The invasion of the football club snatchers (or: ‘my last season as a Newcastle fan’)
Any science fiction fan will recognise the plot. A race of aliens replaces human beings with exact duplicates, or a virus turns them into zombies. At first glance they walk and talk as normal, but they’re devoid of emotion and only concerned with complete domination of the host planet.
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It’s easy to see why we’re disturbed… the emotionless, relentless advance that doesn’t care for human hopes and aspirations. And the paranoia, desperately hoping you’re not the only one who sees the truth. The constant questioning of what is real. Everything from ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ to ‘The Matrix’ has played on these fears.
You might see where I’m going with this.
In the centre of Newcastle there’s still a football ground, a great cathedral of the game. Every other week, fifty thousand people still file through the turnstiles.
Outside, there’s still a club shop that sells shirts and scarves. In local, national and social media, pundits and fans still debate the merits of this player or that, this manager versus the last, and who the club might sign in the coming transfer window.
But Newcastle’s body has been well and truly snatched. The zombie virus has taken hold, and there might not be a cure. The club has been hollowed out from the inside, possessed by a parasite.
You might catch yourself in a debate – for the love of God, what does Gouffran have to do to be dropped? Why was Colo’s ready-made successor sent to Roma for a few Euros? Will John Carver prove worthy of the manager’s job? (He’s a Geordie you know.)
Then it hits you, these are questions that only a football club can answer. That thing that Newcastle United used to be, a sporting organisation that makes decisions based on progression and achievement. In the current context, all of these questions are pointless.
As I write, the lads have just succumbed to a ball-achingly pathetic defeat at Everton. There are 27 points left to play for, but the club doesn’t seem interested in collecting many of them. A draw or two, or a single win, will be enough to keep the host body alive to sustain the parasite for another season. Why bother to do any more, when survival is enough? And how can the players perform on a Saturday when mediocrity is embedded at every level of the organisation?
Looking forward, the club and the local media (powered by an influential PR man) are deep into a farcical campaign to prepare the ground for appointing John Carver full-time. Everyone from Steve Howey to Bob Moncur wheeled out in support. All this, despite the man himself doing absolutely everything possible to prove he’s a million miles away from capable.
What might happen next season? We’ll finish lower to mid-table or worse, get ourselves out of the cups as quickly as possible and make absolutely sure we don’t qualify for Europe. We’ll boost the profile of Sports Direct and stockpile the TV money. And the seasons after that? You get the idea.
So what is a fan to do? Discussing on-field matters is pointless, since there are no on-field objectives. Discussing the new manager seems pointless – Carver has already moved his collection of signed Bobby Robson memorabilia into the office. Discussing ways to get the club back seem idealistic at best, when St James’ Park is still full to capacity and matchday revenue is dwarfed by the TV deal.
The answer is as obvious as it is heartbreaking. When your Granny’s body has been snatched, you can stop popping round for tea. When your football club no longer exists, find something else to do with your time.