While debate has raged on for years now about whether Newcastle’s fans are too demanding, there is no denying that they are fiercely loyal – a loyalty that has been cynically used against them for nearly nine years now.
Sadly, the cumulative effect of almost a decade of woeful mismanagement has left many fans apathetic about the state of their club – so much so that they themselves have now become part of the problem.
Having slaughtered two of Tyneside’s sacred cows in fan favourites Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer early on in his stewardship, Mike Ashley’s suffocation of the Toon Army has been a more gradual, and ultimately, more destructive process. Previously proud and passionate, those who fill the famous Gallowgate and Leazes Ends these days are a placid bunch, paralysed by chronic inertia.
Ignoring the elephant in the vast Sport Direct-sponsored room that is St James Park, the Geordie faithful steadfastly try to separate their love for the club from their contempt for those who seem wilfully intent on destroying it and have adopted a philosophy of ‘support the team, not the regime’ in recent years.
Unfortunately, with victories in short supply and entertaining football a rarer commodity still, the time may soon come for the Toon Army to finally do the unthinkable and turn their backs on St James Park and their beloved team.
If they were to take a step back and examine the situation objectively, Newcastle fans would surely wonder how they have let themselves be abused and taken advantage of for so long. How have they stood idly by as the club has lurched from crisis to crisis?
How have they swallowed any of the lies spouted at the Fans Forum meetings or in Mike Ashley’s famous Sky interview last summer?
How have they been silenced, pacified and placated by an uncaring owner who time and time again has tarnished the club’s reputation and dragged its proud name through the mud?
Not once in nine years has the best man for the job been appointed by Ashley or his cronies. Managers, coaches, backroom staff, directors, scouts, playing staff…. Ashley constantly gambles and hopes to make-do by choosing the cheapskate option.
Granted, significant money was invested in the playing squad in the last two transfer windows but not in the right areas, on the right players, or, crucially, by the right people.
Sanctioning a huge net spend but allowing millions to be frittered away on players who are patently not up to the job, defies logic as much as it defies belief – as does entrusting the running of the club to a man as inexperienced as Lee Charnley… and the coaching of the team to a man who would be generously described as a ‘specialist in failure’.
2009’s relegation and our subsequent poor performance (both on and off the pitch) have cost Mike Ashley millions and his woeful PR gaffes have portrayed him in an extremely bad light and further damaged Sports Direct’s already dubious reputation as a consequence.
Maybe it really is true that there is no such thing as bad publicity but I still refuse to believe that someone with Ashley’s nous would aim to fail on purpose and repeatedly turn the spotlight on himself and his company by deliberately doing the wrong thing.
For one season under Alan Pardew the cheapskate method half-worked, while two other seasons (Chris Hughton’s Championship-winning campaign in 2010 and Newcastle subsequently consolidating their Premier League place having jettisoned Hughton in favour of Pardew mid-season) were steady and unspectacular. So, even giving Ashley the benefit of the doubt for those, it amounts to 6 years out of 9 at this stage where the club as a whole has performed absolutely terribly.
Even still, in spite of all of that, the fans have stayed loyal, kidding themselves with this ‘support the team not the regime’ nonsense. I’m afraid the time has come to realise that the team, for all intents and purposes, is the regime.
Boardroom level, behind the scenes, coaching staff, playing staff – they are all related and inter-connected and must be viewed as a whole. Supporting hangers-on, mercenaries and losers like Sissoko, Taylor, Gouffran and Co, unfortunately, amounts to supporting those higher up.
The Geordie faithful have been silent for too long and accepted the abuse, living in denial, hoping for a brighter future. Ashley has had enough chances – the best indicator of what’s to come in the future is what’s gone on in the past.
So, unless he performs an uncharacteristic u-turn this week and jettisons McClaren in favour of a top manager, then shame on anyone who darkens the door of St James Park again unless it’s to make a stand against the despicably cynical and inept way that the club is being run.
As the Fans Forum said in their e-mail to the club this week;
“We don’t demand a team that wins, we demand a club that tries”.
Failure is acceptable. Continued ineptitude and incompetence are not. With one final hand left to play, Ashley must soon choose whether to stick or to twist; to sit idly by as Newcastle suffer another ignominious relegation or to attempt to salvage the situation and make a brave shot at redemption. Until then, life in the goldfish bowl goes on.
Only time will tell if it will be Mike Ashley or Newcastle United’s devoted fans who drown in it.