I stayed away from Newcastle United for 2 years and then Rafa arrived…
We all have our personal tipping point with Newcastle United.
The thing is though, you don’t know where that point is until you actually reach it.
For me it was May 2014.
Well in reality it had been coming for some time and certainly I knew far earlier than May that I was going to do it – but on 3 May 2014 I walked out of St James Park knowing that I wouldn’t be coming back for the foreseeable future.
I never leave before the end but I actually did that day, it was when thousands of others also walked out on 69 minutes in protest at the running of the club by Mike Ashley. United were one up against Cardiff and eventually won 3-0, then the season ended away at Anfield the following weekend.
I was always someone who didn’t really care that much where we were in the table or even which division we were in, you met up with your mates for a good drink and then went up to the match hoping to see some decent football and a win.
I never wasted time agonising about when we would ever win a trophy, what is the point? It would be nice but going to the match was always about the ritual/routine and keeping in touch with your mates, Newcastle United being the glue that kept it all together.
As I say, I never cared really if I was watching Newcastle in the Premier League, or the Championship, or the Conference. Obviously I would much prefer to see us playing at the highest level possible and winning – but that never formed part of my decision in whether to go to the match or not.
However, my passion and love for the club had been drained over a number of years by the presence of Mike Ashley.
It is one thing for a club to end up being mediocre but to have that as your intention is just beyond what you could believe. That though was Ashley’s intention, set out to accumulate just enough points to be able to stay in the Premier League, bank the TV cash and guarantee another season of free advertising for Sports Direct.
Under Ashley we had already had one relegation and it was obvious we were heading for another, it was just a case of when, not if. Aiming to be lower middle table, 11th to 17th, meant it would only take a few things to go wrong at the same time and you would be at risk of the drop.
We got away with it in 2012/13, only buying Vurnon Anita after finishing fifth showed a laughable lack of ambition. A golden chance totally wasted after Newcastle had fluked their way to one place outside the Champions League spots, rely on every player playing at their absolute maximum and the likes of Ba, Cisse, Cabaye and Ben Arfa scoring all of the goals – most of them top quality ones in many matches where Newcastle didn’t actually play that well.
It was obvious that team needed major strengthening as they could never match that season. If there had been four or five decent signings then who knows? I think it would have been guaranteed top seven and just maybe, the new signings would both add something of their own AND help inspire the current players to repeat the previous season.
Instead the team collapsed like a pack of cards, as though the total lack of ambition shown by Ashley had poisoned the whole team. No player was anywhere near their best and Demba Ba jumped ship halfway through, Captain Coloccini tried to desert, whilst a season-long relegation battle ensued.
Mike Ashley realised the game was up and some panic buys, especially Sissoko, helped save Newcastle from relegation, Papiss Cisse coming up with a number of match winners.
Lessons weren’t learnt though and Ashley went even further in summer 2013, buying not a single player!
Once again though he fluked it, loan signing Loic Remy combined with the likes of Cabaye, Debuchy, Sissoko and Newcastle played some pretty good football in the first half of 2013/14.
Getting to January the club were in a decent position towards the top and then Ashley did it again, selling Cabaye for £18m and buying nobody, the season collapsing around us. Just what was the point?
So the end of that season I walked away, not knowing when/if I would be back.
Staying away was difficult but I couldn’t face this zero ambition way of running a club. It is one thing being incompetent but to cynically run a football club where survival in the league and not trying in the cups is the overriding strategy – it is just pure evil to mess with so many people’s football lives.
I watched from afar the comical proceedings, giving John Carver the job being the ultimate. Ashley happening anybody just so long as they would be a puppet.
That almost got the club relegated but he just got away with it again.
McClaren having failed and being sacked in the Championship was then given the job, a club statement having already stated that whoever was appointed would just be there to coach the team and would have no say on transfers in and out.
More stupid signings of young inexperienced overseas players (20 year olds Mbemba and Mitrovic, 22 year old Thauvin) in the hope of future profit ensured relegation, even Rafa Benitez couldn’t save us.
It did however save me as a Newcastle fan, I was there at Leicester for his first game in charge and haven’t missed a home game since.
It isn’t that I think he will win us the Champions League but for Rafa to have risked his reputation on a doomed team and seemingly doomed club..well he deserved our backing.
The fact he actually approached the club tells you everything, he can see the potential of Newcastle United even if Ashley and his minions can’t.
Relegation was a minor detail once Rafa Benitez confirmed he was staying, I was there buying my season ticket once again after a two year gap.
This past season hasn’t been great in terms of the football – but Rafa had to do what needed to be done in his own way.
He finished top and you can’t get any higher than that, he had also done the job with professionalism and dignity.
No longer when away with work did I feel the need to apologise for the existence of the likes of Pardew, Carver, McClaren (and Ashley, Charnley) etc at my club.
If you have a Manager like Benitez, then a bond between him, the players and the fans can be enough.
To be honest, I can’t see that a whole lot else has changed at Newcastle United.
Yes Ashley has been forced to give Rafa a reasonable transfer budget and freedom to choose his players – but even he could see it would have been football/financial suicide to try and put the Manager in his place.
There is still no state of the art training complex that was promised years ago, Ashley is making more personal millions by developing land opposite St James Park that will make it impossible for St James Park to ever be expanded (you couldn’t make it up!) and Sports Direct continue to get all the free advertising, with zero ambition to bring in any commercial money apart from the basics of finding a replacement for Wonga who were skint.
Despite all this though, so long as Rafa is in charge I will be there at the matches.
Somebody in charge (of the team) doing their very best to make us all proud of our club, never mind the continuing shambles above him.
The players buy into him as well and just maybe, just maybe, by the Manager, team and fans coming together, something quite special could happen.
I’m just happy that I can once again go to the matches and simply for that, I will always be grateful to Rafa Benitez.
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