Understanding Craig Bellamy
Understanding Craig Bellamy – some wise words first from the former Newcastle striker…
“I remember finishing fifth up there (Newcastle) and that wasn’t good enough. It’s a great place to be if you’re winning but they (Newcastle supporters) always expect more.
“After beating Liverpool and after beating Spurs, fans will come here expecting to win. I have a lot of respect for Newcastle. It’s a great club to play for but they have this idea that they should be bigger than Liverpool or just as big as Liverpool or Manchester United – they aren’t.
“For they will always be on the outskirts of that.”
Firstly, let me say, I understand Craig Bellamy’s motivation for these comments. He played in a reasonably successful Newcastle side under Sir Bobby Robson, which achieved Champions League qualification more than once. He’s looking at our history, before and after his time, scratching his head and thinking, ‘We did alright there. Why don’t they like me more?’
Besides Bellamy’s history of antagonising comments towards Newcastle and his famous fallout with Messrs Souness and Carver, the answer is not difficult if you put the story in context.
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The fifth place season Bellamy must be talking about in the above quote is 2003/04, since this is the only time we finished fifth during his time at the club. At the end of that season we amassed 56 points and sat 4 points behind 4th place Liverpool on 60 points.
In Bellamy’s opinion, he asserts that this 5th place finish should have been good enough for the Geordie Nation, because in the wider scheme of things, we finished where we ought have, just below the big clubs.
What Bellamy is forgetting, as you are in all likelihood, is that in the 2002/03 season, Newcastle finished in 3rd place on 69 points ABOVE Chelsea and ABOVE Liverpool.
To paraphrase a famous Liverpool manager of the time;
“I have to talk about facts because I think it is important.”
The facts show that during Craig Bellamy’s time at Newcastle, we were competing directly with Liverpool. On the field, we finished in positions 4th, 3rd and 5th respectively for three straight years compared with Liverpool’s 2nd, 5th & 4th. Off the field, Newcastle were also competing in the transfer market, such as the summer (2001) we bought Bellamy and Laurent Robert for around £17m for the pair.
What Bellamy has done, in his divine punditry, is actually conceive to identify that infinitesimal, definable ‘key moment’ we love to believe in, that actually signalled where both club’s fortunes lay for the next decade.
For in 2004/05 season, following their 4th place ahead of us, Liverpool went on to win the Champions League in the most unlikely and dramatic fashion (that is, with Djimi Traore in their team). Their commercial growth and potential increase exponentially overnight, they rise to be seen as one of Europe’s elite once again and everyone chooses to forget about the Robbie Fowler days. What happened to Newcastle in Season 2004/05? They finish in 14th place and won’t see Champions League football again for a long time.
There’s a tendency amongst the media (and consequently, everyone) to forget that the footballing pecking order isn’t static and the way it is today isn’t the way it always was. This wouldn’t be a huge problem except the media love it more than anything to remind us that a) there is an established hierarchy in place and b) you’re not a part of it (unless you’re from Manchester, Liverpool or London).
If we were to believe in its existence, there must actually be a more accurate league table than the one that gets updated on the BBC website every week. You know, it’s that table which actually has Manchester United on top, Liverpool second, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal just below in no particular order. It’s the table Paul Merson references to when he calls Aston Villa a bigger club than Newcastle, or the one Phil Thompson consults when he muses over whether West Ham are a big club?
Unfortunately, evocative punditry like this will always be successful because it goads us into defending our clubs against things that really don’t need defending (for example, Newcastle’s reputation during the 2003/04 season).
However, once and again it’s worth holding a pundit’s comments to account since it so rarely happens and see how they stack up against reality.
I hope Bellamy will revise his opinion on Newcastle fans because we all know that, in 2014, Newcastle aren’t a bigger club than Liverpool or Man Utd. No one thinks that. But in 2004 it wasn’t so crazy and in 2024, who knows?
10 years is a long time in football, as they say. The one thing no one can tell us is that we can’t want more from our football club, least of all an over-zealous ex-pro trying to put us in our place.
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