They did enough. They did just enough to avoid catastrophe and they remain a Premier League football club and remain on the TV gravy train. And that’s all that matters isn’t it? Isn’t it? Well, no – not really, not by a long chalk!
For the second season in succession, Newcastle United has written off a full campaign in football. Written off the investment in tickets and season ticket cards through wilful negligence. Last season it was the bone-headed decision to fail to act when the completely anticipated departure of Cabaye resulted in United declining to sign a replacement and rupturing the whole ethos of the team and damaging the manager irreparably into the process. This season it was entrusting the fortunes of the team to the woefully inadequate John Carver and undermining him by releasing HBA, Mbwia, Santon as well as other fringe players without any replacements in January. This time the good ship Newcastle United sailed a bit too close to the PL relegation rocks than was close for comfort but managed to rouse itself and avoided an ignominious relegation to the Championship with a heroic performance from Jonas, a player with more justification than most to harbour a grudge against Mike Ashley for some despicable treatment. Thank God that relegation didn’t happen but it remains the third serious dalliance with relegation in the eight miserable years of Mike Ashley, not including the season spent outside of the top flight. For those who seem to excuse Ashley, I’ll remind them we have had one top half of the PL finish in those eight years. A 5th place he failed to capitalise upon.
Sunday started with two Newcastle United icons pouring scorn on Mike Ashley’s running of our club. First up was Kevin Keegan describing Ashley as running the club as though he was from “another planet” and lambasting those he has entrusted the running United. The day ended with Alan Shearer summarising the mood of many Mags by snorting at Ashley’s SKY TV Interview and reminding the football world that “actions speak louder than words” and generated a mass nodding of heads on the B&W planet.
Keegan and Shearer sandwiched Ashley’s surprise interview to SKY in which he took responsibility for the abysmal situation the club was in but was hardly interrogated on so much else by a friendly SKY hack. For the avoidance of doubt, this is what Ashley said:
Just click here.
In terms of the positives, it was gratifying to hear Ashley give an interview, though I question whether that would have happened but for the campaign which is now under way and led by AshleyOut.com and the attention drawn to how this man is running our club. Some actions conducted by the club in recent months suggests they have been rattled by protests underpinned by wider action within the game and led by the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, the Football Supporters Federation, Supporters Direct and a growing network of increasingly well-organised fan associations at club level.
There were other positives though. It was gratifying to hear Ashley take full responsibility for the club’s plight. It was less encouraging to hear Ashley apportion responsibility for making key appointments to Lee Charnley, a man as far out of his depth as John Carver. Similarly, the football board Ashley refers to is basically Charnley and Graeme Carr. I’m yet to be convinced either man has the expertise to make the right decision about a Head Coach or Manager. Steve McLaren did reasonably well at Boro, bombed spectacularly with England, rehabilitated himself at Twente and nosedived in the Bundesliga. He has failed recently with Derby in the Championship and I view his expected anointment as Pardew’s successor as uninspiring. Indeed there is little difference between them at club level. McLaren can point to a League Cup win but Pardew can point to a close call in the FAC Final with West Ham and more recent (though hyped) record in the PL. Not a great deal between them in honesty.
I’ll be honest, my jaw dropped at certain comments i.e. “continue to invest” and that he’d be here until we win something. I’ll leave all you good people to drive a coach and horses through those statements but as for promises of investment into the squad, I think we’ve all been here before back in 2007, only months after the takeover when the same man promised to invest £20m on top of what the club generated and we also heard Llambias quote a “five year plan” to be competing “for everything”. Then of course there was the small matter of being proven as liars in the Court of Arbitration for Sport as our ex-manager took a case for constructive dismissal to it conclusion and his own vindication.
So, like many of you reading this, I’ll take some convincing.
Not that I don’t want to be proven wrong. I would desperately love to be sitting typing up something ahead of 15/16, relishing the new season and filled with anticipation. I would love for AshleyOut.com to pull down their site, end their campaign and commit to giving Ashley one last chance. I’d love to welcome in the new manager, new players and for St James’ park to be buzzing on the first day of the new season.
Nothing would give me greater pleasure to be able to record here all of the questions we and others have raised about how the club is being run as a business and pronounce satisfactory answers.
I would be delighted to report the Newcastle United Supporters Trust being treated with respect as the only members-based, properly constituted and active fan group amongst the supporters (with due respect to AshleyOut.com and the Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Association) and be positive about a new relationship with the club.
It would be a joy to learn of the club’s strategy to rapidly and massively increase its commercial income and praise it here and elsewhere and I would love to be able to explain why Newcastle United has paid Sports Direct £3,4m and why it has sold the lease on land behind the Gallowgate for a pittance and ruined any realistic prospect of ever expanding St James’ Park.
Likewise I would love to comment upon where the club is at with its plans for the new academy (as announced by Kinnear in 2015 to commence work in May/2015) and what it intends to do to deliver players from the Academy into the first team with any degree of regularity given its woeful recent record.
I can’t be the only one who would be delighted to see Wonga removed from the United shirt and for St James’ Park not to be used as a tawdry billboard for Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct and for our grand old home to celebrate the club’s history and culture rather than a shop.
None of that has been changed by the first interview Ashley has given to the media in eight years.
In the words of Alan Shearer: “actions speak louder than words”.
So then, Newcastle United, as shambolic and terrible as we are and despite giving them a 6pt head-start, still have a higher place in the Premier League than our neighbours, Sunderland. What does it all mean? They are shit, I think.
In recent years, I’ve heard many a conversation bemoaning our support. Not organised well enough to take the fight to Ashley, apathetic, too many knobheads at away-games, too many Casual posers (all the gear and no idea), too many bad tempered miseries for fanzine editors, too many Wonga wearers, shit songs, shoe-wavers, bed-sheet brigades, attention-seekers, cranks (to be fair only one really), cringe-worthy fancy dress protests, gob-shites, trolls, keyboard warriors, slacktavists, not enough boycotting matches, too many boycotting matches and the list of communal-flagellation just goes on and on. But yesterday (Sunday), our support was magnificent. Barely without pause, the support was unremitting and solid. The frustrated sighs at a poor pass were rare, no players were put under undue pressure and there was full on encouragement from every corner of St James’ Park. I won’t say it was like the old days because that’s nonsense. SJP has always had periods of extended grumbling, frustration but when Newcastle United has truly needed its support, it has always been there. It was there yesterday and I was proud to be amongst it. It’s unrealistic to say SJP should be like that all of the time. It never has been and it never will be but it was an indication of what our club can be about if those in the stands could believe in the direction the club was taking, if there was a belief the club, the city and the region was respected by those entrusted with the club’s stewardship.
That the support holds Ashley and his minions in such open contempt was evident on the final whistle when with SJP filled with its support, it broke into a spontaneous anti-Ashley chant that came from the boots of most men, women and children in the ground. With the sense of relief sweeping over St James’ Park it is perhaps understandable that the determined minority stayed behind to give vent to continuing unhappiness at Ashley’s running of United. It sent a message that there is a campaign group to continue to pursue change at Newcastle United and behind that there is one of the most clued-up, respected and active Supporters Trusts in the country.
Sadly, many of those who gave unremitting support to the Black & White cause yesterday will have been at SJP for the last time as they have cancelled season ticket debits and vowed not to return until Ashley has gone.
They, rightly will need to be convinced enough has changed for them to return.
Only deeds will convince them of that.
So to Jonas. The term hero or worse, legend is bandied about these days with typical modern overstatement (don’t get me on about the use of the word “awesome” but this lad is unquestionably the real deal. This is a man who has recovered from cancer and put a life-threatening disease behind him to return to top level and sport. Notwithstanding that he has shown his credentials as a man to rise above the disgraceful treatment he received from those at United to give 100% to our just and righteous cause. I could not have picked a more suitable player to have had such a pivotal role in such a vital game. He made the first goal and he scored the second. They were the eye-catching moments but in a season of lamentable leadership on and off the park, Jonas led by example. He tracked, pressed, tackled, cajoled, ran and he left that pitch with the appreciation of a full St James’ congregation. Cometh the hour and cometh the man. The moment reminded me of David Kelly 23 years ago when he rounded off another lung-bursting performance with a much celebrated goal against Portsmouth at The Gallowgate which meant so much. I’m probably more cynical than most about modern footballers but with Jonas I have had my faith restored in the good lads there are still in the game. I think it is fair to say Jonas Guitteraz will always have friends here. Thank you Jonas and our very best wishes for your future wherever that might be.
And so, we have finished our first full season as an exclusively digital fanzine offering. I don’t pretend it wasn’t a difficult decision to leave our much-loved paper fanzine behind but the proof of the pudding is in the eating and across all of our platforms – the digital fanzine, The Special (match-day newsletter), the podcasts, video-blogs and this here website, I can say true faith’s audience has never been bigger and its growing. We are measuring traffic on the site in the millions, readership in the tens of thousands and along with our social media presence embracing a new fanzine culture whilst retaining what we think gives us our identity and builds an outlet for fans to express their views and opinions to a wide audience.
It’s been a massive success though I really do need to thank the likes of Glenn Ashcroft who has been fantastic with the design and everything else he does for true faith not to mention Taylor & Besty for their podcasts, latterly joined by Alex Hurst whose podcast under our banner has now only gone and nabbed its own slot on Friday nights with Radio Northumberland. Matt Flynn has done fantastic work with our new video-blogs, so we are all really satisfied with how things have gone.
Over the summer, we will be bringing out a Summer Special of the fanzine in digital format and that will be something of a bumper read as we are able to give more writers greater opportunity and scope to write well-crafted pieces to a dedicated following of readers. We will have more news on that soon.
Click here to get the current issue and access to a back catalogue of over 30 issues.
We will also be looking to improve everything we do online over the summer and by the time the new season kicks off (or earlier if possible) we will have a brand new website for you as well as plans about how we are going to take true faith onto a different level. There are one or two obstacles to overcome on that journey but everyone here is confident that can be achieved. As ever with true faith, we are a work in progress.
Thank you all for indulging us with your patronage this season and from way back as well. We will be doing stuff over the season so please keep looking in as we are expecting a busy summer at United and doubtless lots to cover.
As ever, if any of you want to get involved with true faith, just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org We are always after match reporters, feature writers, previewers, photographers and anything else you think might be able to bring to the table to help us put out one of the best fanzine publications in the UK.
We are always grateful for the overwhelming amount of encouragement we get from rank and file supporters. We’ll never be everyone’s cup of tea and at times we’ll doubtless we’ll have stuff published you love and loathe. Without breaking into Gloria Gaynor, we are what we are – a proudly Geordie publication, leftish, partisan but hopefully a bit worldly and internationalist too. Sticking to what we are might piss a few people off but it’s been good enough for us since 1999, so we’ll just keep on down that road.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
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