Football is rife with received wisdom that has become part mythical, part accepted truth.
Some of the time, these ideas are actually true, and sometimes, I suspect, they are great for starting a conversation in the pub.
They are the equivalent of the old wives’ tales that mean I take my coat off indoors so I feel the benefit when I go out again, and that stop me from eating cheese before I fall asleep while swimming, or so is my understanding. I don’t like swimming.
See if you can spot the myths that apply to our unpredictable club:
Number 1: Arsenal don’t like it when you ‘get among them.’
I’ve always thought this was a funny phrase. In my head, there’s a footballer surrounded by pigeons. I think the footballer might be a cat, and I’m getting my metaphors mixed up. But Arsenal do not like to ‘know they’ve been in a match.’
Verdict: Very possibly true. Especially if Mitrovic is the player ’getting among them.’
Number 2: Away at Stoke, for a midweek match, in February, is the measure of any player’s mental strength. They probably ‘won’t fancy it.’
I’ve only ever been to Stoke once. It wasn’t for a football match. But it did feel a bit like a retail park five minutes after the shops have closed.
Verdict: I’m sure footballers are made of sterner stuff. But if they were in the pub I was in, they’d probably have their doubts about the whole thing.
I’ve chosen these first two myths, only tenuously connected to Newcastle United, because they are based on the mentality of the players. And that’s where my next myth is born…
Number 3: Foreign players don’t understand derbies
While players not originally from our shores might not initially recognise the intense relationship between Newcastle United and that lot from down the the road, they come from countries where there are derby matches, and needle matches. Some of them are downright nasty.
Our French contingent have had the ‘how can they understand?’ label pinned on their close-fitting shirts for a few years. I’ve no doubt that some of them might not be that bothered. But you can’t play in more than one without knowing the importance. Draw your own conclusions.
Verdict: Some players care, some don’t. Some rise to the occasion; some don’t.
Which gets me to…
Number 4: Newcastle United fans want a team of Geordies
It would be lovely, but in truth, very few teams have had a team of local players. Real Sociedad had a policy of only recruiting Basque talent but eventually they had to let go, though they do try to find local players. Newcastle United have fielded players from outside of the Metro map for over a hundred years.
You don’t hear older fans say, “I wish George Robledo had been from Fenham. He might have cared more.” And the love for Malcolm Macdonald, Robert Lee and Les Ferdinand shows that the supposed dislike for Cockneys is arguably taken out of context. We just want people who care.
This might be because of the pundit cited argument for the penultimate myth…
Number 5: Newcastle United fans have unrealistic expectations
In the mid-nineties, we had the actually quite realistic expectation that we might be, in pundit-ese, ‘there or thereabouts.’ Since then, expectation has been replaced with hope, though under Bobby Robson, there were some amazing adventures. I can’t remember expecting to beat Juventus, mind. Maybe it was hope that willed Andy Griffin to shoot. It wasn’t expectation.
I think we’ve had expectation of performances maybe tempered to hoping for stability. That doesn’t mean we expect a relegation battle every year; but for the last couple of years, it hasn’t been a surprise. The cheek we fans have; hoping that out of twenty teams, we might be better than three of them. I don’t think we have unreasonable expectations. We expect some hope.
So going into the biggest derby for a long time, with hope as the big prize, we’re desperate for the last myth to be a reality…
Number 6: Teams have a honeymoon with a new manager
Well, it’s worked for Sunderland for the last few years. It doesn’t work for every team; John Carver and Alan Shearer had a holiday from Hell rather than a honeymoon. But this time, I’m happy to overlook examples and reality. Rafa, please keep the myth alive. Stoke on a Tuesday night in February has got to be better than Aston Villa.
So, what myths do you think we need to have faith in, or need to bust?