These constant Sunday games are an unreasonable pain in the backside and no mistake, especially the jolly run of ultra long-distance away games. Hasn’t stopped us selling them out mind, and at least we get to go to Burnley on a Monday night next time out, so it’s not all bad eh?
There is a silver lining to playing on a Sunday though, as it sort of gives you your Saturday back. I’m not totally incapable of prioritising other engagements above NUFC playing, but those couple of hours when the match is actually on will see me incessantly checking the phone, refreshing Twitter and whinging about crappy 4G at whatever country house someone’s getting married in. Switch the game to Sunday and I’m capable of kind of forgetting about it.
Last Saturday prior to the Brighton game I bimbled about happily for a bit, then glanced at my watch and realised the fixtures for the day would be well underway. There’s a few places to look when Newcastle aren’t playing, with differing degrees of urgency. The usual first stop for me would be whoever our rivals are for whatever place in the table we’re vying for, with some obvious usual contenders last season during the promotion battle.
At this point it’s still a bit early in the season to see who we’ll be competing with, so that’s not really an option. In the absence of any bets then, there’s general perusing for whether Match of the Day will be worth a watch, half an eye on your fantasy football players and, of course, Sunderland.
I have to confess to taking savage pleasure in seeing the mackems lose horribly twice this week, sink to second bottom in the table and look generally sink like a lead barrel filled with cannon balls, welly boots and cauliflowers on its way to the very bottom of the world’s biggest sea, if they had a half empty ground at the bottom of the sea.
It’s schadenfreude brought on primarily by their ill-advised, banner waving, airport decorating smugness at the temporary blip of our own relegation that has prompted this glee in most people I believe, rather than any sense of local rivalry.
Then you have to stop and think for a second. Our own relegation happened and there but for the grace of God go we. I say God, but I probably should say Rafa Benitez.
Chuckle at the mackems we might, but as they desperately scrabbled around for a manager and suffered a series of humiliating snubs from wise men who wouldn’t touch them with a cadaverous leprous hand attached to the end of a barge pole gaffa taped to another barge pole, I couldn’t help but wonder if a similarly uninspiring selection would have been mooted for NUFC 12 months ago to spearhead our inevitable failure to make the play-offs.
Ellis Short seems to have given up on the mackems entirely, refusing to bankroll more failure, and in the process risking a fall into league one with a squad of wasters on Premier League wages. Mike Ashley was not that unlucky, simple as.
After our first relegation in 09, Ashley allowed the club to stagnate, refusing to even appoint a proper manager. He was astoundingly fortunate that in Chris Hughton he stumbled on someone who happened to be unassumingly brilliant, who galvanised the club with the help of some senior pros who stepped up admirably to right their own wrong.
This time round Benitez agreed to stick it out when no one would have blamed him for sodding off from the right old mess he’d inherited and we gritted our way back again. Like Short, Ashley couldn’t give two hoots about the club, the fans or anything that doesn’t come in giant wads from the casino. He’s just been extremely fortunate that capable people have been around at convenient times to save his cash cow from the slaughterhouse.
I’d hope that worldwide perception is a factor in this. To me, we are still reaping the benefits of the work of Kevin Keegan. People remember Newcastle as a club that was once magnificently showcased, as a place of passion and potential that could, in the right hands, rise again.
We as fans are painfully aware of this and regardless of the opinions of the legions of haters, that image is what attracts the likes of Rafa to make it his next stop after Real Madrid.
Sunderland, by contrast, suffered in our shadow throughout the 90s, struggling to get to the Premier as Sky fawned over KK’s entertainers. This maybe set the mentality where their only ambition was to beat Newcastle, an ambition that became so ingrained throughout the club that the weeks before the Derby would see comically regular managerial replacements, with the slim pickings of the mid-season manager market allowing clown after clown to fritter away Short’s millions before picking up their own slice in the inevitable pre-Newcastle pay off.
These lowly dreams were realised but at what price? I genuinely think Sunderland could be the next club who’s name becomes a noun. In recent years any club falling dramatically from grace has been known to ‘do a Leeds’ in reference to that club’s rapid fall from Champions League to league one.
We also now have the concept of ‘doing a Leicester’ to describe any side with the potential to drastically overachieve after the Foxes’ incredible title win. I wonder if Premier League clubs who consistently budget next year’s TV money on likely mercenaries not quite good enough for the Champions League may have to heed the warning of ‘doing a Sunderland’ soon, where high spending on low ambitions carries the threat of multiple relegations and financial ruin that could realistically liquidate the club.
I copped a lot of stick recently for pointing out the futility of perennial 12th placers Stoke City, which to be fair may have been a bit harsh. I’d like to retract that and point out the reality that Stoke is the match every fan looks for first when the fixtures come out and if challenged to name all 20 clubs in the Premier League from memory, most people will say Stoke 1st, 2nd or 12th, with almost no one getting all the other 19 clubs then swearing loudly when reminded who they missed.
However, it’s the clubs like Stoke, fetching in expensive signings on big wages and relying on good old lucky twelfth, who should take heed of what may lie ahead if it does go wrong one messy, muddled season.
I would absolutely include Newcastle United in this (not the spending big money on lovely new signings bit, the fat man wouldn’t have that) and maybe exercise some caution around making the mistake of speaking too soon as our rivals did in May 2016.
Instead regard them as the tarred and bound remains of some gibbetted wrongdoer, put there as a warning to all.
We are never too far from the next implosion. God forbid it could lead to us doing a Sunderland.