Newcastle United FC

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!

End of season (almost) review

The boredom of mid-table obscurity

The boredom of mid-table obscurity

Well the season  is, thankfully, almost over. In years gone by, no matter how poorly we had performed, how disappointing our cup runs had been, or how pathetic our league finish was, I always mourned the passing of the Premier League season, and looked forward to the next one with gusto. I must admit that this is the 2nd year running that I am longing for the end of the season and willing the start of the next one to never come.

To some this will seem like an alien concept that is quite unfathomable, to others I will be putting words to how they already feel, but genuinely I am going to try to be as objective in my analysis of our season as I possibly can…who am I kidding? It was shite. Even the times when we weren’t quite as shite as we are now, we were still relatively shite. We relied heavily on 2 key players; Cabaye and Remy, neither of whom will be lining out in black and white next season, and without them, the true nature of how shite we are was exposed.

Amidst the plethora of pathetic performances we did manage to nab some excellent results and even some half-decent performances, so I will pay lip service to those now before launching back into my tirade – Liverpool at home, Chelsea at home, Spurs away, Manchester United away, Hull away (despite Nut-Gate) are all results worth mentioning. While we escaped from White Hart Lane following a miraculous Tim Krul master-class, and nicked 3 pts at Old Trafford in a season when even the likes of West Brom and Sunderland are winning there, the shine is taken off it somewhat. The reality is, we’ve had a mediocre season, and have been saved by the mediocrity of others coupled with performances from players who are either no longer here, or will no longer be here. Not exactly the stuff of dreams now is it?

There are some who will look at me and think I am on a different planet, “But we’re 9th in the league! How can that be a bad season?” To them I say it is not about where we have finished in the league, rather it is more about how we’ve finished there. At the start of this season, following our horror show last time out, would I have accepted 9th? I would have thought it an improvement yes. However, when one considers that at Christmas Newcastle United were sitting on 30 points – 6 points behind Liverpool, level with Spurs, 2 points ahead of Manchester United and a massive 20 points ahead of Sunderland – it becomes quite clear where the source of frustration comes from. An opportunity was missed in January to kick on and turn what has been a relatively bland season into a great season. The sale of Yohan Cabaye was an apt demonstration of what Mike Ashley intends to do with our club; secure safety before January, if that has been achieved then flog your best player and muddle on through to the end of the season. So yes, we are 9th in the league. So what? 9th isn’t a trophy. 9th hasn’t excited the fans. 9th couldn’t keep Yohan Cabaye from wanting more. What exactly is 9th? Nothing. Interesting to note, that with one game left we could still finish 10th. Top 10 means bugger all to me.

I’m not going to dissect the god awful run of form Newcastle United have been on since Boxing Day, we’ve all experienced it, and got riled up about it so I’m not going to raise it to the fore. Nor am I going to mention the blatant stupidity of Pardew for nutting David Meyler other than to say it is testament to the lack of class the man has as well as the unwillingness of Mike Ashley to part with his prized mouthpiece. The only thing I am going to say about the 2nd half of the season is this – expect more of the same next season. There are those praying that this awful run of form will see Ashley sack Pardew, or that when Remy leaves Ashley will splash the cash for next season. Think again. The squad we will start next season will no doubt be lesser in quality than the one we started this one with, with returning loanees paraded around “like new signings”, and with Shola inevitably getting a new contract to “lead with his experience” as he’s a real “goal-getter” (3 goals in 53 appearances since Dec 2012 would seem to question that logic…) and we will be told how we couldn’t get anyone over the blasted line, which is more like an insurmountable mountain to NUFC. We will also be told how we cannot financially compete with the likes of Southampton, and the goalposts on how many players we are after will change depending on the wind – Pardew says 3/4 this transfer window, Lee Charnley says 1/2 per calendar year – who do you believe? I am no soothsayer, or some form of mystic. Any NUFC fan who has a memory spanning longer than 12 months will know that we’ve heard this all before. The club doesn’t even put any effort into their lies any more because they know we will readily gobble it up without question..

Thankfully, at our last home game of the season, thousands of fans joined in with a walkout protest to show their disgust at the regime and show them that not everyone is willing to gobble up their lies. Thousands more applauded their efforts and stayed to provide a toxic atmosphere aimed at Ashley and Pardew. These people deserve our praise, but likewise so too, do those fans who have already voted with their feet and abstain completely. These fans, many of whom are former season ticket holders, and die-hard Mags, deserve to be commended. A special shout goes out to the fine folk at the Mike Ashley Out Campaign. They literally voted with their feet by putting on a protest march back in October, as well as providing a constant presence at home games all season (even in the pouring rain) and engaging in some self-deprecating humour with their “Magical Misery Tour” which saw an open-top bus parade for our fiscal security as a facetious look at how Ashley is running the club. They have taken a lot of flak from a lot of people all season, simply for doing what they think is right by our club.

The walkout seems to indicate that those who scorned protests in the past, are now slowly beginning to see the ever-growing need for change, and while walking out once may seem like a seismic shift, it is but a drop in the ocean and is one small step in a long journey that us NUFC fans need to travel together if we are to stand a chance of succeeding. But the message must always remain – we can succeed.

Even if you are of the persuasion that fan pressure can achieve nothing and that Ashley will not sell until he is fine and ready, you may be right, but isn’t it worth putting pressure on him? If that pressure makes him sell up a year, a month, a week or even a day before he otherwise would have done then surely that counts for something? A wise man once said that all it takes for evil to triumph is for a few good men to do nothing. Don’t do nothing. Not when our club is at stake.

This article is not really a season review. My articles have not really related to the football side of things, and I haven’t been able (or motivated) to write on a regular basis on the subject of NUFC. To me, this is my own personal reflection of how hollow and empty the football side of things makes me feel. I want to gorge myself on the subjects of transfer speculation, tactical permutations and specific performances but I won’t. Not while Ashley is in charge, because what stands as NUFC is not a football club – not my football club – but rather an empty shell masquerading as Newcastle United.

One day we will get it back.

Ashley the Cancer, Pardew the symptom

Accomplices in crimes against NUFC

Accomplices in crimes against NUFC

Following a run of form that has seen Newcastle United lose their last 6 games on the spin, as well as only picking up 12 points since Boxing Day, it would appear that chants and banners of “Pardew Out” are now all the rage. However, I am going to take a different spin on our recent abysmal run of form. I’ve never been in vogue, so why change now?

Alan Pardew is a disgrace to this football club, don’t get me wrong, but he is but symptom of a rampant tumour that ravages Newcastle United ever since it first reared its seemingly benign head above the parapet 7 long years ago. That cancer is, of course, Mike Ashley.

While I cannot disagree with the fans who like to voice their disaffection at the silver-haired lothario who tells more lies and reels off so much spin that it is a wonder he isn’t dizzy, but I cannot help but feel that the bigger picture is being missed entirely.

I don’t for one second feel that Pardew deserves any sympathy, after all, this is a man who has effectively called our working class fans and youngsters thick as pig s**t, as well as having blamed our recent slump in from on everything from the wind, to science, to the local press, to even having the gall to claim that recent fan unrest has been a factor in the shocking performances from our ‘team’.  This is a man who is wholly inadequate for this job, a job any manager in world football should be considered lucky to have, and the fact that he is the 2nd longest-serving manager in the Premier League, and our longest-serving manager since Sir Bobby Robson is NOT testament to how well he has done at our club, but rather an indicator of the mediocrity that Mike Ashley is willing to accept in order to make money.

By all means, vent your spleen, call for Pardew’s head, and who knows, Mike Ashley might even listen. He could grant your wish and appoint Michael Laudrup, or even woo Jose f***ing Mourinho to the club, but if you think that will make one little difference to the long-term future of Newcastle United, you are kidding yourself, and then some.

Mike Ashley had no qualms walking over the likes of Kevin Keegan, Alan Shearer and Chris Hughton – men who command respect in these parts.

Mike Ashley had no problem selling the name of our historic stadium to ‘showcase the earning potential’ to other sponsors.

Mike Ashley had no problem flogging Yohan Cabaye, our best player, mid-way through a season after we’d secured safety without ever bothering to replace him (not surprising, he still hasn’t replaced Demba Ba with a permanent signing by the way)

Mike Ashley had no problem appointing Joe Kinnear for a second stint at our club despite being yet another incompetent idiot not fit for the job.

Mike Ashley didn’t bat an eye lid when we went through not 1, but 2 transfer windows without making a single permanent signing!

These fans who are calling for ‘Pardew Out’ are gunning for the easy option. These fans want short-term gain at the expense of the long-term safety and security of our once great football club. I am glad they are raising their voices, but they are hurling their abuse in the wrong direction.

So, altogether now; “What do we want? ASHLEY OUT! When do we want it? NOW!”

Who is your ‘Player of the Season?’

NUST

NUST

As Newcastle United’s season comes crashing to a halt in a blaze of glory following quite possibly the worst second halves to a season from any recent Newcastle United team, the question that surely is on everyone’s lips is “Who has our best player been this season?” I am, of course, being facetious, as not many who pull on the famous black and white stripes of Newcastle United are worthy of the jersey.

However, this is one of many questions posed by the Newcastle United Supporter’s Trust in their end of season survey. Among others they ask you to comment on how happy you are with Alan Pardew as manager, with the ownership of the club and whether or not you as a fan would like to see some fan-based ownership model in the future.

In essence, it is a pretty good platform to air your views about all things NUFC at the moment and I know that a fair few of you will have some pretty strong opinions so don’t hold back. If you want to fill in the NUST end of season survey just click this link here

If that isn’t enough to let you blow off some steam, the Newcastle United Supporter’s Trust are also holding an open meeting on Thursday night to discuss the land-sale issue that threatens to lock the capacity of St James’ Park for the foreseeable future. If you want to have your say on what is a key issue for the future of Newcastle United, make sure you come along to the Mining Institute at 7.30 pm 1st May and make your voice heard!

Southampton horror show came as no surprise

Leave, both of you, for the love of God...

Leave, both of you, for the love of God…

I said we’d get a hiding and that is exactly what we got. From the first minute the result never seemed in doubt, and watching it I had a feeling of ‘how many goals are we going to conceded today’. The solid display of Rob Elliot was filling me with some hope that we could escape this game with a 2-0 and be able to scarper northwards with our tails between our legs, but not too badly beaten. Unfortunately, there was only so much Elliot could do, as he was dreadfully let down by the 10 players in front of him in what has to go down as our single worst performance of the season (and there have been some contenders this season) as we failed to threaten the Southampton goal in 90 minutes of football. If we were still playing we’d still not have gotten a shot on target.

Simply put, it was an embarrassment and everyone associated with Newcastle United should be ashamed of themselves.

Southampton are supposedly our nearest rivals in the Premier League, if that is the case what does that say about the utter chasm that currently exists between both football clubs? Not only is there a chasm in terms of quality on the field, but there is a chasm in the way both clubs do business. There is a chasm in the way both clubs develop their young players. There is a chasm in the trajectory of both clubs; one with an ever increasing upwards curve, one with a very predictable downwards one.

Some of the football on show yesterday, from Southampton at least, was mesmerising. It was quick, sharp, fluid. Look at some of the players they had on show – Luke Shaw, an 18-year-old academy product destroyed the ‘world class’ (note the sarcasm) Hatem Ben Arfa who had to be replaced at half time.  Shaw was not the only academy product, with impressive performances from the young full-back Chambers, midfield player Ward-Prowse and of course the ever improving Adam Lallana. Add to this the fact that Southampton’s academy has produced players like Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain and of course, Gareth Bale, it shows that with the right infrastructure, a club can build its future on the basis of their youth products. Something Newcastle United have failed miserably at.

Not only do Southampton develop their own talent, but they do clever business as well. The 11 Southampton players on show yesterday cost less than £20 million pounds, through youth development as well as clever business, with the likes of Boruc coming in on a free, and nominal fees paid for talented players like Jack Cork and Steven Davis. So not only are we being outdone by Southampton in trying to develop young players, but we are also streets behind them in terms of our dealings in the transfer market, despite the fact that there are still some people praising Ashley’s shrewd business in terms of transfers.

Look at the respective managers. While I’m not Pardew’s biggest fan, nor his staunchest critic, he is miles and miles behind Mauricio Pochettino in terms of quality. In every way possible, Pardew is the inferior manager.

If I had to guess where both clubs will be in relation to each other next season, I would say that Southampton, following another summer of investment and further development of their blossoming home-grown talent, I would expect them to further close the gap between themselves and the top 7 clubs. Whereas I expect Newcastle United, following a summer of flogging our best players and not replacing them with the requisite replacements, I see us closing the gap between ourselves and those languishing around the bottom of the table.

Football is both a beautifully complex, yet wonderfully simple game. In all aspects, other than increasing profit margins, we are getting it oh so woefully wrong.

Only one man is to blame. If you choose to blame individual player performances, or to slate the manager, you are missing the point. If you think it is futile to take action against Ashley, you are ensuring his stay at our club will be a lot longer than it would have been if you had have opened your mouth against him. Don’t sit on your tod and accept this bullshit.

I expected a hammering against Southampton. Since when is it acceptable for a Newcastle United fan to expect a hammering off Southampton!?!

Big club? No. A formerly big club which now has to re-evaluate everything it stood for. Because what it previously stood for – community values, pride in the region, passion, loyalty. All of these traits are being betrayed and replaced by profit margins and re-sale values.

This is not my club. This is not your club. I am scarcely even able to believe that it is a football club any more but a tacky advertising hoarding for the man who is destroying it. But by all means, keep filling his pockets. Keep buying his merchandise. Keep telling yourself that the next transfer window will be different. It won’t be different.

There will be some who tell you that 9th is a good season, and compared to where we will finish next season it probably is.

Wake me up when this season ends

The boredom of mid-table obscurity

The boredom of mid-table obscurity

After a brief hiatus of only a month or so, I have seen fit to exercise my writing fingers once more, if for nothing more than to vent the bile from my spleen and get rid of the bad ju-ju. Those of you of a happy disposition, content with where we are currently sitting in the league and waltzing blissfully towards the end of the season can stop reading now. I am going to do a brief re-cap of the last few weeks before assessing tonight’s game against Everton and it is not going to be pretty so you have been warned.

Well it seems only logical to pick up on the main news stories that have occurred regarding NUFC in my absence from the blog sphere, with the first obvious one being Alan Pardew’s nutting of David Meyler and his subsequent 7 game stadium/touch-line ban he has received for that. The issue has been done to death, and I for one am not going to delve into the ins and outs of the incident, or perpetuate the story of a biased southern media baying for blood when it comes to Newcastle United, but what I will say is that Alan Pardew has embarrassed the club with his antics, and not for the first time might I add. I appreciate that he does his job with his hands tied behind his back and is constantly the first port of call when it comes to answering for the sins of Ashley, but if he is looking for sympathy from the Geordie faithful and the wider Newcastle United support, he is going entirely the wrong way about it.

What I found to be the most grating about the incident was that it detracted from what was easily our most accomplished 90 minutes of football (save for the first 5 minutes of the second half) that we had seen from United all season. We were superb. Excellent in possession, dangerous in the final third and resilient at the back. A complete performance completely undermined by our complete radge of a manager. Disappointing, but now the equally hot-tempered John Carver is in charge of touch-line duties, and I for one hopes he doesn’t end up twatting someone before Pardew gets back – it will count as a success if he doesn’t.

The second main news story that has broken in my absence is one that I think has not got nearly enough air time or publicity and that is the scandalous revelation that Mike Ashley is currently in the middle of trying to sell the benefit of the lease held by NUFC for a plot of land by Strawberry Place.

The significance of this potential sale of the lease is that it ensures that St James’ Park will never, ever be expanded beyond its current capacity of just over 52,000, the reason being that the only place where significant expansion could take place is on the Gallowgate, and in order to do that the stadium would need to be expanded outwards towards the road and possibly occupying the plot of land that is currently for sale. If that sale goes through, and the lease goes into private hands, NUFC will have no control over what is built on that land, thus putting paid to any plans for future development.

The financial benefits that will come from the sale of this land are minimal and will certainly not be invested back into the club – even it was, the income is so minimal it would only likely buy us a squad player at best. There seems to be no logic behind why Mike Ashley feels the need to sell this plot of land. The benefits to him are so minimal, yet the damage it does to the long-term future development of St James’ Park is critical. One could see it simply as asset stripping at best, or vindictive contempt being shown to both the club and its fans at its worst. Either way, this ground-sale should not be seen as a positive step by the club and steps should be taken to fight the club on this every step of the way.

Now that I have gotten that out-of-the-way, I will now get back to what all this should really be about – football. Once more, I am not going to be positive, so you’ve been warned again if you’ve made it this far.

Recent results have been a mixed bag. While we’ve beaten the likes of Aston Villa, Hull and Crystal Palace recently one could say that we were extremely fortunate in getting last-minute winners against both Villa and Palace at home. Add to that the humiliating 4-0 home defeat to Spurs and the insipid away display against practically relegated Fulham means that on the pitch, we’ve been pretty s**t recently with absolutely no dawn on the horizon – in fact things have gotten worse with recent injuries to both Mathieu Debuchy and Loic Remy.

Our victory against Palace last weekend masked fundamental flaws in our game, and shows how toothless we are in the final third. Also, our inability to keep possession in midfield in the absence of a Cabaye-type player is something that must urgently be addressed in the summer.

So what does all this mean heading into tonight’s match-up against Everton? Well I for one have always found Everton to be an interesting case study with which to do a comparison on. Both similarly sized clubs – arguably NUFC is bigger than Everton in terms of wider support and infrastructure yet they have consistently finished higher than us in the league in recent years and are certain to do so again this season. They have an ownership model that is prudent yet ambitious – tying up Baines to a new 4 year contract while Ashley flogged Cabaye for under/around his market value to a mega-rich club halfway through the season should amply demonstrate the mindset of both clubs. That is not to say they are unwilling to sell some top players, but that money is usually re-invested in its entirety with no word of agents fees, wages, inflation etc. unlike a certain North East club who will do everything and anything to hoodwink, deceive and outright lie if it means avoiding spending money.

Anyway, I’ve digressed – focus on the football – from a footballing perspective, Everton have performed very well this season under Martinez. Save for big defeats to Liverpool in the league and Arsenal in the FA Cup, they have had some very good results since the turn of the year; winning 6, drawing 1 and losing only to Spurs and Chelsea in that time.

With exciting young players like Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman stepping into their own this season, coupled with the talents of players like Mirallas, Baines and the dominant Lukaku, they look a match for most team in the league. However, I am a Newcastle United fan, and while I can admire (even envy) their set-up I would have always backed us to do well at home against them – as we usually do. However, I do not think we will come out of this game with a solitary point. We lack any cutting edge up front, and when faced with the experience of Jagielka and Distin, I do not think de Jong or Cisse will cause them any trouble as pace is what troubles these 2 defenders, yet neither of our front-men are blessed with it.

In midfield, I think Tiote will be more than a match for Barkley, who is still wet behind the ears in some sense, but Tiote will need to be on his game. Anita will need to be ever-present and show he is capable of holding on to the ball. While Sissoko and Gouffran will need to be at their best if they are to not only cause Baines and Coleman trouble, but to also contain these 2 attacking full-backs from marauding past them and putting our back 4 under pressure.

Without Santon at left-back we have looked more solid. While Dummett needs to work on being a consistent attacking threat from that position, he is a much welcomed change in a defensive side to the utterly abysmal Santon. However, missing Debuchy’s attacking outlet and composed defensive work will be a problem as M’biwa does not look overly comfortable there.

Williamson was the only man capable of handling Lukaku in the previous fixture when we were spanked 3-0 at Goodison, unfortunately it took until half-time to get him on the field to do the job. He will have a full 90 mins and I will back him in an aerial duel against the powerful Belgian. In fact, it is the centre-half pairing of Colo and Williamson where I have the most faith, but there is only so much they can do.

Unfortunately, I cannot see us scoring, nor do I see us preventing Everton from scoring, and unless Everton are off their game, or we are really on it, I cannot see anything other than a 2-0 defeat.

A parting word before I go. It is good to be back writing again as I have personally missed it despite there being nothing to write home about on the pitch. I see our last few games as utterly pointless and I am willing this season to be over – which is a depressing mode to be in as a football fan. I can only hope for a little bit of entertainment between now and the end of the season, but I won’t take much joy, or indeed misery, from our remaining results. While the off-field antics of our owner and the touch-line madness of our manager dominate the headlines, it is hard to think of this club as anything other than a maddening circus rolling from one disaster to the next.

Unfortunately, I think the next disaster is only a few short months away when the transfer window both opens and shuts but that is another article for another day. Stay tuned for more depressing drivel between now and the end of the season!

 

Newcastle’s small squad filled with rubbish

1 rubbish player offloaded. Who's next?

1 rubbish player offloaded. Who’s next?

Newcastle United have a small squad. So any talk of selling any of our players must seem odd. However, there exists, in the Newcastle squad, a class of players who are either so far from the first team, or should be so far from the first team, that their presence in our 25 man squad is an absolute embarrassment which makes a cull of the Newcastle United first team squad necessary at some point in the near future.

The first part of that cull was put in operation with the decision to offload Jonas Gutierrez to Norwich City on loan with the option for them to buy him for £3 million in the summer. Despite loyally serving the club since 2008 I would have to say that he is a terrible player and should have been ditched quite some time ago.

Some might think this harsh but I would hold similar feelings for players like Steven Taylor, Gabriel Obertan, Romain Amalfitano, Sylvain Marveaux, Shola Ameobi, Papiss Cisse, Robbie Elliott etc. So there is a sizeable portion of our squad whom I don’t think will make the grade at our club.

However, we are in somewhat of a quandary as there is a fear that if we were to sell these players, Mike Ashley would not adequately replace them, and this is a concern that I myself would share, which is why I wish to retain these players in order to make up the numbers. While Mike Ashley is in charge we will always have a squad that makes up the numbers, rather than be competitive which is why most Newcastle United fans are reluctant to see any players leave.

This should not be the case. If a player is not good enough to play for the club they should not be here. They should be sold and then replaced with someone of a higher standard. Simple. I’ve heard some people make ludicrous suggestions that Mike Ashley’s transfer policy is much better than Shepherd’s – we don’t buy expensive players at crazy wages I will grant you that but we still make terrible signings even with the expert guidance of chief scout Graham Carr and what is worse, we refuse to sell them on even when they are proven to nothing but duffers.

Newcastle United’s squad could be faced with a crisis in the summer. Players like Cabaye and Colocinni – our actually decent players – are more than likely going to be on the move in the summer, Shola’s contract is expiring and Loic Remy will be moving on to pastures new after his lease is up. Our pathetically small squad will be even smaller, and still lumbered with the same tripe that currently masquerades as first team players.

Our squad is short of 3/4 quality players as it stands. With the fact that we are going to lose at least 3 players from that squad in the summer it would appear that we would then need 7 first team signings in order to bring it up to scratch and that is without replacing any of the rubbish in our squad. If we were then to sell someone like Marveaux or Cisse, they would then also need to be replaced, meaning that an extraordinary amount of signings would need to be made. It would make sense if 1 or 2 of those signings were made during the January window in preparation for this exodus that we will be faced with but given that we are half way through the January window I am beginning to think that, once more, Ashley is hanging our squad out to dry.

We are regressing under Mike Ashley. We have a poor squad, an average manager and the teams that we should be competing with – Livepool, Spurs, Everton – will be moving forward leaving us in their dust. Unless we begin to operate ambitiously in the transfer market we will always be among the “best of the rest” in mid-table. If you’re happy having a paper thin squad, your season finished in January, no cup run, and no chance of Europe, then perhaps you should give Mike Ashley a call. There may be a PR job waiting for you…

Latest survey is not good reading for Ashley

Quickly losing support

Quickly losing support

The Chronicle has, once more, taken its Big Toon survey halfway through the season to gauge the feelings of its readers on how Newcastle United’s season has been going thus far and how the fans feel about the likes of Pardew, Kinnear and Ashley.

While these results are not a conclusive representation of the feelings of Newcastle United fans, it can be taken as a cross-section of the Newcastle United support and it must be said that the last 6 months have not been kind to Mr Ashley, as the results show.

The last Big Toon Survey was taken at the end of the 2012/13 season, with a surprising amount of Newcastle fans putting their faith in the current custodian of the club. 23.6% of the fans were content, and massive 38.3% were content but waiting for results to improve. While a surprising 29.1% are content with Ashley, only 16% are content but waiting for results to improve.

In the last survey, 6.9% of fans said they were very happy with Ashley and that figure has dipped to 4.2%.

It is in the negative category where results have taken a massive swing however. In the last survey, 20.5% said they were unhappy with Ashley while only 10.7% said it was Time for Change. This time around those figures are much higher with 25.5% unhappy with Ashley’s stewardship and 25.1% now thinking that it is Time for Change.

As I said, many will doubt the validity of these results – probably because they did not bother to fill in the survey themselves – and I agree that they do not reflect the views of every single Newcastle United supporter, but they are meant to act as a representation of a cross-section of the support. With that in mind it would appear that many Newcastle United fans are opening their eyes to Mike Ashley and getting seriously fed up.

It is also worth noting that the survey was conducted before we crashed out of the FA Cup, thus ending our season in January, and if we see another window close without investment, it is beyond the realms to think that many more would become disillusioned with Ashley if that were the case.

Personally I dislike Ashley, I disagree with his method of running the football club. I disagree with the way he treats loyal fans with contempt. I disagree with the ‘Money is my God’ approach he takes to our football club. I disagree with his ‘minimum input, maximum output’ manner of managing the depth of our squad. I disagree with the sheer lack of honest communication that comes from the club. I can safely say that I probably disagree with nearly every aspect of Mike Ashley’s existence in a Newcastle United context.

I look forward to the next Big Toon Survey at the end of the season – which could effectively be taken now because we have little or nothing to play for now given that we have secured our Premier League survival. Ah, the joys of supporting Newcastle United…

The Ragged Tracksuited Philanthropists (Part 1: Winter 2013)

Here is a special treat for my readers. A good friend of mine, Bob Tressell, asked me to plug an article that he wrote a while back – pre Xmas – and personally I think it is an excellent depiction of the state of the club right now. This is part 1 of what will hopefully be a serial of articles which I will be delighted to publish for Bob. Enjoy. 

On Black Friday, my local Asda was turned into a neanderthal scrum of warped fat middle aged Retail Darwinists fighting over discounted televisions. Such wild and rampant commercialism was depressing and distasteful to such a sensitive soul as myself.

My faith in humanity however, was somewhat restored the next day when in the wake of the Glasgow helicopter tragedy I saw a community – so often divided – unite and show the spirit which reveals the inherent goodness we all possess as human beings inhabiting this tiny revolving marble in space.

Then Saturday came. Newcastle United dispatched West Brom to make it 4 (FOUR) wins in a row. Amazing. Who could have foreseen this run after the insipid display on Wearyside? The glow of light from these results warmed all of my NUFC cockles but has this upturn really changed the overall picture?

Certainly we are looking at a higher finish with the points already accumulated ahead of our traditional festive slump. Even the biggest doom monger may consider cutting down on his prozac intake if they were preparing for a repeat of last year’s brush with relegation.

However, at the risk of raining on your parade here, this may indeed be the pinnacle of our season. We have reached that strange twilight zone whereby we are actually ‘over achieving’ in our official stated ambition for this season and the transfer window is suddenly looming large in our thoughts. As fans, this  should have us gushing in excited expectation with talk of potential signings to ‘kick on’. The fact it does not and most of the pub talk I have been party to has been full of fear, is a sad reflection on how transfer window business has been conducted since Ashley took control. Proactive recruitment from a position of strength is not what we are used to.

Moreover, our manager, looking worryingly smug in his post match WBA comments, insisted we have a strong squad and yet again managed to mention how draining Euro football was for us last season. Fans’ enthusiasm for our lofty position and a  Euro push has somehow become a cue for our patsy manager to snigger up his sleeve at such naivety – the team’s display at Swansea the following Wednesday and the appearance of Gabriel Obertan promptly put us plebs in our place and quite possibly made Mike breath a sigh of relief. I don’t think this is unfettered cynicism on my part, just experience and analytical observation.

I can’t bring myself to accept that Pardew is using clever motivational technique to get Big Mike to spend. It’s likely that whoever writes JFK’s programme notes will be drafting the next installment of how we are terminally the ‘underdog’ fighting to dine at the top table without the financial clout of the big boys. To fans, Europe is an achievable ambition, but to the bigwigs it is spun to be an ogre to fear. Who knows, maybe this is part of a new commercial approach to attract ever more controversial sponsors in our very achievable aim of mid table mediocrity? The irony of having a predominantly French speaking team wearing a UKIP or BNP sponsored shirt is the kind of perverse thing that may appeal to our resident Bond villain!

The last issue of TF dealt mainly with an economic analysis of how the club’s commercial potential is being wasted – who would have thought that accountants could be so interesting? More questions arose than answers but it should focus every discerning fan’s mind not only on where the generated money goes but also the motivation of our owner. A business which is contracting instead of expanding is a big worry. The questions recently handed into the club by the Time4Change pressure group also touched on the subject of how the NUFC brand can grow when the potential for growth seems to be being deliberately restricted.

It’s a fact that the gargantuan TV deals of Sky have ensured that traditional matchday revenues – via ticket sales and hospitality takings etc – have for ALL  top level clubs become less significant. Football directors insist fans are just a composite part of a balance sheet.This has universally been used against the average Premier League fan to strip them of any sense of importance or dignity.

Of course, dignity and its partners – pride and identity – are all things that we as NUFC fans are more than used to getting challenged by Mr Ashley. The huge shrinkage of matchday and commercial revenue since 2007 exposes the paradox in this regime’s repeated bleating about not being able to compete with other teams.

Our manager stated last summer that we couldn’t compete financially with Southampton in the transfer market. If you have an average gate of 25-30k and were in the third tier within the last 6 years, I could understand caution and dampening of expectation but it’s not what I hear from Southampton or our recent Welsh conquerors and current League Cup holders. Pardew’s outrageous statement should have brought public hanging back to Gallowgate yet his comments were received by the downtrodden masses with nothing more than a grimace as the latest season ticket direct debit ate into their bank balance. It should have prompted everyone to question why Newcastle are in this predicament.

Certainly, Mark (The Mag) Jensen’s  curiosity was piqued and his comparison with Spurs’ financial performance (a much fairer gauge than Southampton, given the relative size and status of our respective clubs) was a revealing expose. While Spurs’ off field performance has improved significantly in the last few years, so has their on field performances. It is the exact opposite of what has happened at NE1.

The crux of the matter is that matchday and commercial revenue  ARE crucial if we are ever to realise NUFC’s full potential. Success breeds success. The comparative figures of Spurs and NUFC in this sector prove it.  No matter what JFK’s ghost writer may assert, we CAN compete on and off the field with the Spurs of this world.

If the regime truly wanted to boost revenue streams then maybe talking up a tilt at Europe would help? Maybe recruiting an able team of people to tap into corporate sponsorship and advertising would be useful (there’s only so much Bob Moncur can achieve by popping into my cousin’s factory for a cuppa and asking him to renew his season ticket). Also insisting on getting a going rate for advertising hoardings which now go free to SD would be nice. They could also thank Sodexo for their overpriced pint and pie franchise and take over the operation themselves so that money spent by the calorie loving Geordie public goes back into the club for reinvestment.

Instead of SD controlling nufcdirect.com and more than likely taking a cut from merchandise sales, fan confidence could be restored by a commitment to ploughing that money into a transfer kitty. Maybe Sports Direct News, in an attempt to stop increasing cynicism, could refrain from running constant transfer stories linking our players with moves away?

Of course many of us – me included – have had their fill of buying into this regime. But a significant number – enough for this intolerable inertia to continue – still can’t help themselves when it comes to buying into our hijacked brand, whether that’s via replica shirt sales or multi year ticket deals. I did not castigate anyone who attended the T4C march if they wore a Wonga shirt (at least they did something) but it requires a bit more thought if they really want change.

It’s ironic when I think of my past spending habits. Pre-Ash, however naive it may seem now with hindsight, in the run up to Christmas I used to think nothing of flagrantly spending my cash in the club shop on presents for the family. Then I would quite happily release a turkey fart on Boxing Day and bask in the sweet smell of success; feeling sure that my hard earned cash would eventually filter through into helping the club fulfill it’s potential. Of course, it may well have went towards an extra drink in a Spanish bordello to achieve the ‘full potential’ of one of our overpaid directors of the past, but life is all about perception.

The perception now is that the club don’t even feel the need to create the illusion of ambition. Officials have dumbed down things so much and created a myth whereby fans are sold the notion that there is clear a choice between cheap tickets and competitiveness.

This is of course a complete falsehood, but is a natural enough result after six years of abuse, erosion of trust and the emergence of a club PR campaign. Under this assault, many fans have been turned into hysterical fannies -whereby each game exists in its own vacuum. Debate about policy should exist within a wider framework than just the latest result.

The regime can’t do an about turn and ask everyone to participate in building a truly successful club because their lack of understanding on how to properly engage the people of  this fair city is now evident in abundance. They neither aspire to silverware or Europe. We exist in a kind of limbo; “Walking in a Pardew Hinterland” should be our seasonal song. I suggest you keep as much of your money as possible until such times as we have the right conditions to grow under a different regime.

But make no mistake, they crave your money and attendance. The flow legitimises the whole sordid process. If this is not so, why did Derek Llambias go nose to nose with a fan at a meeting in the dark days of 2009 and tell him to “call off your f**cking boycott” (I hasten to add no such boycott was threatened).

They fear fan power and our lot is an existential conundrum which will remain long enough so that I can explore these themes further in the future. Having mentioned philosophy, I can only hope that if we fail to capture any more Gallic players in January, you at least explore the work of such French artisans as Sartre, de Beauvoir and Descartes and apply their wisdom to your NUFC lives: “I think therefore I am…anti regime”

Happy New Year!

Will lack of depth be Newcastle’s undoing?

Missing this weekend

Missing this weekend

The Newcastle United team basically picks itself when we are at full strength. That isn’t because we have a set of 11 players who are on such red-hot form that picking anything other than those 11 players would be sheer madness. No, it is because our bench/fringe players are so lacking in quality that Pardew has no other choice but to pick the same players week in week out – with the possible exception of  M’biwa, Haidara and Anita who could, on their day, stake a realistic claim for starting.

So needless to say, when injuries and suspension hit, some serious shuffling needs to be done, and as is always the case when a settled team has to shuffle around, sometimes cracks appear, as was the case in our FA Cup disaster last weekend at home to Cardiff. Arguably we had a strong enough team on show to win that game, but also in the same token, it could be said that by playing players who had just come through a long, arduous Christmas period, they were dead on their feet and needed to be rotated. Gouffran was one such example.

While the likes of Lee Charnley and John Irving, in the latest Fan’s Forum on Monday, intimated that the team on display was strong enough to win the FA Cup game against Cardiff, I personally disagree. I looked at the areas in which we rotated – Rob Elliott came in for Tim Krul, Steven Taylor came in for Mike Williamson, and M’biwa came in for the injured Colo. Santon moved to right back in place of the suspended Mathieu Debuchy and Massadio Haidara replaced him at left back. Papiss Cisse replaced Loic Remy up front, Anita came in for Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa replaced Shola. As I said before, with the exception of M’biwa, Anita and Haidara, the other replacements were simply not good enough, and will never be good enough to provide sufficient depth for a Premier League side.

Rob Elliott is a decent understudy, but is Championship level at best. He performed well enough when called upon last season in place of Tim Krul when he was suffering various different injuries and he seems like a model pro. However, he is no Harper/Given. He is no Krul/Harper. Newcastle United have a history of having quality understudies in nets and unfortunately Elliott, while good, does not seem like he will ever make the grade in the top flight.

Papiss Cisse is an enigma. Despite scoring 13 goals in his first 14 games for the club, I have had to come to the conclusion that he is simply a poor striker who no longer deserves to be at this club. While he may have scored last weekend, it was a rare, and rather bundled goal. His only other goals this season have come in the League Cup against Leeds, and a gift, quite literally, from the penalty spot against Stoke in the 5-1 victory a few weeks ago. Some argued that it was a dip in confidence that did it for him, due to Demba Ba being preferred up front on his own, and Cisse being farmed out to the right-wing, and when Cisse was played down the middle, the goals would come. I even believed that story myself, but alas it was a false prophecy. 8 league goals last season is testament to that fact. He makes poor decisions, makes poor runs, is not clinical enough in a one-on-one situation and has no other redeeming features that could possibly make him a decent option for the team. His hold up play is non-existent, lacks any aerial ability whatsoever, and unless he is firing on all cylinders, like he was when he first signed, is an absolute liability. As things stand, Shola Ameobi is higher up the pecking order than wor Papiss, and when that happens, you know you’re out of favour. Papiss Cisse will never make it at this club and I hope the club sell him and replace him with someone who could actually give Pardew a few selection headaches due to the options they bring to the team. As it stands, Cisse is giving the fan base a collective headache with his sheer inability to do anything of worth.

However, it is in defence where I worry the most. Mike Williamson has come from nowhere this season and has made himself No 1 centre-half this season. While I will continue to dispute that he is not really good enough to be considered our best centre back, I must concede that on form, this is indeed the case and long may it continue as he has been nothing short of a revelation this season. What has complemented this partnership is the return to some semblance of form of Fabricio Colocinni. He still remains a shadow of his former self, but alongside Williamson we have seemed to have found a combination that works well for us. With the emergence to stardom of right back Mathieu Debuchy we also seemed to have unearthed another gem this season. So you can imagine how worried I was last weekend – following the injury to Colo and the suspension of Debuchy – when I saw Steven Taylor lining out at centre back and Davide Santon lining out at right back.

Let me put this in unequivocal language. Neither Steven Taylor, nor Davide Santon, should be let within 10 miles of a Premier League defence. Steven Taylor is clumsy, lacks concentration, cannot hold the line to save his life, and is an all-round buffoon who reminds me of the heady days of Bramble and Boumsong *shudders*. Davide Santon lacks any of the attributes required of even the most basic, bog-standard Premier League full-back. He has no spatial/positional awareness. He fails 9/10 to close down the cross. Lacks any strength in the tackle. Has no aerial prowess. Needs constant guidance to hold the line, and isn’t even that good going forward from defence into attack, and when he does (and inevitably loses the ball) he takes forever and a day to get back into position. All of this is when he is playing in his preferred left-back position! He is even worse when he is playing right-back!

I am not even going to broach the subject of Hatem Ben Arfa in this essay because my feelings on him are akin to my feelings on Santon, and have been for some time. I feel that some of our fans are more lenient in their assessments of these 2 because they can do pretty things with the ball at their feet. Well I am sorry. I care more about what a player brings to  the team, than what he can do for his own ego.

As we head into a very difficult game on Sunday, against a side brimming with confidence, and brimming with goals, I fear the worst. Our midfield and forward line picks itself due to lack of depth, and we can pretty much guess which four will be lining up in our defence on Sunday (albeit the permutations may differ) and that fills me with dread. I would be amazed, and impressed if we escaped on Sunday with a clean-sheet and unless something is done either in this transfer window, or at the very least, the summer transfer window to rid our squad of some the inept mediocrity that is plaguing it – I haven’t even begun to lay into Obertan, Marveaux and Jonas! – and replace it with young, hungry, talented players who could actually provide something for our first team, I think we will be looking at mid-table and early cup exits for a long time to come.

Negative? Yes. Wrong? Not on your life.