Play a different Toon

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Championship - Newcastle United v Ipswich Town - St James' ParkOne of the regular features of the Sky Sports era has been the continued failure of Newcastle United to become a credible force in English football. They’ve got close on a number of occasions, notably in the swashbuckling Kevin Keegan years, but mostly, it’s not been much fun being a Geordie over the past 22 years.

As the club’s fans have watched as manager after manager has tried to change the club’s fortunes, and in the process, spent lots of money, we’ve been treated to footage of angry beer-bellied Toon fans, Geordie womenfolk in tears after another setback, banners in the stands, boardroom intrigue, mass imports of Frenchmen, mass exodus of players and so on and so forth. To put it mildly, Newcastle United, who truly believe they are a big club because they won plenty in Edwardian and post-war austerity England, continue to be frustrated.

And now it’s Alan Pardew’s turn to face the wrath of Gallowgate – again. It’s fair to say that it’s tough being accepted in Newcastle if you’re a southerner. But no matter where you’re from, or how good your CV was when you arrived on the Tyne, and regardless of whether you’ve been called “Wor Alan” or not, sooner or later, the fans turn against the current  occupant of the Newcastle dugout.

They’ve been through some big names at Newcastle in the Premier era: Keegan, Ruud Gullit, Kenny Dalglish and Sir Bobby Robson. But equally, names like Pardew, Chris Hughton, Sam Allardyce and Glenn Roeder suggest the club has been shopping at a discount supermarket for some time. Certainly, they haven’t been bringing rain-makers to the club – not that they always work. Part of this may be because the job is no longer that attractive, but it may also be that the people running a club that hasn’t won anything significant, since before man landed on the moon, may lack the ambition to take Newcastle into the big league.

For some reason, it never works for long at Newcastle. Their average Premier League finish is around ninth, but in 21 campaigns, they have finished below that level 11 times. And during this period, gates have risen from 33,000 in 1993-94 to more than 50,000 in 2013-14. In the last 14 seasons, they have averaged 50,000-plus 10 times. They should be getting a better return.

Rumours abound that Pardew will be shown the door soon. He’s been in the job since 2010, making him the second longest serving manager in the Premier, but he has become “Captain Excuse” after every let-down.

Names like Steve Bruce  (I guess it must be his turn soon), Ronald Koeman and Malky Mackay have all be tabled, but Mike Ashley has said this week that Pardew won’t be sacked if he stabilizes the good ship Toon, and if he achieves that this side of 2015, there is a suggestion money will be available to bring a decent striker and maybe a centre half to St. James’ Park, both of which have been needed for some time.

Pardew is now trying to manage expectations. After taking Newcastle to fifth in 2011-12, two disappointing campaigns didn’t dampen his pre-season prediction that his team could have a stab at a Champions League place. Now, he’s already saying that the club cannot compete with the top six and is pointing to a cosy mid-table position. Right now, Newcastle fans would settle for that while they hold their “” banners aloft.

The Ashley regime is not popular. The fans claim he is using the club as a marketing vehicle for his company, but isn’t that what sponsorship is all about? There’s no denying that communication has to get better at the club – Ashley rarely, if ever, speaks and  worryingly, there seems to be a degree of press censorship going on in Newcastle. No wonder there is talk of disenfranchised supporters, although the attendances suggest that the fans are as passionate as ever. They might not like Ashley, but would they take to an Abramovich or a Mansour or even a Vincent Tan? Whoever is paying the bills needs to connect with his public.

What does the future hold for Newcastle, then? The fabled hotbed is supposedly cooling and if Pardew does go, the names currently being thrown around are not going to move the dial on for the club. If they are ever going to break their 45-year duck, they need to look beyond the merry-go-round of managers. OK, so they cannot compete with Oligarch and Sheikh soccer, but they should be just behind the front-runners, not staring down at the Championship leaders.


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