“For each a road, for everyman a religion”
These are the opening lines of F.E.A.R by Ian Brown. It’s a brilliant song and it makes me feel old when I realise it is from 14 years ago. If staying over the night before or after away games, going clubbing and going to gigs had an official soundtrack then this song would be pride of place, track 2, side 1. And that’s what this article is about: fear.
So the season got under way with a draw and a defeat; one point in the bag, two goals scored and four conceded.
That feels about right for Newcastle and to be fair, only the young and the optimists will have expected a great deal more from a home game with Southampton and an away trip to Swansea. Oh, and our first – but surely not last – red card has also been safely secured.
Almost all fans are acutely familiar with their club’s fixtures. We of course have Premier League games against Manchester United and Arsenal on the immediate horizon. Be honest, when you look at those two games what do you think? What do you feel?
Perhaps fear is too strong a word but do you really expect more than a point at best? Then it’s a tricky Monday night trip to Upton Park where we’d be at least hoping to come away with something other than a defeat before we face Watford at home. Being honest, the Watford game will be the next time we start a game as favourites to win.
You don’t need me to walk you through the fixtures and fans less-dowsed in years of Newcastle’s failure might well go into those games more optimistic than me. But when I look at our fixtures it’s frightening how many times I feel we go in as the underdogs.
When I look down our fixture list my inner-monologue goes, “Bugger, bugger, hmmm, winnable, bugger, bugger, winnable, the derby.”
That’s just me. Others may look at that and think, 6 wins and 2 draws! Fantastic expectations; amazing revelations!
What I would like to do with this article is pose the question: What do our opponents think when they see NUFC on their fixture list…?
Let’s be done with the top 4. I see Man United, Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea and I think anything we get there is a bonus. I dare say 75% of the Premier League feels the same way.
Let’s put Liverpool and Spurs to one side for a moment, too. Most teams will see those two as tough games.
The teams that fascinate me are the likes of Southampton, Swansea and Stoke. Am I wrong or do they all have a reputation for being tough opponents? Even the top 4 facing one of those sides, especially away, would go there knowing they were in for a tough game.
But what do people think when they play us…? Does anyone really put us into that category? Does anyone look at a game against Newcastle and think that they’re in for a tough game?
I don’t think many sides do. The top 4 don’t have any fears facing us despite our decent home record against Chelsea. But those teams beyond the top 4, do they look at a trip to St James’ Park with any concerns…?
What about Crystal Palace, Everton, West Ham, West Brom and Leicester. They’re all decent sides. They all command their opponents respect. Do we command that respect…? Or do people look at us and see us as a very winnable fixture. That’s 14 teams (who all finished above us last year) who I’d be confident see us as a game to look forward to, especially if we’re the side on the road.
What about the sides who finished below us last year? Quite astoundingly, the Mackems not only don’t fear us anymore, they see us as manna from heaven! Despite being God-awful year in and year out, they swap gaffers, roll their sleeves up in just a few weeks a year and manage to do the double over us!
The three promoted sides bring with them something the likes of ourselves, Sunderland and Aston Villa, sides who underachieve and survive, simply don’t have: genuine fight. They’re scrappers at the top table and until the results have nulled the novelty and the enthusiasm then they’re often tougher opponents than the likes of us.
My fear is that no one is scared of us; no one is scared of Newcastle United.
I dare say that you could test the theory by asking any Premier League fan to choose a team to play on the final day of the season if they needed a result to win the league or qualify for Europe if even to stay up. We would get picked a hell of a lot.
If the Premier League was a school playground then the likes of Stoke and Swansea are seen as tougher kids than we are. And the only way to change that is to start chinning a few people. We need to forge a reputation; we need to become some that others are wary about. And the only way to do that is to start beating those teams around us.
I saw Monday’s Chronicle with the players promising to make things up to the fans with a performance against Man United. Putting in a shift against a top 4 side and losing with dignity isn’t the solution.
The solution is putting in the same workrate and the same performance against a mid-table side or a struggler and beating them. That’s what puts points on the board; that’s what keeps you in The Premier League. That’s what makes people scared of you.
Until the players see Bournemouth, Norwich, Sunderland and Stoke as bigger games than Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City then my fear is no one will be scared of playing us.
That lack of fear becomes belief, belief that they can beat us and with that belief comes a willingness to take us on and go toe to toe with us. All of that increases their chances of beating us.
The upcoming fixture list tantalises us with glamorous games against all of last season’s top 4 in just the next 6 games.
The games we need to be equally up for are the games against West Ham and Watford in between and then the 6 games that follow.
Those are the games that will go a long way to deciding which league we’ll be playing in next August.
(Jack is just one of our ever expanding team of regular/irregular writers, send in your original articles for our website to [email protected] and share them with the world – all views are the author’s own etc etc)