Wikipedia lists North Carolina as having the world’s biggest rollercoaster but I disagree….
I reckon it’s right here on Barrack Road and although the ride that is Newcastle United doesn’t have the highest high bit and lowest low bit (that’s probably in Leeds or Nottingham), it has the most dips and rises of any other in the country.
The highest high of most recent times were the two second placed finishes in the Premier League in 1996 and 1997 followed by a relatively huge dip because of the decimation of the Entertainers by perennial Toon-destroyer Kenny Dalglish who, despite a few notable victories in the Champions League, transformed one of the greatest sides to grace the St. James Park turf into mid-table also-rans.
Down the track we continued, as fans waited through the awful tenure of Ruud Gullit for the next ‘up’ and it came when Uncle Bob arrived. After a few seasons of ship-steadying and tinkering, he brought the top four back into view and some even more notable Champions League victories to boot.
Despite almost reaching the same height as Keegan, the next dip (as always) wasn’t far away. Sir Bob was sacked just a few months after reaching the UEFA Cup Semi-final for losing a couple of games and not being able to control Kieron Dyer.
Down the track we went again with the next appointment who was to Football Management what Ben Affleck is to Superhero films. The second dismantling of a title chasing squad coupled with Graeme Souness’ complete inability to understand the modern footballer, resulted in a run of form and results that, at the time, was completely unacceptable (remember when Albert Luque was the worst thing about supporting Newcastle United? Halcyon days indeed).
Glenn ‘Le Chiffre’ Roeder took over and looked for all the world to be the answer until an injury hit campaign made him look a little less good than he actually was and he walked away.
Never mind, Newcastle were on an even keel for once and it looked like the rollercoaster might just turn into a normal train with a few bumps but although the appointment of Sam Allardyce looked a shrewd one, it didn’t take long for the fans to turn, unable to stomach the insipid, negative and dour football being served up week after week. Although this latest dip in the rollercoaster track wasn’t as dramatic as previous ones, the arrival and subsequent appointment of Geordie Messiah Kevin Keegan took the black and white rollercoaster car into the stratosphere once more.
It took a while for KK to get the team going but his inimitable style of football started to creep in, exciting fans and pundits alike until he was denied any say in transfers and off he went into the wilderness to be replaced by Andy Kauffman creation ‘Joe Kinnear’ to great comic effect. This plunged Newcastle United into one of the darkest places in their history. If you’ve ever been on ‘The Oblivion’ at Alton Towers, that pretty much sums it up.
Newcastle United was a national laughing stock with a future so uncertain, Nostradamus wouldn’t have touched it with a bargepole. Shearer was recruited as the club stared relegation in the face, in the hope he would be the next Kevin Keegan. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have been – but relegation and a failure for Ashley to commit to anything in particular, meant Chris Hughton stepped in and did a job any football manager in history would be proud of. Guiding a club in turmoil out of the Championship and back into the Promised Land.
United’s rollercoaster car was emerging back out of the darkness and into daylight but with Ashley’s finger hovering over the self-destruct button, it didn’t last long. Inexplicably, after beating Arsenal at Highbury and destroying Sunderland 5-1 at home (two things I can’t see happening again for around 200 years) he was replaced by nobody’ss first choice, Alan Pardew.
Things went well initially until the players started to listen to what Pardew was actually saying (the same has happened at Crystal Palace by the way). The Toon came within touching distance of a Champions League spot with Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba the leading lights until gross mismanagement, clauses in contracts and Pardew’s head-butt all contributed to an alarming dip in form from which the team have never really recovered.
The rollercoaster’s latest plunge has lasted for two years with no signs of stopping, through the sharp bend of Pardew defecting to Palace, through John Carver’s 13 defeats from 21 games, through the loop-the-loop of the signings of Remy Cabella, Florian Thauvin, Henri Saivet, Luuk De Jong and others who looked good on paper, crap on grass, further into the abyss of Steve McClaren’s complete lack of football management ability and ultimately, 1 win in 9 games, ending with conceding a last minute winner against Norwich to leave the side 6 points from safety with only two potentially winnable games left.
Rafa is obviously just babysitting until the club are relegated and then he’ll be off, just like (hopefully) most of the players who think they should be playing Champions League football without ever playing like they even belong in a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy squad.
As far as I’m concerned: Sissoko, Wijnaldum and Cisse can go and disappoint someone else, somewhere else. It’s time Newcastle invested in solid dependable players, professional players who care, who lead from the field without having to try and work out what the Manager is shouting from the sideline. Players who impose themselves on games when things aren’t going their way, players who take responsibility, players with flair and the ability to create something when all looks lost.
I have to say, survival and a season with Rafa at the helm with some of his own choices on the field is something that excites me – but it’s looking less and less likely with each game.
Instead, I fear I’ll be taken back to 1990, watching Kevin Brock and Kevin Dillon scurrying about in Scunthorpe and Huddersfield, scrapping for a winner in the 90th minute to put us back in the play-off spots. That might not be as bad as it sounds actually; they were simpler happier times and we were a much happier set of supporters than we are right now…or for that matter, have been for the last four years. It’s just the money that’s flying about in the Premier League from next season is going to leave Championship clubs well behind everyone else.
The Geordie rollercoaster can’t keep going down forever, unless of course one day we pop out in Australia and try our luck in the AFL instead.