Everyone likes to think that their stuff is the best – whether it’s their mum’s cooking, or their football team, or what have you. And of course we can’t all be right.
As Newcastle fans we have had precious little opportunity over the years to boast that our team was the greatest (once or twice, but not very often), but we do tend to puff ourselves up about the quality of our support.
There are lots of us – that’s true. We have continued to support the team in spite of lifetimes-worth of disappointment and underachievement…but as individual football fans by and large we’re no better and no worse than you’ll find anywhere else.
Has a Newcastle fan has a harder or a more disappointing time overall than, say a West Ham, or a Spurs, or a Sheff Wed, or even dare I say it a Sunderland fan? Probably not.
The real respect is due not to the likes of us turning up to our magnificent stadium to see our multi-million pound players perform, but to the punters who turn up week-in week-out to see Hartlepool or Rochdale or some such. A good friend of mine is a lifelong Luton Town fan – and having seen his team go from the top division all the way down to non-league football, he has put up with much more disappointment and despair than I have had to.
So let’s not blow too much smoke up our own backsides. The fact that there are a lot of us can give our team an advantage – anyone who has been at a full SJP when it is rocking will know that.
However, it can be a burden as well – and over the last few years, as often as not the energy flowing from the Newcastle fans at SJP onto the pitch has been a negative energy – like a great blanket of disillusionment.
It’s not our fault, I don’t think – we’ve been treated like idiots and taken for a ride for years, and it has been enough to try the patience of a saint, but it is undeniably true that the atmosphere at SJP for the last few years has become toxic.
Which is why the coming of Rafa Benitez is potentially such a big thing for us. It gives us the chance to make our numbers count – to lift the team rather than weigh them down.
But we aren’t a special breed – we’re just the same as everyone else. In our number there are some who are mean-spirited (stealing flags from the ground that other fans have paid for, for example). And there are some whose glass is always half-empty.
Let me tell you – you’ll listen to any Newcastle fan over a certain age rattling on about Keegan and the ‘Entertainers’ and how fantastic it all was. And it was. But even then, even in the middle of the best times we as Newcastle fans would ever hope to see, there were people who would turn up every week and just moan. We like to forget it, but it’s true.
They’d sit there in the stands or in the pub and bleat on: “I don’t know why he picked that team”, “That Srnicek/Barton/Beresford/Peacock/Gillespie – he’s rubbish him”, etc, etc. Some people are just never going to be happy, and football gives them a perfect opportunity to bleat on.
Benitez gives us all a fresh start – a new lease of energy and enthusiasm. We’ve got one of the world’s best managers in charge. He clearly knows what he is doing. He has managed to completely transform the squad in a matter of a few months
If you had told me in April that by the end of August we would have managed to ship out Marveaux, Obertan, Taylor, Cabella, Coloccini, Cisse, Thauvin, de Jong, and Saivet, I would have thought it was too good to be true. We’ve lost a few of our better players – but that’s what happens when you get relegated (and a lot of us wouldn’t be too sad to see players like Janmaat, Widjnaldum and Sissoko leave, as they clearly didn’t have their heart in it anyway).
The players who have come in by and large follow a pattern.
One problem we have had for the last few years is that we have bought players who looked on NUFC as a stepping stone. But Benitez’ signings don’t look like that – for players like Ritchie, Gayle, Hayden, Hanley, Clark, Diame and Yedlin this is their big chance.
So we have a brilliant new manager, pretty much a completely new team, and we should have new hope and excitement for the future. The main worry I have at the moment is over us, the supporters. A lot of us are so used to being down that we can’t remember what it’s like to feel positive. A supporter is supposed to support the team, not just sit there and moan.
There was always a danger coming into this season that some people would assume that the Championship would just be a stroll in the park – that we would be rattling in 5 or 6 every week. And when things turn out not to be that easy, they’ll fall back into old habits and start to moan.
The Championship isn’t easy. If the standard was miles below the Premiership you would see most of the teams that go up every year instantly coming straight back down – they hardly ever do. And you would see most of the teams that come down go straight back up – they hardly ever do.
If you take out the usual suspects at the top of the Premiership, I don’t think there would be much in it between teams like Swansea, West Brom, Sunderland, Bournemouth, Watford and Crystal Palace, and teams like Brighton, Norwich, Ipswich, Derby, Sheff Wed and Bristol City.
It was never going to be straightforward and with as many changes to personnel as we have had, you would expect it to take a bit of time to sink in. Rafa knows what he’s doing. He’s built a squad which wants to play for the club and which is much deeper that any of our competitors.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at the web pages for our competitors. I took a look at Brighton’s. One you take out the first 11, there really isn’t much left. Our second 11 would be a team full of multi-million pound players (Darlow, Clark, Hanley, Gamez, Colback, Sissoko, Mitrovic, Armstrong, etc). Look at Brighton’s and you are looking at pretty slim pickings.
I’m writing this before the Brighton match, but regardless of the result of that, my suspicion is that if we are anywhere near the top of the league at the turn of the year, we will power away in the second half of the season.
Rafa is doing his job. Once they settle in the players will really start doing theirs. As supporters we just need to keep the faith, be optimistic, and not be too impatient.