The predictability of Andy Carroll’s transfer in January was by no means the only depressing thing about the affair. Not only could the transfer itself be seen coming, but the timing of it late in the window and the inevitable failure to use the money to replace the Carroll-shaped hole in the team was also entirely foreseeable and provided further justification for a cynical stance. Even more upsetting was what the transfer tells us about the club’s ambitions and about the relationship between club and fans.
The idea that the club were caught on the hop by the transfer and were thus unable to bring in a suitable replacement before the closing of the window is nothing short of ridiculous. Liverpool would not have sold Torres without having a replacement lined up, meaning we must have known what was in the pipeline for some time in advance. The inside story seems to be that we were touting Carroll around other clubs at the right price for most of January. What does this tell us? Firstly, We knew he was going and deliberately lined nothing up in replacement. Secondly, that the club were prepared to write off yet another season in pursuit of quick profit. Thirdly, and most damningly, that the bottom line doesn’t just override all other considerations in the decision-making process but that no other considerations exist for our club’s owners.
All that’s required is some kind of attempt to improve on-field, a strategy to hang our hats on when short-term unpopular choices like Carroll’s transfer are made. If we had confidence that such a strategy existed, I think many would say that we got a price that couldn’t be turned down. Needless to say, no such strategy is discernible however. Many fans feel that Ashley makes so many bad decisions he must be incompetent. But incompetence just doesn’t cover it. The club made a conscious decision to do this. Their plan is to stutter over the finish line by hook or by crook, using stop-gap signings if necessary, to enable them to follow their plan in the summer. That may be lashing out on top-class striking reinforcements, but history tells us that a healthy transfer-window profit does not guarantee spending by Ashley in the next one. Tempting ticket offers with an April deadline suggest that they know their plans won’t meet with our approval. More likely the plan is selling the club once Ashley has recouped the money he loaned the club – the £35m would go a long way towards that. Previous attempts to do so foundered not only on the sale price, but also on Ashley’s loans to the club and the huge wage bill. The inescapable conclusion from deciding to sell our prize asset and not replace him is that Ashley is looking to claw in his loans in preparation for yet another sale attempt in the summer now that our wage bill is down and we are making an operating profit.
Even without a sale, we can see how ambitious the club currently is. Prior to the end of January it seemed that we could push on for 6th-8th position. Now we are looking over our shoulder and scrabbling for points. With 30 points already on the board when the transfer window closed, you might think we are close to safety but without the usual whipping boys a larger total then normal may be required. Ashley has gambled on us having done enough already but his record as a gambler does not inspire confidence. Whether we survive or not, our situation has been converted from one of over-achievement to one of desperation. Next season we will be attempting to build on a worse season than should have been necessary. The ambition of the club extends no further than survival and possibly not even that far if monetary requirements can be satisfied in a relegation scenario.
As fans we have no reason whatever to accept yet another season flushed down the toilet needlessly. Newcastle United do not have a right of access to our bank accounts no matter what, as they seem to believe. They have their priorities and we have ours. They expect us to pay to view their offerings but make no attempt to persuade us that we’ll enjoy it while we’re there. There is a conflict in aims, between those of the fans (who want successful attractive football as a rule) and those of the owners (who need to make a profit above everything else), that is never addressed. Tribal loyalty means that conflict doesn’t have to be addressed, so owners like Ashley choose to chase the bottom line to the exclusion of all else. Over and over, fans pay their side of a bargain that is never settled.
In writing off another season needlessly, Ashley shows his opinion of fans. Your money is very welcome, but you have no right to expect anything in return. Not results. Not entertainment. Not improvement. Not even a little hope. You are held in contempt by those in charge of the club you support. They are laughing at you. Chuck the whole thing in, or choose to buy your ticket. Take to the streets, or have another pint. Choose how you wish to react to being insulted, but whatever you do, don’t carry on without a thought as if it never happened.