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Opinion

Dud’s Army: “They don’t like it up ’em; they don’t like it up ’em”

10 months ago
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Humour can be a wonderful solace in stressful times. And, by jingo, life tends to be pretty stressful for most proper football supporters.

Forget the so-called fans who attach themselves to the latest big winners for no better reason than to be linked, however tenuously, with success.

I’m talking lifelong, bloody-minded, emotionally invested supporters who could teach John McClane a thing or two about Die Hard.

Without wishing to intrude on private grief — and I know this is sometimes difficult to realise — those people whose allegiance lies with clubs other than Newcastle United have suffered many more slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in recent years. Coventry City, Bolton Wanderers, Blackpool, to name just three, have fallen farther and faster than the Magpies. We have not (yet) endured the indignity of being put into administration, been ejected from our stadium or flogged off to a dodgy owner . . . well, two out of three ain’t bad, as Mr Meatloaf occasionally mentions.

And there is always hope, however bleak the prospects. Last weekend gave a massive boost to everyone who bleeds black-and-white, thanks to the surprise three points and remarkable performance by the team at Goodison Park. Newcastle United being Newcastle United, the optimism disappeared as quickly as a steak bake in a famine when we threw away a dream start against Palace. Which brings me to our dear leader, Old Cabbage Head, whose touchline antics appear to be causally connected to the fortunes of his players.

Let’s briefly examine the evidence.

Against Everton he literally stood back while Lance Corporal Graeme Jones assumed command, directing and cajoling the team as if to the manner born. Predictably enough, this was noticed by media “personalities”, journalists and bog-standard supporters aka keyboard warriors. The consensus was that LCpl Jones had motivated and organised the players to great effect.

This judgment left our very own Captain Mainwaring in a tricky position. Having been nominally in charge of nearly 60 Premier League matches since arriving at St James’ Park, Steve Bruce had not managed even once to put together such an impressively all-round display. We were sound in defence, cohesive in midfield and potent up front, while the dynamism was something to behold. Whatever the players ate for their pre-match meal, I want some of it next time my grandsons insist on a game of chase.

A mere three days later, Capt Mainwaring was front and centre on the touchline for the Palace match, while LCpl Jones was figuratively miles from the action, sitting in the stand. That was a justifiable cause for concern among United’s fans, concern that became despair once the team lost their spark, their shape and their energy after what must have been a right cracker of a half-time pep talk.

Regular viewers of Dad’s Army might recall the episode in which Capt Mainwaring is revealed to be a bit of an impostor. He claims to have served his country in the Great War, even though he was not deployed to France until 1919, several months after the armistice. His dubious rank is brandished to back up his insistence on taking charge of the Home Guard unit despite competition from more worthy candidates, including the unflappable Sergeant Wilson. Much comedic irony ensues when the blustering, self-important Mainwaring finds himself in deep doo-doo and has to be rescued by not only Sgt Wilson, who had seen action at Mons and Gallipoli with the Royal Artillery in the Great War, but also the estimable LCpl Jones, a man whose military service dated from Queen Victoria’s little conflicts in north Africa.

He is rather fond of dismissing the enemy with his memorable cry; “They don’t like it up ’em; they don’t like it up ’em.” If only Jones had been on hand to mastermind tactics last Tuesday when the Palace defence creaked like a barn door in a hurricane. Funnily enough, Capt Mainwaring struggles with the intricacies of the 24-hour clock, often mistiming his interventions.

In typically pompous style, he claims the credit for every triumph, no matter that his subordinates have done the business for him. And if his plans end in chaos, as they often do, he finds a way to deflect blame and responsibility.

They say life imitates art. Or is the expression “art imitates life”? Whatever the truth, this is not the time for a bungling, ill-qualified leader with a Napoleon complex whose considerable incompetence is matched only by his arrogance. Next time he utters the phrase “You stupid boy”, he ought to look in the mirror.

Our Capt Mainwaring needs to eat humble pie (perhaps one prepared by LCpl Jones the butcher) and trust that the players, principally Sgt Wilson, can rescue us from the abyss. After all, both Wilson and Jones have seen service on the South Coast, so they know what Churchill meant when he declared: “We’ll fight them on the beaches.” Neither should we underestimate the importance of attacking down the flanks, which is where Private Fraser comes in. He can supply the ammunition and watch Wilson hit the target.

Whatever else Mainwaring does, he must remember the sage advice dispensed by Jones: “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!”

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