After a frantic couple of weeks, hopefully the international break we have stumbled into, will benefit Newcastle United for a change. With Rafael Benitez given a chance to consistently work on a game plan (with a decent part of his squad) ahead of a colossal game with Norwich.
The next round of fixtures is one that may go a long way to indicating who will survive relegation and hopefully Newcastle can be the winners this time round.
Defeat at Carrow Road would leave an unthinkable gap to safety and make it look very much like a relegation trio of Villa, Sunderland and Newcastle, surely the biggest set of clubs that have ever suffered demotion simultaneously.
Except, perhaps we aren’t a big club, are we?
This ongoing issue has raised its smeggy head again following the appointment of Benitez, with pants-soaking hysteria sprayed liberally across the media at the prospect of the erstwhile Real Madrid manager joining up with the deluded upstarts from the north.
What black magic could be at work here?
The usual vitriol from social media can really wind you up if you are of a volatile disposition. I would say the majority of opinions spewed forth come from long distance television watchers who purport to be “fans” of Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal.
They are, in fact, mere consumers of the Premier League product who have attached themselves to a (traditionally) successful team. This in itself is fine, but to use the banner of that attachment to attack other clubs’ credentials is both unwarranted and misguided.
Football in England has evolved from a sense of local pride and tribalism. This has given clubs their strong identities as they channel the emotion and support from their local areas to become representative of the people. Rivalries have developed between geographically close communities as a manifestation of that fierce local pride.
Some saddo from Eastbourne with a house kitted out in Man Utd tat has no traditional emotional attachment to the side he supposed to represent – and in my opinion has no right to dish out abuse to other people’s communities in what amounts to Manchester’s name. It may be a better use of time to focus on the missing bit of oneself that prompts the attachment to something successful in the hope of it reflecting back.
I understand that this is not an exclusive opinion to what we may call the “glory hunting” populous. There will be multiple examples of supporters of less fashionable clubs, Merseyside based Liverpool fans and equally as long-suffering local rivals/sh*t-stirrers queuing up to damn the prospect of Newcastle United being considered anywhere near worthy of consideration as a club of any substance. Unfortunately, that is reflective of some elements of the national media as well.
You will all be well aware of the numerous dafties who are paid to spout their daftness in various forms who may have irked us a little down the years.
Journalists such as Rob Shepherd and Paddy Barclay have formed very strong anti-Newcastle opinions based on the odd clutch of Match of the Day highlights, Fleet Street hearsay and the odd Sky Sports game with beautiful, worthy Tottenham. The question of the club’s standing is a regular source of poisonous diatribe.
Recently, I was a guest on Radio 5’s Monday Night Club and found myself faced with this question directly, following a statement from an unexpected source. When Andy Townsend declared Newcastle “a great club” to have been dragged through the Ashley-induced mess of recent years, his assertion was queried by one John Motson, who trotted out the tired old line of not winning anything since 1969 as exhibit A in the lack of greatness round these parts.
This argument really winds me up. Yes, we are utter failures when it comes to collecting major trophies. To me, this means we are not a recently successful club.
However, would Motty argue that Wigan Athletic, currently attracting crowds of 9-10 thousand in League One but winners of the FA Cup as recent as 2013, are a Great Club based on this success? Does the FA Cup win of 1988 give MK Dons more right to ‘Great’ status than Newcastle, or does that honour belong to AFC Wimbledon?
More annoyingly, the key ingredient to winning things in this day and age seems to be offensive, grotesque amounts of money being pumped into a club. Therefore, using Motty’s logic, Manchester City must have become a Great Club when Sheik Mansour bankrolled the FA Cup, league cups and league titles they have won in the past 5 years. Prior to this, having been on a barren run similar to Newcastle, they must have occupied the Not Great status we currently suffer with. It is encouraging to know that Greatness is a purchasable commodity, best get saving.
In my personal opinion, Manchester City were in fact a Great Club prior to this takeover. Strongly representative of the people of the Manchester area, they have been a big name in the English game since the start of the twentieth century. It is a club that people have lived and breathed through thick and thin and will continue to do so regardless of their status on the money ladder, and their very name and presence has propelled them back from their various setbacks down the years to re-establish their position on the European football map. Surely, Newcastle United occupy a similar place in the football food chain (without all the money and success and stuff)?
As a Great Man once said “What is a club anyway?”
I would confidently argue that our club exudes Greatness in its status as the symbolic representation of the people of Tyneside. As an experience for visitors, Newcastle must be a favoured away trip; no soul-sapping, bladder-straining trek to an out of town industrial estate to visit an identikit plastic stadium, no dodging pubs that don’t welcome away fans. Just rock off the train and walk through the plethora of welcoming bars to the looming cathedral on the hill. Experience the beating heart of Tyneside, all within a one-mile radius.
To lift further from the magnificent quote from Bobby Robson: “it’s the noise, the passion, the belonging, the feeling of pride in your city.”
This is a Great city populated by people who are proud of who they are and where they came from. It will always mean so much to so many, which is why it’s current strangulation hurts so damn much. The final part of Sir Bobby’s quote conjures up the image of “a small boy clambering up the stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”
The image of the next generation having this experience is something that keeps me going through the continuing destruction of the Ashley era.
When my children are old enough to clamber up those steps, I will be reassuring them that, whatever state it may appear to be in, they are about to fall in love with a Great Club.
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf