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Opinion

Newcastle United – We have lost touch of what supporting our team is

1 week ago
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The past decade supporting Newcastle United has been dominated by protest and of rage at whoever has held power at any given time for the most part.

It feels as if it is the norm at this football club to be bitter and to resent the management that try to run it, both on and off the pitch.

I can only remember Rafa Benitez’ time when that wasn’t the case. It coincided with huge and impressive decorative performances across the Gallowgate End and, later, the Leazes End. The team was not the strongest but we had a self-belief as supporters that we could, on our day, surprise people.

A 2-1 home win against Man City (their final defeat, and for what it’s worth, their final dropped points in the 2018/19 campaign) in January appeared a masterclass in tactical ability that rivals only the finest. From that moment on our season appeared to turn. Newcastle United turned away from the instability that rocked the slowest start in living memory – three points in 10 games – and as fans we began to sense a team starting to gel. The arrival of Miguel Almiron on 31 January 2019 vindicated that belief.

When the times were good, or at least in the Ashley era – comparatively good, the city felt more unified than ever and we could put aside poor results and weaker patches because we had that self-belief. As fans we had that self-belief that we could turn things around, and we had that self-belief that the management team were capable of motivating the team to achieve that, however long it took. They understood the area: Mikel Antia (assistant coach) had ‘Geordie words’ translated in the office so that he, and the other coaches, could understand the locals better.

It was a big thing for Benitez and his coaching staff to form that connection with supporters, because by opening up to the fans when results were exceptional, it offered solidity when times were rough. There was a warm affection for supporters that I feel still resonates to this day. When Rafa returns with Everton in the coming months I expect a lot of positive words regarding the supporters’ faith. The mutual respect for one another was shared in their mutual distrust of the ownership, a point many feel is key to point out.

For once Newcastle United had a backroom staff that understood the fans’ priorities and what they thought. It masked the glaring problems at boardroom level, that no manager will overcome while Mike Ashley remains owner.

The situation, barely two years later, seems polarising to me. Why didn’t Steve Bruce or his management team try to ‘buy into’ the fans in the same way Benitez’ men did, particularly when fans remained balanced regarding his position

In December 2019 Newcastle United beat Sheffield United and Southampton, in what I’d consider his peak. I thought it was the moment many started to consider ‘they got it wrong’ when they made assumptions when appointed, that have later proven more correct than ever. It might have offered him some protection when results turned sour such as in March 2020, but even if he came out and said the right things now, I think it’s too late for many fans.

Back to the demonstrations, the flag movements were promptly stopped when Benitez left the club and the appointment of Bruce brought that familiar desolation. Matchdays could be livened by a display of unity towards club icons or the team but all that was suspended when Ashley took one mistake too far. Not until he leaves will banners return and for that the match day experience suffers.

Would flags now make a difference? Showing some sense of belonging before the anguish that almost certainly follows, could do little wrong in my eyes. But it negates the principles set when Benitez left the club. Why fake a smile when underneath you’re suffering?

It raises the question whether the atmosphere leads to the team suffocating under pressure on the pitch. Of course, over lockdown we finished the 2020/21 season on 45 points which we’ve finished on, or below by one point, for four seasons now so perhaps that point is moot. Just a fleeting thought I had: if the fans’ raised spirits on the terraces could that translate into a warmer atmosphere to calm the mood, at least for short spells?

Social media doesn’t help either. In the era of instant messaging the club socials are used as venting tools, a void if you will, for screaming the latest Newcastle United failures at anybody who cares to read it. As there isn’t much positive press and the performances on the pitch certainly don’t justify a warmer outlook, the atmosphere is negative and rightfully so. Hashtags become echo chambers and that amplifies the discontent many feel on Tyneside.

It’s draining. And it won’t change until we win a game, not least before we put together a good run. The players care so foremost I wouldn’t want them to believe they are causing this disunity. It’s how they are arranged and how they are expected to play which, mainly, causes it. That is on Bruce and his coaching staff – Graeme Jones included, if it appears his role is less involved than we initially believed. His first interview said his job was to provide advice firstly, and it is up to Bruce whether he takes those “neutral opinions” on board.

It saddens me to see the club like this and without immediate action little will be done to reconnect the fans to its team. Ashley has checked out metaphorically and it’s too late I feel for Bruce to repair that disconnection himself.

Whether you protest, don’t protest, attend or not, I fear we’ve lost touch of what supporting our team is. Now more than ever we need cheering up and if the tactics on the field don’t do it then it’s on us as fans to make this enjoyable. I’m growing sick of the club breeding melancholy.

The Newcastle United players and the coaches have contracts; they will one day leave. Fans will never leave and, unless things change, we’re bound to desperation and bargaining indefinitely.

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