I have a recurring dream, maybe even a nightmare.
The personnel involved and the background circumstances may change, but it’s always the same basic premise: Newcastle United are playing in a huge match, their biggest ever and I am late.
Some nondescript factor is stopping me getting there and I am frustratingly unable to keep track of the score. I then arrive at the stadium and am shown to my seat, but the seat is always the same, tucked away behind the concourse in a covered concrete area with no view of the game whatsoever.
I often wake from it in a sense of mild panic, before feeling utterly ridiculous at having even dreamt the concept of Newcastle being in any sort of cup final.
Before anyone starts, there’s no need for any psychoanalysis. I’m quite aware that this is a simple case of a deep-rooted fear of missing out. It’s exactly as it looks as well, after so many years of disappointments, near-misses and unacceptable underperformance that if and when there is a glorious day in the sun, I want to be there. Like many, I’d see it as the long overdue reward for years of paying dues.
It’s with this constantly in the back of my mind that I have a rule, one that I’m sure will seem ridiculous to some people but I can’t help it.
Regardless of how appallingly under-resourced and lacking in ambition we are, I refuse to make alternative plans in advance for the weekend of the cup final. The thought of being stuck in some random beach resort, or at an event of my own making, as United’s finest hour plays out hundreds of miles away, makes me go a bit dizzy.
So, when it came to booking a holiday this year, I made sure my wife knew the crack. If we were away in May, that weekend was off limits. She complied, we booked up, job’s a good un. Yes, I may well miss a home game but this is something I’ve grown to readily accept in recent years as the club slowly dies from within.
That’s where it all went a bit wrong. Despite my confidence to the contrary at the time of strolling into Thomas Cook, McClaren’s United continue to maintain their status as a bottom three mainstay, within occasional visits to seventeenth place. A quick review of the fixture list at the turn of the year revealed a horrible truth.
As we host Spurs on the last day of the season, I’m away in Cyprus. Except I’m not exactly, because for the exact duration of the game I will be floating in a metal can, high above Europe with no access to any internet or contact with those at the match.
I may very well land at Newcastle airport to the news that we have crashed into the Championship. In a small time way, the nightmare has come true.
I’m sure that ahead of this game, barring the run of form I’m hoping will render it irrelevant, it will probably be referred to as a ‘cup final’. Our remaining (insert number of games) being ‘cup finals’ will be a line trotted out on many occasions in the next three long months until relegation is mathematically avoided or confirmed. The problem I have with this is that they’re not are they?
Actually, Steve/Lee/Graham/whoever sends the e-mail, they’re nothing like cup finals.
Cup finals are joyous events enjoyed by happy fans of successful or ambitious clubs. These games are sh*t all like that. These games are unacceptable desperate representations of a sorry state of affairs that should never have occurred. They are sub-standard, below expectation travesties that should carry little meaning after £80+ million of investment but are being bigged up in the hope they deliver on averting complete disaster.
I’m annoyed that I could be proved horribly wrong in dismissing the Tottenham game as a likely non-event. But not just for my own personal circumstance, because it should never have come to this for us at all.
The appointment of McClaren was greeted with a lukewarm response in all quarters, but I think the general consensus was one of muted acceptance. There seemed to be some semblance of a plan and the new manager was accompanied by some much-needed new recruits. The season ahead may have had promise and a poor start was actually tolerated as a settling down period.
Since then, things have been stuck in an appalling rut. The failure to pursue and ensure a guaranteed goal scorer in January will surely prove a false economy, as will the complete ignorance of the weak defending position. Decent home performances followed by gutless, anonymous away form, has seen us career towards desperate problems. If change was made now, a relatively forgiving fixture run-in could be exploited to drive us up to mid table.
As it stands, I would expect (barring a serious change) that the coming weeks will deliver a couple of narrow home wins against Bournemouth, Swansea or (God forbid) Sunderland, offset by sorry, tactically sterile surrenders at Stoke, Leicester, Southampton and Liverpool.
We may surprise in one match, disappoint in another, but overall the outcome will be the same; stuck between 17th and 19th place, with the trips to Norwich and Villa potentially the catalysts for which division we end up in next year.
Ultimately, the razor’s edge nature of this may very well see that game with Spurs being crucial. Of course we will also have to factor in Tottenham’s final day ambitions, as their exertions at the top of the table may see this game turning into the good sort of cup final for them.
As it stands, I have little optimism that I’m going to enjoy that flight.
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