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Opinion

It is the hope that kills you

4 weeks ago
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This time feels different

As Newcastle fans, it’s the hope that kills you…

As we all have, I’ve been digesting the news of Rafa Benitez’s departure from Newcastle United with an almost resigned inevitability.

Newspaper and television tittle tattle aside, there was always a feeling in the pit of my stomach that the Spanish love affair would be coming to an end after three and a bit years.

But then on Monday, during an almost habitual scan through twitter, my worst fears were confirmed. Rafa was on his way!

Despite my initial concerns, the breaking news came as a shock. From what has been reported since, it appears to have been a bit of a shock for him too!

Not surprisingly, I spent the rest of the day in a dull stupor, generally feeling sorry for myself, positive I wasn’t the only one! Fellow Newcastle fans no doubt wondering how we ended up in this sorry mess? Before quickly realising it was thanks to a triple chinned, sports tat schiller.

As I said, despite the bizarre feeling that we all saw this coming, it still hurt. My beloved came home from work and the first thing she did was put her arms around me, almost as if I were mourning the passing of a loved one. It was that raw!

Now it needs to be said my wife is a life long football fan but regrettably her heart lies in West London, still she understood the pain that was running through me at this delicate time.

After putting the kids to bed, she looked at me curiously, following a moment of uneasy silence she asked “I understand how much it must hurt but don’t forget you guys have come back from worse.”

She had a point. After all, having been a Newcastle fan for nearly three decades I have endured relegations, managers unjustly sacked only to have a multitude of rubbish appointments coming in and many a hero sold off to boost the accounts, but this time…this time it felt different!

Any Geordie of a certain vintage remembers King Kev walking away after demolishing Spurs 7-1, Sir Bobby dejectedly walking out of the training ground with his putter after getting the boot, or Chris Hughton’s unjust axing. These events hurt, more so in hindsight due to the incompetent fool that was brought in as a “successor”. I have no doubt that like before, whoever replaces Rafa will be held in similar cautiousness as Messrs Dalglish, Souness and Pardew, regardless of what is written on their CV.

Rafa Benitez is held in the rare light of the aforementioned heroes due to the fact that he legitimately took on a club on its knees thanks to Steve McClaren and even though the task of keeping this club in the top tier alluded him (a case of bringing him in three games too late). The astounding love-in that greeted him from the terraces during that last game of the season hammering Tottenham, convinced him that he was the man to rebuild a club with so much promise.

Fast forward three years to last May and there we were, the Geordie armada giving Fulham a hiding on the riverside, finishing safely in the Premier League for the second year in a row after bouncing straight back from the unfortunate relegation. The team looked sharp, the team looked keen, the team was ready to push on with a little bit of investment…

…And there lay the problem. We had a manager who wanted to realise the potential of our once wonderful club and an owner who just cared about having his red and blue signage plastered all over the sky and BT cameras.

Which brings us to the present and the not so unexpected bombshell that dropped in the last twenty-four hours. Why does it feel different this time?

Is it the fact that unlike before, this whole situation potentially really has a house of cards feeling about it? Salomon Rondon’s twelve-month flirtation on Tyneside appears to have been just that. Those close to Miguel Almiron have started making noises to the sound of “He came to Newcastle to play for Rafa, things have changed…but he has a contract until 2024 I guess…”

Ayoze Perez has been dropping noises all summer about a potential move back to Spain and many others have taken to twitter to offer their thanks to the outgoing gaffer in a thinly veiled dig at Penfold and Mike.

I have a real fear that the spine of this team may be on the verge of going. The likes of Dubravka, Lascelles, Ritchie and the aforementioned Miggy could all look for an out, regardless of whoever the heir to Rafa’s “kingdom” is.

But then again why should we be surprised? I don’t need to ask you to look back at Mr Ashley’s record as owner. His reign strewn with managers and player alike, thrown away regardless of their stature, ability or medical issues. If you didn’t share his “vision” you are of no use!

Which brings us back to my original question, why does it feel different this time?

Maybe like a prize fighter, us Newcastle fans have endured plenty of body shots over the past eleven years causing us to take a knee but have always managed to get up but this latest blow has knocked most of us flat on the mat.

Truth is, feelings are very raw at the moment but it really does feel like unless this (ever unlikely) takeover takes place to free us from Mike’s clutches, I can’t see anyone of any real credibility taking the manager’s job…I mean would you take it?

Back in 2004, I walked out of a cinema to a text message informing me that Sir Bobby Robson had been sacked. I felt inconsolable.

My girlfriend put her arm around me and said “I understand how much it must hurt but don’t forget you guys have come back from worse.”

I can’t help but wonder what wor Bobby would have made of this…

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