Review: Tunnel of Love: Football, Fighting & Failure: Newcastle United after the entertainers

Nostalgia is a prerequisite for any modern Newcastle United fan as we all know –  it certainly was necessary before the appointment of Rafa, to remind us of happier times. Times in which we actually were a force in European football, times in which the latter stages of the FA Cup became a regularity, times in which we broke the World transfer record.

The past few ‘pre-Rafa’ seasons have been painful to watch from my seat in the Leazes End. It can be easy to forget that we (well most of us) did once see good football, on a consistent basis and not that long ago.

This is why Martin Hardy’s new release ‘Tunnel of Love’ should be on everyone’s Christmas list if you have not already purchased it. The book picks up where Hardy’s first book, ‘Touching Distance’ left off, taking up the Newcastle United story the summer after the ‘So Close’ season of 1995/96, and going right through to the summer of 2009.

Hardy has a brilliant knack for taking you the reader, back to how you felt at a particular moment in the club’s recent history, be it Champions League nights of the early noughties, or when Joe Kinnear was somehow made manager of Newcastle United.

He impressively combines the journalistic inside scoop on major events at SJP, with the raw emotional feeling of a supporter.

The day Kevin Keegan left Newcastle United, the first time, is fittingly described as ‘the day you had to grow up’. Equally though, his inside account of Freddie Shepherd learning of Mike Ashley’s takeover of the club, whilst seriously ill in the Freeman Hospital, is something not all members of the Toon Army will have great knowledge off.

Regardless of your personal feelings towards the Shepherd administration you can’t help but be intrigued by the quotes from Freddie, particularly considering the path Mike Ashley has taken the club in the years since. The current and previous administration seemed to have completely opposing plans for the club, and ‘Tunnel of Love’ is able to capture this accordingly.

The book is also impressive for the sheer length of time it covers. As we all know, a hell of a lot happened to Newcastle United from 1996-2009. Everything thing is in there, from the inside story on both managerial appointments and sackings from the period, which shed great light on the way Freddies, Shepherd and Fletcher, liked to do business.

It is easy to forget that at the time we, the supporters, had little idea of the board’s long-term strategy. For example, before reading this book I had no idea that Graeme Souness was actually the third choice when appointed Newcastle manager in September 2004.

The short-sighted management at the club for much of the 2000s, was summed up superbly in an interview with Glenn Roeder for the book. The former club captain and manager recounting that midway through his only season as permanent boss he was told, ahead of the transfer window, “When you add up what Owen cost, what Albert Luque cost and what Oba Martins cost, we’ve gone to the bottom of the well. There isn’t any more money to spend.”

All of the managers who spoke to Hardy gave insightful accounts of their time on Barrack Road, but surprisingly to me, Roeder is one of the most fascinating and shows a genuine warmth for the club. Others like Ruud Gullit come across as arrogant and unable to admit mistakes which contributed to a downturn in fortunes.

Crucially though, the book gives the inside story of the highs from across the period. John Carver’s account of the dressing room, just before the final Champions League group game in Rotterdam in 2002, is brilliant. It reminds you just how incredible it was to have Sir Bobby Robson at this football club and how he was so sorely missed in the years following. In fact all the stories on Robson were a particular personal highlight for me.

The tales can make you both laugh (Lee Clark wearing SMB t-shirt at Wembley) and cry (the sacking of Robson).

I hope many others out there are also enjoying this trip down memory lane!

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