Newcastle United Lockdown Diaries – Billy Miller
Welcome to our new(ish) 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 Billy Miller.
Age (could say specific age or in 30s, 40s, 50s etc)
Where you live
The year when you would say you first thought of yourself as a Newcastle fan, or realised it etc
1996. I can tell you the precise date, 30th of July 1996. The day that Alan Shearer signed for Newcastle.
Line of work you are in – Again, keep it as general as you like.
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)?
Massively. I was furloughed for two months which, although was gutting initially, ended up being two glorious months of sunshine which I lapped up in my garden. Then it was all about missed holidays. I had two holidays cancelled the week before I was due to jet off. I’m coming up to two years of being imprisoned on English soil but I’m hoping to break that run next month. I’ve probably jinxed it now. The bit that’s been the hardest is not seeing people. I work solely from home currently, having been entirely office based before and there are so many people I used to see daily that I have barely spoken to in the last year and a half.
How has the virus impacted on how you see Newcastle United now?
It hasn’t made a difference. I had started boycotting pre-virus and, if anything, the fact that I ‘enjoyed’ every game on TV last season and couldn’t attend games meant that became easier. With fans likely to be back in stadiums next season I am waiting on a takeover before I grace St James’ once more.
Is Newcastle United now all about whether or not a takeover happens?
If we are going to have any optimism about our team, that is dependent on the takeover. Mike Ashley has never been more disinterested in this club and that’s saying something.
It’s going to be another hard slog under Bruce and without Willock we will see what would have happened last season had he not been parachuted in during the January window.
If the Saudi takeover doesn’t happen, do you think Mike Ashley will then sell to another buyer?
After many years of not believing it, I do think Mike Ashley is a willing seller now. But he is most likely to still value Newcastle at the inflated pre-Covid Saudi price, which no one else will pay. If he does get a big chunk of Premier League compensation, he may revise this stance.
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?
Any takeover would be enough to see me return to games. The new owners don’t have to have the Saudi wealth but they must have ambition. It would be just our luck for Mike Ashley to sell to Mike Ashley mark 2 and for the whole cycle to begin again.
Do you think there has been a Premier League conspiracy to prevent an NUFC takeover happening?
There’s certainly been a lot of questionable events.
Richard Masters had allegedly told the buyers that no more evidence was needed. Then Gary Hoffman (Lee Charnley’s dad?) was hired and the whole thing ground to a halt. The former chief exec at Northern Rock and BFF of Richard Keys seemed to be the catalyst in the delay tactics that saw the subsequent withdrawal from PIF. We also have a published letter that BeIN Sports sent to all the Premier League clubs, lobbying them to protest the takeover. We’re yet to discover whether the clubs acted on this but obviously there have been rumours that several did.
A lot will come out in the CAT case hopefully. If the Big Six did influence the Premier League, it’s ironic that they then betrayed them with their ESL proposals. If I were the Premier League, I would be waving the deal through now as a big middle finger. Instead, they fined them fifty pence each and told them not to be so naughty in future.
If Mike Ashley doesn’t sell NUFC, what do you see ahead of us?
See last 14 years. Ongoing mediocrity and flirtation with relegation, possibly sealing it once more. When I say mediocrity, I don’t just mean on the pitch either. I mean in everything. In the facilities, the communications, the transfer conduct etc etc. It’s not even like we’re merely standing still. With the rate everyone else wants to develop and push on it means that we are going backwards.
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?
I would be surprised to see anywhere near a capacity crowd. Maybe the first home game due to how long it’s been since people have been able to attend. Considering Ashley had to give away 10,000 half season tickets pre-Covid I’d be surprised if crowds are much over 30,000 without similar intervention this season. Now is the easiest time to walk away. Anyone who had a routine that they didn’t want to break has had that choice taken from them for a prolonged period. Plus, the football is the worst I think I’ve ever witnessed as a Newcastle fan. If we have a bad summer of recruitment and a rocky start to the season then, even if crowds start high, they’ll plummet.
Will you be one of those inside St James Park?
It’s a big, fat no from me.
How do you feel about Steve Bruce and heading into a third season with him as head coach?
To sum up how I feel about him and I feel about a third season with him, in a word for each I would have to say, hatred and aghast.
For a man with so many public friends and alliances amongst pundits and journalists, I’m yet to identify any redeeming features in him. To say I hate him may seem strong but some of the things he’s come out and said about the fans have been unforgivable. He has spent two years solidifying the opinions of neutral fans and journalists about our ‘expectant’ fanbase. You’d anticipate it from a Souness who had no affinity to the club and was long ago sacked. But as an incumbent manager who declares himself to be a fan, I consider it unforgivable. A third season of shambolic football somehow being praised by nearly all the pundits around and these unbearable soundbites coming from the head coach. Dear me, what did we do in our past lives to deserve this?
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 watched every game I could but whether that helped or not was another matter. For the most part I sat with my arms crossed silently fuming, or audibly fuming if the missus was unfortunate enough to be around. There were some matches where I could have garnered more joy watching a slug race a snail in my back garden.
If you have kids, grandkids, how much interest do you see from them in Newcastle United these days?
I have three kids, the oldest is 8 and the youngest is 5 and they all say they support Newcastle but haven’t ever taken interest in more than a few minutes of a game. None of them seem too enthusiastic about football currently. Maybe that’s just the way of the world now as they’d rather be engrossed in their video games and tablets than ‘old fashioned’ entertainment like football. Or possibly it’s because all they’ve been exposed to are Newcastle games.
My favourite influence on them was about a year ago when we were playing a Yoshi game on their retro Nintendo console.
The first boss is this big blob that I dubbed Mike Ashley. They have no idea who the real Mike Ashley is and have taken to that and always call the blob by that name when we play that level which brings a smile to my face every time.
What three words would you to describe Newcastle United these days?
Shambolic, depressing, unique (not in a good way)
What three words would you use to describe living in these covid affected times?
Shambolic, depressing, unique… hang on a minute! The shambolic in this one refers to the government’s handling of the crisis.
In your lifetime, is there a golden period you look back on when you think football was much better?
I liked the mid to late nineties. The kits were great, and the league seemed to be a lot more competitive. VAR was nowhere near conception.
In Newcastle terms, I started supporting us just as the Keegan era was ending so the golden period for me was during the days of Sir Bobby Robson. I was at secondary school, so it was a massive plus being able to hold my head up high when saying that I was a Newcastle fan. It must be tricky for any school kids outside of Newcastle to do the same now. But then, how many kids outside of Newcastle would bother supporting us anyway?
Has this virus period diluted your interest in and support of Newcastle United?
My interest has heightened. During the furlough period I began watching podcasts on top of my regular Mag reading/contributions and I now follow the arbitration and CAT cases religiously. Being able to watch most games has meant that I know more about the team and individual player performances than I ever have before. My support on the other hand has been diluted further but that’s more due to Bruce and Ashley than the virus.
If you were king of football and could change whatever, what would you do?
Am I an omnipotent king? If so, I would weed out all of the racist and abusive trolls and have them tossed in prison and given lifetime bans from football stadiums around the world. I would put a price cap on tickets so that football is accessible to all. I would instigate a worldwide footballer’s tax, whereby for any player earning over a certain level I would take 10% of their salary and give it to charity and the emergency services (I’m omnipotent remember so I’ll be able to sniff out any clubs trying to get around this by substituting some salary for benefits in kind etc). If I wasn’t omnipotent then probably just the ticket price cap thing. Oh, and waving through the Newcastle takeover.
If you were king (owner) of Newcastle United what would you do?
I would rip Alan Shearer’s statue out of its current berth on council land and stick it right in front of the stadium where it belongs. I would make Kevin Keegan an ambassador for life and build him a statue to stick next to Shearer.
I would give Steve Bruce a chance… he’d get a two-minute head start before I set the dogs on him. He and Lee Charnley would be let go and replaced by people who know what they are doing and I would pump money into all the areas that need it.
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?
I’m sure they will eventually. The world has these lifechanging events from time to time. Bubonic Plague, Spanish Flu, both World Wars. I’m sure people living in those times felt like things would never be normal again, but they will be eventually.
What things, if any, still make you feel good about Newcastle United?
Hmm, let me get back to you.
Do you believe you will ever see Newcastle win a trophy in your lifetime?
I have to. We all have to. If you lose your dreams, what do you have left to live for? These dreams can be anything; aspirational, career driven, goal orientated or Newcastle winning trophies. I’m clinging onto all of those dreams.
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?
Eventually they will. The likes of Leeds, Man City and Southampton all had spells down there and are all back. I think it’ll be five years plus before they do though. I would like them back one day as there’s nothing like a derby. Currently, I’m like a dementor though and I’m feeding off of the joy that is being sucked from them.
A lot of competition but which three pundits, commentators, former managers/players do you especially dislike for their coverage of Newcastle United?
It’s funny how someone’s opinion on your favourite football club can influence your opinion of them. You might meet them randomly somewhere and have a chat and find that they are the friendliest, most accommodating and interesting person you’ve ever come across. However, if all you see of them is them sat in a studio, spouting inaccuracies and criticising the fanbase then it will mould your view. You could probably ask me this question every few months and get different answers but the number one has been there for quite some time now. His name is Rio and his brain is made of sand.
What an idiot Mr Ferdinand is. How he keeps getting gigs in punditry I’ll never know. He was one of the most talented centre backs of his generation but appears to be the least talented at anything else and yet he’s got a clothes brand (albeit a shabby one) and gets loads of punditry work including being one of the core BBC pundits throughout this summer’s European Championships.
Souness I’ve despised right back from his time in management. I wouldn’t say I despise him now, but it infuriates me how often he is the Newcastle representative during a live game. Whilst most teams have club legends sat there making informative comments, we have a geezer who managed us for eighteen months, tore apart a brilliant squad and got sacked. All this 15 years ago. I’d hardly say his finger is on the pulse of current Toon affairs.
Can I say Steve Bruce? He’s a former manager (current head coach) and his coverage of Newcastle is the worst of anyone’s.
There are a whole host of others of course who trot out tripe whenever asked about us. At any point, Michael Owen could sneak into that list. You have your Mills and your Murphy and of course the conjoined twits, Savage and Sutton. Keys and Gray will always have a special place in my hate.
One former player who I thought came across really well last season was Kieron Dyer. I can’t remember which game it was that he was a pundit for but he was spot on about a lot of things and very humble about his time in Toon. I remember he said something poignant about Sir Bobby. It was something along the lines of, yes, he fell out with him, but Bobby was like a father figure. When he fell out with him it was like falling out with your dad. Which we have all done from time to time.
When you look back to your early days of supporting NUFC, what would you say has changed now, if anything?
Everything. In my early days supporting Newcastle, we reached back-to-back FA Cup finals. The year after we got to the semis. My childish mind believed that this would happen every year. Under Bobby we had the launchpad to be a force for years to come but since him we’ve had a miserable old time of it. There have been a few rays of light in a bleak couple of decades but for the most part it’s been dreary. I’d like to think I still have most of my life ahead of me though so here’s to dreaming of a better future.
You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin
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