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Desperately Seeking Excitement

8 months ago

I’m a 54 year old lifelong Newcastle United supporter. I grew up with Supermac and the days of selling off our best talent.

Then revelled in the excitement of King Kev and Sir Bobby, Alan and Tino.

And now, like everyone else, have despaired at the death of ambition at the heart of our club.

Others have talked at length about the quality of our players, the apologists in the press, the weakness (being generous) in our management – and our owner. And I’d generally agree with most of that. But I’ve been thinking of how my relationship with the toon has changed over the years, what I’ve craved, and what we’ve lost.

For me, what is missing is excitement.

I used to look forward to every game with glorious anticipation.

Whilst that was obvious under Keegan and Robson, before that and to a point afterwards, eternal optimism always made (nearly) every game winnable. You looked at the top of the league and were optimistic of nicking a point. You looked at the bottom and salivated over the hatful we’d inevitably be putting past them.

And we always had some hero, however flawed, able and willing to do the deed on occasion. Do you remember the main complaint directed towards a player (typically from ‘the south’)? A lack of commitment! ‘He’s not trying’. ‘He’s not putting the work in’. Or ‘He doesn’t seem interested’.

So where are we now?

Yes, we survived in the end quite comfortably last season – but I’m very much in the ‘we were lucky’ camp. And that luck ran out (or worse – teams realised how to play us) in the second half of the season – unless the opposition got someone sent off! But far worse for me was the tedium of watching us play.

It was a horrible season for entertainment.

The build-up for every game as the season progressed became darker and darker. Anticipation and excitement gave way to anxiety and dread. And watching was hard. With very few exceptions we were an embarrassment to watch.

Harsh? Look at those possession figures. Look at goals scored. Look who won our player of the season (and no reflection on Dubravka – he’s clearly one of our few islands of quality)! How many of us could watch those free to air games at the end of the season through to the end?
And the responsibility for this lies with one man – Steve Bruce.

On paper, this is a better side than Rafa had the previous season. Yes, losing Rondon was a blow, but in that second half of the previous season we were a decent side. Yes, we very organised – that was Rafa’s style – but we were still usually good to look at, and I looked forward to most games with anticipation. And yes, I felt we could sneak a win over just about anyone – and we did, often memorably!

Since then, ASM has been added and I actually quite like Joelinton – just not as a striker. You put him on the wing and he puts in a good shift!

So why do I look forward to this season with such dread? Why am I convinced we will be going down?

For two main reasons.

First – Steve Bruce and our tactics.

I think we have ridden our luck and have now been found out, 40 points is 11 or 12 wins plus a bunch of draws. I don’t see where the 11 or so wins are going to come from. Simple as that.

Second – the absence of the twelfth man – the crowd. The supporters.

What on earth is there to get behind as a team? In previous seasons you would hope for that boost from the crowd, that last 10 minutes of roaring the team on to snatch the draw or the win and get the ball over the line. Covid has not helped… but even when the crowds are back, what is there, with our tactics and possession, to roar on?

And will the crowds return? With Ashley’s behaviour to season ticket holders, when they can, will they renew? People have got out of the habit of going to games. Yes, when you get the chance, going to a game will be a novelty. But with a recession and a lack of excitement and expectation of a win, how many will go week in, week out, against the mid and lower-table teams that we used to think we would beat?

I was going to explore in this piece whether I cared any more. And in some respects, I don’t. It’s been years since I bought a replica shirt and I don’t care enough to buy a Sky subscription to pay to watch them (though will still suffer through some of their free to air games – until it gets too much). But of course, I care – enough to write this and to despair of what I see and yet each season turn up for more.

So yes, I fear this will be a long, hard season. I take a dark pleasure that a relegated Toon will be worth a lot less to the Fat Controller. But that is scant reward to the prospect of facing Preston North End on a rainy Wednesday in November.

Except that might mean Bruce has moved on… and we might get a manager with aspirations… thinking about it, I really enjoyed that last season in the Championship. It was properly exciting…


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