Jamaal Lascelles may soon be borrowing from the Kevin Scott book of rallying calls
Somewhere in my house I have an old match programme from when I was a sporadically attending youngster supporting a poor Newcastle United side.
The match in question is against Millwall in 1992, the penultimate home game of a season spent fighting relegation from the old division two (note for youngsters: it’s called the Championship nowadays).
On the day of the game this item was likely chucked in a drawer somewhere.
However, when I came across it years later, it made my blood run so cold that I fetched it into work, to make a point to friends that maybe Bobby Robson’s United failing to qualify for the Champions League that season wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.
The chilling bit in question was within the programme notes of the club captain, Kevin Scott. Scotty was issuing a rallying call to prompt us clear of our predicament and ended with a soul-sapping sentence along the lines of “Our neighbours from Wearside have a Cup Final to look forward to, but we have four cup finals of our own before the end of the season.”
So, again for the benefit of the kids, we were facing our first ever relegation to the third tier, all against the backdrop of Sunderland heading to the FA Cup final. It actually worked out OK, as Liverpool ensured the mackems got nowhere near the cup, David Kelly’s legendary goal against Portsmouth helped secure safety and Keegan’s Newcastle blitzed their way to the top end of the Premier League, providing the most magnificent seasons most of us have ever seen.
So, why am I on about this now then?
Despite relegations, the sapping of ambition and constant existential misery over the years, Newcastle United have never again been near the low described above, with Scotty committing the crime of comparing league games to cup finals in a bid to illustrate the gravity of our situation. However, as we prepare to head to the Hawthorns on Sunday, I actually think this kind of comparison is about to become valid.
Writing this after Spurs and Everton beat Fulham and WBA respectively, to give us some welcome breathing space, I can sense the scoffing at a perceived over reaction here at the prospect of a relegation most bookies will still be backing us to avoid. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the comments section below becomes some sort of living parody of Monty Python’s Four Yorkshireman sketch, as people put forward their own most miserable memory or contender for NUFC’s all time low point.
By way of an explanation, I see Sunday as a massive crossroads. This week, reports have emerged that Steve Bruce has lost the dressing room, roughing up players who are gradually turning against him and his lack of ability to instruct them. This has culminated in the stroppy business of the Daily Mail’s Craig Hope being banned by Comrade Charnley for writing the story as the club insists it is a storm in a teacup, that Matt Ritchie has apologised for his role in antagonising Bruce and everyone is pointing in the same direction ahead of our date with Big Sam.
If this tale is true, then the negative press will surely galvanise the players for the weekend and they will rise to the occasion to deliver for the manager they’re firmly behind. Yes we have injuries but a front two of Gayle and Carroll/Joelinton with a pair of wingers in a four-man midfield would, in my opinion, still provide too much of an attacking threat for the leaky Baggies to deal with.
If, as I suspect, Craig Hope’s story contains a huge amount of truth, I can see a disjointed, disillusioned set of players going out half-cocked and underprepared, secretly hoping that another defeat might rid them of a man they all dislike. I also suspect that Joelinton will be stuck up front on his own while ten players sit back and look terrified of newly promoted, second-bottom Albion, wondering which one of them will get the blame when they concede one of the sixteen shots they have to face.
The result of this game could be massive. Win and we go six points clear of Fulham, who face Liverpool and Man City next. The gap to West Brom will become a chasm and it’s likely we’ll climb above at least one of Brighton and Burnley. With Villa next up looking vulnerable due to Grealish’s injury, survival hopes could receive a considerable boost ahead of the blessed relief of the international break.
However, if a standard Bruce performance sees a surrender at the Hawthorns, things could look very bleak indeed, as the constant dicing with falling below Fulham goes on until it actually becomes a reality. This will surely evidence beyond question that the players are not playing for Bruce, but the board refuse to take the obvious step. If they do act it will likely be too late as a sickening run of fixtures between April and May are far less likely to yield points than the ones Bruce will likely squander in the coming weeks.
You may question if this all even matters at the stuttering corpse of a club that is Sports Direct FC.
Whether you believe the PCP takeover is set to go through or are confident the opportunity has gone, there is (for the first time) evidence that Ashley is a willing seller. Relegation would see any buyer asking the reasonable question about a discount in price, which we all know the fat man would vault at, preferring to gamble on an immediate promotion that I don’t see as being likely this time, particularly if this failed Bruce experiment is persisted with. This will no doubt scupper any potential deal and opens up the nightmare scenario of the heavy hitters we have dreamed of turning their attention to Leeds or West Ham to become the richest club in the world. It would be nice to at least obliterate this possibility by scraping into 17th spot.
It may not be definitive, but this has been a huge week, and I see Sunday’s match as a microcosm of the challenge ahead, as well as telling the tale of where heads are at in the club.
If things don’t go according to plan, I fear Jamaal Lascelles may soon be borrowing from the Kevin Scott book of rallying calls in the face of doom.
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
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