The football is dire. The manager is clueless. The owner is absent. There appears to be no hope at Newcastle United. So who in their right mind would like this club right now? Well, I would.

I’m quite aware of the spiral of doom the club is in, seemingly relegation bound for the third time in the Mike Ashley Era. I know how bad the football is, how hollow everything seems. And yet here I am, feeling more connected with Newcastle United than I have in years.

A little personal history seems appropriate for context here – Newcastle United were the first team I saw live. I forget the score, I couldn’t name any of the players from that day, and I am only vaguely sure it was a game in the old Second Division. But I was hooked. Despite living 200 miles away, they were my team.

It didn’t hurt that I grew up in the Keegan years, when the team would play some of the most exciting football in the country (perhaps even the world, as far as my teenage mind knew), and were regulars on Sky Sports.

Perhaps I was spoiled by these early experiences, having that team at a time when my personal football passion was at its zenith – the young teen years, when we know enough about the game to be excited by it, and too little to be cynical about it. A pure love for the game.

After Keegan, there was Dalglish, a man with name recognition and a Premier League title, and Gullit, still something of an icon thanks to his playing career. Then Sir Bobby. There was still hope. Cup runs. European nights. Shearer.

Then things began to turn.

The club itself began a slow spiral downwards. Distance and money prevented me from attending games, I knew no other Newcastle fans locally, living on my own meant no more Sky Sports, the odd game in the local pub didn’t quite cut it. Disconnection set in. Life moved on, other interests began to take over, before long I found that Newcastle United, and football in general, brought me less joy.

I tried to keep up with the goings on at St James’ Park, but I cannot say I cared all that much for a long time. I stopped checking the scores. Catching up on club news became periodic, based on headlines (a new manager, a new owner, a new signing, relegation…).

Benitez arrival rekindled some interest; out of curiosity as much as anything – why would a Champions League winner come to this Newcastle United?

More importantly perhaps, he sold hope at a time when the club, and possibly when I personally, needed some. Even after his departure, there were still tiny flashes of hope. History will probably show Joelinton to be one of the worst ever Premier League signings, but at least the club stumped up the cash to bring the Brazilian, and Miguel Almiron, to Tyneside. More recently, they opened up the purse strings again, to sign Callum Wilson, and Jamal Lewis.

While the bar is undoubtedly set incredibly low for Mike Ashley’s Newcastle at this point in his ownership, spending a bit of money, actually making some investment, always brings with it that sprinkling of hope at the time. They were signings that suckered me back in, I’ll admit it.

But in doing so, they started to lead me back towards the club, and the wealth of online content now available only helped feed my renewed interest.

Beyond the professionals – The Chronicle, and the George Caulkins and Chris Waughs of the world – I discovered True Faith, social media accounts celebrating past glories, and like minded people.

Social media can be a hellscape at times, but in the absence of pubs, match day experiences, or simple social contact, it is also one of the only things knitting a fan base together right now, and one of the few lifelines ‘long distance’ fans, like me, can latch on to.

And here, dear reader, is the point of this story.

The club is a mess, and the pandemic has cost us all a great deal, but in a perverted sort of way, it brought something back to me. Despite still being more than 200 miles away from St. James’ Park – and unlikely to be able to be there on a match day for who knows how long – this season, for the first time in more than a decade, I’ve felt part of something again, connected to something.

Connected to Newcastle United.

Given how shit the season has been, I understand it’s borderline insane to say you’re enjoying following this club right now – but I do. Again. It’s not because of Steve Bruce’s comedy press conferences, Andy Carroll’s ponytail, or Miguel Almiron’s mazy runs to nowhere, but the people around the club. The wider Newcastle United community.

I’m not sure I can accurately put into words what that means for someone that felt the club had been lost to him for the longest time, so I’ll simply say thank you to everyone that still puts their time into supporting this club; to producing content for True Faith, or any other NUFC outlet; or simply interacting online, and giving us all a place to get things off our chest and scream into the void.

One day, things will get better. For the club, and for the country. But for now, at least we have each other.

ROB McGREGOR