“Shola Ameobi………. At the Nou Camp…… For Newcastle United. “
Have greater words ever been spoken than those uttered by commentator John Champion on December 11th 2002?
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Newcastle had just equalised against Spanish Champions Barcelona, on their own patch. Scenes that seem a million miles away for Toon fans in 2015, but in reality were less than thirteen years ago. Not exactly a lifetime ago, but it feels like it.
With a lack of proper football over the past few weeks, I have taken a trip down memory lane and watched the 2002/2003 season review dvd, and also read Craig Bellamy’s autobiography, and yes it has been a long summer.
It got me thinking about just some of the highs that Sir Bobby Robson team reached and that they never really got the credit they deserved.
Surviving the winter in the Champions League is an obvious highlight, but some of the great wins need remembering, as they are all too often quickly forgotten.
The two wins over Leeds around Christmas 2001, the 3-1 win at Highbury to go top of the Premier League, then my own personal highlight, the 5-1 thrashing of Blackburn in March 2003.
For those with short memories or subconsciously blocking out the good times of supporting Newcastle United, we finished 4th in the first truly great season under Robson (01/02), despite few at the start of the campaign predicting the Toon anywhere near the top six.
In the pre season period we had signed only Craig Bellamy (£6 million), Laurent Robert (£9.5 Million) and re-signed Robbie Elliott on a free transfer, later on in the year we would sign Jermaine Jenas (£5 million). These signings at the time hardly sent pulses raising amongst many of us, as Bellamy recalls in his book, even the most optimistic fan could have hardly predicted the next two years.
We would be mixing it with the likes of Inter Milan, Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen, as well as Barcelona in the Champions League.
In the pre season of 2002/03 a similar thing happened. Newcastle again kept signings minimalistic, bringing in only Titus Bramble and Hugo Viana, both highly rated at the time but failed to have truly successful Newcastle careers.
We again finished in a Champions League place and pushed for the league title, only finishing behind the great early noughties teams of Manchester United and Arsenal.
This shows to me, how signings really do not necessarily determine how a season might work out. Obviously times have already changed and the club’s recruitment of players is at the forefront of the game more than ever before.
As I said earlier though, it was not a lifetime ago and looking at those signings in 2001, you would not have thought months later we would be challenging for major honours at the top of English football.
Certain factors combined such as other players improving, some hitting streaky spells of good form, and others coming back from injury (as a certain Alan Shearer did in 01/02), and we genuinely challenged for the Premier League title for two consecutive seasons.
I am not saying we are anywhere near matching that team’s achievements at present, anyone can see that. Why though should we not be thinking we can slightly overachieve and finish near the top 8.
Southampton proved last season that having what appears to be a nightmare window to outsiders, does not mean you will end up in a relegation battle.
It would be foolish to think we are bound to be challenging for Europe after signing Mitrovic and Wijinaldum, but equally I do not believe we will be involved in another relegation battle because we might start with a similar squad.
Clearly spending money in the summer transfer window rarely correlates with a guaranteed, good season to follow-up. Last summer is another prime example. Like most fans, I was going into the new season reasonably confident we would finish top half, after freshening up the squad with nine summer signings, who all looked to have a degree of quality and were in the positions we needed filling.
As well all know, six of the nine contributed little, with only Colback, Perez and Janmaat succeeding so far, and the season was about as desperate as they come.
The only other time we had an equally busy summer came in 2008 under Sam Allardyce, when again we signed nine players, and that campaign was heading a similar way until a late change in fortunes under Kevin Keegan.
To go back to the Robson era, the 2003/04 season was considered a failure by many. These people seem to forget that Sir Bobby was only able/allowed to make one signing that summer, Lee Bowyer on a free transfer. He then lost one of his biggest assets in Craig Bellamy through injury for most of the season, yet was still able to finish fifth and came within a whisker of champions league qualification for a third straight season.
This is clear illustration as any that signings are just another ingredient in the recipe of a good season. Players remaining fully fit is arguably even more crucial.
I am not saying we should not buy another centre half, everyone knows we need another two defenders minimum to have a decent amount of options at centre half. Also, I can understand why football fans get excited by signings (mitrovic pictured below), particularly in the summer window. After all little else is happening that you can judge the team on….pre season friendlies mean pretty much ‘naff all’ result-wise.
A busy, or quiet, summer however, will not determine how I feel walking into St James Park on August 9th. I will be full of optimism, as we all should be and I think we all will be, ready to put the nightmare of last season behind us.
It might be a cliché but remember, this is the one point of the season where all 20 teams are on a level playing field – zero points. We will be joint top of the league!
Also, we probably won’t be for much longer, so enjoy it while it lasts, rather than getting in a huff on twitter over losing kickarounds to American reserve sides and complaining we have not signed six players.
Here’s to a good season…probably. Maybe.
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