Of all the reasons why TV pundits are criticised, the dispensation of incorrect information comes far down the list, way below acute fence-sitting, infuriating personal habits and inarticulacy as a matter of pride. That may be because we’ve all heard it so often we’ve come to believe it ourselves. For once though, we can’t just blame the usual suspects. When it comes to misunderstanding and misinterpreting football’s Laws we’re all as bad as each other. How long could the never-ending debate on what is offside and what is not continue if we all knew the answer? There is one area of football where the uniformity of error is such as to be almost universal.
The misconceptions on what constitutes a sending-off are so widely held, so ingrained, that they are more like folk memories. All it takes is a glimpse of a raised stud in the distance and the phrases we know so well come flooding out, as naturally as water from a tap. Footballers are as bad as anyone. Go to watch any Sunday League game, and if you thought people personally exposed to the Laws of the Game on a regular basis would have an insight into their inner workings you would be more than likely disappointed. Never mind the “Studs Up!” shouts meant to persuade a ref of malice in mind. Forget that the received wisdom holds that someone with both feet off the ground should in all circumstances be heading for the changing rooms (early baths only applying where they are available). Every single person who has ever played football has responded to a referee’s whistle by explaining not that their tackle was so swift and well-executed that the vision-impaired one must have missed it, but that they went for the ball. Not that they got the ball, they just tried their best to get it before smashing their now-broken opponent into the bushes. In the collective mind of the footballer that somehow makes all the difference in these situations. There’s even an internationally-recognised gesture so no player need be thwarted from explaining this to a referee by the mere barrier of language.
Maybe that has something to do with how easy it is for the same people to explain away high-profile assaults on the pitch by their favourites. Dangerous challenges are routinely excused on the basis of the most tenuous of connections with the ball. That contact, or even the intention to make contact, is taken as proof of a lack of intent to injure. The fact that it’s possible to injure and make contact all at the same time is an inconvenient irrelevance it seems.
A glance at FIFA’s Law 12 on Fouls and Misconduct and the associated guide to interpretation returns some surprising results for the football family. There’s no mention of a player having two feet off the ground as a discriminating factor for one thing. Someone who lunges with excessive force is guilty of serious foul play and should receive a red card. But it’s the “excessive force or brutality” which is the distinction between a cautionable offence and one requiring dismissal, not the lunging. Indeed, any tackle that endangers the safety of the opponent must result in a sending-off. It takes barely any logical leap at all from there to understand that even someone winning the ball if it is in such a way that endangers their opponent, possibly using excessive force, commits a red card offence. Perhaps the most surprising result of all is that the character of the miscreant bears no relevance to the classification and punishment of the crime in the Laws. No more “he’s not that kind of lad”, please.
It’s worth pointing out that convention appears to override the laws in practice. Otherwise how could the same offence generally receive different punishment in one country compared to another? So although the Laws are common, referees interpret them differently depending where they are.
There’s a worry about the plan to push referees in front of TV cameras to explain their decisions immediately following a match in that their authority would be diminished by having to admit fallibility and backtrack when confronted with incontrovertible proof of their mistakes. Anyone can make a mistake, but at least their knowledge of the rules means they wouldn’t attempt to justify themselves using common misconceptions. Though a lack of consistency is often quoted as the major problem with referees, it would be a lack of knowledge of the rules which would really diminish their standing.
When was the last time Newcastle had back-to-back results as impressive as the victories against Chelsea at home and Tottenham away in their last two games? Two teams in the top four, both big spenders in the summer, both defeated by Pardew’s Poundlanders. Newcastle’s sub-prime swashbucklers also managed two clean sheets to add to the light-headedness. Anyone who can truthfully say they were expecting that has a completely different view on football to anything I recognise.
Both games involved periods of backs-to-the-wall defiance. Strong, committed performances then, with hard work and organisation to the fore. Married to that was the intention to get forward when possible and some excellent creative passing and forward play. Against Chelsea, Newcastle grew into the game, getting better the longer it went on, culminating in two second-half goals that really couldn’t have come at better times. In the victory at Spurs, an early goal was followed by a battling display to hold out, something Newcastle have struggled to do over the last couple of years even against lesser opposition. So things are looking up.
For the first time since 2011-12, when qualification for the Europa league was built upon a defensive solidity which then enabled the team to become more expansive in its play, Newcastle’s defence has shown signs of regaining something like that form. The success of 2011-12 was also a function of the ability to field a settled defensive unit whenever possible and there appears to be a partnership developing between Mike Williamson and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa at the heart of the defence. Williamson has been the subject of much criticism but neither Yanga-Mbiwa nor Fabricio Coloccini naturally attack the ball and the current mixture seems to work better than a pairing of the more lauded duo has up to now. The form of Mathieu Debuchy and Tim Krul has coincided and added to that of the unit. A recovery of the ability to regularly avoid conceding would go a long way to dragging Newcastle back up the table.
Without wishing to belittle the achievement of the last couple of weeks though, both games could so easily have gone another way. Better finishing from the opposition could have seen Newcastle slip to fairly demoralising defeats. There’s no doubt their finishing was affected by the quality and commitment in the defending and goalkeeping, but even so these were knife-edge results rather than total domination or shut-outs gained from a vice-like grip on a game. It’s fair enough to be delighted and encouraged by these results, but it’s still too early in the upturn to get carried away.
The upcoming fixtures against Norwich and West Brom, both at home, are vital to how the rest of the season pans out. We’re all aware that keeping clean sheets, just like winning games, is a habit that good teams get into. For all that there’s been an element of good fortune to the last two results, the boost in morale and confidence they’ll provide is incalculable. If Newcastle can keep the form going, both defensively and in terms of results, then they will genuinely be in the middle of an impressive run and that will set them up for difficult away games at Swansea and Manchester United, and the season to follow.
Following Newcastle prepares you for disappointment in life but for all the many criticisms of Alan Pardew, the one that really sticks is a lack of consistency. The suspicion is that the players on the books should be able to achieve more than they generally do. Throughout his tenure as manager there’s been a smattering of surprisingly great results but only in 2011-12 did he truly manage to get his team to build a lengthy run of form. Each of those great results have generally been followed by three or four dismally uninspired games. Time after time a timid Newcastle have sat back and surrendered the initiative, and as a consequence have found it difficult to impose themselves on a game. Pardew will never have a better opportunity to change the minds of those whose minds are still open to reassessing him and his team, by breaking the cycle of inconsistency and consolidating some unexpectedly good recent results.
A great win for Newcastle at the weekend away at Cardiff seemingly left Alan Pardew like the rest of us puzzled by this latest edition of Black and Whites. “Are we really good or are we really bad? I’m not sure!” A good performance in South Wales had followed such a poor first 45 on Merseyside on Monday night that no amount of 2nd-half improvement could make up for. Pardew’s been criticised for his comments but I think they were tongue in cheek. He doesn’t think his side is a bad one at all, but he’d be a fool not to acknowledge the inconsistency already plain this season.
The thing is, many of us for our part as fans refuse to acknowledge that something went right on Saturday, and that Pardew probably had a fair amount to do with it. On Monday, the side that came out had an open door policy to opposition attacks, never got going and was overrun before they ever got a foothold in the game. Undeniably Pardew’s fault. Too often his sides are set up too cautiously and hand the initiative to opponents from the off. By the time he changes things the damage is done and it’s too late. Everton was a prime example. In contrast, at Cardiff the team roared out of the blocks, took the game by the scruff of the neck and got themselves in a position that a later Cardiff regrouping couldn’t overhaul. If he’s culpable for one, he’s got to be given credit for the other. He made a controversial selection, dropping fan favourites Ben Arfa and Anita, and the team’s performance was improved. The way the players hit the ground running and kept on working suggests that he hasn’t “lost the dressing room”, usually the final straw for an owner with an itchy trigger finger. Yohan Cabaye had his best game for the club in a long time. Whether you approve or not of Pardew’s tactic of praising the Frenchman to the rafters at every opportunity, he is back in the side, performing well, and that means it’s been successful.
I don’t think he’s the man for the job long-term, for the same reasons that I disapprove of Mike Ashley’s ownership; however well or how poorly the team does, we could have done better. In Ashley’s case it’s because he settles for just good enough to stay up and if that ends up as 5th place it’s by good fortune not design. In Pardew’s case, the bad has outweighed the good and for every Cardiff away there’s been 3 avoidably nondescript disjointed home performances. For both men, it’s not about the difference between relegation and European qualification, it’s that 16th could so easily have been 8th.
I’m aware, as no doubt he is also, that the knives are out for him among our fanbase. But we can’t come across as the three Unwise Monkeys: See No Good, Hear No Good, and Speak No Good. If we refuse to acknowledge when things go well, when he’s had some isolated minor success , we just look mean, unfair, and above all ignorant.
Originally published in True Faith 105.
Joe, Joe, Joe. Where do we start? Let’s ignore the incompetence, the insults liberally spread around those he should be courting just for a second. His most irritating feature then is possibly his Walter Mitty fantasy life, the one where the claims he makes of his achievements actually bear relation to reality. Three-time League Manager of the Year? No. Signed Krul? No. Would have kept Newcastle up? Laughable. He doesn’t seem to think anyone will notice when he invents something, and he ‘s probably pulled it off in the past when regaling some expat of his time in the SAS or when he broke the bank at Monte Cassino. When it comes to NUFC though, we were there ourselves. It’s like trying to bullshit that Mr Two Zero on walking home from Iraq. It’s a mixture of arrogance and ignorance that allows him to make his claims. Arrogance that he can stay one step ahead of the truth, ignorance that his efforts to do so are so transparent. Together, they add up to the worst combination since tattoos on the elderly.
Sam Allardyce is another whose favourite reminiscence of his time at Newcastle is that the club would never have been relegated with him in charge. When he left we were 11th, but he was forced out by a board who took too much notice of fans unwilling to give him the time to do his job. Like Kinnear though, he conveniently forgets the fixture list of his particular half-season in charge. Very few games against the eventual top sides, multiple instances of dropped points against the whipping boys. Allardyce never brings up the enormous sums wasted on the dross he bought that weighed the club down for years to follow either. Fans sang his name only days before his dismissal too but that doesn’t fit his agenda of protecting his reputation by making his sacking directly attributable to the power of a mob not party to received football wisdom. He claimed Scott Parker couldn’t settle in the North-East and asked to move, something Parker has since denied, clearly bewildered by the suggestion. Again it helps Allardyce’s position to portray the place as a storm-blasted wilderness which good players either wanted to leave or wouldn’t come to at all. Allardyce is a ruminant, by which I mean clumsy, easily-confused and constantly-chewing rather than the contemplative thinker he’d like to be seen as. His tactical gambits generally succeeded only in handing the initiative to the opposition, always attempting to contain rather than dominate. The containment generally failed and his side conceded a lot more goals than you’d expect from the arch-pragmatist. Good job Sam. Said nobody.
Graeme Souness similarly pulled off the feat of playing football just as unattractive to watch while not even managing solidity. His signings if anything were worse, his first January bringing in Babayaro, Boumsong and Amdy Faye for £10m. A masterclass in addressing a problem there. In the summer he loaned out future England international James Milner whose Newcastle career seemed to be over. His man-management skills saw key striker Craig Bellamy loaned out to Celtic then sold after a breakdown in their relationship. He took Bobby Robson’s team from 5th to 15th in just over a year. At least Souness appears to accept his time at Newcastle was a disaster. Where his reimagining of history occurs is in his regrets at leaving Blackburn. He says if he’d stayed there he’d probably still be managing now, Newcastle having soured him for ever. The idea of anything being able to sour Souness further than he already was astonishes me, for one thing. But when he left Blackburn they were second bottom with 2 points from 5 games and were on the verge of sacking him anyway. In another dimension there may be a Souness who stayed at Blackburn and was sacked soon afterwards. That Souness is probably bleating to this day about how he wishes he’d taken the Newcastle job. Just like Isaac Hayes he’s a victim of circumstance, cast adrift on a sea of shifting events entirely unconnected to his own actions.
Which brings us to Mr Propaganda himself, the goal-hanging Goebbels, the injury-prone agitpropist, Michael Owen. At the time his Newcastle contract was expiring, Owen circulated his infamous brochure around clubs, which emphasised his goalscoring stats and Six Million Dollar Man-like physical condition. “We can rebuild him…we have the technology.” Except they couldn’t. Sir Alex Ferguson must have experienced a Wizard of Oz moment early in Owen’s Manchester United career as he drew back a curtain to reveal not the feared deadly international striker he had been expecting but a physically-fragile has-been. He’s not averse to the striker’s favourite excuse, “give me chances and I’ll score”, but he forgets those chances kept coming and kept on a-begging. If anyone could have kept us up by performing better it was him. Deflecting away from that, much of Owen’s rewriting of his Newcastle career has been to speak as if he hadn’t actually been part of a team that was relegated, somehow detached from blame. We saw you Michael. You might not have done much but you were there.
One of these days someone’s going to rewrite history and we’ll end up with loads of trophies. Until then it looks like we have to put up with this self-justification by the self-obsessed.
The Fans Forum newly instituted by the club has already proven its worth, contrary to the expectations of myself and many others. In the minutes of the latest meeting released on Wednesday, points were raised and answers given which have caused a lot of discussion. The club see maintaining their Premier League status as all-important, necessarily overriding interest in cups. Mike Ashley has no intention to sell the club and wants it to stand on its own two feet, to progress within its means. Sports Direct don’t pay for advertising within the stadium, but only take up unused advertising space as a showcase to possible advertisers. The space used by Sports Direct would be sold to other advertisers if any became interested.
While galling for fans, the concentration on staying in the Premier League and the discarding of any aim to win a cup competition to ensure this should come as no surprise. This is an owner and regime who are completely focused on finance and the bottom line. He’s not interested in trophies or history books. He’s paid as much into the club as he’s going to if he’s got anything to do with it and nothing will be allowed to jeopardise the club’s ability to keep raking in the TV money. In his eyes there is no room for the sentiment of chasing glory with the possible increase in injuries that would entail, and the risk of the team being unable to avoid the drop because of it. That tells us, if we didn’t know already, that the plan in its most basic form is to pay for survival. Nothing more and nothing less. No players on the books who are unnecessary to achieve that, so that small numbers of injuries above the norm could tip the balance against the club.
The flat admission of Sports Direct’s free advertising by the club is shocking, and the idea that there isn’t a single company out there prepared to pay more than the zero currently raked in from Ashley’s other business for advertising in and around the ground is frankly laughable. Here is where the forum has already been a success. Just by getting club representatives to sit down at a table and answer questions we’ve received more information than I ever thought possible. It doesn’t make Mike Ashley look great but at least we know.
There’s a question about the pathetic levels of commercial income, down to £13m per year in June 2012. I’d hoped this was a crafty plan aimed at circumventing some of the restrictions imposed by the Premier League’s Financial Fair Play plan. The rules state that clubs – like Newcastle- whose wage bill is over £52m per season can increase that by only £4m per year for the next 3 seasons. There’s a big caveat to that however. Clubs can increase wages above the restrictions if there is increased revenue from tickets and commercial income. We are told tickets make up an ever-decreasing proportion of the monies going into the club, so expecting that to fund player expansion is unreasonable. In a world where Manchester United make £150m per year from commercial income there is massive scope for Newcastle to increase their own revenue from this source. If Newcastle increased their commercial income by £30m they would still be a long way off the pace but the increase would be sufficient to allow them carte blanche in terms of player wage increases. I say I’d hoped this was all part of a crafty plan, now I don’t. I believe our poor commercial income is attributable to incompetence and an unwillingness to fund the staff needed to bring this kind of money in. When the club appear happy not to sell advertising hoardings to enable the owner to slap the logos of his other companies on them, there isn’t a plan to improve from a low baseline but a plan to restrict it right now and in the future, and that is ongoing.
Mike Ashley’s insistence that he has no plans to sell I’m sure is true. Should someone appear to offer him enough money that would change but swapping one owner for another would be change in name only. His representatives point out his aim for the club to be self-sufficient, to be run purely from its own income. We should note that is already happening. Mike Ashley isn’t providing money to keep the club afloat week by week. He was forced into doing that years ago as a result of his own mistakes. Now the club funds itself. For those looking towards the seemingly impossible goal of fan ownership, it is inescapable that a fan-owned regime could let the club fund itself day-to-day just as well as Ashley does. The only thing standing between the club and fan ownership right now is the purchase price. That may change if the favourable noises about introducing legislation on fan ownership of football clubs made recently at the Labour Party conference and at others in the past ever firms up into laws passed through Parliament. Pressure has been building on politicians on this subject for a number of years. When a critical mass is achieved the time of this idea will have come, and fans will for the first time have a genuine say in the outlook and aspirations of their club. There’s no reason they’d do it any worse than whichever random rich boy has possessed the shares over the last 100 years and more. If we were in charge, do you think we’d release the funds to provide a squad capable of challenging for cups while also being able to remain in the top division with comfort?
Labour leader Ed Miliband has been variously described as both brave and foolhardy for his efforts to change the funding link between his party and the trade union movement. He’s said he wants funding from unions to be by the mechanism of individual members opting in. Brave, because the resultant drop in funding will reduce Labour’s reliance on the unions and consequently their influence on the party, for a long time now seemingly an unwelcome shadow looming over everything the party does. Foolhardy, because Labour already struggle to pay their bills and losing an estimated 70% of donations to the party threatens their very existence.
This analysis ignores some important points however. Firstly, that Labour have hardly been slavish promoters of the trade union agenda for some time now. Not to put too fine a point on it, the unions don’t get much bang for their buck as it is. Admittedly you’d never know that by reading the papers or watching TV but Labour ceased to be the political representation of trade unions over 20 years ago. The political link was broken, though the funding remained. The change will go down well with those – almost exclusively non-supporters – who believe the unions still pull the strings of the Labour Party, but there will be no real effect on Labour’s policies or priorities. Secondly, Miliband doesn’t believe Labour will go to the wall. He’s not doing this in expectation of the catastrophe of bankruptcy and being unable to campaign. So what’s going on?
The cosy Westminster consensus of centre-right parties won’t want to see Labour disappear from the political landscape. That would leave a vacuum which could be filled by a party or parties more likely to attempt to break that consensus. Both major parties also believe their funding arrangements are a weak spot. Both Labour and Conservatives are aware that they are heavily criticised by the other side for the make up of their donors. Labour are perceived as controlled by unions, while the Tories are viewed as being in thrall to the rich, the party of the 1%. If Labour’s accounts were to fail to balance they wouldn’t just walk off into the sunset, the argument for state funding of the political parties would be reignited. Up to now it hasn’t happened because of public disapproval of such a plan but in the face of crisis the parties would be very happy to push it through.
I find it sad that Labour are unable to defend their funding arrangements, as if there’s something wrong with ordinary people paying a pound or two to ensure their needs and priorities aren’t forgotten in a political arena dominated by people entirely different to them and with no experience and no clue for the most part how the majority of the electorate live their lives. Maybe there’s something to be said for cleaning up the perception of union funding, purely to prevent it becoming a rod to beat the recipient with. The requirement for an individual to opt-in to political funding does make it very difficult to criticise that funding, though the Tories would try anyway. As the unions one after another begin to announce reduced funding for Labour, the likelihood increases that this “cleaned up” funding will end up to the benefit of another party. Not only might Labour’s funding changes result in state political funding, it may also end in the unions diverting what funds they continue to donate to a party more closely aligned to their concerns and principles. Breaking the funding link is explicitly for the purpose of breaking the political link. If Labour feel the need to protect themselves from accusations of sharing a political destiny with the unions, then the unions for their part will no doubt wish to look elsewhere for a new political partner.
A few weeks ago it came to light that the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle’s main local evening paper, had entered into a joint scheme with payday lenders Wonga to provide a £30,000 fund for local sports clubs to apply to for funding. Wonga are Newcastle United’s main sponsors and there’s been some discussion about the rights and wrongs of whether a company with their business model should be sponsoring the club. Even so, the Chronicle seemed to see no conflict of interest in entering such an arrangement with an organisation which was at the centre of controversy about sponsoring an institution so central to the city. That’s a controversy, not to put too fine a point on it, which the Chronicle should be informing and reporting upon to the citizens of Newcastle in a fair, balanced way. That involves examining the issues and providing their readers with the information necessary to understand what’s going on.
The suspicion quickly arose that the Chronicle’s editorial independence may have been compromised, and so it proved. The language used to describe Wonga in the Chronicle’s pages had subtly changed. No more ‘payday lender’, replaced by ‘digital finance company’ in all cases from a few days after the deal, certainly a less harsh description.
Further examination of recent stories provides evidence of the presence of a positive editorial line when printing stories about Wonga. View these two stories covering the same event, a meeting between Wonga PR chiefs, Newcastle United employees and fan representatives on Aug 19th. One is from the Chronicle, one from the Journal.
The Chronicle’s, despite having a picture showing a Citizens Advice Bureau representative and Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, doesn’t mention them or their contribution to the debate in any way. In 3 main sections, we are told firstly that fans are grateful to Wonga for turning up and secondly that the club are very happy to have Wonga as a sponsor. Finally, there are a series of quotes from the Wonga representatives explaining away their controversial image and concerns about their role as sponsor without ever mentioning what that controversy is about, or what the concerns are.
The Journal story is quite a contrast. From the off it has a completely different tone, while also covering the positive angle on the deal which is the only focus of the Chronicle story. We learn about a strongly-worded attack on the company by Chi Onwurah. There are quotes from Newcastle CAB’s Chief Executive expressing worry about the company’s presence in the city. There’s mention of a question from the floor about fan hostility. The reasons for misgivings about the sponsorship deal are explained clearly and at length, and a long list of prominent organisations who share those misgivings is provided, from the Church of England, MPs, Unite the union, Newcastle City Council, and the Citizens Advice Bureau.
The two stories provide a completely different spin on the same event. What is shocking is that the two papers they appear in are sisters, both owned by Trinity Mirror, the Journal being the morning counterpart to the Chronicle in the evening. Not only are the two papers in the same stable, the two stories were written by the same person, reporter Kate Proctor. The only explanation for the differing slant in the two stories is editorial instruction. Why would the Journal be immune from this? Who knows. It appears to be the case however.
In a piece printed in the Chronicle tonight as a reaction to the recent transfer window, the question is asked of Newcastle owner Mike Ashley “how much do you pay the North East Press pack to write nice things about you?” The answer, in Wonga’s case, appears to be £30,000, the amount they provided for the Chronicle’s Wish Sport fund.
Classically fans wait for the dust to settle after a transfer window shuts, to see the repercussions. The closing of the summer transfer window has dislodged about as much dust at NUFC as the contents of an unopened tomb; or more to the point, as the dead moths in a wallet that never opens. Repercussions there still are, however. Pretty much the only activity in the last month involving the club was a half-hearted bid from Arsenal for midfielder Yohan Cabaye. After what seemed like a deliberately low bid to make the player aware of their interest, they never returned. The Gunners ended up spending £40m+ on Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid and I have to say if my choice was that or upwards of £20m on Cabaye I’d choose the German too. Cabaye was unsettled and didn’t appear on Newcastle’s first two games of the season. When he finally did return as a sub in Saturday’s win against Fulham, having realised the interest in him wasn’t enough to meet Newcastle’s price, a section of the crowd booed him.
The sentiment is understandable. It’s tough for fans to see a player who has pulled out all the stops to move elsewhere end up pulling on the shirt again. Loyalty for a football fan can override all other considerations. Look how hard Newcastle fans find it to protest in any meaningful way – by which I mean not turning up – against Mike Ashley’s running of the club. We’re all aware that players don’t share that loyalty. How could they? It’s a job for them, nothing more. Just like any of us they may like a particular job more than another, but that won’t stop them moving if they have a chance to enhance their career. When a desire to leave is made so very public as Cabaye’s was, it becomes very difficult to ignore however. Refusing to play, if that is what he did, is unprofessional, disloyal, and a slap in the face for the club’s followers. The truth as to players’ relationships with the club can no longer be conveniently swept to one side.
It’s tempting to call for him to be consigned indefinitely to the reserves, to make an example that no player will forget as his chances of national selection disappear in a World Cup year. It’s also tempting to insist he doesn’t displace others in the team who as yet haven’t publicly displayed their own particular brand of disloyalty. Tempting, but impractical. Cabaye is one of the best-paid players at the club, and just as it would be a disaster if one of Newcastle’s best-paid players was ineffective, they also can’t afford to leave him out as a spiteful punishment.
Quite simply Newcastle don’t have anyone else who can do what Cabaye can, no-one who is likely to pick out a chance-creating pass. When he’s on the field Newcastle’s results are markedly better. Against Fulham on Saturday, the introduction of Cabaye along with Loic Remy made the difference between a side struggling for penetration and one able to go on and win the game. Newcastle were relegation strugglers all last season, who then arguably didn’t strengthen at all in the summer while those around them spent money as if it was coming into fashion. It would be madness to weaken the side further by ignoring one of its best players purely because our collective pride had been pricked. If a relegation struggle is to be avoided, the club needs to have its best side on the pitch. Cabaye is here at least until January and until then he is in that best side.
First published in True Faith magazine, Summer 2013.
“Do ‘La Bamba’!” Such is life when you are tonight’s support act, Los Lobos. Twenty-five years after the novelty cover hit which broke you into the big time, and all your multi-Grammy award winning success, it’s not the fusion of styles that won all those plaudits which the audience calls for; it’s the novelty hit. Give them credit, they played it eventually, but only briefly before segueing into Northern Soul classic ‘Good Lovin’. I’d be bored after 25 years too.
Main event Neil Young, with band Crazy Horse in tow for this tour, evidently has the same problems. His career spans nearly 50 years and interest in playing a greatest hits package clearly faded long ago if it ever existed. With such a long career, it’s inevitable that some fans be disappointed that their particular favourites were omitted, but even so the setlist was a strange one. There are extended jam sessions, and then there are 20-minute versions of “Fuckin’ Up” for instance. Fifteen songs in two and a half hours points to the overblown nature of that being the norm rather than the exception. Only three of those fifteen came from most recent album “Psychedelic Pill” along with another new song, and the earliest played was a Buffalo Springfield number so the entire breadth of his career was covered. However the choices meant that the night came across like an alternate history of Young’s output. If you’d been to every tour he’d ever done no doubt this would be a godsend, with the flipside being that if this was the first time you’d seen him you might be disappointed. The bottom line is you can’t please everyone.
Despite Crazy Horse looking like they’re ready for the knacker’s yard, Frank Sampedro for one reminding me of David Puttnam, they’re still an admirably tight and dynamic band. Young’s guitar work is enthralling as ever, pulling off the difficult feat of being musical in tone and excitingly cutting all at the same time. All together, they make an impressive noise. even if as stated earlier some of the songs were dwelled upon rather too much. This is where punk came in nearly forty years ago isn’t it? But as “Hey Hey My My”, puts it, written in response to the possibility of punk making him obsolete, “once you’re gone you can’t come back” and Young just keeps on finding an audience.