It was no surprise that Newcastle United made so many people laugh on Saturday. Schadenfreude is what separates us from the rugby fans. But what was surprising was the way in which this joy was expressed. You would think that the public implosion of a hapless, rudderless wretched waste of a football club would provide all the mirth required for anyone. So why make shit up?
In the eyes of some, the collapse of John Carver’s empty shirts at Leicester was punishment, not for an abject regime dedicated to profit not progress, but for the Newcastle fans who, “have ideas above their station,” and who, “must wish they hadn’t got Pardew sacked now.”
Let’s start with the latter charge: Alan Pardew wasn’t sacked, he resigned and left for Crystal Palace and a considerable pay rise. Yes, the Newcastle fans had been on his case for some time and were begging for him to be removed, but they did sort of expect that he’d be replaced at some point. That’s what generally what happens at normal football clubs, you see. Old manager gets sacked, new manager comes in. This club, however, is far from normal.
The fans didn’t turn on Pardew because he’s from London. Being from London didn’t hurt him when he was doing well. Former manager Chris Hughton is from London and he’s still very popular at St James Park. Malcom Macdonald is from London and he’s a club legend.
What did for Pardew was not his place of birth, but his performance as manager. After the extraordinary fifth place finish of 2012, Pardew won just 34 of 96 Premier League games, lost 45, endured a protracted relegation battle in 2013 and a spectacular collapse in 2014 that brought just one win from the last eight games of the season. Two and a half years of mediocrity, allied to dull football and a stream of weak excuses, damaged his reputation far more than his accent ever did.
When he had the temerity to blame the fans for being so passionate that the players lost concentration, his relationship with them broke down completely. You may disagree that Pardew had to go, and you would be well within your rights, but the fans didn’t turn on him because he was born in Wimbledon.
As for the idea that Newcastle fans have ideas above their station or any kind of sense of entitlement, that’s a real head scratcher. The obvious conclusion is that the people who say this sort of thing have never, ever been to Newcastle or spoken to anyone from the city. If they have been to Newcastle, perhaps they had a bad time on a stag night. Perhaps they were one of the southerners who jumps off the train, shouts, “Why Aye, Spuggy!” at every redhead and then gets headbutted on the Bigg Market before midnight. It’s as good an explanation as any.
Newcastle’s last trophy, the European Fairs Cup, came 46 years ago. It’s been 19 years since they last came close to winning the league and 16 years since their last Wembley final. There is no success upon which to build a sense of entitlement. High expectations? Why would you expect things that you’ve never experienced? It doesn’t make any sense.
There are a few possible explanations. Newcastle has never been found wanting for wild-eyed loons eager to be interviewed by Sky Sports News, but this is hardly a trait exclusive to the region. Name me one club whose fans are universally measured and sensible. Vox pop for long enough and you’ll find an oddball anywhere.
There is the understandable recoil from the overuse of the phrase, “football is a religion up there.” Football is a religion everywhere. You turn up at your place of worship, you sing songs about idols of the distant past and, at the back of your mind, you wonder if all this really means anything anyway. But there are tired clichés about every region and none of them engender this sort of illogical negativity.
I was in Newcastle in 2009 when they were relegated out of the Premier League. I thought I might encounter fury, but I found only resignation. The supporters I spoke to were unanimous that their demotion was entirely deserved, the inevitable result of a shambolic season. I was covering Newcastle in 2012 when they came so close to a place in the Champions League. The supporters were excited, but why shouldn’t they have been? When you spoke to them though, they were usually quick to disavow suggestions that Pardew’s team were in the same class as Kevin Keegan’s teams of the mid-90s. Most knew that this was merely a decent team playing above itself. That’s why they were so angry when the only senior signing that summer was Vurnon Anita, a £7m utility man. They knew it was a missed opportunity to build on their progress.
Delusions of grandeur? I have lived in the north-east, I still visit the region regularly and I can’t remember the last time I spoke to a Newcastle supporter who predicted anything for his team other than perpetual misery. Unless there is one rogue Geordie running around the country shouting, “Champions League! A Title Challenge! Unicorns!” at everyone except me, then I am absolutely at a loss.
You want to know what Newcastle fans really expect? They expect players who give as much of a shit as they do. They expect a manager in whom they can put their faith. They expect an owner who has the best interests of their club at heart. And right now they’ve got none of the above. So yes, they’re furious. Yes, they’re protesting. Yes, they’re making a fuss. But don’t be so stupid as to think it’s because they’re not going to qualify for the Champions League. It’s been a long, long time since they expected anything like that.
Is this all nonsense? Do you live next door to a man in a black and white shirt who told you that Newcastle would win the league this season? Are you plagued by optimistic Geordies? Write to us: [email protected]
ED’S NOTE: And write to us, you did. Check out the special letters page here.