I’ve been back in the north east recently for some holiday, and when I walked into my favourite pub for my first pint of Bass in months, the landlord looked at my Newcastle United Polo shirt and immediately said “what’s going on there then?!”.
I’ve got to admit that I am just as baffled as he is by the current shenanigans at St James’ Park. I am scratching my head at the fact that just four months after the relief of a top half finish we’re already waist deep in a relegation slog, just as our jolly friends down the A19 seem to be bossing the third tier.
Much of the criticism has focused on our low spending and our team’s lack of depth and experience, as well as quality in critical positions. For a club that’s profited so well from the transfer market, failure to reinvest in talent feels like we’re selling the family silver. And few premium brands seem willing to associate with the pervasive feeling of cheapness that Sports Direct gives our club, so commercial income has stagnated.
But for me, ultimately it’s not about the money; money is just one way to win games, compete and move on. If management were doing anything else that was strengthening the club in any way then it might make their broken promises to reinvest sales seem less painful.
But everything points to an asset stripping activity, to a hollowing out of the club. Social media has recently pointed to the run-down state of SJP as well as the complete absence of a state-of-the-art training facility.
The True Faith fanzine have done solid work in pointing to inconsistencies between the club accounts and the owner’s stated ambitions. One of their podcast interviews with Rangers fans (part-owned by Ashley) raised a fear that key club assets including commercial trademarks may no longer be owned by Newcastle United.
There seems to be something wrong within the first-team squad, things not gelling and the great gains players like Diame made last season having vanished over the summer. Matt Ritchie’s overwrought reaction to being subbed against Spurs was a worrying sign of tensions under the surface. Isaac Hayden’s disgraceful behaviour at Cardiff should see him never play for us again, but that would give him the transfer away he’s been agitating for all summer.
The club relations with fans appears to be hitting new depths, whether the season ticket price rises, the refusal to grant fan groups storage for matchday flags or the recent cancelling of the Fans Forum.
And worst of all is the media campaign to destabilise a manager who seems to be the one senior club employee who’s working to win games, Rafa Benitez. The Chronicle have wisely refused to report any longer on the most ill-informed allegations from failed pundits, but the most unforgivable aspect of this is that there are signs that this campaign may originate within club circles.
There’s increasing agitation from our community that this stripping is going too far. #IfRafagoesIgo may be criticised as the usual bigmouth dissatisfied fans, but when your MP brings up NUFC’s mismanagement in Parliament, then you know something is going wrong.
Everything seems to be pointing one way, to the owner undermining his own club until it collapses. So the overarching feeling around the club is a premonition of impending doom rather than the mouthwatering anticipation of an exciting campaign.
That’s taken its toll on me this summer, when I normally attend every home game I can (not many!) This summer, the lure of the sunny beach has proven too much for me, I’ve stayed away, and I sense from social media that I am not the only one that’s slowly losing faith in a fairytale ending for Newcastle.
So is that how it all ends, with a shrug of the shoulders in the pub? I sincerely hope not, and if we can beat the odds this season to bring back the feel-good factor, then I’ll be the first to raise my glass to that in May.
You can follow Paul on Twitter @heravalue