Dispatches from Holland as Newcastle United fall apart
It’s very difficult being a long-distance fan of a football club at the best of times when you’ve been used to being a local one. Following a club like Newcastle is primarily about the match-day experience, of a few short hours when the city marches to the beat of its sporting heart.
So even with the joys of Twitter to keep track of the latest comings and goings, you don’t have the experience of Newastle United being everywhere from the coffee corner to the Chronicle. And out of sight is all too quickly out of mind.
Given the disaster that’s been unfolding this season, it’s even easier to drift away from the club. With debacles in both cup competitions and the international breaks, there have been long periods where there’ve been no NUFC matches.
The reality is they’ve become more of a break from the intermittent gloom than a chance for the excitement to reach fever pitch. A straightforward relief at not having to watch another dismal performance on Match of the Day and go to bed with a sour taste in the mouth.
We’ve now got eleven games to secure survival, making every fixture must win for us. This could be enjoyable if it seemed like a possible task, but it’s hard to build up excitement when there’s such a settled sense of relegation gloom hanging over both the fans but also the press pack.
Here in Twente, the difficulties of remaining a sense of connection has been compounded by the added distraction of the local football club literally disintegrating. It turns out that the success of recent years was simply bought with money the club never had, and there’s a real chance that next season they’ll be relegated all the way to the amateurs.
It’s terrible news for the region, and terrible for local rate-payers who’ve lent the club €33m they may never see again. And it’s certainly been crowding out what little local media space there’s left over for Newcastle United.
The Dutch are really proud of their overseas players, and so even in my local paper the Tubantia there’s a always a weekly roundup of how they perform in the big leagues; the Bundesliga, Spain and the Premier League. It starts to grind you down when week after week, Gini Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat are reported as losing yet again in the clipped precise language that tells that it’s not a match worth speaking further about.
The Dutch are also pretty proud of their exports, the players like Luis Suarez who come and make their name in the Netherlands and then go on to the big time at Barcelona or Man United. Our local paper is pretty proud of ex-FC Twente player Chieck Tioté, but again he’s not been making many positive headlines on the pitch this season.
The transfer window shenanigans provided an accidental moment of light relief in February, when the Tubantia got its press releases in a twist. Thrown off the scent by a player’s unusual name, the paper reported that Tioté was on the brink of a move to the Chinese top flight club “Jonjo Shelvey”, a sloppiness of reporting that matches the sloppiness of this season’s play.
I’ve managed to get to SJP twice this season and I count myself lucky that they’ve both been enjoyable draws against relegation contenders Chelsea and Aston Villa. If it hadn’t cost us two vital points I’d have relished seeing Ayew’s dream goal, but the whole experience just reinforced what a grind being a supporter has become this season.
I’m really looking forward to my next trip to St James Park, because I am guaranteed to see a great sporting spectacle. But it says everything about where NUFC are this season that it’s for the Rugby League Magic Weekend where I’ll be guaranteed excitement and emotion.
The reality is I’ve been overwhelmed by a sense that if the club owners can’t be bothered with this season, then I am not sure why I as a fan should either. So that’s been my Dutch NUFC season, following our panicky drift towards relegation with a growing sense of alienation towards the club I love.
You can follow Paul on Twitter @heravalue
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