It was on everyone’s lips as the final whistle went on Sunday. This is what brings us back. These days. The days when the stars align and there is the simple, uncomplicated joy of being inside SJP with your fellow Mags, shouting yourself hoarse, seeing our lads give everything and downing one of world football’s most famous and successful football clubs. Everything was fantastic. The Gallowgate, completely full after the final whistle hailing a group of players and manager who we feel care about the shirt on their backs, the badge on their breast and who respect the people who pay their hard earned money to support and give up their time to follow. I love SJP in the kind of mood we experienced on Sunday. Raucous, febrile and generally radged up as we expected we had something to gain the longer the game went on. Our support is never better when we are facing celebrated opposition for whom we have been ushered onto TV to provide the whipping-boy role, when we are the underdogs expected to get a good cuff around the lug and reminded of our place in the pecking order for a watching, slack-jawed, empty-eyed audience on SKY. Don’t write in.
How we love seeing our lads giving 100% for our just and righteous cause, putting their bodies on the line and every part of St James’ roaring its throaty approval. These are the days when you know underneath the whole tedium and emptiness of Mike Ashley, buried deep into the stands between Barrack Road, Strawberry Place, St James’ Terrace and Leazes Park, there is a love for Newcastle United, at its core, in its foundations is the love that sustains it, put there by us and the people who preceded us since 1892 and which the dullards of Talksport and SKYSPORTS will never get or bother to appreciate. This is a club that drives us to distraction but which is loved like few others. That’s what we saw on Sunday as Rafa joined his players on the pitch to celebrate a famous win and serve to remind everyone what our club is all about.
I loved reading Alex’s match report. Alex is of a younger generation that I think hasn’t had much encouragement to follow United. We can debate at what period the club has been at its lowest points but as one who endured the period from ’77 to 82 (The McGarry Years) and the late 80s leading to the Play Off SF disaster, I can honestly say I don’t think the younger generation has had much to keep it warm on a cold winter’s night of Mike Ashley and his Zombie hand. But his report and the excellent podcast was ripped through with exuberance and Norman Riley’s Video Blog from his exile in London were barely restrained, primal howls of ecstasy. They are what this crazy, mad football club is all about and so are days like Sunday.
All over the pitch there were performances of strained sinews, courage and no little talent. The new goalie (Dubbaz? Oh, suit yersel then) had a dream debut. He did the basics very well, collecting crosses with great confidence and then pulling off some spectacular saves to keep us in the game and later preserve the points. Every part of his game oozed class. How has this lad got to 29 and not been spotted in the back-waters of Sparta Prague? Lascelles, our tyro from The Trent gave a display of such assured leadership at the back to create the locus for a superb defensive display in which Lejeune looked magnificent and Paul Dummett showed why Rafa will pick him at every opportunity he gets. In the midfield, Kenedy gave the kind of performance we’ve craved and I desperately hope, subject to his continuing progress, that there is some kind of option to sign him up permanently. Who wouldn’t give Diame a new contract on the back of this last couple of months? Muscular, determined, clever and industrious he has been the brick wall in our midfield we’ve longed to see for many a year and Shelvey straightforwardly magnificent, eschewing that irritatingly languid style for that of a midfield dynamo. This boy can play but he needs to work and work hard as his manager has doubtless counselled him many times. The goal-scorer, Ritchie has had a tough season, less influential than last year but honest in his endeavours and on Sunday gone he got his reward, coolly and expertly tucking his chance beyond the reach of one of the world’s best goalies to send every Black & Whiter into ecstasy.
Those three points could not have come at a better time. We were in the bottom three for 25 minutes on Sunday but finished the afternoon in 13th and travel to Bournemouth the weekend after next knowing a win could put us into the heights of the top half of the table. But I shouldn’t get previous. The morale-booster that victory over Man Utd gives us should not blind us to the fact our PL future hangs in the balance and we have to give everything to make sure we are still in the PL at the end of May, Rafa stays and God knows something good happens with the much talked about takeover. This is the time for everyone to remember what Sunday meant to them, what our club is all about and keep fighting, defying our enemies who sit in disinterested, reluctant ownership of our great club and the fools who pad their brain-dead columns, phone-ins and TV shows with banality and ignorance. We have to keep fighting.
The takeover appears to be stuck. Whether this is because Mike Ashley is an obdurate seller out to squeeze as much as he possibly can out of a United sale as he can and resisting the offers from Amanda Staveley remains to be seen. I rather suspect he is. But who really knows if Staveley is the real-deal? David Conn of The Guardian raises significant points.
For all of the cogent points raised by David Conn (and I am a massive admirer of the man and his work going back many years) I don’t think there is a smoking gun that can be seen to conclude Staveley is the tyre-kicker Ashley might want us to believe. But there are questions for her to answer.
I think we can conclude no deal will be done whilst the question at least remains about what division we’ll be in come the end of the season, what the new TV deal presents for clubs and who will be our manager. And of course if there is a credible buyer to take the club out of Ashley’s icy grip.
The big answer to all of these questions is of course – nobody seems to know and I’d extend that to Staveley and Ashley as well as any other interested parties. Its okay and probably wise to just admit that and not bluff otherwise. Nobody knows.
I expected to see all the flags out on Sunday before the match but strangely they were absent. I’ll be honest, I was disappointed. Having been part of the original founders of the group to bring flag displays to SJP and particularly the Gallowgate, Sunday was exactly the kind of opportunity we all had in mind in the summer of 2016 to put on massive displays that would be beamed around the world. Man U at home is one of the biggest games of the season and one which can electrify the support (okay, some of the time). With the game live on telly, I was expecting to take a delicious pleasure in the discomfort the huge WE ARE UNITED flag displayed on the Gallowgate might give the media who have annexed the United name for the sole use of the team from the Borough of Trafford. That and all of the other flags that have been funded by rank and file supporters on Tyneside and worldwide too.
Understanding the readiness of the Ashley regime to ban anyone who doesn’t follow the script and given the group made a tweet about a display not going ahead due to “restrictions”, I’d surmised a knee-jerk reaction to the flag display featuring the KK quote displayed before the Burnley game. It would have fit. But I quickly learnt that not all was as it seemed or what might have been expected.
I know I’m a harsh critic of the club. But I would have to acknowledge the support the flag displays have had from key individuals at United, included amongst which have been Lee Marshall and Steve Storey. Both have invested themselves in supporting the development of the flag displays and made things happen behind the scenes they could easily have avoided. I’d guess they had the discretion to offer some old toffee to all of us who’ve had a role in establishing the flag displays … health and safety … blah-blah-blah but they didn’t. They went to an extra level of co-operation. The result of which has been some of the best fan-led displays ever seen in English football. Lots of people have made those displays happen, those who have helped raise funds, those who have got on their hands and knees and put in hours of graft as well as the army of volunteers who give up their match days to make it happen. And of course the many hundreds of supporters who have donated their hard earned money to fund it all. A genuinely collective effort.
It was disappointing therefore that the narrative formed was of a ban on the back of a misleading message about “restrictions”. So far, the flags have not been banned but I suspect should the flag group stray into a politicisation of their activities (never in the original prospectus but powerful and popular nevertheless) a ban will come. I’d guess the decision-making for permitting flag displays etc will be removed beyond Lee Marshall and Steve Storey to a higher executive level at United and the displays will be over. We can debate the rights and wrongs of that all day long but that scenario is inevitable sadly.
I have discovered the restrictions referred to were little more than an arrangement about security passes on the back of persons unknown coming into SJP with those working hard on displays and who ran on the pitch and generally gave concern to those whose job it is to protect the security of the stadium and those visiting it.
So, pulling the flag display before one of the season’s blue ribbon days seemed a bit over the top to me and perhaps unintentionally and unfairly to lay blame at the foot of people at United who have been instrumental in helping in making the displays happen. Hopefully, that er, misunderstanding (cough) can be resolved and the flag displays return. I think most of us want to see the flags many have bought and paid for brought out on display for games such as Man U at home.
The people now organising the displays I think are at a crossroads. They have gone down a road of making very clear statements critical of Mike Ashley, whereas that never happened previously. The KK quote prior to the Burnley game was superb, powerful and seen across the world. It will have also been seen in Buckinghamshire too. If the flags people want to continue down that road they will have a lot of support in doing so from supporters impressed by the scale and chutzpah of the pre-Burnley display. But I suspect that would likely take their activities out of the hands of Steve Storey and Lee Marshall and further up the executive chain. And I think then that would be a ban.
They have a decision to make. What should they do? Don’t ask me, I really don’t know and that is something they now have to answer.
The two true faith : PRESS FORUMS have collectively raised £7000 for the NUFC Fans Food-bank. We are delighted they have been received so well and yes, we’ll be looking to organise a third at the end of the season and hopefully take the amount north of £10,000. They are great nights, journalists speak candidly, the audience is respectful and considerate, the host, Sharon Percy is excellent and it is brilliantly hosted by the Tyneside Irish Centre.
If you haven’t heard the Podcast recorded of the night, you can do so but we are asking for a fiver donation to the NUFC Fans Foodbank. The gen is here.
Next up, Bournemouth Away. A free weekend and a bit longer to luxuriate in the glow of a fantastic win over Man U and a demonstration of what a truly UNITED football club looks like.
Keep On, Keepin’ On…