You don’t need to tell me
I won’t kill myself, trying to stay in your life
I got no distance left to run”
Some years ago, after a season in which Newcastle had beaten their greatest rivals Sunderland 5-1, the best derby result of my lifetime, I rubbed my hands together with satisfaction at the prospect of the core of the team being sold. The great idea was to progress from mediocrity and become the kind of side which could rise up the table to challenge those in contention for European qualification. To do that Newcastle needed to ditch the workers, the battlers, the limited journeymen and fill the side with the technically gifted, players able to pass the ball and keep possession. These players were to come from cheaper markets and clever scouting would ensure that in addition to being better, they’d also be younger and cheaper than the then current crop.
For a time it worked. Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique followed Andy Carroll out of the door to be replaced by Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba, Davide Santon and in the next window Papiss Cisse. The team finished 5th the next season and the plan seemed to have had the desired effect. The following summer only the disappointing Vurnon Anita arrived with Best and Forster the notable leavers. Alan Pardew’s game plan having been found out, the team struggled badly and in danger of relegation panic buys were made in January. Debuchy, Yanga-Mbiwa, Gouffran, Haidara and Sissoko came in with Ba deciding to chase the money with Chelsea. The season after Cabaye left in the winter with only Loic Remy in on loan to speak of in the summer. This season Janmaat and Perez have come in and been successes, Cabella showing the odd sign of life too recently.
Look at who’s come in over that time, who’s done well, and think of which of them are still here apart from the newly arrived. Even just since 2011, the successes have all left again and we are left with a squad who aren’t better than what went before, they’re just younger and cheaper. Add to that a cost-cutting strategy which has seen us not just lose quality but quantity too, and a few injuries and suspensions have left the club struggling for any options, never mind effective ones.
To compound the gloom, after Alan Pardew left we appointed a manager who was a failure in the lower leagues and at a lower standard in MLS. The appointment appeared to have been made mostly on the basis that as a local lad he wouldn’t have far to travel. So as our squad goes downhill they are led by someone at a disadvantage to most if not all of the coaching teams he comes up against.
Notwithstanding that, it’s the popularly asserted idea of our scouting miracle that I find most misleading. Yes, we make good buys on the cheap. And then when we do we sell them again with no lack of haste. Take them out of the equation and our recruitment looks very ordinary indeed.
We lost our 5th derby on the trot to Sunderland on Sunday 5th April 2015, their best ever run in these games. Over the time those games were played Sunderland were pretty much always a team in crisis, avoiding relegation only narrowly. While on this run of record-breaking victories against their greatest rivals they have sacked 2 managers in 2 years. They did worse when they were the highest-spending club in the country, the Bank of England Club. They did worse when they were at their peak, the Team of All Talents. Imagine the incompetence and mismanagement on our part to achieve that.
There’s only so long this can go on. That’s true in more than one way. Our team building isn’t a stable system, it’s not in equilibrium but on a downward trend. Eventually the team will deteriorate enough to go down, and maybe this time they won’t come back. But also eventually people will stop caring. They’ll stop being willing to be taken advantage of, to be expected to turn up no matter what. It’s happened before. Either end of the 1980s were a bleak time for fans and attendances suffered. As our relative glory days get ever further away and ever more obviously not returning, the ties from the good times will fade. I know we’ve all heard this before and it never happens, or it hasn’t yet anyway. This time people who have always kept on coming back might in the end just find they have no reason to any more.
I’m one of the oft-derided thousands who bought their first season ticket in the wake of Kevin Keegan’s arrival at the club in the early 1990s. I did it then because it was the only way to get into the match at the time. Before that I was quite happy turning up when it suited me, 7-10 times a season when there was something worth watching, less when there wasn’t or I had something better to do. Sometimes finances, or work, dictated me staying away more. I could go back to picking and choosing my games and there will be many just like me. Once I’ve made that step it’ll be the simplest thing in the world to just stop completely.