Go back 20 years with Newcastle United and the club was in the middle of our most exciting period of football in living memory.
The 1995/96 team of Kevin Keegan was sweeping all before them in a wave of thrilling, attacking and unstoppable football driven by a passionate manager and to be fair, a supportive chairman/owner.
This was backed by a loud passionate crowd, turning St James into a genuine fortress, providing noise and numbers at every away game.
Fast forward 20 years and the exact opposite is the case. In addition we had little or no injuries – odd that in a winning team.
Accepting that 20 years ago was in a differing footballing era; (now) floods of money for every team, wall to wall TV coverage and media interest and a political (behavioural) correctness making passionate support less acceptable, I thought I would look at the different elements of the Keegan experience; chairman, manager, players and fans.
John Hall/Mike Ashley
One cares, one doesn’t. Surely that is the simple difference here.
Throw in the fact John Hall understood the region, was part of it and prepared to gamble the club’s money on making it successful. I am sick to death of people saying Ashley is being sensible and prudent, no he is being tight.
Hall was not, yes he made money out of the club but I for one do not resent it because his ambitions for the club and the excitement that was created made it so worthwhile.
Kevin Keegan/Steve McClaren
To be clear, I think McClaren is an ok manager, like Pardew who was ok (nothing great but there are worse around).
What he lacks though is passion and enthusiasm. I cannot help looking at his hangdog look and think, as a player, this would not inspire me’.
As a player I want the manager to be tactically astute of course but I want him to lead and engender passion and a sense of belonging into me.
Contrast with Keegan. The players said that they would run through a brick wall for him. As a fan at the time I felt the same. We were all in it together. Keegan made this club what it is (for better or worse) and defined an entire generation of fans.
The Londoncentric media have over the years tried to re-write the Keegan years – have none of it, the man was a superstar. Mourinho had the star quality of Keegan but surely we are about to see the ultimate Keegan clone in Jurgen Klopp.
Last summer we should have offered Klopp the full power of the club (he would have seen it as a real project) but of course the control freak Ashley would not allow it.
The players ‘got’ the club, they mixed with the fans and they had a manager who instilled a passion that they could not ignore. There was a sprinkling of Geordies but as passionate as a Lee Clark was, it was the adopted Geordies who made the club. Philippe Albert, Rob Lee, Sir Les, Pavel and even Darren Peacock, all were adopted Geordies and all would say that this is their club – but I would look at Johnny Beresford as the classic example.
From Yorkshire, Johnny was of average ability (and constantly let down by the Frenchman playing ahead of him) but the passion just oozed out of him. You just felt he loved playing for the Toon and was grateful to do it.
Contrast with today and we have maybe Tim Krul and Darryl Janmaat – the rest do not appear to give two hoots. I do however have hopes for Milosevic.
The fans have been battered and bruised over the last 20 years (aside from a few years where Bobby inspired a revival) with disappointment thrown after disappointment. It’s a double hit.
Not only have we seen ourselves slip away from the top table, constantly abused by the ignorant media and have to cope with lies from above, but we have had to cope with the general malaise and dumbing down of every football fan.
It is not now accepted to be passionate at a match, if you express your opinion your neighbours look at you, TV may well pick you up and the stewards will keep an eye. I suspect my reaction (which was caught on TV ) to Ray Parlour’s hat-trick at Highbury a few years back would have me an internet sensation!
The trouble for Newcastle fans like myself is that we have fallen so far and so quickly. We struggle to cope. There is an expectation – an expectation to compete in the top half of the division.
We have not got this for over 10 years (excepting one freaky season). When we do not get this we complain – rightly. Liverpool fans do the same when they are not competing for the league.
It may not be rocket science to discuss the changes in the club over 20 years but it does absolutely no harm to remind ourselves what a great football club we have been and could be again.
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