What is the point of Newcastle United?

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Steeronymus Gerkin
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What is the point of Newcastle United?

Post by Steeronymus Gerkin » Fri Nov 14, 2014 4:07 pm

Eurosport article knocking around. Worth a read.
Football fans attending games in fancy dress is a tired stunt and very rarely a funny one but last weekend provided a welcome exception to the norm. The pair of cheerfully zombie-suited Newcastle fans holding a loft a banner reading ‘Pardew – back from the dead’ once their side had dispatched Liverpool on Saturday brought a chuckle to many a post-Halloween hangover.

Pardew, fresh off the back of four straight victories, may indeed be resurrected for the time being but it is important to remember that Newcastle remain a long way from rom-com territory. Night of the Living Dead was still a horror movie, after all.

To begin with, Newcastle’s recent run may have dragged them up into lower-midtable safety but their long-term form remains, for the moment, desperate. Even after tallying up the nine points gained recently, 29 points from the last 30 league fixtures is form more likely to take the club to Yeovil than into Europe.

Some sort of corner may have been turned, though, and you sense that Pardew, behind the hubris and hot air, is competent enough to avoid a genuine relegation tussle. His newfound security will do the club no harm – but nor is it a remedy for the wider malaise. One of the many problems the club has at the moment is that, somewhere along the line, the story of Newcastle’s struggles has been conflated with the story of Alan Pardew’s struggles. It is an oversimplification that borders on deceit.

There are reasons the tale has been told this way. Not least that English football, with its rich history of Shanklys and Cloughs and Fergusons, remains in thrall to the cult of the manager, despite the notion being an outdated one. No matter that the average lifespan of a Premier League manager rests at under two years. No matter that 21 of the 44 bosses currently working in the country’s top two leagues have been in their jobs for less than a calendar year. This nation still awards disproportionate attention to the dugout.

Not that Pardew doesn’t demand disproportionate attention. Last season’s less-than-eloquent shushing of Manuel Pellegrini and headbutt planted on David Meyler were both, on their own terms, laughably foolish; to achieve both misdeeds within two months of each other takes a special sort of misjudgement. And his general air of self-congratulatory assuredness, while not marking him out from a number of his peers, means that the knives are more readily pointed in his direction when results do tail off.

But the deeper truth behind Pardew’s recent centrality to all things Newcastle is that he is the only public face worn by the club’s highly secretive and widely loathed ownership regime. Through little fault of his own, Pardew is the main mediating party between Newcastle’s owner, Mike Ashley, and its fans.

The supporters’ public disgruntlement with the Ashley administration the last half-decade has had minimal effect on his running of the club. And while few fans have forgotten that Ashley’s malignant presence is the underlying issue, his public absenteeism has deprived their anger of its true focal point, and Pardew, widely seen as the Oddjob to Ashley’s Goldfinger, has provided the obvious outlet.

Recent form may have relieved that anger of late but Newcastle’s so-called revival is only really cosmetic: the systemic ills remain as strong as ever, and to this end it’s worth noting just how much the landscape of the club has shifted during Ashley’s seven years as owner.

When he took over in 2007, Newcastle had just finished 13th. That they have improved on that in four occasions since is a deceptive fact: they’d finished 7th the previous season, 5th two years before that, and 3rd and 4th going back further again. The presumption back then was that midtable was a cause for complaint rather than contentment.

The squad included Michael Owen, Damien Duff, Scott Parker and James Milner – high-quality home nations players who offered the fans an obvious reference point. Shay Given, Steve Harper, Shola Ameobi and Nobby Solano suffused the squad with club-specific identity, while Steven Taylor, Fraser Forster and Andy Carroll were emerging from the academy and ready to take the baton. There was, in short, plenty of reason for Geordie optimism.

Apart from a few academy graduates dotted around the squad’s edges, there is little in the way of any of that now. All signings are done on the cheap, with the better ones moved on for profit and the rest shifted to make room for more gainful acquisitions. "Our policy here has been the same since I’ve been at the club – we have bought players we think have good market value,” were Pardew’s words last month. It’s one way to put it. Another is that Newcastle areassembling squads on a season-to-season basis, working from a fast-moving conveyor belt of faceless continental journeymen.

This summer’s main arrivals were Siem de Jong, Remy Cabella, Daryl Lanmaat, and Emmanuel Riviere – low-pedigree players who no-one expects to hang around for long, and who will likely forge no bond with the club or its fans. With Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Sylvain Marveaux whizzing past in the revolving door, it’s an already familiar cycle.

It’s a policy that negates any attempt to build a team in the long term and drains the identity from a club that was once steeped in it. Zooming out, the larger picture that emerges is one of a process of systematic water-treading, a wilful pursuit of mediocrity whereby top-flight television revenue continues to flow in but expectations are kept neatly in check.

Ashley may have done much to steady the ship financially, but, with moves like the Wonga sponsorship deal and the renaming of the stadium, it’s often been through cack-handed Faustian arrangements that have whipped up the choppy waters of discontent.

But despite the vampiric company the club has been forced to keep, there are still signs of life. The academy is one of the league’s more productive and the first-team has shown its potential to excite. The stadium, too, despite Ashley’s best efforts to convert it into billboard space, remains iconic. St James' Park, like a lot of the great northern grounds, is able to imbue games with an aura and importance that is increasingly scarce. Regardless of the context, a game there still feels like an event, in the way that a game at Old Trafford or Elland Road or Anfield does.

But these reasons for hope are increasingly few and far between. The get-up of those Newcastle fans last weekend may have brought to mind the work of George Romero, but the real question they should be asking is one likely to inspire Bergmanesque existential bleakness: what is the point of Newcastle? What, within a club that consciously exists in order to occupy the league’s middle rankings, is there for the fans to get on board with?

Answers on a postcard. In the meantime, while Pardew staggers on indestructibly like a footballing Freddy Kruger, it’s worth noting that the killjoys preaching for perspective happen to be right. The true horrors at St James' Park are occurring in the dark recesses of its boardroom, and little looks to be changing any time soon.
Mostly agree with him, apart from the bit about Parsnip being unlikely to take us down. He's got away with it a couple of times but he's been one or two breaks away from going right to the wire before and easily could again.
What a goal! Ben Arfa beats three men, one of them twice, and unleashes an absolute thunderbastard from close range!

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