I’ll confess to having had to drag myself to St James’ Park last Wednesday night after leaving the warm glow of The Hotspur, where a good friend of mine couldn’t give two spare tickets away for what should be one of the most attractive fixtures of the season. Spurs at home? That should be a great game, shouldn’t it? People won’t take a ticket? For nowt? They would rather sit in a pub half-watching it over a pint on a big screen? Bloody hell!
But such is the atmosphere around United right now that a game that has traditionally got the pulses racing was played out in an almost funereal atmosphere, with the desultory attitude of supporters in the stands matched only by a limp, insipid performance from the players on the park that was lacking in commitment, courage, strategy, leadership, motivation or even professional pride. On an absolute dog of a night, a Premier League manager and his players couldn’t be arsed to perform in front of 48,264 paying customers. Fair play to Spurs’ away-following who made their way to the other end of the country on a weekday night. I didn’t think Spurs were that great to be honest. They didn’t need to be. We put in possibly the worst performance of the season, yes, worse even than Cardiff in the Cup or the game with The Mackems that has done so much to harden opinion.
There has been a definite sea-change in attitudes towards the manager. It’s no surprise really. He now has the worst record of any manager in Newcastle United’s history in terms of Derby results. His record in Cup competitions is nothing short of abysmal. His teams are unable to respond to set-backs and anyone who has been watching carefully knows that when we go a goal behind, especially away from home, that’s it, the game is lost. Throw in the view that players appear to be failing to fulfil their potential (HBA, Cisse, Marveaux etc.) and the manager is facing a growing charge-sheet. Pardew refuses to say anything in public remotely critical of the man who is hanging him out to dry and disgracefully, he described Ashley as a Newcastle United fan and dedicated the win over Chelsea to his boss. His polished media appearances are becoming more to be viewed as slimy and spiv-like with the public as he performs about turns on previous statements that defy sense.
I see Pardew as a hard-working coach who wants to do well. I believe he greatly values the job of Newcastle United manager. He won’t get a bigger stage to work on. He knows that. But I also see him as a manager whose limitations are becoming more obvious but more importantly is a manager in an impossible situation, created by the man who calls all the shots.
There is talk the manager has “lost the dressing room”. In general terms this suggests the players no longer believe he is providing the guidance and preparation for them to win football matches. It’s also a handy code for them to blame someone else for their shortcomings. Personally, for example, I think its Hatem Ben Arfa’s own responsibility for not training properly and I’m not the only one to believe he looks overweight. It is Sissoko’s lack of character that sees him stop tracking back. It is Krul’s responsibility when he can’t hold onto shots. It is Anita’s fault he can’t pick a pass forward. It is Santon’s fault he makes the wrong decisions at critical times.
Where players can be forgiven for losing faith in Pardew is in his authority at the club. If he has been telling players that new players would be coming in last summer or that replacement(s) would be brought in following the sale of Cabaye, Ba, Gutierrez etc. then they have every entitlement to be just as disillusioned as us. Not only can players not trust anything the manager tells them, there is no-one else there to offer any kind of explanation as to the club’s direction. No Chief Executive, no Director of Football, no board of directors.
As our club’s history illustrates all too well, it is easy to lose a manager but rather more difficult to appoint a good one. That is not to suggest I don’t think there aren’t any circumstances where Pardew shouldn’t be given his marching orders. What concerns me greatly is who Ashley could get to work for him given the lessons those in football will have learned in near seven years of Mike Ashley at SJP. Whatever we think of Allardyce, he got less than half a season, and then there was the abhorrent treatment of Newcastle United’s most loved sons Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer. Then think of how he treated a good man like Chris Hughton, without whom, God knows what might have happened following the Ashley-inspired relegation of 2008/09.
Could Ashley, for example, persuade a bright, ambitious in-demand manager like Roberto Martinez to have left Wigan to join United as Kenwright did to Everton given his history at our club?
Would Ashley have the insight to spot the emerging managerial talent of a Brendan Rodgers, Roberto Martinez or Michael Laudrup as Swansea City have done and convince them to work within his strategy and structure at Newcastle United?
No, it is my belief that Ashley is as isolated within the football industry as he is within the football media and amongst Newcastle United’s support.
Remember, Mike Ashley isn’t a football enthusiast. There is talk of him having been a Chelsea or Spurs fan or England fan but I don’t believe it, really. How could you be responsible for a club as prominent and important as Newcastle United FC and not be bothered to watch them if you weren’t completely disinterested? When was the last time he was at SJP? When was the last time he was at any United game?
Who knows why Ashley ever bought Newcastle United. I’m not 100% convinced he did so with a view to use the club as an advertising hoarding for his shit shops. I think that’s just an opportunity he’s taken. I’m half of the view that a man who had spent every waking moment since his teenage years building up a business empire, who was now fat and middle-aged and divorced and bored and very rich was having something of a mid-life crisis. While Ashley was looking for new mates and a “bit of fun” like so many others hitting that age group who buy themselves a Harley Davison or a minty sports car or have an affair with a crazy stripper girl in Vegas, Mike Ashley steamed in to buy a PL football club that Sir John Hall was desperate to get rid of and do the sale whilst Freddie Shepherd was laid up in hospital and who might capsize the deal for his own reasons.
Ashley then quickly realised he didn’t have a clue how to run United, turned to the wrong people for advice and realised he’d bought what his first Chairman, Chris Mort told true faith in an interview was a “bucket of holes” in financial terms. The whole thing unravelled and for Ashley, Newcastle United FC became an unwanted toy, very quickly.
Ashley’s life has moved on. Now apparently having rekindled his relationship with his wife and mother of his children with a bargain-retail empire which has thrived in these belt-tightened times, Ashley is in a different place emotionally. He and most of the club’s support now occupy polar opposites of mutual loathing. We despise him for the crass manner in which he has treated the club, its traditions and heritage. We loathe him for the joyless defeatism of his approach to running Newcastle United, devoid of ambition, honesty and integrity. For his part, I’ve no doubt he abhors us for what he might perceive is a lack of gratitude for the vast injections of his own money to keep the club afloat and prevent it from tanking as did Leeds, Rangers, Portsmouth et al.
Although allegedly diffident about his public image he is nonetheless sensitive to criticism – having the Curva Nord on Level 7 of the Leazes End disbanded for singing horrid things about him and banning individual journalists, as we learnt, for writing stuff that was just a bit too accurate.
So, here we are, stuck as a pal of mine put it, in a loveless marriage, staying together for the kids.
What can be done?
Well, the talk is of a mass desertion from the stands. The only language he understands tripping from the lips of people who have never heard him speak. Chuck your season ticket in, it’s the only way. I’m sceptical.
I’m sceptical not because I’m against action against Ashley’s deplorable running of our club but because I lack belief in that action being supported by the main body of our support.
This season, one supporter organised a march in protest against Ashley’s running of the club. He put his hand in his own pocket and paid the costs that have to be covered for these protests. It was around £500 I believe. He’s an ordinary lad and for like most of you (and me) reading this, £500 is a decent wedge of money. The march was justified and gave valid expression to a deep unhappiness at how our club was/is being trashed by Ashley. The march was supported by around 600 supporters. Not 60,000, not 6,000, no, 600. Sure, some people along the way, applauded and offered encouragement but for the overwhelming body of our support; scarfers, casuals, clued-up, young, old, hard-core home and away, SKY-fans, radgies, corporate, old school, new school couldn’t stir themselves to meet up at the City Hall and take part in a civil, legal, wholly justified march to Leazes Park before the Liverpool game. Too cool for marches? Too lazy? Something else? Take your pick.
Before the Chelsea (h) game, The Chronicle published a front-page with a message to Ashley about the banning of NCJ Media from access to Newcastle United and other grievances. The idea was match-going Mags would take copies into the game and hold them up in the direction of the directors box just before KO. It was meant as a very public display of dissent. Virtually nothing happened. It was embarrassing.
I hear complaints that as a support we lack leadership. There are extravagant calls for this person or that person to do loads of different things. It’s always someone else who has to do something and I’m beyond bored by those on social media /blogs or whatever grandstanding about what someone else should be doing. And then doing precisely nothing themselves other than gild a public image, jump upon a bandwagon or indulge a petty vendetta.
The simple truth of the matter is the largest supporters organisation we have, the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, open to all supporters and which is absolutely and completely properly constituted has less than 800 members. Not less than 8,000 members. Less than 800. I was at the recent AGM in the centre of Newcastle and there were less than 50 people in attendance. For all of the furious typists there are amongst our support, I don’t think the NUST was killed in the rush by people wanting to join the board and do some proper work to strengthen the Trust and grow it as a powerful, well-resourced organisation that can represent the interests of the supporters in a correct way.
So, why aren’t you a member of the NUST?
Oh, I know, it’s not perfect and it lacks your bold radicalism doesn’t it? You won’t join until it is a combination of MOSSAD, Greenpeace and Wiki-Leaks. That’s what you demand before you’ll join.
Apologies for the sarcasm but the Trust is the only supporters’ organisation there is with a proper agenda, that is plugged into Supporters Direct, a national network of supporters organisations, the Football Supporters Federation and which is accountable to those who pay their subs and support its activities. Everything else is a proven dead-end. Fans Forums? Do me a favour.
It’s flattering but also worrying that so many comments we’ve had on this site big up the likes of this fanzine to be in the vanguard of supporters’ action. Well, we’ve had our moments but in all honesty, we are a fringe publication as all fanzines are. If we occupied the importance some attach to us, we’d have glass fronted offices on the Quayside with admin assistants wandering around in stilettoes, pencil shirts and tight blouses with their hair up in buns and specs to make them look clever. Sorry, drifted off there for a moment. We’re nowhere near being a full time operation and now in its fifteenth year, this fanzine will never employ anyone even on the most modest of gratuities.
Far more Mags buy the club programme than fanzines. There is a bigger market for ghost-written nonsense from Joe Kinnear than clever, well-researched pieces about Newcastle United finances in one of them fanzines. I’m not bitter about that, it’s the way it always has been and always will be. That’s the mainstream, we’re the alternative. More people read the local press than fanzines. We are on the fringe, providing the alternative view. We are not mass market, never have been, never will be and never should be. We are the boil on the arse of the football media.
We have amongst the support, what old-style Marxists might have described as a lack of consciousness, though I’ve always found that patronising in the extreme and assumes people don’t agree with your analysis because they are a bit thick. No, we don’t, currently have enough supporters who will become active, who will be dedicated to a cause and do unseen, hard work for no reward, in their own time. It’s the same with political parties, whose memberships are dwindling year on year as are turnouts in elections. This is the Age of Apathy.
I’m as flaky as the rest of you reading this as well. Like you, I’ve got other commitments – family, work etc. that are really further up my hierarchy of priorities than good ol’ Newcastle United Football Club. Obviously, like you, I feel deeply about United, its part of my identity and deep in my soul. I love Newcastle United but I also despair of it and everything around it.
I don’t know what will happen, whether the club will be sold or whatever else, nobody does, least of all journalists writing substance free fluff in the Daily Shite.
To paraphrase Comrade Vladimir Ilich Lenin, What Shall Be Done? And he was definitely on about The Toon and not the cause of international socialism wasn’t he?
Well, I’m fucked if I know.
Have you taken part in the third true faith READERS SURVEY of the season? You can by just clicking here. It will take you about 30 seconds and Steve Farrell, famed member of the true faith crochet club will attempt to disseminate the results with a full piece published in the next fun packed issue of true faith.
We’ll have the true faith : SATURDAY SPECIAL out again this er, Saturday coming. It’s all the work of our young Mr Harrison, true faith’s very own Dep. Ed who along with our resident design guru, Glenn Ashcroft brings you this fanzine within a fanzine and it’s fast becoming a regular cult feature of the Mag weekend. It’s absolutely free of charge and we won’t flog your e-mail addresses to Viagra companies in Latvia.
Our big two lumps Taylor & Besty, have been a bit prolific with the podcasts lately. You can get on the true faith : PODCAST here and get amongst the musings of George Caulkin (The Times) and none other than Robert Lee, a bona-fide, Newcastle United icon and thoroughly smashing gadgie.
Please note, it’s perfectly fine for journalists to lift quotes from the Podcast but it would be nice to be credited as the source – yes, we mean you at The Mail and The Independent.
Have a great week.