Relegation – Good For Newcastle United’s Soul?
Obviously, fans of three Premier League clubs will have a horrible summer, wanting August to come as soon as possible to right the wrongs of relegation and then for the Transfer Window to slam shut, in the hope (rather than the expectation) that their better players won’t be snapped up by the Premier League clubs.
Remember when that was us? Remember the banners at Villa Park and the pathetic crowing of the Aston Vile fans? Remember the mackems celebrating like they’d won the Cup (or had beaten us)? Remember Phil Brown crooning on the pitch at Hull? Remember Steven Taylor standing forlornly on the pitch at Vile Park in the later afternoon sun?
We were humiliated and it seemed that the world and his wife were revelling in our demise. Being too young to remember anything before about 1990, I’d never experienced relegation before but to be honest, we deserved it. Performances on the park had been getting steadily worse for 5 years, the club had high earners who were doing nothing to help the team and the shambles of the 2008/9 season must be some sort of record for the biggest amount of bad PR achieved by one football club in one season.
Whether it was Keegan’s resignation over the Dennis Wise debacle, Kinnear’s ‘contributions’, Barton’s red card and subsequent falling out with Shearer, ‘buoycoutts’ or just our abysmal league form, we were a disgrace from top to bottom. Although devastated about what seemed to be happening to the club (I foresaw a scenario where we’d end up in some sort of footballing no-man’s land with the likes of other formerly big clubs like Leeds and Forest) I thought at least our fall from grace would allow people to forget us and leave us alone, rather than routinely laughing at us and putting the boot in. The stalling in appointing Shearer as manager, the ambiguity of Chris Hughton’s position, player departures and a tepid pre-season (incl. a 6-1 drubbing at Leyton Orient) did not appear to auger well.
Wolves fans might not believe it at the moment but relegation seems to have done us the power of good. We quickly got shot of the big names on massive wages who were contributing nothing to our cause (hello Martins, Viduka and Duff), whilst those who stayed proved they could do it for Newcastle and wanted to be here. Our year-long stint in the Championship was an enjoyable one, wins became routine and promotion was easily achieved. We even won a trophy. Without spending massive amounts of money the club kept a core of good pro’s who wanted to play for the club and have made prudent additions to that team at the right times.
Even last season probably exceeded most people’s expectations of what we might do in our first season back in the Premier League after promotion – we’d even have managed a top-half finish if we hadn’t gone to sleep against WBA in the final game.
Given what went before, this season has massively exceeded our expectations and whether we make the Champions League or not (I personally don’t think we will… but I’d love to be wrong) we can look forward with hope, rather than concern. I’ll say it again – relegation is good for the soul. We got our team back, fans expectations were lowered (some would say that was no bad thing), we were winning games largely away from the scrutiny of the media and were ready for the Premier League when we got back to it a year after departing.
The team spirit and siege-mentality created that season laid the bedrock for what the current set of players are achieving. The ‘Championship Tour’ has much to recommend it.
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