become angry, upset and bitter about the leadership at Newcastle United is because even after all of these years of failure, we still believe in its huge potential. We are not deluded. We know Newcastle United is one of the best supported clubs in Europe and has everything in place for lift-off: a great stadium, a massive support (that could be increased at least by another 25% in match-day attendance), the kind of regional identity all major clubs need and massive untapped commercial potential as well as global appeal. To achieve that however, we need investment and we need full-on strong and strategic leadership and a single-minded commitment to take us up the Premier League pecking order and to reach for the stars. I don’t mean a reckless disregard for the financial realities but I do think Newcastle United should regard itself as a club that can attack the top five positions in the Premier League and not allow our club to sink contentedly into the mediocrity under Mike Ashley’s joyless, depressing realism.
We care about the institution of Newcastle United as an independent and strong local institution. We don’t see it as a bolt-on operation to Sports Direct or a cheap advertising hoarding for that company. We don’t see the club as a seedy opportunity for a company like Wonga to try and normalise their product through and continue, in my opinion, to prey upon the weak and vulnerable.
Newcastle United should be about far more than what it is now and that’s why those of us aligned to this gobshite fanzine will continue to twist on about what is so obviously and painfully wrong about our club right now.
I think most of us are otherwise of a sunny disposition really though self-praise is no recommendation as they saying goes. I’m coming in off the ledge now.
Last week we were notified formally about the launch of the Newcastle United Supporters Forum. The cynic in me recognises this kind of thing has been tried before and has largely achieved the sum total of nothing. At worst it raises expectation the club is in dialogue and acting upon the concerns of supporters whilst in truth provides the opportunity for variously, a few naïve, well-meaning, self-important and occasionally self-interested individuals to bore club officials to tears with drivel (the pies are too hot/cold) and a desire to play the billy big balls down the pub and crack on with the “whey, I was told by (enter as appropriate) that we are in for Lionel Messi in January) and all the rest of it.
Everything of course is in context. The current Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson is on the record as describing football as the worst governed sport in the country. There are moves afoot to consider a licensing arrangement for football clubs and one of the key areas of government unhappiness (and don’t imagine the current government wants football clubs handed over lock, stock and barrel to supporters to own themselves as per common in the Bundesliga model) is in its lack of dialogue with supporters and their involvement with their major stakeholders. Whether what is delivered is tangible to the rank and file remains to be seen but the fact that Mike Ashley, the most important person at Newcastle United and upon whose whim the club is currently run, will play no part in the forum, hardly provides it with the most auspicious of starts. There is a risk this forum is being used to create the illusion of a connection between club and fans for what is going on elsewhere in the game between the FA, the Premier League and government. That is dangerous. We could be being duped.
The template for fans to be represented in the forum is open to debate but it is what it is and on the face it better than what we have had previously. Of course, I wish it well. Anything that can achieve any improvements in the current situation is to be welcomed. Providing we aren’t being taken for a ride.
There are several caveats however.
The forum will not address the fundamental issue that concerns us as supporters – where we are going on the park and the ambition and strategy for the football club.
I did laugh last week when I discovered one would-be, entirely unelected and unaccountable supporters “representative” comment the forum would give Ashley an opportunity to explain his plans for the club face to face with supporters. Honestly, this question was relevant five years ago but six years into Mike Ashley’s tenure as steward of our football club, do we really need to have this explained? It is as clear as the nose on Ashley’s face. This is what it’s about:
- Running Newcastle United as a bolt on to Sports Direct
- Using Newcastle United and the Premier League as an advertising hoarding for Sports Direct
- Investing as little as possible in the club in order for it to remain a recipient of Satellite TV income i.e. stay in the Premier League
- Having no long-term plan to grow the club commercially
- Preparing the club for a sale at a profit when losses accrued because of Ashley’s own lack of football knowledge are recovered
The truth is, were that not the case, people like Joe Kinnear and Alan Pardew would not get within an English country mile of a position of authority at an ambitious Newcastle United.
Do we really need or expect Ashley to spell it out to us? It is bloody, painfully, depressingly, blindingly obvious.
The new forum is also not where the real battle for football is being fought. That is being led elsewhere by people like the Football Supporters Federation in their campaigns for safe standing, ticket pricing and fair deals for away fans in prices and KO times. I long for our supporters to develop a real, effective and mature campaigning zeal such as that developed in the North West but sadly, here in the NE it appears that whilst SJP is often full and the SoS is home to decent numbers, after the FT whistle, apathy rules okay. I’ve learnt that the hard way. The FSF has an active regional division in every part of the UK apart from the North East! I find that so sad.
The Premier League has become an uncompetitive cartel run by a random collection of self-interested billionaires with the FA having deserted its historic position as the guardians of the national game. The good of the game is now interpreted as the profit margins of the biggest clubs. Or in the case of Chelsea and Man City how their involvement in the Premier League supports other geo-political and economic interests.
The campaign for supporters to actually own their clubs in full or in part is being led by Supporters Direct of which the Newcastle United Supporters Trust is a respected part. That cause will not be advanced via this forum.
Still, this fanzine has been consulted by the Supporters Liaison Officer, Lee Marshall, who strikes me as genuine, professional, competent and hard-working in the development of the forum. That’s a good start and a marked improvement on what we’ve had previously.
For our own part, we’ve no desire to claim any role as representatives. We definitely aren’t. We have no mandate, had no elections and have no democratic decision-making apparatus to do so. We take our role as gobshites too seriously for any of that palaver.
Seriously though, we have had a positive response to requesting to play an independent and observational role of what goes down at the forum’s meetings but we’ll see where early indications of transparency go as far as that is concerned. I’ll be forever a sceptic about this kind of cosying up.
And finally! I raised an eye-brow last week to Pardew’s comment that Mike Ashley couldn’t bail us out of another relegation! Sometimes I have to check my hearing. Mike Ashley wouldn’t have to bail us out of anything if he wasn’t so lamentable at running Newcastle United Football Club.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Follow the TF editor on Twitter