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Newcastle United Lockdown Diaries – Jamie Smith

3 weeks ago
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Welcome to our brand new feature, the latest NUFC fan / writer with their Newcastle United Lockdown Diaries.

Here at The Mag we thought it would be good to have an in depth look at these strange times, as we hopefully start coming out of the worst of it now etc.

We are asking regular / irregular contributors to give readers an insight into their own personal experience and thoughts, both about Newcastle United and how the pandemic has affected them personally.

Asking fans to share whatever and how much they would like to, in terms of how the virus impact has made them see NUFC now and so on.

Next up for the Newcastle United Lockdown Diaries, we have NUFC fan Jamie Smith.

Just to give readers a loose idea of who each fan is and the perspective they are coming from, we asked some basic personal info:

Age (exact age or loosely(30s, 40s etc): 42

Where you currently live: Newcastle

The year when you would say you first thought of yourself as a Newcastle fan, or realised it etc: 

1985, when I was bought the kit and the sticker book. First game was ’88 (0-0 v Derby) and got a season ticket in 93

Line of work you are in: Finance, projects etc

Now for the questions (you don’t have to answer them all and say as much or as little as you like, just use them as basic guide to get over whatever you would like to say):

How has the virus impacted on you in your life (totally up to you how much or as little you want to say and how much detail, just to give readers an idea of what your position/situation has been)?

I feel quite lucky compared to some people as no one close to me has been affected by the virus and both me and my wife were able able to work from home from the start so never lost any money. I have my own business interests as well that weren’t affected so financially at least we were fine, even saving a load of money when not able to go anywhere/do much. Also got to spend quality time with my family with all being together at home so much, doing the simple things like going for walks and playing board games.

On the flip side, it’s obviously been a bad year in so many ways. My kids being unable to go to school saw them all affected in some way (and made working from home challenging!) and I lost my dad during the lockdown as well, which is heartbreaking enough in itself without the added complications the circumstances brought. There’s been times I’ve felt quite disconnected from reality and it still seems surreal that there are friends I haven’t seen in 18 months. I just hope next month brings the end to the worst of it and the focus can shift a bit from COVID to addressing the impacts on people and industry of closing the world down for a year.

How has the virus impacted on how you see Newcastle United now?

It hasn’t changed overall, the club is in a state of arrested development under Ashley so you’re never going to feel any better, but I think it’s hard to feel more disillusioned than I already was. At the height of lockdown I was actually grateful for the distraction provided by the matches at a time when little else was occurring. However, this turned to anger and frustration when Bruce served up that appalling run from December to March, meaning they actually made things even more miserable during the bleak midwinter and lockdown #3.

Is Newcastle United now all about whether or not a takeover happens?

Yes. I think if you really concentrate hard and block out all of the background noise, it’s possible to enjoy individual matches in isolation. Southampton at home and Leicester away would have been great games to be at last year, for example, but look beyond the game at the bigger picture and there’s no hope, no direction and a soundtrack of squabbling fans, sneering commentators and false hopes dying in the wind. Until this all ends it’s just a slightly undulating purgatory.

If the Saudi takeover doesn’t happen, do you think Mike Ashley will then sell to another buyer?

I actually do. One of the biggest positives of the whole PIF failed takeover for me was that it showed that Ashley is actually willing to sell the club. OK there’s a separate question about the reality of the pricing and is the desperate court battle because nobody else can / will pay the asking price, but you’re completely unable to digest reality if you think this sale attempt is all a facade.

Hopefully the exposure this has given it might even smoke another couple of interested parties out, but the main hope has to be that Staveley and the Reubens retain their interest. The Reubens have the wealth to purchase a far bigger stake than 10% and if they can get onboard additional investors should the PIF walk away forever, there could be possibilities in future.

Is the takeover for you all about having potentially massive Saudi funds financing NUFC, or would you be just as enthusiastic about a takeover if it was somebody with the typical wealth of a PL club owner?

Just as enthusiastic if we had a regular owner who ran the club properly and allowed it to fulfil its potential for growth. A proper board, a manager with a plan and everyone being happy to attend games and buy the merchandise etc sounds like the stuff of dreams.

Newcastle’s huge fan base means we are a regular draw for TV and the lack of a competing Premier League club in the area should draw large amounts of corporate. This should provide enough of a base to be more competitive than we are, without any money from sugar daddies. I may even prefer someone less wealthy but who doesn’t bring the political baggage or the potential for mad decisions the KSA will.

Mohammed Bin SalmanDo you think there has been a Premier League conspiracy to prevent an NUFC takeover happening?

Not entirely. The problem is that the Saudis don’t believe they have to answer to anyone, they do what they want. The piracy question is a valid one and I’m not sure it has been adequately answered. The issue of precision over ownership is more complicated as the buying side suggests it has been properly evidenced while the PL says otherwise, hence the court situation. However, I do think the Super League brigade has been influencing the Prem to some extent to make this as difficult as possible in fear of the competition. If this can be proven in court it would be huge in terms of repercussions for the league.

If Mike Ashley doesn’t sell NUFC, what do you see ahead of us?

It’s possible that next season may still play out to a background of this ongoing process. My hope for the arbitration is that either the takeover gets done (albeit extremely unlikely in a way it could influence the start of the season) or a line gets drawn under any hope of the PIF being involved and we can move on. We then likely need to suffer more horrendous Ashley years, living season to season in the hope of another buyer emerging.

Assuming full capacity is allowed at Premier League matches next season, what kind of crowds do you think Newcastle will get if Ashley still owns the club?

Hmmm. Before the lockdowns there were 10,000 people who had rapped in their season tickets. However, there would have been a further percentage of season ticket holders who had renewed while Rafa was still manager in the hope of something good happening in summer 2019. I’d expect some of them to join the boycott, then we have people who may have previously thought they couldn’t do without who have realised they don’t want to go back after the enforced break.

I honestly think the damage of that horrific mid-season run of Bruceball will persist for some time, as it will have made a few minds up. That’s before you even get into folk who may be uncomfortable in a crowd while coronavirus still has a presence.

The alternative thought is that after all this time being shut in, might people be mad keen to get back to the things they enjoyed in the past?

I think the fact the Sheffield United game struggled to shift the 10,000 tickets suggests it’s going to be the former. I think you will see 40kish for the early games, boosted by match day ticket sales for those who have missed the experience. Once that novelty has worn off, don’t be surprised if we’re under 30k.

Will you be one of those inside St James Park?

I feel completely detached from the club at the moment to be honest. I’ll take my little boy on occasion as I don’t want to deny him the experience because of my views, and regardless of the rubbish match it’s always a great day spent with him,

How do you feel about Steve Bruce and heading into a third season with him as head coach?

Meh. He showed how badly he can mismanage talent during the winter slump. If he leaves who in their right mind is going to work for this basket case of a club though? Possibility of Graeme Jones trying the manager’s job might appeal, but not all good coaches make good managers. There’s no point in Ashley’s Newcastle having a better manager.

What did you think of having every Premier League match on live TV during the virus period, did it help a little, a lot, not at all etc?

I loved it at first, it broke up the monotony of lockdown a treat. However, the poor form we ran into just made weekends worse, as the supposed distraction only served to create even worse moods.

If you have kids, grandkids, how much interest do you see from them in Newcastle United these days?

I have three small kids, one of whom is too young to care. My daughter doesn’t seem too interested despite being hauled along to a couple of matches. My oldest son though, is getting right into football. He plays every week at the local club, collects stickers and has a variety of shirts. Pre lockdown I took him to a few games (writing up his first match for The Mag) and he loved it. He had a knack for turning up for the better games but the full day out with him was always fantastic.

I think this is something that is often overlooked by the childless and less rounded, who can only see the Ashley cash cow being fed and struggle to emphasise with the role it plays in some people’s lives. Everyone who has an enthusiasm for the club started it because someone took the time out to instil that in them and kids don’t care about or understand the wider politics around the club.

I have to say, when I take my lad to football, there are a variety of Liverpool, Man City and general “other” club’s shirts compared to a couple of Newcastle (the club is in Newcastle). I often wonder how I’d feel if he came in and announced he was done with this shower and wanted to support some other team. On the one hand it would crush me, on the other I might think he’s better off out of all this.

What three words would you to describe Newcastle United these days?

Stuck in purgatory

What three words would you use to describe living in these covid affected times?

Needs to end

During the pandemic, we have seen the ‘big six’ try to take control of the Premier League in October 2020 with their ‘big picture’ plan, which would have meant with changed rules, the six could outvote the other 14 on any major decision. Then 6 months later in April 2021, we had the six of them again playing a key role in trying another power and money grab with the attempted Super League. What do you have to say about those attempts and do you think it is inevitable that they will be back to try again?

I want them to go, as long as they leave the English league. The Premier would be so much more appealing without state run fantasy football teams buying all the trophies while everyone else scrots about for twelfth place or whatever. Of course it’s inevitable that they’ll have another go but this time they’ll make it infallible.

On the one hand I feel sorry for the supporters of these clubs for being caught in all this as it’s driven by owner greed, but they get European trips and cup wins, while we get arbitration and Bruceball.

Steve BruceIn your lifetime, is there a golden period you look back on when you think football was much better?

I think the introduction of the Premier League was brilliant and continued like that for a good 15 years from 92 to the mid noughties. The downturn for me started when Abramovich bought Chelsea and silly money from foreign owners really took over.

Has this virus period diluted your interest in and support of Newcastle United?

Not really. I was disillusioned as it was. I suppose I’ve watched every game on TV which I otherwise wouldn’t have done, which could suggest a peak in interest, but it’s hard watching most of the time.

If you were king of football and could change whatever, what would you do?

Salary cap, force part fan ownership, proper FFP, sack Fusspot Mike Riley and use VAR properly,

If you were king (owner) of Newcastle United what would you do?

Employ a top investigator to comb through the books to find something to sue Mike Ashley for over his running of the club. Give the huge settlement sum to new director of football Kevin Keegan to recreate the past. Make Jonas chief scout in South America. Have the ground cleaned etc.

Do you think matchdays will ever be the same as pre-pandemic, the whole relaxed routine of fans eating and drinking wherever without restrictions and the same inside St James Park?

Yeah, it’ll get there. This might be a funny season ahead but from 22/23 it’ll be largely the same. People may be more conscious of social distancing, wear masks when not compulsory etc. but businesses have losses to recoup and they don’t get that back by rationing space.

What things, if any, still make you feel good about Newcastle United?

People may deny this, but I bet we all still get a buzz when there’s a great win, like the Southampton match. Like I said early, they’re single serving highs, not part of a solid campaign or building towards a greater plan, but they’re all we have.

Do you believe you will ever see Newcastle win a trophy in your lifetime?

Takeover dependent. My current bet would be on the Ashley ownership setting us too far back to ever get there. I give myself another 30-35 years of being able to really enjoy it if we did so there’s scope.

A fourth season in a row for Sunderland in the third tier, do you think they will get back to the Premier League and do you want them to?

Yes, some day. The immediate question is around their new owner and whether he’s the man to fund a quick return. If he revamps their squad and they romp out of league one, they’re on track. If he doesn’t seem so interested and it turns out to be a false dawn, I think they could be looking at a long time in the lower leagues. The club still has a top flight set up to fund from poor third tier income and if Dreyfus isn’t up for subsidising this there may be even more trouble ahead.

As it stands, I don’t want them back in the Prem. It’s far too much of a threat to NUFC to have an opponent in the division that is rubbish against pretty much everyone else but raises their game 300% against us. If our position was a bit more stable, derbies might be welcome again.

Trying to look at it objectively, I’d prefer bigger clubs to be in the top flight ahead of “efficiently run” clubs that hardly anyone supports. But every time they get beat, or fail to go up, I can’t help but enjoy it.

Chris Sutton Robbie SavageA lot of competition but which three pundits, commentators, former managers/players do you especially dislike for their coverage of Newcastle United?

Simon Jordan, an unqualified workie ticket just trying to say things to get attention for the awful radio station he turns up on. Reckons Newcastle aren’t a big club then devotes a half hour to us every week.

Then Savage and Sutton, who are clearly on the wind up with their pathetic defence of Bruce’s poor tactics and unwillingness to absorb the fact he’s had over £100 million to spend as opposed to Rafa’s annual profit making when trotting out that tired comparison.

When you look back to your early days of supporting NUFC, what would you say has changed now, if anything?

The disconnect between the club and its fans. It was bad in the 80s but not this bad and I was only a nipper then so didn’t fully get it. My memories of the Hall/Keegan era, when the club was synonymous with the city, couldn’t be further from the soulless existence of Sports Direct’s biggest advertising arm.

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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