As a relieved SJP congregation exited our old stadium after edging past Everton and collecting a valuable 3pts my thoughts were turning to what I would write in this column. To be honest I was considering one of those review of the year type things but given the large passages of unremitting gloom over the last 12 months, I wasn’t keen on going over all of that again to be honest.
And then the Pardew to Palace story started growing legs and well, by and large this column started writing itself. Frankly, I find it incredible that anyone would voluntarily leave Newcastle United for Crystal Palace. We had a little piece in THE SPECIAL ahead of the Everton game about Pardew to Palace but well, it was a wee bit tongue-in-cheek because it does not seem credible that a football manager would swap the grandeur of St James’ Park and being in the heart of a football-obsessed city for the tenth biggest club in London(if that).
I know Pardew has a connection with Palace but really? Preferring Palace to Newcastle United?
But then, I checked myself. This isn’t really Newcastle United. It is a shell of what it has
been and could be. It has been drained of meaning and soul by coming up to eight years of Mike Ashley’s heady mix of incompetence, boorishness, ill-will, poor intentions and bloodless corporate defeatism. He has turned us into a Zombie club. The fact Pardew has been a willing accomplice in the Ashley “plan” should not blind us to the fact that Ashley has made Newcastle United so singularly unattractive in football that Alan Pardew is said to be taking Palace’s potential approach seriously. Just read that again and let it sink in.
Now, of course, Pardew could be using the rumoured Palace interest as a bargaining chip to get more investment from Ashley into the squad. Or more likely improve his own terms and conditions. I find the former difficult to square with the last four years when Pardew has been an all too willing mouth-piece for Ashley and whatever it is he is doing at United beyond turning us all into cynics and borderline manic depressives.
The alternative of course is that Ashley has Pardew in the death-grip of a contractual-vice and although Pardew’s annual salary is said to be relatively small in relative terms it does have the security of a long term arrangement and I am going to guess may feature substantial bonuses related to where United finishes in the PL table and I rather suspect there might be the opportunity for Pardew to dip his beak into any transfer fees received for the players Ashley sells. That is completely my supposition. I don’t believe there will be anything in his bonuses for European qualification or winning cups. Ashley uses bonuses to incentivise his Sports Direct executives and I imagine he does much the same with the saps he has running United and that includes Charnley to Pardew et al. Just my guess-work though.
Ashley will not let Pardew go cheaply and if he can screw some money out of Palace, he
unquestionably will. Palace is going to have find money for Pardew if this is serious. They will need to ask themselves some searching questions were they to go that far and pay United millions in compensation for Alan Pardew. Personally, I’d suggest they have their sanity checked but that’s another story.
Certainly, if Pardew does leave, there will be no tears here. Pardew has taken a mid-table side and turned it into another mid-table side over the last four years. He had one great season when we finished fifth but since then it has been by and large very poor. Sure, there has been some eye-catching results – Man U(a) and Chelsea(a) to name a couple but for me he can’t win a big game when the expectation is up and the pressure is on. His record in derby matches absolutely damns him and I believe has fatally wounded him in the eyes of vast swathes of our support. To lose three home games to a side as poor as Sunderland at St James’ Park without scoring a goal is just head-spinningly piss poor. Then of course there is his record in the Cup competitions. This is the bloke who has brought such shambles as Brighton x 2, Stevenage and Cardiff last season to the United history-books. Losing so heavily recently in the QF of the LC to Spurs this month is the best he has done, matching what he delivered in the Europa League.
Alan Pardew is an excruciatingly mediocre manager.
Of course, Pardew has had to contend with an owner who has little interest in football as an object in itself. That does not make Pardew unique of course but there is something venal about Ashley’s motives. The owner appears to take a delight in pulling the rug from under Pardew and continually failing to build on any success made. The whole objective appears to be to bring players in, put them in the shop window, sell them and bank the money. Nothing of sporting excellence is being built here. Then again, Pardew must have known what he was letting himself in for when he was shuffled in after Chris Hughton was so disgracefully treated four years ago. He will have known the drill when he put pen to paper and his nauseating tributes to Ashley, usually on the back of some unexpected win may have curried favour with his boss but have alienated him from a support, I do think he spent time attempting to court. Pardew can be forgiven for having grown weary of Ashley’s cold-hearted approach to running our club. There will have come times when the support has been led up the garden path (and possibly him too) with talk of signings and investment when he has tired of the whole charade and wondered whether if the whole enterprise has been worth it. It has of course. For him. Pardew has rehabilitated his reputation at United in the wider football world if not on Tyneside where he is widely reviled as a puppet.
How long Pardew has left at United is uncertain with Ashley’s intentions towards Rangers growing and the manager’s stock once again falling again. Were Pardew to leave United for a more secure and lucrative contract, he might be able to claim he left United in a stable position (though little different to the one he took over) and possibly get another 4 or 5 years in football management in the lower reaches of the PL and Championship. By shortening his own United career, Pardew may perversely lengthen his own managerial career. All my speculation admittedly.
The big question of course is were Pardew to go, who would replace him. It has long been a contention of many supporters (myself included) that nobody decent would work for Ashley. The name of Pulis has been bandied about but frankly, I find the very idea of him in the United dug-out to be wholly depressing. His football is rotten for all he achieved at Stoke and at Palace last season. He isn’t the right fit for United. I don’t see him giving Ashley what he wants in terms of bringing players through and flogging them for a profit.
Other names have been thrown about – Benitez, De Boer and more likely Hoddle with Sherwood fitting the profile for out of work London manager, desperate to get back into the game. There are some on that list however – Benitez and De Boer who I believe would manage United if the club had a complete change of ethos and grew some ambition. That isn’t likely to happen with Ashley suffocating us.
These are strange days at United just as the transfer window opens with our club on 26pts and with safety in sight, no need to invest big and the possibility of flogging a player or two clearly an attraction to Ashley.
Something is going to happen but it is unlikely to be good.
This is the last TBAWE of 2014. It’s been a year of big change for us. We had been growing our digital channels over the last few years because that is clearly the direction of travel in the modern world. Fanzines have always moved with the times. There is no accident they were poorly produced with letraset and Xerox in the earliest days and then got a lot better with the availability of desk-top publishing, Photoshop, Quark Express and all the rest of it. I hadn’t heard of digital magazines five years ago but was happily talked through it by my daughter who is completely switched on with all of this stuff. Ta pet.
We still got a shock however at just how far the print media is on the road to oblivion when we learnt our distributor was basically falling to pieces and threatening to bankrupt us had we continued allowing them to do a piss-poor job of getting the fanzine around the North East. Sadly, the crumbling infrastructure of the North East’s print media means there was no alternative to a multi-national operator not based in the NE with little time for micro-publications like true faith.
The regular e-mails we’d been receiving about difficulties in getting hold of the hard-copy of true faith moved from being a trickle to a flood. So, it was with a heavy heart we decided to call it a day and move wholly to digital. We could have went down-market, abandoned our design and production standards and stepped back almost thirty-years but modern tastes just won’t wear that and the more we discussed the potential for digital and the clear moves being made with new technology, we decided to bring forward what we were moving vaguely towards anyway and commit ourselves 100% to the digital channels.
Has it been a success?
Unquestionably, it has been a success and it is growing all of the time. Our readership has trebled since the same time last year and we’ve grown our audience for podcasts and video-blogs too. The digital fanzine has grown from a 64-page publication to 100 pages + per issue and we have increased our publication schedule to 10 per season. At the same time we have more than halved the cost. For our ex-pat readers this has been a real boon because frankly, the cost of postage was becoming prohibitive.
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Our activities have increased as well. Our match-day newsletter, THE SPECIAL has proven to be massively popular and earlier this month we decided to bring out an issue of the SPECIAL for every match United plays. This was in response to what you were telling us about what you were missing on match-days i.e. something to dip into and read when you are coming in on the bus, Metro, train or waiting for your hopeless mates in the pub etc. The pieces in THE SPECIAL are nice and short and we think we’ve responded to what you were telling us about your match-day rituals. Of course, you can still buy a programme for £3 and read some drivel about how great everything is really or you can get THE SPECIAL into your in-box for nowt.
Of course, each issue of THE SPECIAL is 100% original. Coming out every game means your match-day reading is hugely topical and unlike the days of old you don’t have to go looking for our sellers around SJP or searching through newsagents to find a copy. It comes to you. It’s in your in-box first thing every match-day morning. It is of course designed for Mags on the move, reading it on smart-phones but it is excellent on i-pads, tablets, kindles, laptops and PCs as well.
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I often forget our Facebook pages but whilst that can be occasionally er, troublesome and we have sometimes had to ban a few people for some off colour crack, it’s by and large a good group of people exchanging views and opinions on our club. The same is true with our main writers and their Twitter accounts. It took me a while to believe twitter offered anything other than an opportunity for self-absorbed maniacs to go off shouting into the dark and whilst there are unquestionably people who revel in the anonymity of the ether to abuse people and speak to others in a way they never would were they standing next to them, it can be great crack though equally frustrating that people expect very complicated issues to be made succinct in 150 characters.
We do think we are still at the early days of what digital can offer us but it has forced us to go back to what fanzines are all about and that is to offer a place where supporters can have a say about their club, football in general and provide a medium for the fan experience to be recorded. That is via well-written articles which are rollicking great reads in our digital fanzine, match previews and reports, blogs and all the rest of the news on this website, shorter pieces for match-day reading in THE SPECIAL as well as podcasts and video-blogs. It is all about well-structured, articulate supporter-centred expression be it in the written form or spoken.
We are going to get better at all of this of that there is absolutely no doubt at all. We have plans for 2015 to improve everything we do and this time next year I hope we are all reflecting again at just how strong Newcastle United’s Independent supporter scene is regardless of what Ashley is doing at our club.
Of course true faith benefits from having some great people associated with it. I am proud to call many my friends and whilst we don’t always agree (it would be dull if we did) we respect each other and all supporters who hold passionate and genuine views on our club. Of course we have our own firmly held beliefs as you would expect but we actively court views to publish that are at odds with what we believe. Just so long as those views aren’t frivolous or vexatious we’ll publish.
We know we aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and we can live with that. Whilst we always want to grow our audience we know what we have to say and how we say it won’t be universally popular. That’s fine. Take it or leave it.
Of course every publication needs an audience and since 1999 we have managed to attract and grow one. Happily we seem to be expanding our audience again and for that we are very grateful.
On behalf of everyone here at true faith, may I wish you all a very Happy New Year and one of these days we’ll have something to celebrate.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
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