Last summer a Newcastle fan ended an hour long rant about the state of his club by telling me “it’s alright we’ll gan strite back up, we’re tee canny good like”. I laughed in his face and told him they would be playing L**ds next season in League 1 (I’m a Bradford fan by the way). L**d’s recent determination to ruin their season yet again may just save me from ending up with egg all over my face, although on one count I was well and truly proved wrong. Mondays stalemate between Forest and Cardiff secured Newcastle’s promotion to the Premier League with 5 games yet to play. They have looked Champions in waiting all season and fully deserve to retake their place back where the geordie faithful expect them to be.
I doubt I was the only one writing off Newcastle last summer however. If there was ever an good example of how not to run a club this was it. We shall save Mike Ashley for later but here was a club suffering from serious instability. Four managers came and went in one season, all of whom seemed to have little or no control over who came and went. This is of course where former director of football Dennis Wise comes in. Directors of Football are rarely popular figures in the English game with fans and managers alike. A manager expects to be allowed to manage his squad and the fans expect to be allowed to hold him accountable when things go wrong.
DOF’s throw a spanner in the works. The appointment of Wise made no sense whatsoever, why did seasoned managers like Keegan and Kinnear need an inexperienced, unproven figure to ‘oversee footballing matters’? Players where signed and sold without the managers knowledge prompting Keegan to resign. Wise had been given given too much control it seems. I believe the best interpretation of the role is somebody who acts as a senior consultant, an experienced head on hand to offer advice, not to interfere.
The blame cannot rest solely on Wise’s shoulders however, most should lay with the man who appointed him. Chairman, Mike Ashley. Running a business is different to running a football club and Ashley looked out of depth. He has never been popular on Tyneside and with good reason. Inbetween hiring and firing Mr Ashley was also trying to rid himself of the club with little success. Thanks to his mismanagement Newcastle’s value plummeted in line with his popularity. He may be able to sell the shirts but he couldn’t sell the club that played in them.
Newcastle are a big club, their attendances prove that, their successes however do not. They may have nearly done it in 96 but for all the money spent chasing the dream they have hardly been close since. Supporters are right to feel let down, they are perhaps the best in the country. I think the fans however need to accept their responsibility in part for the clubs downfall. Sam Allardice is a solid manager who although may not have provided the entertaining football would certainly have kept them in the league. It was the fans who got him the sack. It was the fans who demanded big name signings and quick success. Newcastle supporters exercise a huge amount of power over their club and rightly so, they are the club. As we all know supporters of any club are usually the first to point fingers and demand changes when their team struggles to meet expectation. In having so much influence it may have just been the case that the their fans initiated the instability that has plagued the club.
That was a year ago and what a difference a year makes. On the pitch Chris Hughton has steadied the ship as has it appears Mr Ashley off it. Hughton inherited a slender squad, low on confidence and unfancied. Rather than sulk the player have knuckled down and responded to their managers professional approach. He seems quick to play down success and appears to have his feet firmly on the ground. I think this is what the club needs and the fans seem to have responded. Attendances have averaged over 42,000, only 5 Premiership clubs could better that, a tremendous achievement. Off the field Mike Ashley has been a far less conspicuous character. He released funds in the January window to secure promotion and seems to have set realistic budgets and targets.
Next seasons transfer kitty is rumored to be around £15million. This may seem a pittance in today’s market but Newcastle need to be mindful of their position. They are competing against the promoted clubs and next seasons primary target ought to be be survival. This season out of the top division should have served as a lesson and it would be disappointing to see them to return to their old ways. I honestly think they will do a lot better than survival but if not lets hope the supporters and chairman keep patience. They may never get back to where they where “ Them days is over like” but they certainly are bouncing back.