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Opinion

Histrionics at Newcastle United, did ye say?

9 months ago
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“I was on a mission to make Newcastle United the club I always thought it should be. I wanted a team that could challenge the elite.” (Kevin Keegan)

“It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging. The pride in your city.” (Sir Bobby Robson)

“We are not a stepping stone. We are Newcastle United. Every player should be honoured to wear the shirt of this club. They should feel the same passion that the fans feel.” (Rafa Benitez)

“My remit is to make sure that Newcastle stay and remain a Premier League outfit. That’s what I’ll try to achieve. That’s where we’ve been for the last three or four years. Of course, for Newcastle, in a lot of people’s eyes, that isn’t going to be enough. But that is where we are at the moment. We have to accept it and keep trying to move it a little bit forward. “(Steve Bruce)

It is easy to let emotions cloud judgement and even memories, especially as a football supporter the day after your team has lost, so let us deal in facts. The following is a quote from Bruce’s first press conference, back in July 2019:

“Whoever came into this seat would have found it difficult but with my experience, I’m confident we can continue to take the club forward. The most important thing is to keep the club moving forward, it’s established itself in the Premier League. My aim will be to keep moving forward.”

Of course, it is possible that his remit has changed since that humid day in Shanghai, so let us deal in another fact. As recently as July 2020, Bruce spoke about his aims for a top ten finish and that the club would be ready to challenge for it this season. Yet, just fourteen games in, we are being told that remaining in the league is what he will try to achieve.

Throughout the timeline of the above quotes from the four managers, Newcastle United has never won a trophy: a club reaching the heights of title challenges and Champions League football and yet also plummeting to the depths of relegation. Regardless of intention and inspiration, success eluded all who tried.

Although the Keegan and Robson years brought the best football and entertainment to Newcastle, their words are repeated as much as highlight clips of the on-pitch action. They were inspirational men, as confirmed by many who played for them, and their quotes adorn posters and memorabilia across the fanbase.

Benitez did not bring the football that those two Newcastle legends did and he, like Bruce is, was part of a new era of Newcastle United. The era of stagnation, regression and unambitious survival. The era of existing, merely to exist.

In football, just as in life, actions speak louder than words, but during times of inaction, every word begins to scream in your ears. This, for anyone who still fails to grasp it, is the reason Benitez became so much more than the par results and the par league finish he attained at Newcastle. His words offered hope of something more, even if it never materialised.

Sometimes your internal, innate faith in something fades and you need an external stimulus to top you up and see you through that period. It is why political leaders give televised speeches to the nation during challenging times and it is why The Queen continues to deliver her annual address. Although it might make little difference to most, for some people those words of encouragement that things will get better, are all they need to keep going – to keep believing.

For Newcastle United fans during the Mike Ashley era, the accepted reality is perpetual mediocrity but to hear the stark truth of it from the man in charge of the team is a different matter. `The ceiling has been set by Ashley but the manager ought to be banging against it, not lying on the floor accepting it. It is why the rant by Lascelles against his own teammates elevated him to icon status – and captain – and it is why so many revere Rafa. Words matter.

As if this realignment of remit and restructuring of aims was not bad enough, the accusation that reaction to a week which saw Newcastle concede five at Leeds, fail to beat ten man Fulham and then lose to Championship Brentford was ‘ridiculous histrionics’ awoke anger in an apathetic fanbase.

Bruce’s words on Saturday were commented on more than the game itself, as social media erupted as the word ‘histrionics’ lit the touch paper within the fanbase:

“How derogatory to use this word when talking about the supporters of the club you manage!”

“What ridiculous histrionics is he referring to anyway? 85% of NUFC fans expected us to lose (against Brentford). That isn’t histrionics. Fans were still disappointed at not having a shot on target in the second half. That isn’t histrionics. What is so ridiculous?”

“Steve Bruce needs to be asked about his histrionics comment because for me that’s another dig at the fans and he’s getting away with it because there’s none of us in the ground to show exactly what we think of him!”

Other fans quickly found screenshots of previous Bruce comments, from his time at Aston Villa, Hull City and Sunderland, where he used the term ‘mass hysteria’ regarding fans’ reaction to performances and results. This was not a one-off.

The reaction wasn’t just from fans but also ex-players, as Warren Barton retweeted several of Bruce’s quotes or tweets about them with angry/swearing emojis attached, while Gavin Peacock tweeted, ‘”If any of you don’t want to play for this team then see me after and you can go but if you want to stay and fight then follow me. We will survive this season – then watch this great club take off!” (Kevin Keegan, after his first training session in charge of Newcastle United in 1992)’

Last week, with a slightly different article in mind, we asked fans whether this was the worst they had felt as Newcastle United supporters. We suggested that they take all things into consideration before answering, rather than just the football. Here are some of their responses:

“Simply nothing to be positive about at the moment. Football is a dirge, the takeover has died a death, pundits are telling us to be thankful, the manager talks about us as underdogs even against lower league opposition and there’s zero trust in the club.”

“There’s no magic anymore. The passion has all but evaporated. A combination of takeover disappointment again, top six clubs having more power then they should, a lottery ticket snatched away. Mix that in with the absolute garbage on the pitch. What’s the point?”

“Situations at NUFC in the past have hurt me much more. Unfortunately that is because I feel nothing at the moment. We have become a zombie club with no heart or soul.”

“This is the worst I’ve felt as a fan. It is so negative and hard to watch and the worst I have seen in my lifetime, with no signs of getting better. I actually don’t look forward to games now, it’s not nice watching them, I’d rather watch something else.”

“I’m bored of the takeover that’s dragged on for nearly a year in its current form. Bored of Bruce’s performances and comments. Disillusioned with where the club is and what no takeover will mean.”

“The worst indictment is that I don’t care at the moment. Even through the support the team not the regime moments, I cared what the team did on the pitch. Now I feel disconnected. The match is on in the background out of some misplaced obligation, but the emotion has gone.”

“Losing the two cup finals in ’98 and ’99 and then the subsequent relegations from the Premier League were probably the moments of worst despair. I just have too much apathy at the minute to care enough for this to be the lowest point!”

“I guess only I know the depth of feeling I have for this club and how some of my greatest memories are NUFC related – the joys and despairs mingle as one in those memories. I made no attempt to watch the Fulham game and found out the score the next day. The feelings have been eroded.”

“It is for me, despite having watched us suffer two relegations. We are a team devoid of any identity, predictable and unorganized on the pitch, with an owner and manager who seem to think that this is the satisfactory. The lack of ambition from the top down is stark and glaring.”

“This period we are in right now is one of the worst as a fan as there is seemingly no way out. The short term plan is non existent as the long term plan isn’t in the hands of anyone, we have an owner who wants to sell and no one who can buy. The football is horrendous.”

“The two relegations in 09′ and 16′ were the worst periods but right now, we’re at a point where there’s no direction or ambition within the club. The brand of football is extremely poor, the continued takeover saga is tiring and I’m less motivated to watch our team play each week.”

“The worst were throwing away the league and the relegations This is extremely worrying though. Most joyless, hopeless, least entertaining. The most I’ve ever been embarrassed and humiliated to support them. The most anger I’ve felt towards a manager. Ironically all with a great squad!”

“It’s not the worst I’ve felt as a fan but I think that is because I’ve completely emotionally detached from the club. Watched one game this season – Leeds – and just not interested anymore and that is because of everything the club (and the fanbase – especially on Twitter) have become.”

Graeme

I think this is probably the worst I’ve felt as a supporter and I’ve been through a lot of bad times, like many of us have. I was gutted when we lost the FA Cup Final (Twice), both relegations, Kevin Keegan leaving in 1997 and Sir Bobby Robson getting sacked. However, right now trumps them all for me. I’ve got no feeling left at all, there’s just nothing there, nothing to be positive about. I’m not sure if it would be better or worse if we were able to attend games or not. At least at home you do not have to worry about wasting money on the match ticket and you can just switch the TV off, and try to forget about the so-called football you’ve witnessed.

Each week we’re served up absolute dross and we’re told by clueless pundits that Steve Bruce is doing a brilliant job. We’ve not progressed at all under him, all we are doing is taking massive strides backwards. There’s no direction at all, the players are going out the pitch with no clue as to what their roles are and it’s absolutely pathetic. This is only going to end one way and that’s relegation. It might not be this season but if Bruce remains in charge of this team, we will be playing Championship football before long.

I’m numb to it all now, it tells you all you need to know that not one supporter was surprised at Brentford knocking us out of the League Cup.

Andy

I can’t remember the last time I fancied us to win a game. How sad is that? What is the point in being a football fan if you’re resigned to failure before a ball is kicked? Obviously, we have won games recently but I’ve never been confident about it pre-match or expected it.

I’ve tried to keep the faith for years but it’s gone now. I’d love him (Bruce) to come out just once and talk us up and give the fans something to get excited about but he always plays us down as the underdogs. There’s no inspiration coming from him, right when we need it most.

13th place is roughly where we expect to be and we all know that Ashley is the reason we’re unlikely to reach higher but that doesn’t mean our manager needs to tell us that. Even if it’s nonsense, even if he doesn’t believe it and we don’t believe him, he’s supposed to offer motivation and inspiration. He’s supposed to offer hope that we might just improve. He’s so negative every week and every press conference feels like more air is being let out of our balloon. I feel utterly deflated.

Ray

People are saying that football without fans is nothing, well amend that to football without friends, faith and fun is nothing! I’ve watched worse teams (honestly) but your friends help you deal with, contribute to and are part of the match day experience. No pals, no match day experience.

We always had faith things would get better – optimism, bravado, hope, etc. but Ashley has taken all that away, bit by frigging bit. Cold and calculated, treat like sh.t and with contempt – ivory tower mismanagement.

There’s no fun. Atmosphere-free footy is really boring, Bruceball is boring – there’s no hope of anything positive or productive happening. You lot could write your articles before the game because you know what will (and will not) happen.

It’s the first time in fifty years of watching Newcastle play that I’m not bothered. They are not worth the effort of investing emotionally in anymore. It’s become a one-sided relationship, where the fans have given a lot (as usual) but, currently, we get absolutely nothing back in return.

The main problem, as it always has been, is Ashley. Selfish, greedy and narcissistic – to name but three traits – Ashley is a metaphor for much of what is wrong with society in the UK. Lots of parallels with current political and business leaders – they couldn’t give a sh.t about the ordinary man, even though they allude to their intentions being for the greater good. Bollocks. They take, lie, steal, cheat, gaslight, undermine, feather their nest, feather their mate’s nest, find sacrificial lambs, devalue, undervalue, increase profit margins and steal dreams along the way.

At a time when COVID has taken so much from us, Newcastle United has become an additional drain on our wellbeing, positivity and optimism. Following your football team should be fulfilling, no matter what level they play at. Newcastle must be unique in denying their fans so much, unnecessarily so.

I try not to be a ‘Bruce-basher’ as he seems like a nice bloke but he knew what he was taking on. His mates warned him and he still took the job. I can’t blame him – if I was him, I would too. However, whilst his playing career was first class, his managerial career has been distinctly second class. Whatever his methods are, they aren’t working. We can all see that. Most of us were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt but to see us stagnating / struggling after 17-18 months of him in charge, it is quite clear that he is not good enough. That doesn’t make him a bad person but it does make him unfit for the job.

If anyone can read these words from lifelong fans, from people who have attended games for fifty years and no longer bother to turn on their television to watch their team, and think of it as ridiculous histrionics or delusion or unrealistic expectations, then they are beyond reasoning with.

As a fanbase, we have been so beaten down – particularly over the last thirteen years – that apathy has replaced obsession for many. The anticipation is of failure – 85% of respondents to our survey expected defeat at Brentford! This is what Ashley has done but it is now what Bruce is perpetuating and feeding – that Newcastle United are underdogs in every game – and the team plays like they believe him. That the fans question this, that the fans think this current squad is capable of more, is ridiculous, mass hysteria and delusion.

It seems fitting to end with Steve Bruce’s own words, from July 2019:

“It’s definitely not the case that the ambition here is finishing 17th.

“Of course Mike Ashley wants more than 17th.

“We’ve got to take the club forward.”

(This article originally appeared on the excellent NE1’s Game website, you can also follow them on Twitter @game_ne1)

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