It is often suggested by fans of other teams, particularly southerners (or, as we know them, ‘Mackems’) that Newcastle United supporters are ‘deluded’, that we pang for a greatness undeserving of our status in the footballing community.
Well, before I investigate this more thoroughly, let’s quickly define the word ‘delusion’:
‘Believing things that are not real or true’ – Cambridge online dictionary
‘To mislead the mind or judgment of; deceive’ (to delude) – Dictionary.com
‘To cause (someone) to believe something that is not true’ (to delude) – Merriam-Webster
‘To make someone believe something that is not true’ (to delude) – Longman
I think we can see with some certainty that the meaning of the word ‘deluded’ is rooted in deception, to cause someone to believe something that is not true.
The Cambridge dictionary definition is probably closer to what the supporters of other clubs (and some mainstream media) are getting at, that we believe something to be true, which is actually not true.
So what I’d like to try to do is dissect this accusation – extract why this is thought of us, establish whether or not this claim is true…then describe why it might be that there are those for whom it is acceptable to label us as deluded and those for whom it is not.
So what is it that we do that upsets other team’s supporters enough to give us this label.
Well, we expect our team to try to win, we expect them to play well, and we expect them to try their hardest. If that is the criteria for being deluded, then surely every supporter is deluded?
Perhaps the perception is that we consider ourselves to be a ‘big club’ despite not winning anything for some time. Firstly, what is a ‘big club’?
With no official tool for measurement it is difficult to decide. Is it the size of the stadium and the attendance within? On that score St James’ is behind only Old Trafford, The Emirates and The Etihad (I suppose West Ham can now add the Olympic Stadium to that list) in England, not bad for a Championship club.
The attendance being an average of 92.8% of capacity against say, Sunderland’s of 86.3%, impressive for a relegated club. Chelsea had the highest attendance percentage at 99.2%, but they only have a 41,500 capacity library. So, maybe stadiums and supporters are not the way to judge the size of a club, maybe its finances?
Over the last 5 years, NUFC have spent the 7th highest amount on transfers (£164,500,000) according to transferleague.co.uk and are the 20th richest club in the world, number 8 in England. So it can’t be that.
It must be league position over a period of time then, so if we take an average of the 24 (PL) seasons to date, bearing in mind we haven’t taken part in all of them, Newcastle would be 8th (just behind Villa! according to myfootballfacts.com), for the record, Sunderland would be 15th, as a random comparison.
Hmm, so, it can’t be consistent performance over a 24 year period since the Premier League began, therefore it must be the trophy cabinet. Newcastle are 9th in this regard, with only 11 trophies, and not a single league cup among them, shameful.
Whereas, randomly, Sunderland are one place further down with 8 trophies. So a kind of mid-table position there. Still, probably enough to fall into the ‘big’ category.
It is fair to say that for the last decade or so, Newcastle haven’t been successful in any way, barring a flirt with Europe; 2 relegations, unrest, disillusionment and the loss of identity at the hands of the owner have hit us hard, yet we still pull in massive crowds and have managed to attract one of world football’s leading managers.
There is no delusion here, Rafa is in situ: it is fact. I think the supporters of other clubs calling us deluded need to ask themselves whether they would have been able to do the same.
Herein lies the possible root of the accusation, and an extrinsic issue these fans have to deal with. Perhaps they are projecting their sense of disappointment in their own club onto us. It is a classic tale often told, the person accusing others of being fat/ugly/mad/deluded is often themselves fat/ugly/mad/deluded, I think people call it little man syndrome when the little scrote is the one with the loudest and most aggressive voice.
This leads me to the intrinsic reason why many NUFC supporters may give the air of expecting more, which others may construe as cockiness beyond reasonable expectation, or ‘delusion’.
We have tasted success, we’ve had it within our grasp, we have come so tantalisingly close that the taste lingers bitter in our mouths. I clearly remember the 95/96 season in which defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory, I remember the following season when we finished 2nd again, the two FA Cup finals, the title challenge under Sir Bobby, the subsequent Champions League appearances and defeat of Juventus.
We have come close several times, we have played Champions League football, something only 9 (soon to be 10) English clubs have achieved. This creates a sense of frustration, and subsequently determination. We don’t delude ourselves that we deserve to be there, we don’t expect to be there, but we know what it is like to be there, we’ve been within a whisper of it, and damn it we want to get back there.
Those fans who accuse us of being deluded are (usually) supporters of clubs who have never come close, not within a lifetime at least, of winning the league or qualifying for Europe, never mind the Champions League, many of them have never been to Milan. So it is hard for them to identify with the experiences of the average Newcastle United supporter.
I don’t blame them, I feel no animosity towards them, they are lucky! They are completely ignorant of the frustration of being so close to victory, they are happy with the status quo of their club, finishing 17th year after year and retaining Premier League status is enough for them because that is considered success. I’m jealous, really, they don’t have the burden of knowing that with a few adjustments they could be challenging for the league title and champs league football. That’s not delusion on the part of Newcastle fans, it’s memory, recent memory.
This brings me to my final point. There are clubs who have a legitimate claim to look down their noses at NUFC, to mock us for clinging to memories of near misses and failed final hurdles, they may even call us deluded for hoping/expecting those days to return (although churlishly for the reasons mentioned above), but the reason is that they have had success, they are Champions League regulars and so have earnt (or bought) the right to sit aloft and throw scorn on those below them.
It’s not nice, but hey, it’s football, tw*ts are everywhere and it’s not my place to judge them for that. On the other hand, most of the accusations of delusion come from those who completely fail to spot the irony in their comments. Every supporter of every club aspires to success, otherwise what’s the point?
Success is perceived as a construct of previous achievements combined with realistic expectations of the present, nobody would accuse a Chelsea fan of being deluded if they said they hoped they would qualify for the Champs League next season, despite not making it this year.
For Newcastle, success next season would be to gain promotion as Champions, the hope would be to have a good run in the FA cup, an unrealistic (but feasible) dream would be to win the FA cup, none of that is delusional.
The following season, assuming we are promoted, could be very exciting. We have a world-class manager, some excellent young players and as mentioned previously, some of the best supporters in the country. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason we shouldn’t expect to remain in the league AND even aim for European qualification.
This is not a delusion. This is judgement based on evidence. Our manager is a Champions League winner, we have been there before, quite recently, and with the feel-good factor restored the Toon Army will undoubtedly provide an atmosphere indicative of success rather than the cauldron of hate that has permeated failure in recent years, it is NOT however, an expectation.
Other clubs have wildly celebrated the narrow avoidance of relegation, stopping short of an open-top bus ride through the city, which is the level of success by which their season is measured, it’s quite sad really.
To return to my original question; are Newcastle United supporters deluded?
The answer is simply ‘no’. We aspire to success, and success in our terms is challenging for the title, gaining qualification to Europe and reaching the latter stages of (and winning) the FA Cup. This is our history and so these are our aspirations. It is not delusion, it is hope borne of near success. Without the near success our aspirations would be much more low key.
I’m sure the average Leicester supporter did not aspire to winning the league, but now that they have, they will want to win it again. After next season when they compete in the Champions League they will want to get back there. Will they be labelled as delusional?
Probably, but by supporters of clubs like WBA and Coventry for whom Champions League qualification is as unrealistic as it is for our nearest neighbours.
Having said that, in balance, there is no reason on Earth that our nearest and dearest shouldn’t aspire to European qualification; they have a big stadium, fans who fill at least three-quarters of it, wealthy owners, a history of success, some more recent than ours, and the nucleus of a decent squad.
They don’t though, they celebrate avoiding relegation, they obsess over the goings on up the road and they laud a manager who has won a grand total of nowt (unless you count Championship play-offs).
Perhaps the question should be, whether it is worse to aspire to things above your station, or to limit ambition to the maintenance of Premier League status.
Now, I’m just off to check my emails and see if Jennifer Lawrence has replied to my invitation for a date…