One of the benefits of age I’m told is perspective. I was fifty last year so I should have some I’d hope. I’ll leave you to judge whether I have when it comes to Newcastle United if you manage to read to the end of this old toffee. I went to my first United games back in the early 70s. Like many of you reading this, my old man took me and I watched the likes of Macdonald, Tudor, Moncur, Hibbitt et al from the West Stand Paddock amidst mild grumbling about Joe Harvey and Lord Westwood. Later, when my half-interested old man packed in going to football almost completely, as a teenager I spent a couple of seasons on the old Leazes End watching Micky Burns, Geoff Nulty, Alan Gowling and Tommy Craig before the club went into a late 70s tail-spin, was duly relegated and as I and a few others from school and round the doors clicked enthusiastically through the Gallowgate Corner paying in from modest amounts of pocket money. I watched the worst standard of football ever put on at St James’ Park by Bill McGarry and those of a certain vintage still get a shudder to think of a forward-line of Shinton-Rafferty-Clarke. There were moments of pleasure – Withe and Shoulder providing some excitement but really, the club was in a terrible condition and never really started to recover until Arthur Cox was appointed when the dreadful McGarry made his welcome exit.
I think of the 80s in mixed ways. I’d been a fully paid up member of the Imre Varadi fan club but I loved the two KK seasons at United when we clinched promotion with an attacking delight of Keegan-Waddle-Beardsley with the likes of McDermott, Wharton, McCreery, Roeder and others playing fantastic football in front of a bouncing St James’ Park. That 83/84 season, with all of those fantastic away days remain, even given what came after as one of my favourite ever Newcastle United years.
We had some okay times in the 80s thereafter though the club made horrendous mistakes (appointing Jack Charlton being the biggest) but a total lack of ambition in the boardroom from the likes of Seymour and McKeag inevitably saw the sales of Waddle, Beardsley and Gascoigne under Yes-Man Willie McFaul inevitably lead to relegation. The 80s ended as it had begun with United floundering in the Second Division firstly with Jim Smith’s ageing failures and thereafter with Ardiles’ wholly inadequate squad. Again but for the arrival of KK as manager after a bitter feud between the regime-ancien and new money Thatcherite John Hall. God knows what would have happened to Newcastle United without Kevin Keegan but for several seasons I enjoyed the best football I have ever seen or will ever see.
In hindsight, the worst move Newcastle United ever made was to float on the stock market.Though for the Hall and Shepherds it provided a personal bonanza.. It led to the departure of Kevin Keegan as manager and it was the starting gun on the dash for cash for Hall and Shepherd. The club’s decline was arrested after terrible appointments in Dalglish and Gullit with the arrival of Sir Bobby Robson but for all the great job and super times we had under Langley Park’s finest, we were never the same club we were when KK was there. Terrible appointments followed in Souness, Roeder and Allardyce interspersed with Shepherd attempting to convince us we were an ambitious club with some pop star signings in Duff, Owen, Luque etc. but the truth was we had lost the plot as a club and the tide was against us.
We had missed the boat to establish ourselves as a Champions League regular, the appointment of Wenger at Arsenal showed the kind of insight and knowledge at Highbury with David Dein while we had Shepherd whoring around in Spanish bordellos with enfant knacker, Douglas Hall. We were to fall behind further when the Russian rocked up at Stamford Bridge and saved them from a Leeds-style meltdown. Thereafter, Sir John Hall, itching to get out, was making it plain United couldn’t compete with Russian oligarchs and we were losing out on Champions League money.
Unedifying attempts by Hall to flog the club to Hedge Fund Investors (i.e. Polygon and Belgravia) came to nothing (they actually checked the books) but it was obvious Hall wanted his last pay-day regardless of Shepherd’s intention to remain as the Boss Hogg of Barrack Road. Hall wanted to sell and it’s my opinion he’d have sold us to the devil providing he had the money. Hall, in my opinion is almost pyschopathic in his love of money.
And so it came to pass that all the talk of Sporting Clubs of Newcastle, Geordie Nation, regional pride, share-holding supporters went straight out the window when Hall learnt of an incredible bid to buy our club.
Let no-one tell you any different, Hall and Shepherd left Newcastle United in a desperate financial state. The details have been covered in several issues of true faith by qualified accountants so anyone pining for the days of Shepherd running our club needs to wake up and smell the unsustainable debt. Hall and Shepherd had nowhere else to go with Newcastle United but out the door. Who they let in and under what terms is a matter for their own conscience. If they possess one.
In May 2007 Newcastle United was sold to Mike Ashley. Mike who? I remember asking. The Sports Soccer gadgie, or Sports Direct or something like that. Anyway, he was minted and so I foolishly thought, the club should be run properly. No more daft pop star signings, investment in the club’s infrastructure (shamefully neglected under Hall and Shepherd despite patter to the contrary). He appointed Chris Mort as his acting Chairman and in two months I’d met the Chairman of our club in my role as fanzine editor more often than I’d ever met Hall or Shepherd (i.e. never). All of the mood music was good though it became obvious the terms of the purchase of the club was starting to unravel as Mort and others learnt about the appalling state of the United finances. Basically, Ashley had bought “a bucket of holes” (Chris Mort).
We staggered on with Allardyce and incredibly Ashley sanctioned the purchase of players who would cost the club fortunes and take United into a nose dive – Viduka, Geremi. Cacapa, Barton, Smith, Rozenhal joined Owen and Duff on an eye-watering pay roll. Not one of those players ever justified their salaries.
But it got worse. For whatever reason, Ashley sacked Allardyce and appointed Kevin Keegan as manager. He’d been out of the game for some time and admitted he’d not watched a PL game for three years. Nevertheless the 07/08 season ended happily. The team was playing good attacking football and KK bought the club trust in the stands. By that time Mort had gone back to Freshfields but only after appointing Dennis Wise as Director of Football with Tony Jimenez and Jeff Vetere in roles I can barely remember. Derek Llambias assumed the hitherto unknown position of Managing Director. Llambias from the shady world of casinos, retreated into his office (when he was there) and like Ashley said nothing.
The summer of 2008 proved to be disastrous. Ashley’s appointments were completely incompatible and along with Wise hung KK out to dry as lying to its manager and supporters became de-facto club strategy.
You all know what happened next. KK resigned, later to shine a hard light on Mike Ashley’s integrity and confirm Dennis Wise as the most poisonous cunt to ever draw breath in professional football. We got our first dose of Joe Kinnear and only a heart attack spared this buffoon the indignity of taking us to relegation in a not to be forgotten sunny day at Villa Park when Alan Shearer was let badly let down by the likes of Owen, Duff, Barton, Viduka and many others. That squad should never have been relegated.
Having alienated Kevin Keegan, Ashley then did the same to Alan Shearer, treating one of the club’s favourite sons with huge disrespect. Having offered Shearer the job as manager, agreed a budget for the forthcoming season in the Championship, Ashley then froze Shearer out. He simply ignored him. There was no contact between Ashley and Shearer or Llambias for that matter. That treatment of any man is disgraceful, of one of the club’s greatest players and a local boy was unforgivable. Ashley then put the club on the market but over an agonising summer, via Seymour Pierce was unable to sell United. Ashley just wanted far too much for the club.
Then United got lucky through Chris Hughton and a dressing room led by Nolan, Harper, Barton with Colo, Enrique and Jonas showing some character with an emerging Carroll to get us back into the Premier League.
Fast Forward and somehow Alan Pardew is manager of Newcastle United after the popular Chris Hughton had been treated badly. Hughton is remembered fondly on Tyneside and has the respect and appreciation of supporters who understand his contribution to our club. He is a good man and of decency and integrity. He was never going to last at Newcastle United Football Club.
Now we have a kind of half-dead football club, a club that exists to exist. That has no ambition or real sporting purpose. With a manager who will suffer any indignity to hang onto a position he is singularly inadequate to hold. He manages a coaching team that is providing very little in the development of our players. Talent is squandered at every turn.
We have Mike Ashley who barely turns up for games, has no interest at all and whose approach to our club is sucking the life out of us. As supporters, we seem barely alive. We are going through the motions, sitting dumbfounded at the soul-destroying excuse for a sporting contest we have paid good money to watch.
Clearly, the players don’t give a toss about the shirt they are pulling on, about you or I in the stands and nor do they care enough for their manager, who has admitted to being completely unable to motivate them. They are as disillusioned as us.
I now know for absolute certain that if we go a goal behind, we all might as well go home. There is never any rousing come-back. There is no fight, no determination, no courage and no leadership – no leadership on the pitch, in the dug-out or in the stands. That match yesterday was played out in almost complete silence but for the country’s most self-regarding fans going through a selection of their dull-arse repertoire.
There is no-one on the payroll at Newcastle United who offers anything other than a yes-sir, no-sir, three-bags full sir to Ashley. I hear Charnley is tipped for the top job at United! What a joke, he wouldn’t get anywhere near a similar job at any other club. He is a yes-man, just like Pardew. A puppet, promoted beyond his ability, desperate to cling onto the pools win of a job, 100% in the knowledge he’ll never get another one like it. The same applies to anyone in any position of authority at United – they are all phonies, time-servers just grateful for their crust knowing full well they would get nowhere near a similar job elsewhere. As for Ashley’s lickspittles Moncur and Beardsley, I am nauseated by the weasel words these two so-called club icons put out in defence for a man anyone can see is draining the life out of the club.
The only defence Pardew has is that it doesn’t matter who Ashley appoints, he’ll be a prick just like him. That’s as may be but I think a change is as good as a rest and we need shot of this patsy along with Carver, Stone, Woodman and we need another selection of Ashley gimps just to spare us the tedium we’ve had thus far. I can honestly say, relegation next season doesn’t bother me and if it means it will hurt Ashley, possibly bring this whole sorry to episode to a close then so be it. Administration, points deduction, half empty stadium, bankruptcy? Bring it on. Anything must be better than living the life of football’s un-dead.
Keep Pardew and his staff and the club will continue wandering around in its half dead trance with no purpose whatsoever. We desperately need Ashley out as well of course but he’s working on the expectation of finding a buyer who will imagine paying off his debt is a great idea. That doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon.
I can say, hand on heart, I’ve watched some terrible Newcastle United teams and some awful players in the 40-odd years I’ve been going to St James’ Park. This season is far from the worst I’ve seen by a long chalk. I’ve been angry, frustrated before but I’ve never felt this level of disillusion, disconnection or depression at what is going on at the sorry excuse for a football club I have the grave misfortune to have an affinity to. Whether its my age or the collective disappointments the club has provided down the years catching up with me, I don’t know, but I look upon almost everything associated with our club and I don’t see anything at all I actually like any longer. I am completely alienated from it.
We are away at Stoke on Saturday coming. We all know we’ll lose and it will probably be heavily. Stoke are in no danger of relegation really and their situation mirrors our own. But I can guarantee they will be up for playing a game of football. They will tear us apart. You know what? I’m not even arsed if they do or they don’t. If it ushers in the departure of Team Pardew then that is all to the good. If the next sap takes us to relegation, so what? If it means Ashley is a step closer out of our club then good. If it means we have to be reduced to penury, playing on Nun’s Moor then that can’t happen soon enough if it means we can rid ourselves of the cancer that is attached to Newcastle United. I don’t feel guilty in writing that, I feel kind of liberated by it. I’d rather follow a REAL Newcastle United in the lower divisions than the sorry excuse for one we are under Ashley and Pardew.
Nothing good is happening at that football club, not that football club is a description of the undead on Barrack Road is anyway accurate.