One of the articles of faith this fanzine has always has had is that Newcastle United is an under-achieving football club because the fervour and scale of its support is not matched by its achievements. It’s what has energised us down the years and I don’t think it’s a unique sentiment to this publication which is why decades without silverware for our club strikes the football world as well as ourselves as a freak and an absurdity.
I’ve had the privilege of being amongst some astonishing displays of support in the face of adversity and the pride I’ve taken from being amongst people whose devotion and dedication to our club is something I’ve always taken pride in being part. Of course down the years I’ve been embarrassed at several incidents involving our support but they have been rare and in comparison to what has gone elsewhere quite minor really.
This season I’ve wondered however about some of the people who describe themselves as Newcastle United supporters. The latest is Matz Sels removing himself from Twitter because of some of the most spiteful and abusive posts sent directly to him by so-called supporters of our club following the 1-1 draw at Villa Park on Saturday. Frankly, what these cretins feel they are achieving with this poison is beyond me but as ever they revel in the licence anonymity gives them and feel powerful when I will say with some experience (having been on the end of some rubbish myself) that the authors are invariably unfulfilled, inadequate, unattractive and emasculated in their real lives. For a period after seeing some of the stuff fired in our goal-keeper’s direction I felt like organising a lynch party to name and shame them here and turn back some of the bile they had spat in the direction on themselves but a good sleep has perhaps made me think a little more wisely on that score so I won’t be. But we have to acknowledge that amongst our number we have some people who appear to be unable to express themselves with any degree of intelligence, perspective or dare I say it respect. Those of us who do inhabit the online world of social media might therefore have a responsibility to behave correctly ourselves and impose some standards on others too.
Not that this is exclusively an online problem. That the team was booed from the park by a section of our so-called supporters following the disappointing Wolves defeat a week last Saturday was similarly shocking. I’ve heard the argument that people who have paid good money to see a football match are entitled to express an opinion if they are disappointed. I agree but booing isn’t an opinion. Booing is simply a petulant, empty, destructive braying that achieves absolutely nothing and quite often makes a bad situation worse.
Here’s a thing – Rafa Benitez has invited me and several others to meet him at the training ground over the last couple of months and whilst those hours will be the most treasured of any I’ve spent following United the invitations weren’t because of a desire to give a clapped out fanzine editor a good time. No, the intention clearly was to express directly to supporters the importance of backing the team to the hilt this season. To put aside past enmities and whilst we are in the stadium give 100% support to those on the park wearing our colours. It’s a delicate subject for anyone at United to get involved with because the knee-jerk response of a lot of our support is to point to the attendance figures and season ticket sales and say the support is there. It’s a reasonably fair point to make but I’d suggest running out to play in front of a packed house where mass sighing at every mistake and booing at a poor half or game isn’t making the most of the extraordinary advantage we should have at a full St James’ Park in particular. In fact I do wonder what our players now think of our support after their team-mate has been abused from Twitter, they were booed from the pitch only days after smashing QPR 6-0 and I think the theft of flags from the Gallowgate End might still be in the back of some minds. If I was newly arrived at United I might be wondering who some of these people are.
Collectively, we have to raise the standard of our support. The numbers are there but is the quality? That is in how we express opinions on the team here, via social media and everywhere else and particularly at the match. Personally, when the team or a player has a disappointing game then that is when our support is needed the most. That is when we have to show what we are made of – not when we are shooting fish in a barrel at QPR for example.
Or am I hopelessly out of tune with the ways of the modern game?
I must confess the modern football media excites and appals me in equal measure. As a fanzine that is determined to embrace the possibilities of the digital era I see us adding and refining our output all of the time and we are committed to providing supporters with a platform to express their opinions but we also hope they are well-rounded, reasonable and correctly articulated.
This new habit shared by fans and the local press (which is plumbing new depths in its banality) for submitting a team sheet online ahead of matches is risible. I’ve never known a more empty and pointless exercise. None of these budding managers have a clue about how players have trained, injuries, general fitness or the threats of the opposition and the analysis conducted to counter them. It really is of its time all of this but not in a good way – its reality TV meets football and it would be laughable if those indulging in it didn’t take themselves so tragically seriously. Of course, The Chronicle in its desperation to drive clicks onto its site with the concomitant impact upon advertising revenue is bang into it and is now turning the day or two before a match into something like eviction night from the Big Brother House. I’m picking on The Chronicle but they aren’t alone in this new trend with some completely giving up any respect they might once have had as a worthwhile fans’ publication to drive clicks. It’s completely depressing.
The clamour at the weekend after Villa was for Sels to be dropped and Darlow to be picked for the next game. Apparently, Darlow deserves his chance and its only fair because Rafa uses a rotational strategy and because, because, because. Let’s have a look at that in detail. Do people really think Rafa is playing the second best goalie at United because he’s daft? Do people really think Darlow is being kept out of the team because Rafa can’t see the goal-keeping genius at his disposal and is ignoring the advice from his coaches and his own analysis? No, precisely at this point, the manager judges Sels is the best man for the job. I prefer to acknowledge the judgement of a man who has managed Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Real Madrid to a kid on social media who doesn’t understand that sometimes you don’t win football matches no matter how much you want to.
Clearly, as someone who has edited a fanzine since 1999 dedicated to providing supporter opinion it may all read a little odd I should be pouring cold water on what fans say about their own club. I’ve given this some considerable thought over the last few weeks and I will say this – true faith has always attempted to express opinions which are in context, evidence-based, balanced and acknowledge the restrictions they are drafted within. I would hope we have never committed the cardinal sin of thinking we’re experts or worse taking ourselves seriously.
But whatever has gone on in the past should be left there. Newcastle United has a manager we should all believe in 100%. Imagine where we’d be without him. He is a great manager but he can’t work miracles and he’ll make mistakes just as the players will. If anyone is of the belief this season is going to be one garlanded parade back to the Premier League then they delude themselves. This is a tough division and frankly we don’t have as good a team as we had in 2009 for a variety of reasons and those of us who can remember that far back will know the first half of that season wasn’t exactly a feast of brilliant football. The opposition really want to beat us as much as we do them. But we have a squad of players who all want to be at United in the main. Rafa is working on them to improve them individually and collectively. It is not going to work overnight but at this early point of the season it’s reasonably good and we are in a strong position.
Our job as supporters who should be completely behind the manager is to do everything we can to ensure his success and his team. That’s what supporters do. Rafa Benitez isn’t a weasel or puppet as per Pardew and McClaren. He is a world figure in football and I don’t think we’ll ever get better. I want him to grow a deep bond for our football club and our community and stay here for the rest of his career ensuring Newcastle United’s long term success. I want our players to develop a strong affection for the club and its support, to respect Newcastle United and love it as we do. None of that will be achieved by booing disappointing results, disgraceful treatment of our players on social media or anywhere else.
Rafa Benitez is the best chance our football club has for long-term sustained success at Newcastle United. The majority of our support knows this and understands it but we have some noisy arseholes who think they are supporters who need to change their ways and fast.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
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