Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Newcastle United - Up and Down

(written 20th August)

The thing is, I don't even like Newcastle United. I don't like Newcastle as a city, I abhor the misguided fervour of their fans, I dislike their whole “Geordies against the World” attitude and their tedious search for their next messiah. They field a squad with Joey Barton for crying out loud. Mike Ashley as an owner is a mad genius at best while the whole Northern Rock sponsor-going-bankrupt fiasco was amusing if nothing else. Their tawdry rivalries with whoever they next choose to disdain are of supreme indifference to me and in pure footballing terms their team has served up boring, predictable sludge for the best part of the noughties. Even this squad can't seem to do the convincing “new, fresh look” demanded, content to serve up not one but three Roberto Baggio lookalikes. How can you admire a player who sports hair – let alone fists – like Andy Carroll?

That said, the demands placed on the team when compared against their results from the last sixty years is what intrigues me most about Newcastle United as the season approaches. The fans and board have always prided themselves on their “big club” status while the results hardly reflect those that mark a club as “big” - the expectation that the club will win every game while scoring myriad goals has marred several winning seasons as failures. This expectation is what defines Newcastle United and given their inability – self-inflicted or not – to meet those expectations that definition becomes the dichotomy of failure.

The story intrigues me – the dichotomy is like the proverbial car crash, difficult to look away – a club insisting on revelling in former glories, still feeling they're part of the fabric of the Premier Division. A delusional view perhaps, but undoubtedly passionate. Being a regional centre with a solid football pedigree presents a compelling argument as to why they matter but in no way does that past success or full stadium prove that they're important.

Season 2010-11 for Newcastle United is a story unto itself. The expectation forms the backdrop with starker colours added with the ludicrous transfer fees spent during the 1990s and 2000s, the list of past-prime superstars who've gone Tyneside to die and ultimately the ignominy of relegation in 2009, the worst kind of humiliation as they sunk without a cry while Phil Brown's – Phil Brown! - Hull City, a truly awful team, survived. Then new – old – hope as those ageing vets took apart the Championship. This year, the club's playing staff is largely unchanged: James Perch has come in, Nicky Butt has gone out; and the makeup of the team is similar to the fallen team of 2008-09. Large changes have been promised since that day where Hull survived and the Newcastle faithful died a little but lofty wage bills have prevented major player sales and the club has essentially been treading water.

So where does this put the 2010-11 edition of Newcastle United FC? With a roster of players good enough to achieve safety given the relative weakness of this Premier League season and not weighed down as much as in the past with fan and board expectations of greatness previously the norm at St. James' Park. The squad as presently constituted is no better than a twelfth-placed team, but no worse than a sixteenth-best. Their size and strength in midfield and defence should overpower weaker back-halves like WBA & Blackpool.

The pieces are all in place for a highly intriguing season which made me think – how about following the season dispassionately? Obviously I can't follow the team – apparently you can't do that authentically unless you can trace your ancestry back four generations Tyneside – but the story is there. To maintain minimal interest in the quality of results but in the club in general.

Let's see how it goes.

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