Posted tagged ‘Newcastle United’

Newcastle, here we go!

June 18, 2010

Readers of this blog know that I am a strong supporter of Newcastle United FC. Of course the club have just been returned to their rightful place in the English Premier League . Now the fixtures for 2010-11 have been announced – but who do they get for the opening game? Manchester United of course! Piece of cake!

The power of the community

April 12, 2010

Margaret Thatcher famously said that there was ‘no such thing as society’, and in recent years it has become commonplace for commentators to suggest that affluence, the internet and demographic changes had brought the traditional concept of the ‘community’ to an end. In fact, various academics and thinkers have been suggesting new models of society and community to arrest this apparent development.

Over the past couple of days I have been reminded, however, that the community still has immense power, particularly during times of stress, to comfort and unite. Watching the response of the Polish people to the plane crash that killed the country’s President and other leaders provided an example of the effect of community solidarity.

On Saturday I spend the day in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in the North of England, watching Newcastle United play Blackpool. Newcastle, as readers here know, has been promoted back into the English football premier league. The North of England has, over a decade or two, been seriously affected by the decline of traditional industries and the resulting unemployment and poverty. Amidst all this, Newcastle’s football club stood as the embodiment of the community in its hunger for something better. More than anywhere else that I am aware of, this sports club represents the community, and the community lives in part through it – which is one of the key reasons why I am a supporter of this club. You can now see the surge of optimism running through the city on the back of the club’s promotion: may it not all turn to ashes next year!

But one way or another, the idea of the community still lives.

Magpie restoration

April 7, 2010

All right-thinking people will be aware of the fact that Newcastle United FC are on their way back to the English Premier League. Only a year ago the sky seemed to have fallen on the club: owner Mike Ashley had fallen out with manager (and club hero) Kevin Keegan, and had been keeping everyone guessing with a will-he-won’t-he, on-again-off-again attempt to sell the club. In the ensuing chaos Newcastle were relegated from the premiership to the Coca-Cola Championship, where it then looked as if there could be a terminal meltdown when Ashley failed to get Alan Shearer for the job of manager and the team was beaten 6-0 by Leyton Orient, whom nobody had even heard of before.

But then, quietly, everything turned around. The players got their act together, caretaker manager (and ex-Ireland player) Chris Hughton managed to calm everything down, and the club started winning games. Lots of them, in fact, so that five games before the end of the season their promotion was confirmed.

Of course it can all go horribly wrong again, but just for now supporters are feeling that almost forgotten sensation, confidence and optimism.

But even if all goes well, the Newcastle experience over the past 12 months does suggest that some issues in English (and international) club football need to be addressed. Does it really make sense that the world’s largest clubs are ‘owned’ by rich businessmen? Indeed, does it make sense that these same businessmen often really own the clubs only with the help of impossibly large bank loans? Are footballers overpaid? Can the executive management teams of these clubs not understand that football managers need to be allowed to develop their tactics over a longer period, and that changing them every time a team has lost three consecutive games is simply insane? How should we evaluate the role and influence of television stations (in particular Sky TV) in soccer?

For Newcastle fans like me this is a great moment. But it is also a good moment to ask these larger questions, and it is perhaps a good time for serious reform.

Re-naming hallowed ground?

October 31, 2009

Sorry, it’s one of those moments when I have to say something about events at Newcastle United FC. As some readers may know, the club has not been having a happy time with its current owner, Mike Ashley, and fans have been in revolt ever since he forced Kevin Keegan to quite as manager.

But however inept his performance as owner may have been to date, this week he wandered into quite new and mine-strewn territory. Earlier in the week the club announced:

‘Newcastle United now aims to move forward on and off the pitch. The Club aims to maximise its commercial revenues; this includes renegotiating its Club sponsor and kit deal, which expire at the end of this season, as well as welcoming offers for the stadium naming rights for next season.’

Stadium naming rights? Does he even begin to know what can of worms he is opening there? As every Newcastle supporter knows, St James’s Park is one of the key iconic places in England’s North-East. Generations have converged on it on Saturdays and other match days. Of course the stadium itself has had to change radically over the years, as standards have moved on and new expectations have grown regarding safety and comfort. But what has kept the link between today’s stadium and past generations of supporters is the name, St James’s Park.

The idea that it might be re-named, and indeed for commercial reasons, has united supporters in fury. I find it hard to see how Ashley will not be forced to back down; or else be run out of Toon…


September 7, 2009

Two of my extra-curricular enthusiasms merit a mention today – so apologies to those who don’t feel like sharing them!

On this blog I have from time to time given you a downbeat account of affairs at Newcastle United FC, a club you may have gathered I support. Well, we still have a mad owner, no permanent arrangements for a manager, key players who transferred out during August, dissatisfied fans – and do on and so on. But by heavens, the players are playing! It’s ‘only’ the Championship, but Newcastle are right there at the top, leading the table. What is even more remarkable is that they haven’t lost a single game in the season so far. And the players (or those that are left) are actually playing as if it mattered to them! So yes, even the gross incompetence of the board and the lunacy of the position the club has been pushed into have not stopped a good season from developing, and some people (naive ones, no doubt) are now whispering that Newcastle may be back up in the premiership next year. Oh go on, we can dream…

The second is also a particular delight. Regular readers know I have a particular fondness for the band A Fine Frenzy, whose first album ‘One Cell in the Sea‘ achieved enthusiastic reviews all over the world and was in the charts in America and a number of European countries, topping the charts indeed in some of them. This week the band’s second album, ‘Bomb in a Birdcage‘, is being released, and I have been able to listen to it in its entirety. It is an extraordinary follow-up, a mixture of poetic insights and rock-inspired beats. Singer songwriter Alison Sudol’s vocals are also amazing, with an exceptional range and great beauty. A must-have album, in my opinion!

Light at the end of the tunnel?

August 16, 2009

No, I am not talking about a possible turning point in this recession, with Germany and France, and even the Czech Republic, apparently showing some economic growth for the first time in a while. I am not even talking about the apparently-still-on-the-tracks Metro North, though goodness knows this is a vital bit of proposed infrastructure for Dublin, and North Dublin in particular.

No, I am of course talking about Newcastle United FC and the deserved win against Reading yesterday, the first time that the hard-pressed Newcastle fans have had anything to cheer about in quite a while. Owner Mike Ashley continue to mess around with the will-he won’t-he teasing about his intentions to sell the club, there is no permanent manager in sight – though Alan Shearer is ready and willing and Ashley claims to want him (but won’t do the deal), players are leaving the club by the score; but at least the players that remain seem to have become more determined, and this performance was impressive, not just because they won but because they played with fluency and commitment.

Maybe there is still hope. But the first imperative must be for Ashley to sell. Go on, Mike, surely you want to put all those constant insults from Newcastle fans behind you. Just sell!

Football woes

July 22, 2009

Regular readers of this blog will be used to my occasional forays into the world of soccer, and these days it is mainly to allow me to voice my utter despair at things in the club I support, Newcastle United FC. As some may know, Newcastle were relegated this summer from the English Premiership to the Championship. This little disaster was largely the result of the sheer catastrophe of the management by the current owner, businessman Mike Ashley. Having forced out the much loved and successful manager, Kevin Keegan, and then bounced along with a succession of managers dogged by bad luck, inexperience or illness, Ashley eventually – but far too late – appointed local hero Alan Shearer.

And when relegation came, of course Ashley quickly confirmed Shearer in the post and provided funds to reconstitute the team? Like hell he did! Rather, he messed around telling everyone one day he would now focus on getting everything right and confirm Alan Shearer, and then on the next saying he would sell the club while stalling the manager appointment. True, Newcastle has won all three pre-season friendlies so far – one of them was in Dublin against Shamrock Rovers, and my son and I were there; but that’s not enough when the club is rudderless and drifting along. The worst pessimists among the fans are already whispering the words ‘Leeds United’ sotto voce, God help us.

Anyway, to drag myself away from all this pessimism, this evening I accompanied my son to Dalymount Park to watch Bohemians (the ‘Bohs’) play a qualifying round match for the UEFA Champions’ League against Red Bull Salzburg. A capacity crowd, supporters in excellent voice (and indeed there was what we shall call some choice language from the stands). The Bohs started with an advantage, having finished the away game against Salzburg with a 1-1 draw – meaning that a scoreless draw would see them through on this occasion. In the event, just a few minutes from the final whistle, the Austrians scored, and that dream was over.

Who said that soccer can let you escape from the misery of daily life? I am now reading the report of ‘An Bord Snip’ to take my mind off the football woes.

Football musings

June 12, 2009

OK, I know I said I wouldn’t blog about soccer for a while, but I cannot help observing the following. We have just seen Cristiano Ronaldo sold by Manchester United to Real Madrid for a cool £80 million. At about the same time, Mike Ashley is aiming to sell Newcastle United FC to anyone with the cash for £100; I suspect that it may change hands for something like the same price as Ronaldo. Real Madrid, with more cash on its hands than either of the British clubs, is not owned by a private individual or investor.

There must be some lessons in there somewhere.

Oh dear!!!

May 24, 2009

No doubt some readers of this blog will find it difficult to care much one way or another, but to my despair Newcastle United went down today – relegated from the Premier League, they’ll be playing in the Championship next season. What a tragedy this season has been – but I hope they’ll hang on to Alan Shearer anyway. Maybe life in the Championship will not be all bad for them, as they’ll be able to sort themselves out a little, which on the evidence of much of this season is badly needed.

And the lessons to be learnt? That rich owners coming in and thinking they know better how management should be structured is a disaster. I suspect that the whole framework governing football (soccer) needs to be reviewed. But while big money is still flowing into the game there may not be much urgency in all that.

There, I needed to get that off my chest. No more posts about Newcastle for a little while!

Triumph or disaster: the Newcastle rollercoaster

May 20, 2009

If you have any pity, then spare a thought for us poor fans of Newcastle United FC. This coming weekend marks the end of the season. But it wasn’t a season at all. It was a nightmare, a ritual humiliation masking as a competition, tragedy dressed as farce – you get the idea.

And now, whether the club survives in the Premier League depends on just one easy, impossible game. Aston Villa, who can gain nothing by winning this game and suffer nothing by losing it, pose this final challenge for Newcastle.

So why was this season so terrible? Because Newcastle has a rich owner who thought that having his way in imposing his own favourite management structure was more important than winning games. So he lost the club’s brilliant manager Kevin Keegan, and in the chaos that followed managed to have four managers in the one season. The only consolation is that he ended up with the only other plausible one, club hero Alan Shearer.

So if you care nothing about soccer, here’s your opportunity to poke one in the eye to all those interminably boring Manchester United fans and declare that, this weekend, you are supporting Newcastle. It’s the romantic thing to do!