After such a disappointing season, you might think that I came up with the title of this article after downing too many bottles of Journey Into Space.
Yet I earnestly suggest that Newcastle United be reacquainted with their tag from the nineties, The Entertainers. Of course, the Magpies of the 2015/16 season will not have earned the accolade in the style of their Keegan-led counterparts, through flair, skill and exciting, attacking football.
No, the whole sorry soap opera of this past season has been a great source of entertainment to those who are hostile towards the club – and the fun had begun before a ball was kicked. Here are some edited ‘highlights’ of another awful campaign.
Steve McClaren told Sky Sports when he arrived on Tyneside:
“The objective is top eight and to win a trophy."
This target, given our lowly finish in the previous campaign under the guidance of the self-styled best coach in the Premier League, was optimistic in the extreme, and it put pressure on the players before the season had started.
That Newcastle took on Steve McClaren at all after he had been sacked by Derby County, caused bemusement on Tyneside and sniggering elsewhere. The appointment generated very little enthusiasm within the home support at St James Park and the familiar nicknames: McClown, Schteve, and that gentleman of dubious application brandishing a rain- protection instrument, were reeled off ad-infinitum in the media and online. What was to follow would be a cause of great hilarity to football fans across the land, while providing a steady supply of schadenfreude to the club’s detractors.
“I don’t think you can judge us until we are twelve games in."
This in response to the many who viewed his appointment as a less than positive move. When judgement day arrived, Newcastle had accrued just nine from a possible thirty six points.
Weather Report: Icebergs known to be in the area, but there is no cause for alarm at this stage.
As defeat followed defeat, punctuated by the occasional draw or victory that kept the carrot of hope tantalising, the hapless head coach was always quick to talk a good game, even after a bad game.
His post-loss mantra of ‘we didn’t deserve that’, was repeated with the regularity of a TV comedy show catchphrase, and with just as much comic effect.
Didn’t deserve it? Are you having a laugh? Is he having a laugh?
In September, McClaren described the Magpies’ 2-0 defeat away at West Ham as a wake-up call. After their dismal 2-1 defeat at home to Watford in the following fixture, McClaren said:
“The last two have really been a wake-up call.”
It would appear that after the first wake-up call, McClaren’s boys hit the snooze button to wait for the second. Yet even two wake-up calls weren’t enough to stir the misfiring Magpies into action. Their next game was an embarrassing Capital One Cup exit at home to Sheffield Wednesday. This made it four defeats on the bounce and it showed quite clearly that McClaren was getting nothing out of his players. It was time to start worrying.
Iceberg sighted on the horizon, Captain.
By the time the January transfer window opened, it was clear to all that the good ship Newcastle was drifting aimlessly in dangerous waters. At that stage, Newcastle had conceded thirty four goals in nineteen games, one of the worst records in the league.
This awful goals against figure made the bolstering of a shaky defence a priority, yet while arch-rivals, and fellow strugglers, Sunderland were bringing in players who were (only just) up to the rigours of a relegation scrap, the powers at Gallowgate appeared happy with what they had at the back. This despite ominous warnings of disaster while the window was still open.
On January 25th, Daniel Storey prophesised in the Premier League Winners and Losers section on the Football 365 website:
“Newcastle are carrying out the perfect accidental strategy to relegation, winning just enough matches to keep a bad manager in a job but not enough to ever move away from danger. They are two points inside the bottom three.”
Iceberg ahead, Captain.
Two days later, with the window still open, Newcastle were handed a none-too-subtle reminder of their defensive frailties, when Sunderland put six past them without reply in a behind closed doors friendly game.
Iceberg DEAD AHEAD, Captain.
Yet still those in charge failed to see the urgency, and the January window closed without any defenders being added to the squad. In February, with the window now firmly shut, Newcastle’s failure to beef up at the back was exploited in spades in front of a watching TV nation. The game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge saw the bewildered black & whites ship three goals in the first seventeen minutes of play.
The final score of 5 – 1 made the case for McClaren remaining in the St James Park hot seat now, like his team, defenceless. Yet still he was allowed to stumble along with his band of underachievers. This defeat at Chelsea was the final chance the club had to pull the plug on the head coach, and give the new man a realistic chance of turning things around.
McClaren was finally relieved of his duties in early March, after the Magpies were thumped at home by Bournemouth. Dropping his mask as the king of wishful thinking, even McClaren could take no positives from this utterly spineless performance, which he acknowledged as ‘going down material’.
Sadly, the change came too late and, despite an injection of fight into the team, Rafa’s appointment left him with too few fixtures to save Newcastle.
So now it is done and Newcastle must prepare, once again, for life in the Championship. How long they will remain there is anyone’s guess, but having Rafa at the helm is the most positive news we could have hoped for. Maybe this sorry saga will have a happy ending after all.
In the meantime, the Premier League will function very well without the Magpies, but neutral fans will now have to look elsewhere for their chortle supply at mismanagement, abject performances, lame excuses and wildly optimistic predictions.