“Daaaaad?” Whatever was about to happen was almost certainly hypothetical. It’s just where we are at the minute.
“Yes son?” Brace. Brace. Brace.
“If we bought all of the Barcelona players, and they all played for us like they do for Barcelona, would we get promoted? Would we be awesome?”
“Hmm. Like Kung Fu Panda? Well, son. That’s a very good question.” Because Barcelona are, let’s be honest, awesome.
And it is, because, like me, you maybe can’t help but have noticed what some of the fans of other teams are thinking of us, just ahead of their games against a team they consider to have been bought prudently/unfairly/expectantly or, in the case of some of the most bitter, with the blood money we make from forcing kittens to work in dog biscuit factories. Supervised by hounds.
We’ve just beaten Rotherham 4-0. Now while they are in the midst of the relegation mire, so are Swansea City, and they’ve just beaten Liverpool at Anfield. Nothing is or should be taken for granted. And the Birmingham City fans midweek were very optimistic, but recognised our strength, at least in this division. The majority of other fans seem to think we’ll get promoted. Or should get promoted.
So despite the general consensus that we haven’t been brilliant at times, and the refereeing has been ‘patchy’, most other teams would probably love to be in our position i.e. top of the league, and loaded from the sale of ne’r do wells in the summer.
Years ago, I wondered if the aura around Manchester United was transferable. If they wore, say, a black and white stripey kit, would the decisions go their way? Would they grind out results with the same solid certainty of victory?
Fergie built several very good teams but also won the league with a team who then went on to flop under Moyes (whatever the arguments about settling in, and that actually, statistically, he at least did a better job than it appeared at the time).
So what created the awesomeness of invincibility? And is that what we have in the eyes of some of the other clubs and fans? Or annoyance and grudging hump at the reality of our squad? A bit from column A, a bit from column B.
Despite losing more matches than a team who can win the division should lose, we are top of it. Despite the misgivings some fans have of a few of our players, they are still, on balance, better than the vast majority of the players in this division. Despite our concerns about strengthening our squad for the Premier League, it might be enough to out muscle the Championship.
The Tour de France is at its most open when there are no previous winners riding it. Otherwise, the race develops a ‘patron’, an unofficial personality and character who dominates the race.
Tennis carries the seeding system which creates the idea of subservience before the players have even done those extra ball bounces.
Football is no different; reputations precede matches, with perhaps more glee when the big boys lose (perhaps rather than the little guys win; odd that), particularly when the big boys are apparently deluded. That’s us, apparently.
What do other teams, as well as supporters, feel when they play us? Respect? Anxiety? Injustice at our horrible players who have been bought for money instead of found under a cabbage down the allotments?
I want to know if we have an aura that, while clearly not of Manchester United or Barcelona-esque promotions, is something we as Newcastle United supporters can’t see. We might be too close. We might have too much first-hand experience of total disappointment. But whether they too can’t wait for a night out in our welcoming city, or think we’re deluded has-beens, maybe there’s a recognition by the other clubs of ‘something about us’ that we can’t always see.
The difference in our perceptions of our current position and that of other supporters is bigger than the usual club tribalism, or moan about our rivals thinking we’re over-confident. It’s bigger because our team –not club- has somehow, despite some of the uncomfortable evidence, could well be developing an aura of awesomeness. Think Kung Fu Panda with a squad number dyed into his fur.
And when the team realises this, it won’t matter that Jack Colback is the most one footed footballer I’ve ever seen. Or that Dwight Gayle and Mitro may or may not struggle in the Premier League.
I don’t know many Newcastle United supporters who think it’s a done deal that we’ll be facing the might of Stoke City next season.
In the meantime, I’ll settle for Rafa having a plan, and that this season is going to be bum squeakingly close, grinding out results when needed. That’s the difference between Champions and everyone else; you can have an off-day and win, and you ‘grind out results, because that’s what Champions do.’
We’re certainly not Barcelona in disguise; but we are Newcastle United. I’ll take that.
You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby