A Must Read: Newcastle fans and perception
The big club debate is meaningless; a set of arbitrary rules formed through the subjective opinions of some of the more biased people you’re likely to find: football supporters.
Talk Sport on the other hand panders to the ill-educated, who are incapable of informed opinions and can only digest lowest-common denominator football chat: the station really is the radio equivalent of Rusks – it’s just baby food.
In reality, it is not about who is a big club, who is a small club and so on. This indeed is all relative – look at Sunderland in League One who possess a ground bigger than the entire population of Fleetwood. In Premier League terms, however, they would not enjoy such stature.
Here’s the thing: it’s about perception. And I think that a lot of Newcastle fans should consider how the club is perceived. It is not true to say that this is an entitled, expectant group of supporters who have a God-given right to be challenging at the top end of the table year in year out, but there is a slight imbalance and a recalibration is needed for some. This is because there is one difference between Newcastle United and every other club in the whole of the country.
And it isn’t one that’s easy to swallow.
You see Newcastle are the ultimate nearly-men; a team so close to winning the league that everyone from Wideopen to Wallsend could taste the sweet nectar that would surely flow from the Premier League trophy; and yet, it was snatched away. Cruelly, painfully, agonisingly, to the point where I’m not sure that some people on Tyneside have managed to recover from it, nor will.
The season is defined by the image of Stan Collymore ripping the heart out of the city, to the soundtrack of Kevin Keegan’s infamous interview following the win at Leeds. This, inevitably is played on repeat towards the end of every season, or of course when ‘Premier League Years’ is on Sky on a Tuesday afternoon in November.
And it’s this which means there is a massive identity crisis within the fan base. A club which could have won the league, should have won the league, but also crucially a club which missed the bus which stopped only once. Fans have tasted it, and want to do so again because they know it can happen, because it almost did.
Newcastle are the what-could-have-been specialists, the greatest of all losers, valiant in defeat all because of that one period in their history. For years afterwards there was a commonly-held opinion that the Magpies were everyone’s second team, and that was no doubt down to the way the team entertained football fans across the nation throughout the decade, but also because they came so close.
However, that time has come to an end. The Ashley-era is upon us – and perhaps the most damning indictment is that a club who has suffered back-to-back relegations have supporters who are nevertheless laughing like drains at the situation within the club two leagues above them.
No one enjoys watching Newcastle anymore, and the only good things you can say are those which will never change: the wonderful city, its magnificent stadium in a setting so perfect for the football fan, whether they have come from near or far.
On the pitch, there is nothing to love, and off it there is everything to hate. In truth, only one season in a generation have Newcastle been anywhere near the level of the Keegan years, which is a depressing statistic.
Sympathy may be in short supply from other teams at times, but show me one person who would want Mike Ashley anywhere near their club, then you are either mad, bad or Keith Bishop.
So Newcastle may be a big club, they may not; but what has changed is the way they are perceived – and it’s not for the better and it isn’t likely to change.
And who is to blame for that?
Don’t think too hard.
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