Will quiet folk be sent to war, a hundred years from now?
Enslaved and duped by profit’s men to take a sordid vow:
Detailing their new enmity with an unknown other,
betrayed, downtrodden, sold-out twin, far-off foreign brother.
Which powers will lock horns to gain a bigger slice of pie?
Their subjects sent to wreak revenge before they’ve lost the eye.
A Belgian nun or missile scare, the details matter not;
McGuffins these, a strained device, to push along the plot.
While diplomats negotiate, leaders will state instead
They’ll fight to the last drop of blood which other men can shed.
And when the flow of bodies stems they’ll send the young and old
to fill the pit which can’t be filled until the world’s bled cold.
A hundred years since we were told a war would end them all
But ever since the drums did beat a never-ending call.
Slaughter in perpetuity, conveyor belt of death,
the power games of empire, relieving us of breath.
Let’s get something straight from the off. Newcastle United does not belong to Mike Ashley, to his business or to some combination of holding companies. It is our club, contrary to what it says in the ledgers of Companies House. They only keep track of who has legal title to the stock. In the eyes of the law, this information is all that matters, we are merely paying customers whose only right in relation to the company is to be able to take our custom elsewhere. We all know the real story is somewhat different. This is a club where those with its best interests at heart, those who are truly there for the long haul, whose interest in it is selfless and not motivated by personal gain, are not members in any meaningful sense. Nor do they have any tangible financial stake in it. It’s ours because however far ahead you look into the future we’ll still be here, just as our fathers were, the long-dead unknowns who lived in our streets were, and as our children will be if we have anything to do with it. Whether activist or apathetic, each has an equal share.
There are many whose attraction to a campaign against the current speculator will have evaporated as the great run of November extended into December. Even if that run of 5 wins from 6 at the time of writing is still going as you read this it doesn’t invalidate the aim of such a campaign, whether Time4Change or another. Success or failure has nothing to do with it. Look at one of our recently vanquished opponents, Manchester United. They have been the dominant club in England for many years. That doesn’t mean they have good owners, far from it in fact. Their success has been in spite of the owners not because of them, and the money drained from the club finances to pay for the privilege of ownership by the Glazers is probably the major reason why they have fallen behind global giants Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, possibly for ever. Just as it is there, so it is also true for us. No matter how positive our current form is, it only masks the fact that we could be doing better without breaking the bank, without the overriding priorities of someone who isn’t interested in making the side as good as he can dragging us down like an albatross around the neck.
So if you thought ahead 5 years, or 10, or even 20, how would you want our club to be run then? Assume Ashley has gone. Think about what would be the ideal. Again, there are many who hope only for someone even richer than the sugar daddies bankrolling success elsewhere to buy out our current shareholder. That would show a lack of ambition in a way. Though the desire is for someone else’s money to win us trophies, it would put us back in the same position we always have been, subject to the whims of owners. It might not even have the desired effect, the currently financially dominant having done their best to ossify their advantage through UEFAs Financial Fair Play (FFP) system. If the idea is just to swap one owner for another then whatever’s going wrong now, or has done in the past, is bound to happen again eventually.
The first hope therefore has to be fan ownership, preferably total but if not then whatever can be achieved. The worry is that it’s never likely to happen, the chances of fans being able to fund a buyout of any kind of significant stake looking thinner with every passing week of austerity. The thing is though, none of us know what the future holds for sure. Football governance and fan engagement seems to become higher in profile with politicians all the time. With an increasingly bitter election to be fought in 2015, those from all sides looking for votes may well come up with something tangible to attract crosses in boxes on ballot papers. Supporters Direct and their supporters in Parliament are currently pushing the idea of Community Shares as a vehicle to aid fans groups gaining a stake in their clubs. Who knows what imperatives may be introduced upon club owners to ensure this happens?
Even if owners were compelled to sell a proportion of their stake to a fans trust, it wouldn’t necessarily make it an easy process. People still have to come up with money. Someone needs to organise it and gain buy-in from the rank and file. For that reason, it would be imperative that the club provide some benefit to inspire and justify all the trouble that people would go to. Not victory, or success, because they cannot be guaranteed. Of course, the intention would be to have as much success as possible. If the club were truly self-sufficient, reinvesting the profits to improve the club and the team, FFP would work in the favour of Newcastle United compared to most other mid-table Premier League teams, and we’d be left poised to go even higher. The benefit would be the pride we could have in our club, in the way it was run, knowing we were reliant on no-one to make it happen. If it’s all about pride of course, then how we did things would be all-important. Think ethics, and how much more pride would be involved if we didn’t have sponsors whose business was impoverishing or making ill our friends and neighbours. Think how proud we could be of a club which reached out into the community, supporting grassroots football and programmes of help for the disadvantaged, or those who otherwise need it. Think how proud we could be of a club which wasn’t contemptuous of fans, no longer valuing them only as a source of funds. A club which promoted a positive image for the region. Think how proud we could be of our club.
Does anybody enjoy derby day? There’s never been one I wouldn’t have taken a draw an hour beforehand and just forgotten about the football and the possible heartache. It’s stressful, nerve-wracking, terrifying, dangerous, all those and more. And that’s just watching it on the telly. Multiply everything by a hundred if you’re there in the flesh. Probably the safest part of the occasion is the bit in the ground. Once you’re outside you’re taking your life in your hands, though not usually from battle-hardened hooligans of the other persuasion. More likely it’s by the drunken and confused with not enough interest in the occasion to actually go to the match but who are so affronted by the very presence of people from a city a small number of miles away, people they no doubt spend at least their working lives in close proximity to, they will happily batter anyone they encounter.
Why is that? Membership of a crowd can mean that the loss of personal identity felt, the sense of unity with the group, and heightened excitement in the crowd’s activity leads to a loss of control by the individual, and a consequent increase in the likelihood of antisocial behaviour. That being said, crowds don’t necessarily turn bad, otherwise every single football match would end in the town of the venue getting smashed up. People can be led, but there has to be anger and hostility there in the first place for it to spread.
The increasing trend to portray fans of the other side as being somehow lesser human beings has a lot to answer for, and it is of course nonsense. Minor quirks in accent apart, the two areas of Newcastle and Sunderland and their respective hinterlands have more in common than in contrast. Both predominantly working class, devastated by unemployment and poverty periodically over the last century and similarly ignored and sidelined by the nation’s elite for even longer, you would think a certain sympathy if not solidarity might exist between the two cities with regard to their respective plights. Any Newcastle United or Sunderland fan portraying the other as some kind of blighted wasteland must be talking from their second pad in Bali or Belgravia because otherwise you can guarantee their home is very close to somewhere just as bad as wherever they’re referring to. Both cities have nice parts, and not-so-nice ones. It seems obvious to say it, but nevertheless it’s necessary to do so. The people of both sides, none of us will be surprised to hear, are generally personable and pleasant. We rub along with each other day to day quite nicely for all but 2 days a year, in workplaces, shops, and homes. These are the same people some will be trying to do violence to through a police cordon on February 1st. You might as well punch a random workmate at the water cooler tomorrow.
The successful campaign to rescind the decision to make the derby on Feb 1st a bubble match was based on a loose alliance of fans’ groups from both sides. It’s a demonstration of the common ground that exists even if you don’t particularly want to be best pals with the other lot. I for one, as a Newcastle fan, couldn’t care less about how Sunderland are doing, aside from feeling sympathy towards certain of my family members when they feel a little sad. It has been known for me to go to the odd game at the Stadium of Light, very much as a neutral. I don’t particularly want them to lose while I’m there, it’s just another game of football as far as I’m concerned. I would rather Newcastle were more successful than Sunderland, but only in the same sense that I want this in relation to all other clubs worldwide as well. It’s often mentioned that the tradition of people going to both clubs’ home games on alternate weekends has all but disappeared but surely the silent majority still don’t allow allegiance for one to develop into hatred for the other?
For those blinded by some kind of criminal tough-guy glamour on the part of hooligans, who quite like the idea of ‘our’ firm ( though in referring to them as that I feel bound to point out that they certainly don’t represent me) breaking some heads on the other side, let me say this: Hooligan behaviour makes it easy for the authorities to treat fans as criminals, as a homogeneous mass all as bad as each other. It’s what gave them the excuse to make this derby a bubble match in the first place, where away fans can only attend if they make use of the club’s travel arrangements. To celebrate the success of rolling back that unwelcome development then encourage those who would make it happen all over again isn’t just brainless and contradictory, it’s self-defeating.
When people talk about the other side being inbred, subhuman, or scum of some other unspecified nature, it is a very slippery slope to get onto. On a wider social scale, it is these kind of attitudes that allow the Divide and Rule strategy to succeed and keep the rich in power by persuading poor people to vote against their own personal interest, in the misguided hope that some other mythical poorer group will be kept in check. Without such attitudes the violence would be impossible. Why would anyone attack someone for being similar to themselves? So it’s not just the halfwits and horse-punchers out on the streets without really knowing why who are to blame when violence erupts. It’s everyone who’s painted the opposition as underclass or bogeyman, as nemesis or numpty.
Let’s get some perspective. It’s a football match, not civil war. The opposition are local sporting rivals not sworn blood enemies. The sky will not crack open upon defeat for either side. I hope my team win but whatever happens, let’s not embarrass ourselves again.
The outpouring of grief from some sections of Newcastle’s support on hearing the news that Jonas Gutierrez had left the club, on loan til the end of the season at Norwich, was such that a passing Martian might believe they were witnessing the passing of a true great. An overreaction; he’s a good player but not good enough to break back into Alan Pardew’s wildly inconsistent team after suffering an injury in the season opener at Manchester City. This isn’t one of Pardew’s mystifying selection anomalies either, he really isn’t worth his place in the starting eleven. He’s a trier with more talent than he’s generally given credit for and I join with most fans in wishing him well, but I doubt many would argue he should be playing.
The hardly-shocking-at-all rumour sweeping Tyneside is that a contract clause meant one or in some versions a few more appearances would result in increasing the value of that contract, either by length, by wage, or by both. I have no idea if this is true or not as those who would know aren’t saying, but does it really matter? A player on big wages is no longer a first choice. Most clubs would be looking to move him on in those circumstances, and there can be no surer thing than Mike Ashley’s Newcastle doing so. If more appearances would increase his wages that only becomes more likely. No-one would be looking to increase the wages or lengthen the contract of someone who is usually not required to perform on the pitch anyway. That is the definition of a drain on club finances. Jonas has become Alan Smith with long hair and a superhero mask secreted on his person fruitlessly. Jonas himself has stated he doesn’t know what he did wrong but the move is hardly a surprise. What would be a surprise is if we saw him in the side again next season. It seems he’ll sign a permanent deal with a new club for next season, if not Norwich then elsewhere and I’m sure he’ll have no shortage of suitors. So farewell to a favourite, thanks and let’s move on.
Do we believe someone better and cheaper will be brought in during this window, so that the squad has improved in quality and not been reduced in numbers, all while improving the club’s financial bottom line? It’s a trick they’ve pulled off before. Unfortunately Newcastle’s tactics in the transfer market seem to be based on the seduction techniques of a badly-advised teenage boy; treat ‘em mean and keep ‘em keen. Newcastle feign not to be interested in anyone at all throughout the window, so as not to let either player or selling club get the idea they can inflate their demands. The idea is evidently to pounce as the window closes, the equivalent of shutting time in a nightclub, when desperation has set into the target. When viewed from outside, Newcastle have all the trappings of a big club; the attendances, the stadium, the facilities, a history albeit ever more distant. Again unfortunately, even now when the aim of pushing on and improving into a Champions League club is demonstrably achievable as richer clubs make one mistake after another and show themselves to be very fallible, Newcastle evidently have no intention of doing so. In short, to paraphrase a regular assessment of a friend of mine when on the pull, in the eyes of potential targets Newcastle are good from far but far from good.
What is interesting is that throughout his time at the club Jonas’ status has been a kind of weather vane, indirectly pointing us to the club’s priorities, to the thinking of those at the top. At times he’s signified change in how the club wish to do business. When he signed, he was the first of the summer transfer window following the difficult season in which Sam Allardyce had been sacked and Kevin Keegan had steadied the ship. A lot of money had been spent the summer before on new players, Ashley’s first as owner, but most if not all had been squandered by Allardyce. Jonas signing on what the club thought was basically a free under the Webster rule when he bought out his contract was not the end of big-money signings altogether, compatriot Fabricio Coloccini costing a large sum later on that summer. It did begin a shift in emphasis however towards more cut-price deals, much to Keegan’s undoubted chagrin.
As an aside, the stories of Yohan Cabaye leaving ‘on a Webster’ this summer should be viewed remembering Newcastle’s own experience of signing Jonas. They ended up paying a lot more than they thought they’d have to initially. If this was a straightforward process it would be happening a lot more than it is. I can’t remember many people moving on these terms, certainly not at the highest level. Why didn’t Coloccini buy himself out of his contract last year when his personal life supposedly meant he was desperate to move back to South America? Being stranded for years thousands of miles away from his young family would seem more of a driver for Coloccini than Cabaye’s urge to pay 75% tax at PSG.
The second time Jonas’ situation gave us a window into what was going on behind closed doors at the club was when he signed an extension to his contract in 2011. At a time when several high-profile stars had been shipped out in the previous transfer window, it had seemed that there was a policy of slashing costs by transferring those receiving the highest wages at the club. Jonas’ new contract bucked that trend, for make no mistake about it he was already one of the highest paid at the club. His wages would have been pushed up initially by the circumstances of his move, the reduction in fee Newcastle believed they’d be liable to pay when he first signed. It became apparent then that the requirement to move players on was not just dependent on how high their wages were, but was also a function of how useful they were to the team. High wages were permitted if the player was deemed to be important enough. It was only when the wages either received or demanded by a player outstripped their influence on the pitch that they were to be sacrificed.
Now, Jonas himself has found that his own usefulness has waned and the club no longer wish to pay his wages. Again, he would still have been one of the highest-paid at the club before his loan. This tells us if we needed reminding that there are no favourites, no sentimentality within the club. The squad is constantly being assessed as to their individual usefulness and if the opportunity arises to shift a high-earner off the wage bill without damaging the first team then it will happen. Cutting costs remain a priority rather than building a squad. Jose Mourinho in his first spell at Chelsea stated that he wanted two top players in each position. That’s what you need to be successful. Newcastle’s ‘purples’ policy, still active it has been shown, is in direct contrast to that. A top player who isn’t in the team is a waste rather than an insurance policy to maintain results through all eventualities. Much has been made of talk earlier in the season that Newcastle couldn’t compete financially with Southampton and other similar clubs. They’re certainly not trying to transform the club to compete with Chelsea and others at their level. Talk of the Champions League is nothing more than that, talk.
An article for When Saturday Comes magazine issue 299, on how NUFCs self-sufficiency proves among other things that a fan ownership model could be just as successful
Remember those days long ago when we yearned for a billionaire to take over Newcastle United? I really can’t be bothered to look up how much Mike Ashley is worth but we certainly didn’t get what we were after when he bought the club from the Halls & Shepherds. Don’t get me wrong, freeing the club from that particular axis of if not evil then something very definitely not positive, is something I’ll never criticise him for. But that was where it all started going wrong, from the very first moment he became involved.
He thought he was getting something on the cheap because Hall was desperate to get out and a hospitalised Shepherd was temporarily unable to fight his corner. That meant Ashley didn’t do what he was best at. The businessman thing. Checking the deal, making sure there were no hidden catches. He gambled on Newcastle United, and not for the last time he lost. The deeds of the stadium required the mortgage to be paid in full if the club switched hands. Ashley came over like a greenhorn in his field of expertise. Perhaps we should have guessed that when he started on the thing he really was an amateur at, running a football club, his fortunes weren’t about to improve.
In the one phase of enthusiasm he ever had for the club, he bankrolled a genuine spending spree. Unfortunately he let Sam Allardyce do the spending. Allardyce has his qualities, positive ones. Those qualities however are not the kind that are useful to a club with ambition, looking to spend money and break through football’s glass ceiling. He was the wrong manager at the wrong club at the wrong time, and the buys he made in his short time in charge saddled the club with players who couldn’t be moved on except at a loss, who cost a fortune in wages, and worst of all were almost to a man a dead loss on the pitch. Time for another rarity, something Ashley did right: sacking Allardyce.
Closely followed by yet another mistake unfortunately. Hiring Kevin Keegan. It was a populist appointment, but not wrong for the reasons normally quoted. I watched those games after he took over and Newcastle improved, slowly at first but they got better. Keegan had been out of the game for years. Maybe his fire had gone out. But he was a success on the pitch in that second spell in charge. No, the mistake in making him manager was that the famously emotional and headstrong Keegan was never going to be walked all over by Ashley. The appointment itself contained the meltdown, inevitable as it was.
Now the mistakes started coming thick and fast. I can’t think of anything you might want to do involving Dennis Wise that wouldn’t automatically be misjudged purely because of his presence. Surely there couldn’t possibly be a worse appointment as Director of Football? Oh, wait….
That whole season following was one long catalogue of errors. Deadline signings of Xisco and Nacho, not appointing a proper manager straight away with the status to grab the squad by the scruff of the neck and turn the season around while there was still time. When finally appointing a full-time manager, choosing Joe Kinnear, a never-was who shouldn’t have been within a million miles of the club, a poor man’s Allardyce. Someone who was medically unable to withstand the stress of the job, sadly for him and his family. After Kinnear’s health waned to the point he couldn’t continue, in a final desperate and of course unsuccessful gamble, Ashley appointed the untried Alan Shearer and 8 games later we were down. If there’s a positive to that at least we’ve lanced that particular boil. Shearer’s no longer a Prince across the water, forever waiting to be called upon.
Error after error continued. An interminable buyout saga meant the club was completely unprepared for the season ahead in the Championship. By a streak of luck, after those we could get rid of had gone, the remaining staff and players turned inwards and forged themselves into a team which got the club out of a deep, deep hole. Just as the club seemed to have re-established itself in the top flight, Ashley sold Andy Carroll, on deadline day without replacement. Again, luck saw to it that the team limped through to the summer but another close season of turmoil ended with a younger and cheaper squad in place. No-one, especially not Ashley, could have expected a 5th place finish that year. By not strengthening the squad in the summer following, when there was a real chance of pushing on, Ashley again condemned the club to the inevitable; an overloaded squad struggled and was almost relegated. Ashley’s answer was to reappoint Kinnear and once again to fail to strengthen.
Notice all the times Ashley made terrible mistakes and by lucky chance the team pulled through; promotion, the European qualification. We need to remember that even if by chance this season pans out ok, mistakes have once again been made. Whatever happens, things could have been so much better. The title is a quote from a Hawkwind song, “We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago”. Seems appropriate somehow and the hope, surely, has to be that the end will indeed fall soon.
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.