Friends Re-United To Save NUFC?
There’s definitely a despondency taken over Newcastle fans of late.
What’s most worrying is the level of apathy that seems to have become the norm. It’s never nice when fans are handing their season tickets back, but it’s at least something when there’s a sense of righteous rage behind their decision. You know a club is on the slippery road to ruin when fans are letting season tickets lapse because they’ve stopped caring so much about the club.
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To any objective bystander, football is a prime example of futility. At its basics, it’s 22 men kicking an inflated pig’s bladder around a pitch, of no consequence to anyone other than those playing the game. What has made football the trillion-dollar game that it is today is that we fans care about what happens on the pitch.
Fan engagement is absolutely central to football, feeling part of the action, and watching men with almost superhuman skills in a sublime sporting contest. But engagement isn’t just consumption, buying a ticket, a pint or a hotdog, and shouting your lungs out with the crowd to support your team.
The real thrill of football is the sense of having a stake in the action. It’s like the thrill of placing a bet, of knowing what’s going on and feeling thrilled skilfully guessing the good result. So my diagnosis of our current malaise is that thrill has gone because the engagement’s gone. We can still consume Newcastle, but the belonging that attracted us in the first place is gone.
One of my favourite Mag covers was from February 2013, the relegation-battle season, of Debuchy (and Cabaye by reference), and the headline sticks in my mind to this day: ‘Friends Re-United to save NUFC’. That’s the kind of heroic story that fans can engage with, and indeed, it was thanks to Debuchy and Cabaye’s efforts that we cleared the drop with a handful of games to go.
But dodging relegation seems to be where the apathy started to set in. The messages have been lost from the transfer market dealings. Players came in at the last minute, or no one came in at all. And the fans are just left shaking their heads.
It’s almost impossible to work out what’s going on, to make sense of events at St James Park. Without a certain level of transparency from the club, it’s impossible to work out what’s going on at the club and whether we are going in a good or bad direction.
Quality players like Janmaat snuck in unannounced, giving the impression that they were treading water at Newcastle until a ‘big club’ snapped them up. Davide Santon was sent out on loan, and despite club’s denials, the loan deal was always intended to be permanent, hardly a fitting departure for a player who’d turned out 82 times for the club. What’s happening with Facundo Ferreyra and Siem de Jong who join to a fanfare of publicity and then played less than two games between them?
How can you possibly enjoy what’s going on when there’s a permanent sense of confusion and chaos about the club’s intentions? Does the owner really see us as his main football interest, or is he planning to slide assets over to another club, if not ‘Gers then another fallen glory who needs his cash?
It’s ironic in a season where we’ve had at times 6 local lads on the pitch (Sami, Colback, Taylor, Armstrong, Alnwick and Dummett) that the club feels more alien than ever. The club decently stood by Ryan Taylor and we should be licking our lips in anticipation of him getting back in the groove on the park.
We should be hoping for a decade of domination like the Manyoo kids gave them, or at least the competitiveness of Liverpool under McManaman, Gerrard, and Fowler. Instead, we’ve bowed our heads to the inevitable that the good ones will move on, and only the mediocre will stay to grind out the task of avoiding the drop and keeping the Premier League gravy train rolling for the Sports Direct empire.
And it’s us – the poor mugs who give their time, hard earned cash and our hearts to the team – who’ll be the last to know as the sneaky-beaky antics continue in the Gallowgate. So my fear is not that we’re going to be another Leeds, Portsmouth or Darlo and come to earth with a crash – the owner is far too astute to get caught up in his own hubris. I just worry that one day I’ll sit down in the Milburn Stand and just see 22 strangers in funny colours kicking that bladder.
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