Mark Brophy

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Clean Slate

This summer has been an ideal time for new beginnings at Newcastle United. New coaching staff. New players. A supposed new playing style. Most importantly, there is a new manager in situ. All this means there’s also a second chance available to players who predate this period of change at the club. McLaren will want a good look at all the players he’s inherited, not just the ones favoured previously. Maybe he can spot something in one of our write-offs that he thinks could prove useful to the team.

While that clean slate has to apply to all the players, it’d be a good idea if it was also applied by our fans too. Like most clubs, we have a long history of choosing one or two from the squad to be the subject of our fury. It’s like a baton passed down through the ages. I can’t remember there ever being a time when we all didn’t know exactly who was to blame before it even happened. As one has walked off into the sunset, and probably been quite happy about it after spending every matchday being beasted from the stands, another has merely been selected. Kevin Brock gave way to Darren Peacock, who passed on the crown of thorns to Alessandro Pistone, and eventually to the king of them all, Shola Ameobi. A collective chill must have passed through the remainder of the squad when he finally left last summer. Who would be chosen next, they must have wondered? They most likely already knew, Mike Williamson and Yoan Gouffran currently head the queue for criticism. Some queue it was last season too; Obertan, Riviere, and Ameobi Jnr all made a play for the title. This isn’t just a sneer on my part towards those in our crowd who can’t do without a hate object. If you pay your money you have a right to criticise poor performance, and I’ve done it myself over the years in spades. Bellowing abuse at someone the moment they emerge from the tunnel isn’t covered by the description of fair criticism however. Taking that argument to it’s conclusion, booing a player seems so much worse than merely howling incoherently with frustration, because one is a deliberately personal attack and the other a reaction to a particular incident in the moment.

With this in mind, what to think on Williamson being booed early on against Sheffield United on Sunday gone? An awayday pre-season friendly relatively close to home is inevitably going to attract a sizeable crew of day-trippers distinct from the regular in-season away support, so let’s hope this is an isolated instance rather than the start of something. If we can agree that booing him apropos of nothing is wrong, then let’s move onto the more common sentiment which has been building for some time. Of course hyperbole is never far from the lips of a football fan, but I can categorically state that Mike Williamson is not the worst player ever to pull on the black and white shirt. Not even close to it. I grew up watching a forward line of Billy Rafferty and Ray Clarke. I saw a fair few of the 42-game season in 1980-81 which yielded just 30 league goals in the second tier. Think of the dross who’ve turned out for us over the years; not just the obvious ones who got the odd game like Fumaca or Albert Craig, but crashingly poor players who were regulars for a prolonged period of time like Amdy Faye or Frank Pingel. Williamson gets criticism for hoofing it but at least he is capable of putting his foot through a ball, unlike Andreas Andersson for instance. I’d also say Jean-Alain Boumsong for one has put his foot in it more spectacularly than anything our current beanpole bungler’s done.

Let’s not forget that it was only a couple of years ago our fans were calling not completely ironically to “get Iron Mike on the plane”. In case you’ve forgotten or struggle to believe it now, that was the plane to Brazil, for the World Cup. Yes, as a member of the England squad. The extreme of opinion was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

Williamson is limited, that’s all. He’s at the club because he’s a big lad who attacks the ball in the air, as anyone would understand who’d seen our capitulation in the first half at Everton last season with Mbiwa and Coloccini playing centre-back, neither of whom can do that job. I would rather he wasn’t a first choice but we need someone like him. If he was fourth-choice centre-back I’d be satisfied with that. Of course what is usually overlooked when focus falls on Williamson is that he was playing in a poor side bereft of confidence last season and no-one shines in that situation. His partner Coloccini hasn’t played well for a couple of years now and doesn’t come in for anything like the stick that comes Williamson’s way.

The motivation of people booing Williamson is something to puzzle over. It certainly won’t get him to perform any better. Maybe they’re trying to force him out, his appearance in black and white offending them so. If that’s the case they need to have a look at the squad list. If Chancel Mbemba is awarded a work permit then we apparently have a centre-half coming in but one is not enough if our other options consist of the fragile Steven Taylor, Coloccini on the downward slope of his career and various full-backs who can do a job in the middle in a crisis. I do hope they haven’t given a clean slate to the one person who doesn’t deserve it, Mike Ashley, because he hasn’t yet fulfilled his promise to punch above our weight financially, let alone the one about providing us with a team with which we could win something. I hope we’re not prostrating ourselves in thanks before Ashley for buying some players using money we gave him in the understanding it would be used like this. Maybe if we’re going to boo someone it should be the owner, not one of the players, at least until he fulfils his promise to run the club with sporting achievement as its goal using all the finances at its disposal. Our recruitment so far this summer has been entirely positive, from manager to coaches to the 3 players we’ve bought, but there needs to be more and until there is the objections people had last season should continue to stand.

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