What a week! What a weekend!
A somewhat jittery home win over Preston last Monday meant United clinched promotion in front of a near full house at St James’ Park but I felt the win down at Cardiff was a more accurate reflection of the earlier season form and style which has been the bedrock of this promotion master-minded by everyone’s favourite senor. That win represented our fourteenth on our travels this season and is a club record. It has broken that last achieved by Kevin Keegan and it is a marvellous record for Rafa and the players. For all of the criticism there has been (and there has been some from attention-seekers and the permanently disaffected) of certain players and manager from certain people it should be noted that Rafa’s team has currently scored 82 goals this season which is 9 more than Brighton and by some distance the highest in the division (CORRECTION – SEE BELOW). So far, we have conceded 40 goals which is only one more than Brighton with one game remaining. Our goal difference is 42. With one game to go we are one point behind Brighton and in with a very strong chance of winning the league – something we all believed had eluded us only a fortnight ago.
So, in one transfer window available to him last year, Rafa ripped up a failed and broken squad which had been years in decline, the product of real muddle-headed and toxic management and built a promotion team whilst delivering a £30m surplus on transfer deals.
Over the last twelve months Rafa’s presence, aura and influence has reconnected the club to its community and it is a genuinely nice experience to be a Newcastle United supporter these days. For much of the last 5-6 years, managers, players and certainly directors and the owner have been held in open contempt. I still believe there is a justifiable suspicion of Ashley and Charnley (shared by HMRC it might appear) but I believe much of the poison which has disfigured the club over the last decade has been drawn. Newcastle United might, in some ways be in a good place. Now is the time to start building on that. One caveat however, is we have been here before.
Those who spend time with Rafa offer optimism that the manager and Ashley are developing an understanding and shared strategy. That has shifted from February when the noises coming to this fanzine from the back-lanes of communication were quite different and every concerning. No-one can say what will happen with Ashley because he is unpredictable and I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him. The proof of the summer pudding will be in its eating.
For me, our ambitions for next season are quite simple – we need to stay in the Premier League. I know that lacks the romance a lot of supporters want to hear but it’s the grim reality of where the club is at the moment. Over the years of terrible management from Pardew-Carver-McClaren we have lost ground on some clubs who lack the prestige of Newcastle United and I’d include Watford, Southampton, West Brom, Everton, West Ham, Stoke in that – possibly others. We will not rein those clubs back in overnight and it might take 2 to 3 seasons to see a club which we are happy with. Rafa and the players need our support and our patience probably more than they did this season come August.
Alan Shearer may be lifting the bar for Rafa in his claim United need to spend £150m this close season but it is unlikely he will get that amount. If Alan is serious about that amount of money then he is being completely unrealistic. I’m of the view it doesn’t really matter how much you spend, it is how you invest it that counts. The world of football is littered with clubs that have spent lots of money and achieved very little. There is one not so far away in the SR5 post-code area which is hilarious evidence of that.
I look at players like Ritchie, Yedlin, Hayden, Clark and Gayle who didn’t cost fortunes (in modern relative terms) but have performed very well and will likely be the cornerstone of a Premier League team for the next 2-3 seasons. Rafa will improve them as well. What I’ve seen of the likes of Kone (Sunderland), Siggurdsson (Swansea) suggest there are players about to drop divisions who might possess the battle-hardened PL experience we will need. I was very encouraged to hear our name linked with Shawcross from Stoke City as well as the likes of McCarthy (Everton) and the name Das Bost (Sporting Lisbon) is another who might catch Rafa’s eye. Who knows and my examples here are simply to put into perspective, the quality that might be had for the kind of fees which are in our price range at this moment in time. We need prudent investment in players in a style of player, formation and tactical overview the manager will want to deploy over the next couple of seasons.
Of course Rafa has a network of contacts all over Italy and Spain which I’m sure will prove handy this summer. The Premier League is the world’s most (lucrative) popular league and Rafa is one of the top ten coaches across the globe. That is a reason to be very positive – if Mike Ashley sees the opportunity available to him and invests in the best chance Newcastle United has for a very, very long time. If he doesn’t and Rafa was to leave or be shafted in some way then I don’t believe there is a reason to continue to support Newcastle United.
No sooner had we recovered from Monday night’s celebrations than the name of Newcastle United was all over the media for the wrong reasons. There were some lurid headlines about HMRC “raids” and “arrests” but the truth appears to be a little less prosaic than that. My information is that United staff were told to stay away from work on the Wednesday, which dilutes the “raid” dimension and although Charnley was said to have been “arrested” he faced no questions or charges. There may be another reason why investigators wanted Charnley incommunicado as various premises in Newcastle, London and France were visited but that is as yet unknown.
I did give a wry smile to the statement that Mike Ashley knew nothing about the early morning visits to SJP (like no-one at United would think to tell him … but then again …) as well as the apparent chair shifting from Graeme Carr about the financials concerning deals and his lack of involvement in them. He does, unsurprisingly enough expect a chat with HMRC. I bet he does.
Although social media was brimming with er, professional taxation expertise and a surfeit of football administrators, I think it is highly unlikely the Cassandra predictions of point deductions, liquidation and other doomsday scenarios will come into play. I do however believe this episode raises particular questions as to how United does business and the expertise we have at the club to ensure they are done with probity and professionalism. Once again, I question the competence of the people Mike Ashley has appointed to key positions of executive authority at the club. Football board anyone? What appears clear is that the scope of the investigation goes back over a number of years and will involve others than Charnley and Carr i.e. Pardew and Llambias. I think we should prepare for a long period of silence from the authorities and the usual submarine tactic from United but it is really not good enough for Mike Ashley to claim “Not Me Guv” as he has done with the revelation of some scandalous working practices with Sports Direct. The buck stops with him. It is time to take responsibility and ensure the club’s standards of governance are robust and well, not open to abuse.
What I did find interesting however was only Charnley’s name was mentioned as having been arrested in the UK even though the media reported several collars being felt and even the French player also getting a visit from the gendarmes was Marveaux, formerly of this parish. We do know there were visits to West Ham and Chelsea but from a PR point of view it was United getting it in the neck from the fourth estate. That might reflect on Mike Ashley’s profile or something else but I did find it odd.
I don’t think it’s Geordie paranoia to claim there is a metropolitan media bias against Newcastle United. The initial response to our promotion has been a number of the usual clichés being got out of the wardrobe, given a brush down and pushed in front of a surely bored nation. The kind that don’t seem to be going the way of Brighton!
First up is Graeme Souness, a serial failure of a manager responsible for the destruction of Liverpool Football Club’s hegemony and only enjoyed any managerial success in the backwater of Scottish football when he was allowed at least five times the budget of his nearest rival (a budget that appears now to have been completely dishonest). Souness’ managerial career was on the buffers with a declining Blackburn Rovers when he was staggeringly selected by Shepherd to be SBR’s replacement. Ironically, he was brought into manage the ill-discipline the likes of Bellamy (we’ll get to him later) was the centre of and which hastened SBR’s management of Newcastle United. Souness sacrificed a top five side to his own vanity and ego, bought extremely badly (cough) and demonstrated his dinosaur view of the world and game with abysmal man management (not for the first time) and left the club much the worse for his time there. A bum, a failure and apparently keen to blame anyone but himself for his failures in football management.
Amusingly, Dennis Wise and Tim Sherwood whose forays into the world of football management have had all the grace of a one-armed man riding a bike with a buckled wheel, saw fit to stick up for Mike Ashley. They would wouldn’t they?
Disappointingly, Craig Bellamy seems to now see himself as some kind of authority on Newcastle United and lacks any grace towards a club that rescued his nose-diving career. Let’s not forget SBR was after Francis Jeffers from Everton but lost the race to Arsenal but turned to Bellamy after less than glorious stints at Coventry and Norwich. He owes Newcastle United a lot and he was far from a great professional when he was here. Bellamy is a graceless nerk who wishes to play up to a metropolitan prejudice. Or just talk a load of shite. I’d like him to explain what he thinks is in the head of Rafa Benitez given he appears to understand the potential of Newcastle United far more than him and his sofa gobshites.
So, the Mackems got relegated. I know loads of Sunderland supporters as I’m sure you do reading this. Let’s be honest, we probably know more Sunderland fans than the supporters of any other club in the country if you are based in the North East. Loads of them are great lads and lasses and I’m not afraid to say I have mates who follow Sunderland who are the salt of the earth. That club has become a study in incompetence and wrecklessness so far all of the demands for £150m (really, Alan?) let’s be clear we do not want our club to be managed as foolishly as they have been. Let’s be absolutely clear – their debt of over £120m, lack of saleable assets and slashed income not to mention a wages to turnover of almost 80% was unsustainable in the Premier League so where they are going in the Championship with an owner who wants out, a manager who looks utterly defeated and a haemorrhaging support you can only guess but it isn’t straight back to the PL as per Rafa’s Mags.
This of course offers an opportunity to spread the gospel of Newcastle United in those mixed areas of the region (i.e. South Tyneside, Washington, Durham etc) and ensure we attract an added generation of support. The same is true of corporate customers which will less than enamoured at the prospect of entertaining customers in an half empty, pink-seat bowl with only discarded crisp packets blowing around by way of entertainment. United has to be strident and ruthless now and get that business coin at SJP and start recovering the ground it has lost disastrously since 2007.
That is a massive priority for us and one we just have to get stuck into. Do we have the executive team to make it happen? I doubt we do at the moment. I never thought I’d wish for a Freddie Fletcher type figure at United but here I am.
We still have a chance of winning the league. Brighton have to go to Villa and I think that is a tougher assignment to the one we have at home to Barnsley (uh-oh, that’s torn it). Gallowgate Flags, to coin an expression are following the advice of a certain goalie on Wearside and “getting the rave on” for Sunday’s final game of the season. All of the flags will be out on display as the teams take to the field but there is a big shout out to supporters to make this something a bit special by bringing banners, scarves and anything else you can think of to lend a real spectacle as we return to the Premier League. This is the supporters’ opportunity to Rafa in particular for sticking with United after relegation and masterminding our promotion which is a fantastic achievement as many relegated clubs will confirm. Imagine how Aston Villa fans will feel watching us return as they have spent this season floundering with Mrs Doubtfire unable to really get them going again.
Get The Rave On. You know it makes sense.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …