Newcastle fans looking enviously across at Burton Albion and Middlesbrough, that is how bad things have got.
Let me explain why, to those (the majority…) of you who haven’t yet realised that you are actually jealous of that pair of clubs at the moment.
Maybe Mike Ashley’s greatest success with Newcastle fans is that now pretty much nobody really kicks off, or seriously mentions, the cup thing.
The debate/fury peaked during the Pardew years and then has simply dwindled away.
Mike Ashley claimed/announced not so long ago that his policy of not trying in the cup competitions was now over but that isn’t why Newcastle fans no longer bother getting uptight.
It is simply a case of the NUFC owner ensuring that we now have potential relegation or promotion to occupy our minds, which will always trump cup concerns.
Of course, the presence of Rafa Benitez has also helped.
Whilst Rafa remains, Newcastle fans will not (or at least the vast majority won’t) criticise the manager for playing weakened teams in the FA and League Cup, even though the Spaniard has pursued this type of selection at least as strongly as the last trio in charge. Fans want to support Rafa and they appreciate how weak the squad is due to lack of investment, meaning NUFC/Rafa aren’t allowed the luxury of really trying in the cups.
In reality, it is refusing to compete in the cups by other means.
Once Newcastle get knocked out of the FA Cup in January (they have never got beyond round four under Mike Ashley) that will be 24 domestic cup ‘runs’ so far under this owner, with the ‘highlight’ being a fifth round (quarter-final) League Cup match at Hull two seasons ago.
When Newcastle lost against Championship Forest in August (for the second season in a row) at the first attempt, Newcastle fans were annoyed to lose but more concerned that the team only had one point from nine and had Man City away coming up on the Saturday.
Imagine if you started going actively to matches as a 14 year old back in 2007. You could have in the reign of Mike Ashley gone through normal school and sixth form, then university, got a job and got married and have a family, without ever seeing Newcastle United trying to do anything in the domestic cups.
In the decade before Ashley swooped, Newcastle fans enjoyed four FA Cup semi finals and two finals. Well I didn’t exactly enjoy the Chelsea (apart from Bobby Lee’s goal of course and NUFC playing well) and Man Utd semi defeats but you know what I mean.
Realistically, the FA Cup and League Cup are the best chance of glory for pretty much every club apart from the obvious, so when your club never ever competes in them, what is the point?
Next month, either Middlesbrough or Burton Albion will find themselves proceeding to a two-legged League Cup semi-final, the two clubs meeting on Teesside in a quarter-final to decide that, the matches that got them there saw Boro beat Palace in front of 11,850, whilst Burton defeated (Newcastle’s conquerors) Forest in front of 4,284 spectators.
Newcastle fans have never seen a cup semi-final under Mike Ashley, he isn’t interested.
The World isn’t really interested in domestic cup competitions, they like the Premier League and that is why it is the most watched league around the globe, which is why of course Mike Ashley loves it as well, pushing his brands via the TV screens in every country.
There is a balance of course but with Mike Ashley’s chubby frame sitting on one end of the seesaw, there is no chance of any decent balance on competing for cups whilst he is still around.
So good luck to Middlesbrough and Burton, well just Burton really.
At least you can dream, unlike this ongoing Ashley nightmare at St James Park.