Last weekend was a funny old onion wasn’t it?
Whenever Newcastle United don’t play I find the heel-kicking intolerable as you struggle to direct your focus between 3pm and quarter to five, these weekends are the worst. Robbed even of the consolation of our own team playing (competitively) the next day, it was time to try and figure out what I was most interested in about the weekend’s sport.
Of course, the other areas of the Premier League relegation battle remain the obvious focal points, but these were a bit tricky to work out.
Did I want Bournemouth, immediately above NUFC in the table, to drop points or put another nail into West Brom’s coffin?
Huddersfield or Crystal Palace? Not sure mate.
I think the way things shaped up probably offered the best outcomes all round. With England collapsing spectacularly against the Irish in the already-decided Six Nations finale, I decided to head round to the shops for a few liquid essentials as I have three small children and Saturday nights are often spent drinking in the house (so are Tuesday nights, most mornings and lengthy trips to the “toilet” but that’s a different story). While in the car on the way round, I flicked Radio Newcastle on, and that’s when it happened. I realised I’m massively enjoying Sunderland getting relegated.
Before any of the trolls start their anonymous blather about another bloody Mag article about Sunderland, I’d like to say I’m hoping to offer a balanced introspection about why I felt like this and how their position affects Newcastle United, but then you’ve probably not read this far anyway, or have been distracted by having to reposition your foil hat to keep the Uraniuns from stealing your memories of the 74 cup run, or Nigel Farage from stealing your hat’s underpants. Either way I look forward to my psyche profile in the comments section as it’s always nice to find out what’s going on in your own head when you sleep as little as me.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Sunderland. Down to ten men and being easily beaten at home by mid-table Preston while the half empty ground half-emptied again and the commentators miserably relayed their view of the inaction as though they were heavily sedated and being made to watch a chimp perform unnecessary surgery on their own big toe. I could feel the hopelessness and futility emanating from the radio, the inevitable sense of doom a tangible delight that I was slightly ashamed of.
I think I have delusions of grandeur. I like to think of myself as a decent person, not the sort who takes pleasure in the misery of others. The mackems’ collapse to League 1 is something I’ve treated as largely irrelevant as it doesn’t affect Newcastle United and, totally objectively, a large support base has been made to suffer terribly by a plutocratic tosspot of an owner. My response when asked about their plight in a Mag Q & A was to be very grateful, as without Rafa’s intervention that could very well be us.
Any sense of sympathy is swiftly blown away though, by a simple consultation with the internet. The evidence of their lack of class when we went down is plentiful as banners on the bridge, club shop memorabilia of their victories over us and the infamous flyover message, are all reposted as a testament to their stunning lack of foresight.
Their precarious position after several seasons of relegation struggle should have had more alarm bells ringing than in Doc Brown’s laboratory but instead they mocked our status with ill-advised tweets, advising that we “enjoy Burton Albion”. This type of crack is now being recirculated gleefully along with that delightful video of two local stunners proclaiming that they would indeed be winning every game if the were in the Championship, which they are not, now they are, but soon won’t be.
Some folk from Wearside are taking this on the chin. It takes different strokes and it is undeniable that there are some decent people support Sunderland who don’t deserve this. There are also some massive bell ends who support Sunderland of course, and they have just upped the ante. A typical Sunderland rant at the present time will point to a well thought-out, brilliantly written and fair minded article like this and declare it evidence of our being #obsessed before evolving their rant into a foaming display of obsession, quoting scores from their recent purple patch against us.
The thing with Twitter in particular is that you can speak to a wide audience. A couple of suitable hashtags can put a joke or observation out there for both sets of fans to see. You can include celebrities, former players or enemy websites in your quest for bites, and often they will come. This wasn’t prominent when we used to regularly leather them, so they haven’t had much experience the other way.
Until now. Another fact that made Saturday’s result stand out for me was that it feels decisive. I have long held the belief that they would sneak out of the trouble they’re in, as they did so often and so unexpectedly from the bottom of the Premier League. But as Chris Coleman correctly stated himself, they had to start against Preston. With others around them picking up points they sit bottom for the international break, needing to win at least half of their paltry eight games to have the slightest chance and with some unfriendly looking fixtures ahead. Garry Monk’s regalvanising of Birmingham may just about be the final straw. They know it too, as sub 20k crowds continue to dwindle.
I genuinely wonder how our crowd would be impacted by what they’ve been through. They clocked up a year without winning a home game FFS, imagine that! We have stuck through some lean times but if things do go wrong in the next couple of years I’d reiterate the warning that SAFC could be the ghost of seasons future. Also, who are the mugs? The “fickle” types who’ve kept their money in their pocket, or the ones still forking out to have this crack inflicted on them. I suspect Wearside may get a good deal more fickle next year.
Positive vibes though, let’s assume things turn out alright at NUFC (not a given, I’ll grant you that, but indulge me). The thing that sits behind all of the catcalling, the conflicting emotions and the overuse of the word obsessed is that Sunderland’s plight is actually, logistically, a good thing for Newcastle United.
I don’t like it, but money dominates in football now, there is no other language in the game. If next season sees Sunderland in league 1 and Newcastle in the Premier League, we will have a complete monopoly on commercial revenue and sponsorship in the north east area. There will be no other horse in the race.
Relegation will also mean that Sunderland will not be able to return to the Premier before their parachute payments expire, meaning they are one bad season (administration?) away from long-term oblivion. If this happens, their dwindling support will continue to suffer. Youngsters growing up in Durham, South Tyneside and other previously contested areas will all flock towards an increased Newcastle fan base, leading to growth, revenue and stronger appeal to investors. We may even start to draw support from Wearside.
So this is the bottom line. Call me obsessed, I’ll probably call you a bit boring.
What it boils down to is that it’s all about Newcastle. All. About. Newcastle.
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf