NUFC Daily

Toon’s season to get up and running!

Pre-season ends now...apparently!

Pre-season ends now…apparently!

What can we say that hasn’t already been said about our calamitous start to the season? Propping up the rest of the league Newcastle United finds itself in an unenviable position. With Macca all but conceding that the pre-season targets of a cup run and 8th place finish all but extinguished, sights are now set on maintaining our Premier League status – and that’s only after 8 games!

For what it’s worth, I think we will stay up this season, and that the long trail to survival begins in earnest this weekend with a much needed win against Norwich. 3 points against Alex Neil’s impressive newly promoted Norwich side would provide a welcome tonic for what has been a rubbish few months which have culminated in the crushing news that first choice keeper Krul will be sidelined until the end of the season. Whilst a win won’t suddenly get Krul back between the sticks, it would certainly create breathing room and provide a platform from which we can launch our revival.

With fellow strugglers Sunderland and West Brom facing off against each other tomorrow this would be an opportune time to take maximum points and heap the pressure on one (or both) of these two teams who will most likely be facing a relegation scrap themselves. If Sunderland were to take the full 3 points this weekend, not only does the pressure to beat Norwich mount, but so does the importance of the derby game next weekend increase (even more so!) –  effectively making it be a relegation 6 pointer.

Those that know me know that I am not one for optimism when it comes to Newcastle United. I generally think we will lose most games, and that our chances for any semblance of something resembling success are zero until we rid our club of Mike Ashley. However I genuinely do think we will win this weekend. There have been glimpses of positive play from our lads with Mitrovic, Perez, Mbemba and Mbabu particularly impressing against Chelsea, and the 1st half away to City. Furthermore, Norwich are fairly poor defensively meaning that the need to start with 2 up top, or at least both Mitrovic and Perez on the field, is paramount.

If, on the other hand, we fail to win (or worse) tomorrow, then the Sunderland game becomes a “must win”, and given our recent form against the Mackems, as well as the Sam Allardyce factor, I am not putting my money on it. A defeat against Norwich would be horrendous. Defeats against Norwich and Sunderland would be catastrophic.

Tomorrow’s game against Norwich has not quite reached “must win” level just yet. However, we must not lose this one!


How important are Newcastle’s next 3 games?

Looking worried and with good reason...

Looking worried and with good reason…

It is undoubtedly fair to say that Newcastle United’s start to the season has been nothing short of shambolic. Other than a reasonable home performance against Southampton, a good away point at Old Trafford and 70 minutes of good play against the champions, we have been dreadful. The 6-1 humping we took from Man City – made all the worse given how well we played in the first half – left us with 3 points from 8 games and languishing bottom of the league on goal difference. Our next three games see us entertain both Norwich and Stoke at home with the small matter of a Wear-Tyne derby sandwiched in the middle of those two fixtures. While it is far too early to be talking about “must win” games, if we were to fail to pick up a 3 point haul from any of the next 3 games, we could be in a precarious situation.

Norwich City have been playing some free-flowing attacking football under young manager Alex Neil and have already gained a number of early admirers. Despite being quite poor at the back, they do go on the attack and are good for a goal or two. As a newly promoted club, they are surely going to be fighting the drop this season themselves so beating them at home is obviously essential. The derby follows the weekend after, with Fat Sam seemingly determined to be roundly despised by Newcastle fans (after all, why else would he manage that lot?) This will provide an added incentive (in case losing the last 5 derbies wasn’t enough!) though we have typically done terribly against Sunderland managers who have recently taken over the Mackems so I wouldn’t be surprised if Sunderland made it 6 wins in a row. The following weekend then sees us take on Stoke City at home – Stoke have long since established themselves as a team now beyond our current level now being a top 10 side in recent seasons. Despite a sluggish start to the season themselves, they have signed a few good players – Xherdan Shaquiri namely – and Marco Arnautovic is looking a very good player in recent games.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think it’s essential that we take at least 4 points, hopefully 6, and ideally all 9 from our next 3 games to dispel early season relegation concerns and get our season up and running. Looking at other teams in the league, I do think there are at least 3 sides who are worse than us, despite the fact that we’re bottom – those being Sunderland, Aston Villa and West Brom (with Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich relatively untested in the league, being potentially in the fight later in the season) so I don’t actually think that we will be relegated this season .That being said, the longer we go without picking up some points and a winning mentality and momentum, the more anxiety is going to build on Tyneside.

If we were to lose 2, or god forbid all 3 games, then serious questions are going to have to be asked of Newcastle’s ability to stay in the league.

Turning a corner or a Champagne Supernova?

Perez's exquisite finish last weekend

Perez’s exquisite finish last weekend

As Newcastle United gear up for their away battle to Manchester City – a ground we typically struggle at – there has been plenty of talk about our performance at home to Chelsea last weekend and what exactly this means for us as our seasons progresses. Some have seen the improved performance as indication of how we have turned a corner; characterised by the excellent performances of Perez, Mitrovic and the Premier League debutant Kevin Mbabu. While there are others who think that this was a single performance against a weak and beatable Chelsea side and that it was disappointing that we couldn’t secure all 3 points despite being 2-0 up with 20 minutes to go.

Personally I can see both sides of the argument, but would remain firmly in the latter camp. While it was exciting to see good link up play between Perez and Mitrovic upfront together question marks still remain over Mitrovic’s attitude and discipline. Furthermore, if either or (god forbid) both got injured, then we’re left woefully short up front. Again, while it was brilliant to see Kevin Mbabu perform brilliantly in his debut – after all he had Champions League/La Liga/European Cup/World Cup winner Pedro in his back pocket! With players who can play like this, I think we need to ease them into the team slowly, learning from experienced senior players rather than throw them into the deep end. It has been too long since we have blooded a youngster into the first team, so I’d rather we give Mbabu space to learn his trade and come into the team slowly.

Outside of these positives some things need to be mentioned. In the past few seasons we have traditionally gotten good results against Chelsea at home. Last season we beat them 2-1, and the season before that we beat them 2-0. I don’t need to tell anyone that despite these good results, we went on to have less than stellar seasons, therefore a good result at home to Chelsea has not typically been something alien to us, or indicative of our ability to kick on and have a strong season. If one were being highly critical, one could say that last weekend’s result is actually worse than the results we’ve secured in previous seasons. Finally, I don’t care who you’re playing against, whether that’s Chelsea, or Bayern Munich or Barcelona – if you are 2 goals to the good with 20 minutes to go, you should be winning the game 9 times out of 10 (if not 10 times out of 10) Improved performance or not, it was a symptomatic failure to not secure 3 points.

Moving on from the Chelsea game people are wondering if we can put in a similar performance away from home against a Manchester City side, who after a rapid start to the season are showing signs of frailty in recent games. Following disappointing results in the league in recent weeks against Spurs and West Ham, it has been shown that this is a beatable Man City side. This is also a side who had a tough mid-week game against Borussia Monchengladbach where only a last minute penalty from Aguero secured the 3 points. They will be without their key man in the backline Vincent Kompany, and the pairing of Demichelis/Otamendi doesn’t look convincing, and the young Mangala is inexperienced at this level despite looking good in a few early games this season. Spurs hammering Man City last weekend exposed some key frailties in the current City side so they can be beaten if teams go out to have a go, but I will quickly say that I think we will be easily turned over by Manchester City.

This is not down to being overly negative, rather it is because I do not think that our improved performance against Chelsea means anything. We have been dreadful at the back but for our away performance against Manchester United. We are lacking the ability to take care of the ball in midfield and have struggled to get our flair players like Wijnaldum and Perez on the ball. A poor Chelsea side gifted us possession last weekend, but we will not be afforded the same luxury this weekend. City also have players on the bench whom they can call upon to change games and we simply do not have the strength in depth to cope with either their pace or power. The likes of Sterling, Silva and De Bruyne will have a field day with the ball at their feet, while their front men will no doubtedly afforded acres of space to play around us. We may have a chance if we can get the ball forward to Perez and Mitrovic to trouble this weakened City back line, but this will mean we need an epic shift from Mitrovic, Perez and Wijnaldum. The key will be to work, work, work to even have a chance. I’m not convinced we’ll do what we need to do to secure even a point here.

My predictions? An easy home win to get City’s season back on track and to derail the previous (false) optimism that many have attached to this “new and improved” Newcastle United side. 3-0 (at least)

Club overhaul or more of the same?

NUFC top brass

NUFC top brass

Well the dust has settled not only on the end of our Premier League season, but also on the melodrama which ensued following Mike Ashley’s interview in which he claimed we would be going gang busters to win something and that he would ‘continue’ investing in the club (!)

It was obvious that we were never going to win something with John Carver at the helm yet his name still hung about like a bad stench when discussions surrounding who the next head coach was going to be. Patrick Vieira’s name went as quickly as it came and when the club announced Carver and Stone had been released by the club (hopefully by telephone) it was clear that McClaren was the only man truly considered for the position – as he had been ever since Pardew left for pastures new “darn sarf”.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of Steve McClaren leading Newcastle either to a trophy, or to a Champion’s League finish (which constitutes winning something in Ashley’s book) is as laughable as it is ludicrous. Yes, McClaren has got title and trophy winning pedigree; he was Sir Alex Ferguson’s number 2 at Manchester United when they won numerous trophies, including the infamous treble. He also won the League Cup with the smoggies and won an Eredivisie with FC Twente. So we have got a head coach who has at least been somewhat familiar with winning silverware. However, he has also had atrocious spells at Nottingham Forest, Wolfsburg, not to mention failing to get Derby County promoted despite being in a commanding position with around 10 games to go. Also, it’d be remiss of me not to mention that he failed to secure qualification to Euro 2008 despite having one of the best England sides in recent years. His record may even itself out on balance if one were to be very generous to him.

In truth, it is entirely a waste of time discussing McClaren’s credentials. At best, he is a safe pair of hands, and at worst he’s another Alan Pardew – a mouthpiece for the most insidious regime we’ve encountered at NUFC in living memory. With the current crop of players, I would venture that Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancellotti, and Arsene Wenger would struggle to crack the top 8 and have a decent shout at the cups – which is what McClaren reckons we should be doing. With the exception of Ayoze Perez, Daryl Janmaat, Tim Krul and Papiss Cisse (on their day), we have a squad devoid of talent. Moussa Sissoko performs well (ish) against the big sides, but is frustratingly inconsistent and clearly wants away from the club. Siem de Jong and Cheick Tiote struggle for fitness, and Remy Cabella…is simply shit. I’d be wasting my breath on the likes of Dummett, Williamson, Colo, Anita, Riviere, Gouffran, Ameobi and Colback, the latter of which play with “Geordie Pride” but that is not enough if you’re looking to build a top side.

What I am trying to say is that we’re in desperate need of a clear out. We need to torch this squad and start again. Wholesale changes are necessary if we are to genuinely crack the top 8 which is occupied by the top four plus the likes of Liverpool, Southampton, Spurs and Swansea. These teams are currently out of our league. These teams invest significantly more in their managerial and playing staff and operate with significantly much more ambition than we do. While these clubs are managed by the likes of Pochettino, Rogers, Koeman and Monk, we’ve hired the “wally with the brolly”. Furthermore, you only need to take one look at our squad compared to these teams to realise how drastically short of quality we are by comparison.

This is even before we consider clubs like Everton, West Ham and even Stoke City, all of whom have better squads and arguably better managers than we do. Suddenly, top 10 is becoming like a distant pipe dream, never mind the top 8. That is, unless we spend significant sums of money this summer, not merely on quality, or quantity – but significant sums on both. By my reckoning we are 6/7 quality players short of a side that can realistically break the top 8, and a further 6/7 short of good solid squad players who can keep the first team players on their toes.

Does an outlay of £50+ million on over 10 players seem like the sort of business Mike Ashley would do? Forget what he said in his interview, base this answer on the facts you have seen before you. Will Mike Ashley spend £50 million in one transfer window on over 10 players? The answer is an emphatic “No!”

So, for argument’s sake, let us state that Mike Ashley knows he isn’t going to spend this sort of money on that many players. Let’s say he knows that it is relatively impossible for us to crack the top 8 without a serious stroke of good fortune. Let’s say that he knows Steve McClaren is not the kind of head coach who can deliver upon these promises. Why then does the club’s PR (led by the incomparable PR guru and Ashley bezzie mate, Keith Bishop) spin out that these are exactly the targets we are pushing for? Why did the club go into PR overdrive with Mike Ashley’s interview? Could it be that the club is simply trying to convey the impression that things are changing in order to appease the fans, once more, into buying season tickets? Could it be that by sacking Carver (a figure of ridicule for his short tenure as head coach) is merely an extension of that PR drive? Could it be that nothing, I repeat, nothing has changed at the club at that next season will be the same old s**t churned out in an ever so slightly different way?

It will be interesting to see what the circus that is NUFC produces next season. I will be looking at every development this summer with a healthy detachment from this once fine club. I will be firm in the belief that even a significant outlay will represent PR spinning, deception, and smoke and mirrors. All to obfuscate and bamboozle us into thinking we’re entering a bright new era.

The club is dead. Long live the club.

Can fan ownership be a reality?

There is a lot of negativity, passion and anger swirling around this week surrounding our possible exit from the Premier League and is there any wonder? In the 8 years we have had to endure Mike Ashley’s tenure – notwithstanding his many off-field fiascos – we’ve suffered one top 8 finish, a smattering of mid-table bore-fests and a couple of serious relegation scraps. That alone should make the purist want to see the back of Mike Ashley, because make no mistake folks, Ashley is to blame for everything that is happening on the field. He is the one who flogged M’biwa and Santon in January when we were desperately short of any cover. He was the one who loaned out the “Rangers 5” further depleting our threadbare squad. He was the one who refused to invest in a decent short-term or long-term managerial option when Pardew left. He was the one who has consistently flogged top players only to replace them inadequately, or in most cases, not at all. Everything that is happening on the field, right now, is down to Mike Ashley. Agreed? Good.

Mind you, Carver isn’t doing a bad job in trying to take some of the stick for his boss! He is woefully inadequate, but he shouldn’t ever be in that position. At better run clubs, someone like Carver wouldn’t be let within 100 miles of the top job, so my focus will not be on Carver.

Neither will I be focusing on this weekend’s game, or our possible relegation, because I largely think it doesn’t really matter. That might seem utterly absurd to some of you, if not most of you, but what matters more to me is the next step. What comes next regardless of whether we stay up or go down? Do we hope Ashley changes his ways? Do we pray for a Geordie billionaire to come save the day? Or a Russian oligarch or Arab Sheik?

None of those are likely, and in this era of the increasing sanitisation of football, I wouldn’t want to see it at my club. Mike Ashley is a cancer at our club, but he is also a symptom of the wider problem that pervades football in our country – multi-millionaires and billionaires buy our football clubs and run it as their own personal play things because they can. Some clubs like Man City or Chelsea get philanthropic owners who want success, glory, and the pursuit of sporting excellence. Some get misanthropic chancers out for a quick buck. The list of football clubs who have suffered at the hands of businessmen out for themselves is long – Cardiff, Blackburn, Portsmouth, Leeds, Hereford, and Newcastle United. The list goes on and on.

For me, there is only one option that is both sustainable, and worth pursuing, and that is fan ownership. There has been some discussion in certain spheres about fan ownership but it has never really been talked about in the main. It has been encouraging that in recent times we have seen the Labour party, as part of their election manifesto, make the fantastic pledge to enact legislation enabling football supporters the chance to buy up to 10% of their club the next time their club changes hands – too bad they won’t be able to enact it! This was probably a pre-election “open goal” (forgive the pun) and a token football policy to appeal to that arena without any serious willingness to legislate – as is too often the case. However, it was encouraging that this plastic promise was in the field of supporter stakehold. A step in the right direction.

Whilst many of us know (or should know) of the success that has been achieved in many countries through continental Europe under various models of fan ownership, the situation in our own nation’s game on the issue is considerably different. With fan ownership of football clubs in this country either coming from the ashes of financial ruin (Wrexham, Portsmouth and even Swansea) or by dissent (F.C United of Manchester and A.F.C Wimbledon) it is clear that there is currently no working model of how supporters can claim a stake in their club without going through a hell of a lot of heart ache to do so.

That is what makes the ambitious announcement from the Newcastle United Supporters Trust yesterday so interesting. Here is a snippet of what NUST had to say:

Why can’t we be the biggest truly community club, owned by and run by the people who care the most, you the fans? Sir John Hall isn’t everyone’s favourite ex-owner but he brought to the club a vision and ambition to awaken the Geordie nation. He wanted to create the concept of Sporting Club Newcastle, embracing basketball, ice hockey and rugby, with football at St. James’ as the jewel in the crown. Now it didn’t all work but didn’t we have a great time during the Hall/Keegan years and beyond. We had a vision and ambition, Alan Shearer and Sir Bobby came home and we challenged the top of the premiership, we tried to win cups and we didn’t accept that anybody was better than us. Where has that spirit gone?

The Supporters Trust wants to get as many fans as possible on board. We want to raise the funds to buy a share in the club. We want to work with the right kind of partners to make Newcastle United the best community club in the country;

  • ­ a club that will work with local football clubs and schools to develop local talent and keep that talent in the North East,
  • ­ a club that will work with supporters on fans issues like ticket prices, safe standing and subsidised away travel for example,
  • ­ a club that will work with our MPs, the city council and local businesses to play its part in regenerating our area rather than simply billboarding a national sports retailer,
  • ­ a club that says we can compete, we will compete, we don’t reward mediocrity, we strive for excellence and to be the best we can be in everything we do.

We know that at the moment we don’t have a willing seller, we don’t have the money or the expertise in place to buy a share in the club even if Mr. Ashley wanted to sell but we have a vision and we have ambition and we believe the fans of Newcastle United, whether you’re still going to games or not, have the power to bring about change.

Do you want to be part of it?

We know there will be pitfalls along the way. The naysayers will tell us it can’t be done. But if it works we’ll have a fan voice on the Board of Newcastle United, elected democratically by all of us working with new owners who have ambitions we can all buy into.

The Trust is currently taking advice about how to create the right structure to give fans the chance to raise the money needed. It will be done through a separate holding company, protected by legal articles, safeguarded by a special bank account and advised and assisted by specialists who will help us to do it properly.

There’s much to do and nobody thinks it’ll be easy. We’ll put more details out as soon as we can but right now we want to hear from everybody who wants to be part of this. Now is the time to buy into the idea, the concept, the vision that a club can truly be owned by people who care about the club and want the fans to play their part as true custodians of Newcastle United.

Later we want you to back that up with your money, real investment in an exciting project that will make a real difference. Money talks and without raising money we’ll never be able to influence what happens at the club. We won’t ask you to do that without having the information you need to make an informed decision. But now is the time to start the discussion, have the arguments, tell your mates about it and have your say. Tell us what you think.

It’s time to move on from the moaning and complaining about the current hierarchy and do something about it. So again…… you want to be part of it?

“Best community club in the country” – sounds impressive doesn’t it? They’re not aiming to pick up the pieces from financial ruin, nor are they speaking of creating an F.C United of Newcastle. They want to ambitiously try and raise the funds to have a stake in our club and make it accountable again to the people of the city, the region and the wider Newcastle United family – which is exactly the way it should be.

For full disclosure, I must state that I was a board member for NUST for 12 months, and I was impressed by the hard work, diligence and knowledge of the board members. These are good people with the good of the club at its core. This is a monumental undertaking, and by pinning their flag to the mast NUST must now deliver. They must capture the hearts and minds of the ordinary Newcastle United fan. They must try and take the negativity and despair that each and every Newcastle fan must surely be feeling and turn it into positivity and hope.

I will be giving NUST my backing in this campaign to strive for something better. Some people will criticise and say that it cannot be done. Maybe they are right. Maybe this particular mountain is too high a climb. But at least someone has shown a willingness to provide alternatives and step up and be counted. That at least deserves respect.

I don’t imagine this announcement will be heeded this week, of all weeks, given that we all have much more pressing concerns. As such, I do think NUST will need to keep banging at this particular drum over the coming weeks and months in order to spread the message far and wide. I wish them all the best, and would urge you to give them your backing…and if you can’t do that, at the very least, give them your money! 😉 [I should point out, that last bit was light hearted…]

Boycott or not? That is the question

Is now the time?

Is now the time?

There can be no two ways about it: Newcastle United are in dire straits. Despite being relatively safe from relegation by the turn of the New Year, we have gone on an unenviable run of picking up 0 points in our last 8 games  Even Pardew managed better than that and he was shite.

A few weeks ago, following on from yet another horrific derby defeat, many fans took it upon themselves to organise a boycott of the next home game which was against Spurs. Varying numbers were floated about but upwards of 10,000 people boycotted that game. It was magic. These protests spilled over into the next home game against Swansea, and then again away to Leicester, and while results have not picked up, some fans remain resilient in their view that protesting, and boycotting, are the right things to do.

However, some disagree.

Some would have you believe that it is the protests that are causing, or at least contributing, to the team’s terrible run of form. Some would have you believe that protesting against the pantomime villain that is Mike Ashley, will only serve to hasten our impending exit from the Premier League. These people plea on bended knee begging us to reconsider our protests for the sake of the team. But more importantly, for the sake of a Premier League status they value so much.

I have my own doubts as to the validity of these pleas. To those people I would say – stop blaming your fellow fan for our woes and start demanding more of the coaches, players, directors and, of course, the illustrious owner, who have put us in this position in the first place. Stop looking for the ready made scapegoat that was so often used as the reason for our relegation in 2008/09 (despite those protests being at the bloody start of the season!)

To those who are thinking of crossing the picket line again, I plead with you to hang tough. We are not to blame. None of this is our fault. Do not succumb to their scaremongering. They are only appealing to you because they know how much they have f**ked up. The problem is, they have f**ked up like this in the past, and they are going to f**k up like this again in the future unless we say enough is enough.

I urge you to boycott the West Bromwich Albion game. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then at least make your voice heard for 90 minutes. Not just on the 17th or the 34th. After all, if you can’t at the very least do that, what the hell are you going for in the first place?

I think protests and boycotts are the only way we can affect real change. What do you think?

The times they are a-changing

Time4Change March

Time4Change March

Who could have predicted this eh? Couple of decent results in the first half of the season, a January of no signings and squad depletion, resulting in capitulation in the second half of the season with a manager, ahem, head coach, telling us it’s all going great! The answer to that question is “everyone” of course. Even the most optimistic of fan wouldn’t have been expecting a FA Cup run, or for us to challenge the top 8. Even the most optimistic of fan knows that under Mike Ashley this club is standing still at best, and slowly retreating towards another bitter relegation at worst.

We have put up with 8 years of Mike Ashley’s tenure at Newcastle United. In that time we have experienced club legends (Keegan and Shearer) having their reputations tarnished, relegation, stadium name change, association with Wonga, the decimation of our playing squad, Dennis Wise, Joe Kinnear (twice), 4 years of Alan Pardew, 5 consecutive derby defeats and only 2 top 10 finishes. While some of our more cautious fans have taken this for “stability” I for one would label all of the above as nothing short of turmoil.

Following on from the aforementioned 5th consecutive defeat to our arch-rivals Sunderland, some fans have taken to say “enough is enough” by choosing to take part in an arranged boycott of the upcoming home game against Spurs on Sunday. To many Newcastle United fans, the very notion of boycotting a game, any game, is an insane suggestion. However, the fact that this boycott appears to have such widespread support sweeping the city and region is testament to the depth of despair and strength of feeling that is circulating in these days. The times they are a-changing.

As someone who was not fortunate enough to grow up in Newcastle, I did not have the privilege of going to the cathedral on the hill every weekend. I spent my youth wistfully dreaming of the day that I would get the chance to be part of the magic I grew up watching. Now that I live here, I cannot bring myself to put any more money into that man’s pocket. It has been an inherently personal sacrifice, but one I do not regret making for a second.

Mike Ashley’s list of sins are many. However, one sin that does not get much air time is the deep, and hurtful division that his tenure has caused among our once united fan base. There currently exists a “with us or against us” mentality from both sides of the divide. Those who believe they are right in staying away chastise match-goers as feeding the regime, while those who are still going to the matches claim that the stay-aways are disloyal. This divide and conquer technique has been employed by Ashley as a means of pitting fan against fan in order to distract from the main culprit and it needs to stop. We need to reclaim our unity because what else have we got?

There have been many discussions this week about whether fans should join the boycott or go to the game. I’m not going to sit on the fence and say “make up your own mind”. I am going to nail my colours to the mast and say that I urge each and every one of you to join the boycott on Sunday. Ask yourself, what have you got to lose? 90 minutes of another insipid display? Your own pride in having gone to every game this season? Or do you genuinely feel that there is nothing worth protesting? Perhaps you think that protesting will achieve nothing. Maybe it won’t force Mike Ashley’s hand but it will send a message though. What message will going to the game send? What message will Mike Ashley take from 52,000 showing up week-in, week-out despite everything he has done? Doing nothing will achieve nothing 100% of the time.

The question isn’t why should you join the boycott, the question is why the hell should you go to the match?

Loyalty is a 2 way street. We’ve all been loyal for these past 8 years, and that loyalty has been betrayed. That loyalty has been made a mockery of. What’s worse is that loyalty has been exploited for Mike Ashley’s financial gain. Those of us who have chosen to stay away don’t love the club any less than those who still go. Attend the protest on Sunday and you will see how much Newcastle United means to each and every boycotter there.

On Sunday, we have a golden opportunity. An opportunity to send Mike Ashley a message. An opportunity to send the world a message. An opportunity to heal a divided fan base. An opportunity to reclaim our battered dignity. An opportunity to say “enough is enough!”.

Please don’t let that opportunity pass you by. Support the boycott.

Tyneside Club has Wembley in its Sights…

It's changed a little since our last visit...

It’s changed a little since our last visit…

This season my commentary on the life and times of Newcastle United has been, for want of a better word, spotty. I’d like to give up credible excuses such as being a final year Law student is so demanding that my time for writing is nil, but that wouldn’t be true. The truth of the matter is this: I’ve lost my appetite for NUFC. The lifeless way in which the club has been run for the past 8 years was so wonderfully surmised by our grossly unqualified M.D Lee Charnley last month. I’m not going to add to Charnley’s comments, or even critique them other to say that the NUFC I loved growing up is dead. Our point at home to Stoke has all but ensured Premier League survival for another season and our exits from the cups means we’ve got bugger all to play for. While steady as she goes is the message from the club constantly treading water evokes no excitement from anyone save for the purists who, apparently, think we have plenty to play for and that each game is worth 3 points and we should get behind John Carver and the lads. To them I say only this – f**k off.

While it is safe to say that cup ambition is in short supply up in Barrack Road, a short metty journey to NE29 sees the cup buzz in full swing as North Shields took on Phoenix Sports in the FA Vase on Saturday. I was fortunate enough to sample the atmosphere of a small town buzzing with cup fever, proud of their lads who have gotten them this far and hopeful that they can go even further. As a Newcastle fan it’s been too long since I’ve felt like that, so it was a refreshing experience to say the least.

Admittedly, I am not from North Shields, however as I was cordially invited by a good friend of mine, born and raised in North Shields, I knew I would be made welcome, and what a welcome I got! After sharing a few Newcy Broons with my good friend as well as being accompanied by former Newcastle forward Paul Cannell, we made our way to the Spring Gardens where the atmosphere was electric. A few more sups and we made our way to the ground with a real sense of anticipation in the air – how a proper cup game should feel like I would imagine…

As we formed part of the 1000+ crowd who attended the game I must say I loved every minute of it. From the North Shield’s unofficial mascot – a fresh fish – being hoyed onto the pitch tied up with some catgut (all in the name of bribing the linesman for some favourable calls), to the less than gentle teasing being directed at the NUFC stewards who were present, decked out in Sports Direct clad orange jumpsuits no less. Chants of “you sold your soul to the devil” garnered some chuckles, but served as a stark reminder that there is no escaping Ashley’s grip on football in Newcastle.

As for the game itself? I won’t bore you with the details, other than to say that a more than capable North Shields side easily dispatched of the previously undefeated Phoenix Sports 4-1 without even having to break sweat. The soft southern lads were given a harsh lesson, and it was a joy to watch. Next up for North Shields is an away trip against the winners of Holbeach United and Erith & Belvedere with the winners of that match being 1 game away from Wembley. It is still too early to be talking of Wembley for the Robins, but those whispers are becoming murmurs and one more win will have them within touching distance. With North Shields thriving in the league, and only a few games from Wembley, it is nice to see at least one local team with some ambition.

I certainly cannot promise more articles on Newcastle United this season as it would involve actually watching them play, and at this rate I’d rather stick rusty pins into my eyeballs. However, as the general election looms large I may throw in the odd tid-bit about politics, and while not in keeping with this being a NUFC blog, I would kindly remind people that I really couldn’t give two f**ks.

Keep on keeping on!

What’s next for NUFC?

Will his departure change NUFC's fortunes?

Will his departure change NUFC’s fortunes?

After an extended break from updating this blog I thought the recent departure of Alan Pardew to be just cause to flex my writing fingers to give a brief update on my stance as to what this actually means for the future of Newcastle United. Not that anyone cares of course.

Let me start off by unequivocally stating that Alan Pardew’s departure will have no meaningful impact on the way Newcastle United play football, or the long-term direction the club is heading in. Anyone expecting Frank de Boer, Rafael Benitez or even Michael Laudrup to take on the top job in North East football will be bitterly disappointed when the new ‘head coach’ (Ashley is not giving the new man the top title by all accounts) comes into Toon. In different circumstances men like these, and hundreds of talented managers like them across the globe would have been delighted to take on a project such as Newcastle United, which then begs the question, why won’t they come? Anyone familiar with my line of thinking will know the answer to this – Mike Ashley. We’ll get to him in a minute.

Quite frankly I’m surprised that Pardew left the club because under Mike Ashley he had a job for life. He may not have been the flavour of the month in the fans’ eyes but he was working at the biggest club he’ll ever work for and had relative job security compared with Crystal Palace who go through more managers than I do hot dinners. My guess is that even Pardew had had enough of having his hands tied behind his back. He’d had enough of taking the flak for Mike Ashley’s constant failings at the club, and he’d probably had enough of the scripted s**t that he had to roll out every pre-match and post-match press conference about how “we was a fret” even after 90 minutes of never hitting the target. Don’t get me wrong I am not absolving Pardew of anything, this man robbed a living while he was manager of Newcastle United and will (rightly) go down as one of the worst managers we’ve had in living memory (yes, even worse than Sam Allardyce and Graeme Souness in my books) and not only that, but the very fact that he was complicit in Mike Ashley’s running of the club negates any possible sympathy that could otherwise be evoked for him. The man is charlatan, a snake oil salesman and he will be found out for the pathetic manager he is when he inevitably relegates Crystal Palace this season and I for one am delighted to see the back of him. However, nothing is going to change.

Alan Pardew’s departure from the club will not signal change for Newcastle United. You may think I am being negative with this prediction but I am afraid it will (most likely) be the case. Mike Ashley has had his fingers burned when it comes to managerial appointments in the past; he chose the popular options of Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer – these appointments did not work due to Ashley’s own failings but his own lack of control over these iconic figures played a part in that. He then chose a safe pair of hands in Chris Hughton, but the fact that Chris believed a lot in player power meant that Ashley couldn’t keep him in the job, especially when his cohorts i.e. Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique were calling for better bonuses it was clear that their respective times at the club were always going to be short-lived. Finally he appointed from within his own circle of trust in the ilk of Joe Kinnear (twice) and Alan Pardew. It is through this model that Ashley has had the most stability (despite Kinnear’s short reign as both manager and Director of Football) and don’t be surprised if it is through this model that Ashley appoints again. The list of friends Ashley has in the game is short, however, with only the like of Dennis Wise, Glenn Hoddle and Terry Venables of any real repute, and I’d doubt any NUFC fan would be happy with any of those appointments for a myriad of reasons.

So that leaves Ashley with another option – appoint from within the club. Save for the fact that Colo hasn’t got his coaching badges, I’d have bet my bottom dollar that he was going to be the next manager at Newcastle United. He successfully ostracised and seen off the likes of Yanga M’biwa and Hatem Ben Arfa, all the while protecting the manager and by extension, Mike Ashley. Considering that only 2 years ago he was looking a way out of the club himself, this indicates a marked turnaround and is a demonstration of how much individual power he now wields at the club. Forgetting the fact that he is now a shadow of his former self and would no longer be starting but for the fact that centre half is a position we are stricken in, Colocinni is a man to be wary of looking into Newcastle United’s near future.

The most likely candidate for the job comes down to a choice of 2; John Carver or Peter Beardsley. Carver and Beardsley represent men who were previously held in high esteem at the club, but through their association with the Ashley regime are now no more than bought and paid for stooges. If Ashley appoints either man as ‘head coach’ the majority of fans will be delighted that a “Geordie lad” has the top job, while some of us will see it for what it really is – a continuation of Alan Pardew’s sterling (!) work at NUFC. Mike Ashley wants minimal fuss and a smooth transition. He doesn’t want to indoctrinate a new man into how he does things, he wants someone who knows his model of running a football club already, which is why my money is on either of these two being the next manager.

These are worrying times for NUFC, especially considering that Ashley has been gazumped in a struggle for shares at the club formerly known as Rangers. To my fellow Newcastle United fans I say this, be careful what you wish for and beware the Ides of March.

Is NUFC ready for the new season?

Looks good in pre-season

Looks good in pre-season

With the Football League already up and running, and the Premier League curtain raiser at Wembley done and dusted, there is nothing left to do other than to get the Premier League season up and running. Following the horrendous capitulation Newcastle United fans had to endure in the second half of the season many fans could be forgiven for looking for another week or two of respite before having to be subjected to another, probably, disappointing campaign. However, it would appear that Newcastle fans are in fine fettle and looking forward to another season with optimism (or blind delusion, take your pick).

As the final whistle went on the final day of last season it was patently obvious that Mike Ashley had to dust off the cobwebs off his chequebook and sign a few players otherwise United would be in dire straits this season. Departures of key men Loic Remy, Mathieu Debuchy and Yohan Cabaye, as well as seeing regular squad players such as Shola Ameobi, Sylvain Marveaux and Luuk de Jong leave the club, we were depleted both in terms of quality and numbers.

The club did respond by making a number of signings – Siem de Jong, Remy Cabella and Daryl Janmaat being the most notable of these, and in total the club have made 9, yes 9, signings. I’ve heard many people praise the fact that we’ve signed 9 players (2 of whom have been sent straight back on loan to Nottingham Forest)  but while I can perhaps see why some people would think that 9 is a sizeable number of signings, I am not convinced. Considering how we had went 2 transfer windows without making a solitary permanent signing in a squad who had let key players leave, as well as the fact that our squad was already 4/5 players short of being competitive, I would say that the number of signings is about right. Arguably it is still a little short of what’s needed to really bring us up to spec. Call me cynical or negative if you will, but it’s how I see it.

There are those who are excited and delighted that the club have made so many signings, however if one were to boil it down to the figures you will see that in this transfer window, while we may have signed 9 players, we have only made a net spend of £5 million, which is not a considerable outlay when you consider that we are still crying out for a proper striker as well as a dominant centre half. Also, when you consider that Ashley has yet to dip into the bumper TV deal that we are now in receipt of, as well as the lucrative sponsorship deals, money made through merchandising and season ticket sales it is more than a little obvious that we have a lot more money available to spend, yet Mike Ashley will still not spend it.

This is not an attempt to spin a negative situation from a positive one, I am merely pointing out a fact. We have reached a point where Ashley has lowered the expectations of Newcastle United fans to such an extent that any semblance of transfer activity is seen as a positive move on his part. This is a common psychological affliction called ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ (if you don’t know what it is, I suggest you look it up) Yes, Mike Ashley could have decided not to spend a single penny, sit on the money made from flogging Debuchy and Cabaye, and just not re-invest any of that at all, right? Well technically he could have. But then again that would have almost definitely led to certain relegation, and considering how much it cost him last time round, I don’t think he wants a repeat performance, so giving him credit for making signings to prevent an inevitable relegation doesn’t quite ring true for me.

However, my main question wasn’t to analyse whether Mike Ashley has been ambitious or not as that’s not really a matter for debate (or at least it’s a separate matter. He’s not being ambitious, just in case you were wondering) but rather to discuss whether or not Newcastle United are ready for the season ahead. Before I attempt to get into that discussion and answer my own question, I suppose it boils down to what our targets for this season are. If Newcastle United are serious about really cracking the top 8 with a view to challenging for the European places then I am afraid the answer is that we’re so horrifically behind the rest of those teams who have those self same targets that we’d need at least 2/3 quality signings who can directly impact our first team before we’d even consider it – an established striker as well as a capable centre half is the least we would need. However, if our target is to maintain the status quo and finish within the top 10 again, I think we’ve probably got that well within our capabilities, in fact I even think that we will perhaps do even better than last season and finish 9th.

Before I begin to sound faintly positive, this is not progress. It is standing still. Even if we have a miraculous season and finish inside the top 6 Ashley will simply sit and watch the values of our star players rocket and cash in at a later date – just like he did the last time we managed to crack the top 6. Instead of kicking on and challenging to be better, we slam on the brakes as if we’re Icarus flying too close to the sun. Our raison d’etre is not to be competitive, but rather to make Mike Ashley money. We are not a proper sporting entity who want to challenge for cups, climb through the league and really excite our fans, and to think any otherwise is only opening yourself up for a world of hurt. Maybe we will burn our wings if we fly too high, but isn’t it better to try?

Like any Newcastle United fan, I will be willing us to do well this season. I really hope we play some good attacking football and our fans have something to cheer about. The problem is to what aim would all this be for? I wish I could blissfully and ignorantly take my support for Newcastle United as devoid of what has gone on before, but I can’t. The mistakes/deliberate contempt from Mike Ashley in the past has scarred me. Permanently. Until he has left our once fine club, those scars will never heal, nor can I look forward to Newcastle United embarking upon a new Premier League season.

Are we ready for the new season? Sadly, I’ll have to say ‘Howay the Lads’ but I don’t care if we are or not because I for one won’t be watching. That is the most sad part of Mike Ashley’s legacy of his time at Newcastle United.