Will Newcastle United fans have reason to join in with Platinum Jubilee celebrations?
If his oft-quoted phrase on the relative importance of football is to be taken literally, the remarkable Bill Shankly would undoubtedly have read the daily papers from back to front.
In his heyday, the Sixties and Seventies, sports journalism (or “the toy department” as it was known then and until quite recently) appeared on the front page about as often as England won the World Cup.
My inky former trade changed profoundly the day Gazza cried at Italia 90: suddenly, football was big news. Editors unfortunate enough to have been educated at England’s most expensive public schools realised rugger was not as marketable as soccer. Its exponents were no longer regarded as the great unwashed. Shankly would have felt utterly justified in his reading habits, had he been alive to witness this transformation.
What I have in common with Liverpool’s celebrated manager could be written on the back of a football card given away with 20 Embassy Silk Cut or a packet of John Players. As a schoolboy, though, I too always started on the last page of the Journal, the Evening Chronicle, the Northern Echo and the Express. What was known as current affairs in those far-off days did pique my interest, but not half as much as the football news, be it Supermac’s groin strain, Jinky Smith’s comeback or Joe Harvey’s latest signing.
Old habits die hard and today my daily browse of the internet starts with the BBC’s online summary of Fleet Street’s back pages. Auntie calls it Football Gossip and often it is no more than tittle tattle, with many laughable, ludicrous reports of proposed comings and goings among the Premier League’s privileged protagonists.
By contrast, any perusal of the front pages on the same website tends to be almost unremittingly gloomy, especially in this year of lockdowns. There seems to be more humour in sport than in politics, economics or bloody Covid, as a rule of thumb.
Rules are made to be broken, however, and Thursday, November 12 might just go down in history.
On p1 of the Mirror was the teaser headline “Queen’s Bank holiday bonus for the nation”. A little digging revealed that the celebration of Brenda’s 70 glorious years as our head of state will be marked by a four-day weekend, starting on June 2…
Hands up if you’ve noticed something a little strange. Yes, the reports, prompted by a press release by a Mr Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, did say 70 years; which, of course, will not be until 2022. That’s nearly 18 months hence. She will be well into her 97th year by the June after next. Talk about counting your chickens before they’ve hatched, Ma’am. Though somehow I doubt the timing of this announcement had much to do with Buckingham Palace.
Dowden and his department (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) were almost certainly under pressure to provide some good news after the farcical rules that allowed fans to gather at pubs and even in football stadiums to watch their team on television while being banned from watching in person.
Anyway, let’s imagine everything goes as planned and Her Maj is still with us in June 2022 to mark her platinum jubilee. She does, after all, have a bit of form; her mum had 101 on the clock before the grim reaper called. So we can all look forward, coronavirus permitting, to a bumper weekend of party, party, party. That will be a reason to smile.
But will there be anything specific for fans of Newcastle United to celebrate, I wonder. According to serial nonsense-spouter Mark Lawrenson, we will not be happy until we have won the Champions League. Which, as he helpfully pointed out this week, is unlikely to happen, mainly because we have not qualified for it. Thanks for that deep and meaningful insight, Lawro. You appear to know as little on the subject of our fans as you did on the art of coaching a team to defend when you were briefly employed by NUFC.
Let me enlighten Lawrenson and most of his fellow “experts”. We celebrate football for its ability to entertain, enthral and enthuse. We celebrate football because at its best it can make us sing with joy and shake with excitement, scream with frustration and weep with happiness. We celebrate football in all its wonderful traditions, while turning a blind eye to the abhorrent excesses that blight it today. At its best it is a kind of magic, to quote Freddie Mercury.
To be happy we do not need a trophy, though when occasionally, very occasionally, one does come along it is more than welcome.
Here’s what would make me happy: an attempt to play entertaining football, or at least something resembling coherent football. You know the sort of thing, having seen it at St James’ Park in the not-so-distant past. Stroking the ball from one teammate to another, rather than hoofing it aimlessly. Running off the ball when we are in possession, giving the man on the ball two or more options to push forward. Pressing the opposition in their half, rather than funnelling back to the edge of or even inside our 18-yard area before attempting a determined challenge. Increasing the speed of our passing, attempting a one-two with some incisive movement. Bursting into our opponents’ box, running beyond the last defender, hitting the byline and cutting the ball back to onrushing colleagues. On second thoughts, some of the above does seem to be in the distant past.
Having looked back to happier days, perhaps we should look forward to the start of June 2022. Will there be a dual celebration to honour proper royalty and sporting royalty? Probably not, almost certainly not anywhere near NE1. Will we be happy, or at least happier than most supporters seem to be today? Only if the dross masquerading as elite football is replaced by something with the whiff of entertainment and enterprise. That’s a tough, tough task under the current regime, which seems utterly uninterested in making progress. The only apparent aim is survival, perpetuated in a joyless atmosphere that’s as uninspiring as a wet weekend in Whitley Bay.
The Queen was born on April 21, 1926. If her nanny had been a football fan, Baby Brenda might have been told a year later that the newly crowned champions of England were Newcastle United. What a thought! And who would have imagined we would still be waiting for the next top-flight title, nearly 90 seasons after our 1927 triumph?
It’s a funny old game. Sadly for Newcastle United fans, the laughs are in short supply.
If you would like to feature on The Mag, submit your article to [email protected]