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Why Rio Ferdinand did us all a favour

2 years ago

Rio Ferdinand did not do his popularity on Tyneside any good with his comments on BT Sport this weekend, though perhaps we should actually be thanking him on some level.

It doesn’t seem too long ago that an unwelcome attack like the aggressive, ill-researched diatribe BT allowed a clearly compromised Ferdinand to spout off on Saturday evening, would have been well received in the wider footballing world.

A narrative of deluded Geordies getting above their station when they should be respecting their betters would swiftly gain traction amongst the Twittersphere, recruit cheerleaders among the national press, and be repeated until it was true. Keith Bishop wouldn’t even have to pick the phone up.

A quick review of the Ferdinand fall-out tells a very different story. Jake Humphrey’s magnificent dismantling of the clearly rattled Rio called out his obvious connection to both Ashley and Bishop, a conflict of interest that was echoed and expanded on by respected journalists from well outside the Newcastle bubble, as the misinformation and inaccuracies proved way too far to spin as a viable opinion from an independent observer.

The extent of the backlash received, even prompted Ferdinand into a belated response, posting the old ‘fishing’ emoji on Monday evening. For anyone not au fait with this sort of thing, it’s basically an implication that something has been said purely to get reaction from a targeted group.

I would suggest BT need to respond to this, as it seems to be an admission that someone they have paid for independent analysis, has instead chosen to say silly things in order to wind up a group of people. A group that they surely count upon for viewing figures, given that the level of support for Newcastle tends to translate itself to a fair proportion of televised matches.

If this ‘fishing’ tweet has somehow been taken out of context, the station surely has to agree with its own anchorman and the plethora of consenting press that Ferdinand is compromised by his relationship with Mike Ashley, and should not be paid to appear on Newcastle matches due to this conflict of interest. Failure to offer any mitigation will surely see a fan base reaction against the station (and incidentally, cancelling of subscriptions would hurt Ashley’s interests too). The inclusion of former Mag Jermaine Jenas for the Blackburn game tonight, may suggest some realisation on their part.

For me though, the most beautiful part of this whole business is not the press unity on our behalf, or the hands down victory for the factually competent Humphrey. The most gratifying thing has been the response to Ferdinand’s words from other football fans. Fans of different clubs with no reason to take a side, who in previous years would have been quick to endorse the poison, gleeful that it was directed at someone other than them.

Instead, 90% of what I’ve seen has condemned the former England man as letting himself down, pointing out real details ahead of tired stereotypes and lazy generalisations. Perhaps the real fans starting to twig that if we go to the wall they lose a bloody good away trip.

I think though, that the solidarity here is more about an awakening to what football has become. Here we have a network taking money from people who are in turn giving it to someone who is arrogantly informing them that they should be grateful to the benevolent rich man for their lowly station, like some sort of goatee-bearded Mr Bumble screaming “More?!”

I think this is what struck a chord with the proper football fans. The issue here, is that Newcastle United is a huge part of our community. Families unite through the match, generations pass it on as a rite of passage and friendships are formed and maintained around the club.

As the Premier League has grown more and more ludicrously affluent, this sense of community and belonging has eroded. However, it has always been maintained that the fans are the lifeblood of the game, even if it is largely to placate customers of subscription TV.

Ferdinand’s words contradicted that entirely, the fans are merely inconveniences of rich paymasters who must be respected, even revered, for allowing glorious money to temporarily rest in their home town club’s ill-deserving accounts.

I wonder if the fans of some of Ferdinand’s former clubs felt buoyed by this? Would West Ham fans who were pushed to invade their own pitch in protest last season, appreciate this eloquent defence of rich, neglectful owners? Would the dismissal of people’s standing in their local club ring true with the Man Utd fans who felt compelled to launch FC United of Manchester?

No. Football has eaten itself and I sincerely hope my own club’s demise isn’t the only thing making me lose interest in the leagues progress.

The current trend to see whether Chelsea or Man City can assemble the most expensive fantasy football team gives me zero interest in modern title races. Clubs existing in the top flight seemingly irrespective of how small their ground is, and how little interest they evoke is tragic, recycling TV money to keep heads above water in perpetual existentialism.

I long for the day this is all euthanised by a European Super League finally landing, taking the big clubs and the big money with them, and removing the appeal for involvement from the Mike Ashleys of the world. Maybe then we can recapture some soul in the game.

I only hope Newcastle’s soul is still capable of being saved by then. If these comments are a catalyst for action then we should indeed be grateful.

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf



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