A match worth coming home for
I saw a great game of football when I was back in the UK over Easter. Sadly it was neither the derby or the Liverpool game. It wasn’t even Crystal Palace wiping the floor with Sunderland, although it only stuck the knife in of Newcastle United failing to turn up for what arguably the season’s most important fixture.
That fixture twisted the knife further because it clearly showed the New Manager bounce at play. Football economists showed a few years ago that changing manager in a failing side brings an upturn in results for about ten games, regardless of whether the trainer goes go on to be a long-term success or failure.
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Disenchanted and shut-out players can be brought back into the fold. The old manager’s favourites no longer guaranteed a starting place feel they have to prove themselves all over again. Changing horses mid-stream gives all the players a splash of cold water, and that only benefits the results.
And of course, by appointing John Carver as temporary manager, we’ve been denied that new bounce. We’re likely to get a new first team coach at the earliest in the summer, when everything is already up in the air.
The ups and downs of Advocaat on Wearside demonstrate that a new manager is not a magic bullet. But at a time when everything is so slovenly at the club, this latest in a long-line of Ashley’s savings makes fans feel even more that they are held in contempt by the Magpies’ hierarchy.
That feeling grumbles on when you watch an away game in a bar – the fans are disappointed but not surprised. We know that Ashley’s decisions since the take-over have led us to be precisely where we are now, uncomfortably close to the precipice, but not at great risk of falling in.
That feeling seems to be playing out in a growing respect for the idea of a boycott. Even those with no intention of joining in realise that there’s no other chance for change. And let’s be clear, things must if NUFC are not to join the ranks of the once-loved but hollowed-out shells of the Sports Direct stable.
The joy has to come back, and for me, for 90 minutes at least, the joy did, at the Daren Persson Stadium. For those of you not in the know, it’s the old playing fields of the Ralph Gardner school (now long-demolished) now doing service as the grounds of North Shields FC.
Although they are not my club, you have to take your hat off to what North Shields have achieved. Promoted from the tenth tier of English football last season and now playing in a Wembley final (the FA Vase), the energy of the club’s management and supporters even attracted a Daily Telegraph sports writer’s attention and interest.
I was there for the local derby against Whitley Bay FC, another club with nothing to prove regarding Wembley finals, holding the record for the fastest goal at Wembley ever and the most number of FA Vase victories ever.
The tight group of manager and players that reached these heights in 2010-12 has drifted apart and the club has had a tempestuous couple of seasons on and off the pitch.
On paper, this game was North Shields’ for the taking but Whitley had just had an unexpected victory against high fliers West Auckland Town, themselves with a proud history of European footballing success immortalised in the hit play Alf Ramsey knew my Grandfather.
With North Shields revelling in their Wembley qualification, the streets of West North Shields on a sultry spring evening filled before kick off with eager fans anticipating of a truly titanic clash. And although as a Seahorses fan we went home defeated, we were witness to a stunning first half hat-trick from Robins striker Bainbridge.
As fifteen hundred fans left the ground, there was a real sense of the passion that football can inspire, even in the lowly reaches of the Ebac Northern League. That goes right down to the League sponsor, Ebac, an innovative watercooler manufacturer, a brand that I can feel proud of as upholding our region’s manufacturing heritage.
I was once lucky enough to be at Hillheads for the visit of AFC Liverpool, a club set up and owned by LFC fans disenchanted by ticket prices at Anfield. We (Whitley Bay) thrashed them 7-1 that day in the FA Vase en route to our third trophy, and that club still languish today in the ninth tier.
Other phoenix clubs, such as FC United, AFC Wimbledon and even Darlington 1883 have managed better and attracted strong followings playing competitive football, in Wimbledon’s case just one tier below the MK Dons they have replaced.
We know we can’t force Ashley out, and we certainly can’t buy him out, and there’s certainly a lot of worse owners we might end up with.
What we can do is take matters into our own hands and bundle our passion for football and Newcastle.
There’s plenty of local interest and expertise in the local non-league set-up, including Olivier Bernard taking the helm at Durham FC and top sportsman Steve Harmison at Ashington.
And for sure, I’d cough up a few quid for a share in a Newcastle phoenix club that upholds our traditions in a way neglected by the current NUFC regime. Most importantly, I’d make damn sure that when I was back I went through the turnstiles and bought a pie and a pint I could stomach – to get back to the joy that’s long been absent from SJP.
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