That’s the pre-season friendly programme over with a final two games with Atalanta and Athletic Bilbao which we won, 1-0 and 2-1 respectively.

A quick word on the friendlies. It says much of the positivity around United that almost 90,000 attended two ultimately meaningless games on successive days. I’m not one for friendlies and regard them as glorified training sessions but there’s no doubt as an opportunity for families and children they are a fantastic way to get inside SJP and become connected to Newcastle United.

I was struck over the weekend via social media at the number of kids getting into SJP for the very first time. I guess such was the mood around United under Ashley Mams and Dads elected against taking their cherubs into what was often an unhappy, frequently toxic atmosphere at SJP. Once again, huge credit to Wor Flags whose efforts will ensure those families with children attending their first games will take away life-long, cherished memories. Well done and thank you.

There were lots of smiling faces and I don’t suppose the action at food and drink points on the concourses as well as large queues at the club shop and programme sales did much harm to the club’s coffers too.

All round a really great couple of fixtures and lovely touches from Athletic Bilbao with whom we have a bond going back to those heady days in the mid-90s but also much deeper between the Basque region and Tyneside – click here if you have an interest in the Spanish Civil War and the Geordie role in providing safe havens for children –  and here too

Anyway, you didn’t click on here for a history lesson.

This has been a mixed transfer window so far. I thought we’d gotten off to a flyer with the recruitment of Pope, Targett and Botman but matters have stalled over July. We were dealt a significant blow when Hugo Ekitike elected to remain in France and switch to PSG, meaning we’d more or less wasted 6 months of our time attempting to get him to United.

Similarly, we’ve made no headroom in attracting a key target in Diaby from Dortmund or any of the multiple striking targets we’ve been linked with over the summer and frequently baulked at the asking price for players.

We’ve had more luck in moving players out of United with Hayden, Hendrick, Clarke, Woodman and Gayle off the payroll and I expect more to follow, possibly including Darlow, Manquillo, Ritchie and Murphy.

That four will not join PL clubs I wouldn’t have thought.

But it has to be said, we have so far failed to address the key priorities we had at the start of the window which was a striker and a right-sided attacker to balance ASM down the left. Apologies to rain on everyone’s parade but Almiron’s cameo performances in pre-season friendlies don’t give me enough confidence in him after three years of mediocrity. I hope I’m proven wrong in that space.

In attack, we are horribly vulnerable. I’m not the first to say it but Wilson’s injury record would make it fool-hardy to go into a new season with him as our go-to centre-forward with only Wood as cover. Wood is a willing hand but few would claim he has the quality to provide what we want from a season with so much hope riding on it.

There are options down the right – Fraser, Almiron, Murphy but I’m sorry, that selection is decidedly average with Fraser the best of the bunch though he himself with his own injury woes.

We are rightly not going to get a running commentary on the money coming into United from HSBC least to say that there is nothing unusual about this arrangement so back-page shite from The S*n should be ignored (not that anyone should be reading that horrific rag anyway).

Whether this money will be invested in the new players needed remains to be seen but obviously we have seen news of a confirmed bid for Leicester’s James Maddison hit the media.

We are apparently being quoted £60m for Maddison. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that is an outlandish amount of money for the lad (look, it obviously is a mental amount of money to be exchanged between football clubs but I’m referring to the market values) and I think we will have to accept that a young, English player who has more than proved himself in the PL is going to have a big number on his price ticket.

Maddison is of course an attacking midfielder who can get amongst the goals so even if he were recruited he doesn’t resolve our priority areas.

Howe himself has been reported as being disappointed at how recruitment has stalled but that’s not to say he or indeed supporters have become agitated at what is going on.

We all appreciate the parameters in which the club works. We do have an ownership in PIF (with 80% of the stake) with vast wealth but it is nonsense to suggest that as a result we are “the richest club in the world”.

In many ways, we remain Ashley’s club because United’s commercial income (as this very fanzine was the first to point out and did so consistently) absolutely nose-dived on his watch. We became non-competitive as a result and that is going to take time to resolve.

We also understand that although we have been shedding players throughout the summer and have more to leave, we have picked up very little by way of fees for them.

Ashley has gone but his stewardship or lack of it has left United on the bones of its arse.

That’s not to say I hadn’t expected United to break its transfer record at least once this summer. There is time yet of course but if the hyperbole from those representing the new ownership is to be stood up going into the new season then some serious money has to be spent.

Yes, I’m aware the club has spent significantly over these two windows already but there had been so little investment over such an extended period then the catch up to stand still was always going to be considerable. If we’re serious about moving into the top eight next season more money has to be found. It is as simple as that really.

While I think there’s a consensus we are light up top, in defensive positions we are as strong as I can recall. I don’t think we’ve had as good a pair of goalies in Pope and Dubravka since the days of Given-Harper. At full-back we have Targett and Trippier as first choice but backed up with options of Krafth, Lewis and Dummett.

It is in central defence we have Botman, Burn, Schar and Lascelles. Let’s also not forget Dummett can play there too and Fernandez is still at the club at the moment.

That is a really strong platform for us to build from.

Clearly, Guimarães is our stand-out talent in the middle of the pitch and he’s not without a bit of talent around him in Joelinton, Shelvey, Willock, Longstaff but I think if we’re honest we would hugely benefit from quality additions in there too.

For me, there’s a lot of work to be done before we can dream of having a step-change kind of season. But positively, we know the club has the will, expertise and most importantly the resources to deliver what we need. It will be a significant blow to the forward momentum at United if they don’t.


It’s Forest on Saturday who have made a long-awaited return to the Premier League after twenty-three years outside the top flight. I sense a lot of supporters will be expecting a comfortable win on the first game of the season and that’s not unreasonable.

But this is a banana-skin type of match as anyone who has been following Newcastle United will confirm. Forest are still on a high following their promotion and they have added players to their squad over the summer in a bid to make their return to the PL more than a fleeting, one season wonder. Promoted sides are seldom more dangerous in the first few opening games of a season and particularly than on the first day.

Forest manager, Steve Cooper has done wonders at the City Ground and in many ways is part of a new wave of talented, innovative, hard-working, progressive English managers cut from the same cloth as Potter, Southgate and Howe. Cooper may be a coaching talent to watch in the next few years.

If our players go into this game less than focused in every way then we will not collect three points. Similarly, if the SJP crowd isn’t full of the defiance and determination that got us so many points last season post-Christmas then there’s a good chance that complacency will spread to the pitch. As supporters we can really set the tempo.

On and off the park, we have to be on it. As ever, I’m starting to get the pre-match jitters our heads might not be right because we think we’re better than we are. I’ll be happy to have those words rammed down my throat as I sink my first pint after the game in whatever NE1 hostelry I inflict myself upon.


Anyway, although there is the TF event at The Stand on Thursday night to go to (tickets here) supporting Newcastle United is all about people and there’s always something of the first day back at school and opening a new exercise book with all of those virginal white pages in it. What am I talking about?

Meeting friends for a pint before and after the match, the daft rituals, clicking through the turnstiles, going through the concourse and up into the stands and seeing SJP in all of its glory is hard to take for granted.

This is the first full season starting since the take-over. The club has changed in so many ways on and off the park but there is a lot of work to do, which we understand. The new owners are benefitting from a deep well of patience and goo-will.

We will be better going into this season. The players are fitter for one, more focused and benefitting from the intelligence, hard-work and drive of the manager. The comparisons between now and last year are stark.

But without sounding like I’ve got a nark on (I haven’t) and I appreciate there’s a full month of the window left, we’re not as ready as I thought we’d be and lots need to be done.

Maybe some of it will be sorted before Saturday? I hope so.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

Michael Martin, @TFMick1892