Everything Is Broken

Photo: (c) Ken Slone

Well, not everything. Just my computer, which has developed a mystery illness and has to be shipped off for a week in hospital, and may yet return with all its data amputated (if you've emailed me in the past week or so and I've not replied yet, this is almost certainly why: so please do re-send). Oh, and Newcastle United, whose relegation from the Premier League is doubtless causing much mirth to everyone but us supporters. And the publishing industry, which doesn't seem to work any more. And the music business. And cricket. And... Oh, hang on, I was right in the headline after all. But for now, I'll concentrate on Newcastle.

I quite liked Mike Ashley when he first took over. The way the football press got so indignant about him having the temerity to wear a shirt and sit with the fans at away games made me warm to him. I was pleased he wasn't the usual aloof, remote, removed club owner: OK, he wasn't "one of us" exactly, but nor was he one of them, those cold grey men in suits who went to matches and had no passion for the game or affinity with the fans, who probably looked down their noses at the rabble pouring in to the grounds for week after week - the people who, ultimately, in coming to view their customers as cattle, helped create the mindspace in which Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough happened. Another plus point in Ashley's favour was he wasn't Shepherd and Hall - he didn't do interviews, didn't court attention, didn't seem likely to get caught out by the News of the World's investigative team in a sting set-up bragging about ripping off the fans and behaving like a numptie. He wasn't them, so how bad could he be? Oh, man.

The point at which Ashley's mistakes became manifest, for me, was in the days before Keegan's resignation. We'd had owner and manager speaking openly about the need to buy players cheaply, develop them and bring them on; the Arsenal model, which may not have brought league titles and European glory to the Gunners but which has given the club stability and continuity and a regular place at the top table - all things 99 per cent of Newcastle fans I know would have given their eye teeth for. Then James Milner, one of those young players around whom the team should have been built, was sold to the club who, oh the irony, went on to deliver the final body-blow with last-day defeat that sealed a relegation that had been looking increasingly inevitable since November. It was defended as "good business", the same shrill maxim employed to excuse the sale of Woodgate to Real Madrid when no alternative had been identified (apart from, possibly, the vain attempt to sign not a much-needed commanding central defender but Wayne Rooney, and then present this to fans as if it would have been a good thing for the club - an episode so chaotic, idiotic and quixotic it could only have happened at Newcastle). You knew then that Ashley had lost the plot; and it only took until Keegan's resignation to realise he'd forgotten where he'd put the entire bloody book.

At the time of writing - and by the time you read this several minutes may have passed, so who knows? Maybe he's changed his mind again - Ashley has put the club up for sale for a second time. This isn't simply the latest in a long line of potentially disastrous mistakes he's made over the past 18 months: it could have consequences even more far-reaching than relegation (which, as the redoubtable chaps have pointed out, could turn out to be a blessing if it means we can get rid of some of the dead wood and hangers-on the club has managed to saddle itself with since about midway through the sainted but by no means perfect Sir Bobby's time as manager). Never mind attracting new players, which was going to be hard enough already: we need a manager - whether that's Shearer or not is less important than that someone physically capable of doing the job takes charge on a long-term contract - who can set about the root-and-branch restructuring in all areas (on-field and off-) that has to take place ahead of the squad reporting back for training in, erm, 29 days.

In the mean time, a third of the club's non-playing staff are losing their jobs, while the ones responsible for the gutless on-field displays that led to the loss of top-flight status continue their lazy cheque-collecting. I'm reliably informed that Joey Barton's a lovely chap who struggles to beat down the devil, but hearing his agent talk about his "commitment" to the club, when he's poured petrol on his last remaining bridge before dynamiting it, is the last thing the club or the region needs to hear right now. Damien Duff's fealty is welcome: let's see how sincere he is should someone like Portsmouth come knocking in the summer. I don't really blame the likes of Xisco - they were pursued, they didn't ask to be signed, and it's not their fault they weren't up to it - but the least said about Michael Owen the better. A part-timer on a salary that ought to embarrass him, he's talked some of the talk but the fact that in United's last win he was comprehensively outplayed by Mark Viduka says everything you need to know. "England's Michael Owen", as he was routinely described for most of his spell at the club, never really played for Newcastle: he only really played for Michael Owen (and England). He's talked about owing the fans and the club - and if he's serious about that, he'll spend the close season getting fit, come back in August and play like he means it, and take a 50 per cent cut in his wages. If he doesn't (and even if he wasn't out of contract I wouldn't be holding my breath) we'll get to see exactly how much those words were really worth.


A note on the photo: Ken captured myself and Alan in a moment of exuberant euphoria following Robert Lee's 66th minute equaliser in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea on April 9th, 2000. It's a fantastic image in itself - a beautiful distillation of the intensity of that fleeting moment that supporting your team is all about. But it has greater resonance for me, in that I think that was the probably the last time I cared as much about Newcastle, or about football in general. Certainly, that was the day I realised I'd never see Newcastle win a trophy: we'd been the better side for much of the match, and I still think we were robbed (referee Dermot Gallagher failing to stop Poyet scoring from a free kick taken while the ball was still moving and our defence still regrouping, in a match played for allegedly "sentimental" reasons in a decrepit Wembley stadium, hardly a neutral venue for Chelsea, not just because it was in the same city as their own ground but because their then chairman was at that point in negotiations to buy it). Our first goal on that ground since 1976 was never going to help erase whatever curse had been put on the club, and nothing that's happened since - including the UEFA Cup run - has made me change my mind on that for a second. And football itself is a devalued currency to me now: the reason we cared as much as the photo shows we did was at least in part because, even then, this still felt like our team - like these were people we knew somewhat to care about the club and the fans. Lee and Shearer; Steve Howey and, yes, Shay Given (who I don't blame in the slightest for leaving the sinking ship in January: the fact that he stayed as long as he did with absolutely nothing in the trophy cupboard to show for it shows that he was as committed as the fans, and doubtless as heartbroken over the destruction of the club as any of us) - these sorts of players don't really exist any more. I don't look at any member of the Newcastle squad as "a Newcastle player" per se - they're just hired guns we'll watch for a couple of years before they move on to the next paymaster, and as a result they don't play with the guts or the passion or the commitment we as fans expect and demand, and they don't deserve much of same in return. And yet, even as I'm typing this, I'm thinking, "But what about Steven Taylor, or Andy Carroll? The proper Geordies?" I know where this ends, and it's not in an open-top bus parade and an avalanche of confetti and streamers - and I have come to hold the sport in general, and the people who run it, and the players who fart about in it, in nothing but contempt. And yet, I can't quite leave it alone, and while I can't pretend I care anywhere near as much about going down as I did about not winning that semi, here I am, several hundred words later, still banging on about them. It would apppear that I still want to believe; I just don't know if I can, I suppose.


What must make Newcastle's demise even harder to bear is the fact you SHOULD be a great club - everything is in place for this to happen (fan base/superb stadium/great history) but everything is missing (astute owner/directors; long term plan; well thought out short term strategy; experienced manager with good track record)
Your sentiments about 'current state of football' are spot on but only, I would suggest, in the Premier League.
Five years ago I would have thought it unthinkable not to watch Match of the Day; not to have Sky Sports; not to miss a 'vital' game. In truth I don't care (for all the reasons you state) and if I watch 5 minutes of MOTD before getting bored I'm doing well.
For my sins I support Grimsby Town (and believe me, following a club which came close to falling out of the football league tests your nerves, faith and staying power) and one of the great things about supporting a lower league club is you expect nothing so when those sweet moments come (GTFC won twice at Wembley in 1998) it doesn't get any better.
Football at top level lost it's soul a long time ago and, although you/me/millions of others will always love the game quite often it's very hard to like.
There is a fantastic honesty about League two football (and I would suggest Championship and League One) and it is surely no coincidence that in this 'money-grabbing age' crowd attendances for these three leagues are at record levels
How can supporters relate to a player like Joey Barton who earns £60,000 a week and (regardless of his off field problems) is simply mediocrity personified in terms of world class players?
Contrast that with GTFC players who earn only £500-£800 a week but (for the most part) truly know they are very lucky to have such a priveliged position and play for the shirt week in/week out.
I hope Newcastle have a great season next year but I doubt it; the club has been drifting for years and now seems on the edge of a precipice in terms of even being a major player in the Championship.
For my part I can't wait for Blundell Park to be 'heaving' with 6,000 fans; a sense of great expectancy; watching several home grown lads play for the shirt; and winning promotion with Mike Newell.

posted by: Nigel Devereux: 2 Jun, 2009 15:01:13

Thanks Nigel, wise words indeed. As one would expect from a fellow black and white, albeit a supporter of a team that's actually won something in the last half century.

Which reminds me of a brilliant story I heard after one of those Wembley wins, can't recall where so it's of urban legend status now I expect, but I hope it's true. Grimsby supporter goes to the game, has a brilliant day out, team wins, him and his mates go mental, spend night happily carousing in a string of pubs, just make it down to Kings Cross in time for the last train, drink the bar dry on the way, gets off in the town, says his goodbyes to his mates and it's only then, standing there at the taxi rank in Grimsby, that the realisation dawns: "Hang on a minute: I moved to London two years ago."

Anyway. Honest football? Simply by dropping a division? I hope you're right. I know everyone's evoking Leeds at the moment, and in many ways they're the more apt comparison, but the other one that keeps nagging away is Manchester City, which has something of a happier outcome (if no less certain an ultimate fate). Either way, League One is on the cards if they don't sort something radical and complete out, and fast.

posted by: Angus: 2 Jun, 2009 15:37:44

Hi Angus, I am Nigel (the Grimsby fan)'s brother and home and away follower of Nottingham Forest and as such well placed to comment on your demise!!

We have had some of the most terrible years imaginable for a club of our history and achievements in recent times and, although not on the same scale as your beloved, the loyalty of our club's support never ceases to amaze me.

OK, so when we're bad, we're bloody awful and my God the crowd informs the players just how they feel, but I have to say this past season has been one of the most enjoyable I can ever remember, certainly since football as we know it died in 1992.

Forest as a club very nearly died a few years back and we are living proof of the bad side of takeovers and money men, people whose only motive is greed and who care not one iota for the people who hold their club dearest. The results of that saw some of the most awful football I have ever witnessed under the likes of Platt and Megson, football I would never like to see again and obviously our fall from grace was completed with 3 seasons in league 1.

However, I strongly feel that this period reconnected the majority of fans with their club and people recognise and apprceiate the input of our saviour Nigel Doughty, a local man made good who has ploughed £45 million of his own money into Forest and is gradually seeing rewards for his endeavour.

The fact that we are one club that didn't cheat our way through debt, took our punishment and the inevitable consequences and avoided administration, makes me almost as proud as any Wembley appearance, League title or European Cup (well OK, not quite!!)

At one home game this season, some non regular fans were heard criticising the board, and Doughty in particular, over lack of investment etc. At that time, we were bottom of the championship and looking at a real relegation struggle, but instead of the normal sheep following agreement you might expect, these part timers were shouted down by myself and many others with the argument that the chairman should be Knighted, not criticised, for what he has donoe for our club.

Things like that have made us appreciate what following a team religously is all about and like so many things, it isn't until you almost have something taken away, that you begin to realise the importance of it and whilst not everything in the garden is rosy, we are gradually regaining our respect and rightful place.

I think you will be pleasantly surprised by your championship experience and I know next season is going to be even better than this with the clubs that have come down, as well as up and you will find a league that is genuine and honest and though the quality may not be what you have been used to in the promised land, that will be compensated for by the competitiveness and excitement that the league brings, where so many teams can beat each other and every set of fixtures has real meaning.

I think most of the teams fans would be reluctant to be promoted, knowing what lies in store due to the inequality of finances and let's face it, what can any team outside the top 4 in the Premier league really look forward to, where mid table mediocrity is seen as success by so many.

Things may very well get worse before they get better for Newcastle, as is the case for so many, just look at the relegated teams from the Championship this year. However, if your main aim is to enjoy following your team and reconnect with the real football world, then, despite the way it feels now, you will look back on last season as a blessing not a disaster!! Enjoy!!

posted by: Mick Devereux: 4 Jun, 2009 14:50:20

Angus, wise words indeed. For me the great moment in modern Newcastle history drawing 2 all in Milan in 2003, I think. Titus Bramble played like Alan Hanson and a young spaniard scored a cracker from the a edge of the area. Both ultimately castigated for different reasons and left for less than they were bought for. And so was SBR. One penalty kick missed against partizan (did shearer miss his kick that night?) and the seed of relegation is sown. The bad decisiion was not so much to sack a quickly devaluing sir bobby but to have no plan b. So very Newcastle as you pointed out. So we got souness instead of Bruce (oh but he BLEEDS Newcastle) or someone else qualified and this eventually find ourselves in division 2. Bring on the kids. Great blog.

posted by: John Waller: 4 Jun, 2009 19:04:18

Paradise Lost?

As the 'missing man' in that wonderful photo you so kindly posted at the head of this blog, I feel compelled to add my own musings to those others so eloquently posted here.

Like you, that Chelsea semi final marked a seminal moment in my own thoughts as to the future prospects of Newcastle United Football Club and its followers. As we both trudged our weary Wembley way back to the tube, an overwhelming feeling of dread overtook me, manifested in the feeling that this football club were never ever going to win anything in my lifetime.

The years, months and days that have passed since then have been spent (albeit not exclusively) with me coming to terms with that 'revelation'. In many ways the fateful events of season 2008/09 were simply a culmination of a process that started for me on March 22nd 2006.

These feelings were/are certainly not restricted to the FA Cup. In my own mind by March 22nd 2006, the promised 'paradise' of the premier league had long been exposed as a marketing construction totally devoid of the true meaning of sport; the garish trophy erected in its ‘honour’ a chimera beyond the reach of all but a moneyed few.

It would be churlish and plain wrong to suggest that my personal experiences of the premier league were all bad (who could forget the unconfined joy of Highbury 1994.) but however hard I try to deny them, my thoughts and memories always return to Ewood Park and Anfield 1996.

For me the self-anointed ‘premier’ league was never the paradise promised, merely a resting place upon a long journey that leads who knows where?

My love for the football club is rooted in something much more than the league in which the team operates. As with many supporters of many different clubs (and let me stress this is definitely NOT something unique to supporters of NUFC and in this regard we are by no means special), my love is bound up in a sense of feeling for the community and history of the region in which the club is anchored. In essence this love is borne of the people, including cherished family members, whose restless spirit erected the buildings, dug the mines, forged the bridges and built the ships.

The man who held the camera that captured that beautiful image (see para. 1) is of course a major part of the story.

The football club is merely a totem of these spirits and when I express joy, love, hurt, anger and despair for the team, I do it because it is a natural extension of my feelings for a wider community who have created and sacrificed so much and whose struggles and achievements have passed into my own DNA.

And so to answer the question posed at the heading of this piece.

The final lines of John Milton’s Paradise Lost are germane here...

"Some natural tears they dropped but wiped them soon
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow
Through Eden took their solitary way".

The message here is clear. Whilst Adam & Eve's fall from paradise is painful, no-one dies. Their exit from Eden is indeed Paradise Lost, however as they make their own weary way , they are linked arm in arm together, bound by a love for each other and united in their quest to face the future together.

It occurs to me that this quest to face the future together, divorced from Eden, but cemented in the real world is the journey that all Newcastle supporters now face.

Milton's epic poem concerns itself with the Fall of Man, and in many senses what I am concerned with here is the Fall of Men. But in my more optimistic moments I do not believe that the fall of which I speak is necessarily terminal. To illustrate; elsewhere in Paradise Lost Milton writes:

"To leave this Paradise, but shall possess
A Paradise within thee, happier farr"

In short, the inner paradise is the only paradise that matters. This inner paradise can be found in the love of family, community, friendship and shared experience that I wrote of earlier. It can be found at Glanford Park, The City Ground and Bloomfield Road just as it can at Highbury, Anfield and Old Trafford. More so I would suggest.

So there you have it. Ruminations on the fate of Newcastle supporters, drawn from the greatest work in the English language. Furthermore they are humble observations which unashamedly seek inspiration from a Judeo-Christian story and yet never once make reference to the name Messiah..


posted by: Nigel Slone: 5 Jun, 2009 15:34:56

Keeping the Faith

Angus I was born in Hollycross next Wallsend 74 years and 1 month ago whitch means that ihave been a N.U.F.C.supporter for 74 years and 10 months.Whilst i understand your frustraction over the recent years ,dont forget the good times spent with excellant people at various matchs. Barcellona and being FORCED to stay another night due to the game being called off due to rain. Milan in 2003 one of our best performances in recent times.You have to put aside the fact that we stuck in ahole behind the goal with their supporters throughing fire crackers at us ,and ofcourse pissing on us at half time,all the time theire WONDERFULL POLICEMEN looked on.How about beefburgers and beer in Newcastle Central Station waiting for the train back south,Or Shearer running back right arm above head after doing what he does best.and another time with hands out sideways as if to say WHAT ME? asRoy Kean gets sent off. My father Bob Slone known as Wor Bob was a shipwright out of Swan Hunters ,and spent the war years living in Edinburgh and working in Rosthy dockyard {after being bomed out of Ply mouth .he was trainer to Colinton Mains United for many years.He also ran the apprentices side in the dockyard on his retirement was awarded The Empire Medal for his service to both of these tasks.He neaver lost his FAITH.My elder brother Robert Slone was a youth leader with Wallsend Boys Club for over 30 years and his young Brazil side helped more than 35 young lads make the BigTime he has a signed shirt from the great PELE among many other awards for his work .. Robert who willbe 80 next month had to retire due to ill health but he never lost his FAITH. Myself no great shakes,but was fortunate to be around when we won 2F.A. cups and a Fairs Cup. Iv seen many great players over the years,the late great Wor Jackie playing against an Edinburgh Select Side at Tyne castle {where i went to school with a great centerhalf Dave Mckay}. I digress,Jackie hit the bar as the half time whistle went and i swear to this day the bar was still moving when they came out for the 2nd half. mind you i think that they only had a 10 break in those days? My father took me to see England play Scotland at Hampden Park climing up mud banks and standing on old railway sleepers,BUT i saw some of the old time greats,Mathews Manion Mortison Finny and my hero Big Frank Swift who was lost in the Munich plane crash whilst working as a reporter. He also took me to SUNDERLAND yes SUNDERLAND to see another great the CLOWN PRINCE OF SOCCER ill let you reseach that one. A long time later after moving to Lincoln with a friend of mine Dave Price a Man.U.supporter took our sons to see the very BEST at the Forest ground .In my humble opption he was the VERY BEST.i ever saw if your still not sure just ask PELE. The point of all this Yes we have had more than our fair share of S---t over the years and there is more to come no doubt.But it is not down to the supporters only to the people and events that have already been mentioned. So we have dropped a division ill bet we have the biggest gates down there. Now at last to my FAITH The remarkable people of the North East who had broad shoulders and strong hearts that built fine ships and dug coal that we becme famous for, and we still need them Now to support OUR team, My people ,OUR FOOTBALL CLUB So Angus you are very wellcome to join my Faith or rejoin i think may be more correct ,There is only one rule YOU MUST KEEP IT. Ken Slone 6 6 009 P.S. To my son Nigel iv never read Paridise Lost but i know where Paridise was won . On the beachs of Normondy 65 years ago today.

posted by: Ken Slone: 6 Jun, 2009 17:27:55

Just got back home from Orient away, saw the comments re NUFC. Maybe it's the Likely Lads or Auf Wiedersehn Pet, but everyone seems to love the Geordies. Compare and contrast with the universal delight at Leeds United's fall from grace. I remember the vultures circling, waiting for cheap pickings - Kewell, Smith, Robinson, Fabian Delph, Aaron Lennon, Danny Rose (all Leeds Academy boys), not forgetting Woodgate, Viduka, and the afore-mentioned James Milner, like Woodgate, another product of the Leeds academy.

Who's next for the A1 north? Beckford?

As you reap, so shall you sow...

posted by: Carl Warren: 14 Feb, 2010 14:54:24

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