Friday, 11 January 2008

Big Shame

This is going to be a post about football, so if that's of no interest to you, then maybe best to skip it.

As a Newcastle supporter, I've been following the various crises and disasters this season with barely more than depressed resignation. As a team, I don't think I've seen us actually play consistently well for more than two games for six or seven years, and with back room changes occurring with ever more frequency, it doesn't really look like there's an end in sight.

While I won't deny that the football we've been playing under Sam Allardyce this season has fluctuated between poor and shockingly poor, we're not relegation-threatened, and realistically it's pretty unlikely that we're going to fall into the bottom three. We're not walking through teams, but we're scraping enough points to stay in mid-table, and short of a catastophic second half of the season, a low-mid table finish seems probable. There's no panic, there's no need to rush into anything, and Sam himself said when he took the job that he thought it would take 2 or 3 seasons to get us back into contention at the top of the league. But then after just 8 months of football which was no worse really than that played under Souness and Roeder, he's gone, and we're back to square one.

Apart from the obvious fact that we're playing poorly, two things in particular piss me off about the whole Allardyce situation, and the more general situation of football management. The first is the unbelievable amount of lying that goes on. Clearly you can't run a football club and stay silent the whole time, but when you've got a situation like the one at Newcastle, where the chairman can refer to the possibility of the manager losing his job by saying: "...I find all this speculation tedious. There's a different name every week and there's just no truth in it", one day, only for the manager to leave "by mutual consent" just 8 days later. Similarly, back in October, the new chairman of Derby county "claimed he is '100%' behind Derby's manager and also promised to make funds available for team strengthening in January", and less than a month later manager Billy Davies was gone.

Then you get the situation with any search for a new manager; people are interested, people rule themselves out, there are secret meetings and deals and then suddenly someone accepts an offer. I remember the speculation before Graham Souness was confirmed as Newcastle boss, and when he was posited as a possible manager, he claimed he was perfectly happy at Blackburn, only to accept the job a few days later.

It seems ludicrous to me that there are such huge disparities between what the clubs release as press statements and what they actually end up doing. Either no one running a football club actually knows what they're talking about, or the press is making up stories or the club is willing to lie to the press in order to keep negotiations and disputes a secret. No doubt there are some elements of all of these options that go on, but what it ultimately comes down to is that when a chairman publicly backs a manager, it is taken as a bad thing. There is no way any more for a club to dispel transfer rumours or claims of discontent because no one believes anything in a press release. This then leads on to the second thing that pisses me off, the media.

From almost the moment he was appointed, Sam Allardyce was described as 'under pressure'. There are, we are told 'huge expectations' in Newcastle, for 'a certain kind of football' and there was 'uncertainty in the stands' as to whether he was the right man for the job. Then, after a couple of poor performances, the media picked up on some heckling from the crowd and started to step up a gear. Every time his name was mentioned in the media it carried the tag 'under pressure' or 'under fire', dressing-room mutinies were discussed, boardroom unrest was pondered, and once again we were reminded that the Newcastle fans had 'huge expectations'.

This is after 12 premiership games. What manager could possibly be expected to have sorted a team like Newcastle out after 12 games? Yes, there was some abuse levelled at Sam during the Liverpool game, but we were losing a match at home and even the best of managers is going to suffer some abuse under those circumstances. Much of it was coming from the Liverpool supporters, but apparently the Newcastle fans were lax in 'whistling it down', whatever that means. Apparently the fans were deeply unhappy with the club, and in particular the manager, and there were questions over how long he would survive.

In particular, the media took great pains to remind us again and again that Newcastle fans wanted a return to the free-flowing football of the Keegan era, and that Big Sam's long-ball solution wasn't popular. While not being an outright lie, the sentiment behind it is total crap. Yes, Newcastle fans would love to see the team winning games 4-3 again. We'd love to see a free-flowing style ripping defences apart, with a midfield full of creative players and a constant push for goals. But what supporters would not want that? Yes, I'd love to see us playing like Arsenal, but we're not Arsenal - we don't have the skill and we don't have the team cohesion. I want to see us win. I don't really care if it's messy, but I want to see the players playing with passion and determination, and I want us to grind out results.

If we lose a couple of games then so be it. All teams do that. If we lose a couple of games by gifting goals to the opposition and never threatening to score and with half the team looking like they don't really give a shit and just want to pick up a paycheck, then yes, we're going to complain. Football supporters complaining is not a new thing, it shouldn't be a surprising thing, and it certainly shouldn't be taken as a desire to replace the manager. For goodness sake, John Gregory held on at Villa for what seemed like forever with 'Gregory out' banners hanging from the stadium before finally walking.

Since when did the media decide that they needed to translate what the fans mean? If we want the manager out, we'll make it bloody clear, and up until that point, we just want to see a team playing with belief and determination and the occasional three points. We know that we're not going to be challenging for the title next season, or even the season after, but a manager with a three year plan seemed like our best hope for an eventual return to higher league positions, and I think many fans were genuinely interested to see what he wanted to try and do with the club, but thanks to the hypocritical bullshit of modern football and the ridiculous scaremongering of the media, we'll never get a chance to find out.

And don't even get me started on whether the fans actually want Shearer to take over as manager.

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