Sunday, August 9, 2009

Howay The Lads

On Saturday night BBC1 found itself with a real scoop. For the first time a major network was broadcasting a football manager’s team talk live at half time. The fact that it was in the middle of Newcastle United’s opening game in the Championship made it even more exciting.

Except that, sadly, the team wasn’t there. Alan Shearer was in the commentary box, meticulously unpicking the failings of our team’s first half performance. Bright, attacking football was giving the team good possession, but they were one-nil down because nobody was finishing the job. My namesake Mr Gutierrez was tearing up the left wing and then lobbing poor crosses to nobody. Why, suggested Shearer, don’t our midfielders go up to help out?

I wouldn’t have thought they had BBC1 on in the team dressing room, but thankfully a few minutes later the opposition goalmouth was full of yellow and orange shirts (that’s our ghastly new away strip). Kevin Nolan passed the ball to Damien Duff, who in turn passed it to the back of the net. Told you so, said Shearer, as 1700 travelling supporters went wild. The manager-in-waiting, like the great statesman he is, politely waiting for the team to be sold so he might be hired back to finish the job he started last season, was auditioning for the role in front of millions of viewers. Goodness knows what West Bromwich supporters must have thought of such unashamed BBC bias.

What is it with Mike Ashley’s fear of selling? Earlier in the week the Office of Fair Trading referred his company Sports Direct to the Competition Commission for failing to sell some stores. Don’t they realise there’s a bit of a monopoly going on here in Newcastle as well? We only have one football club to support (sorry, Mackems and Smoggies, after 50 years, a transfer of my allegiance is never going to happen). The damage caused by all this indecision is not just to the club: it generates gloom across the entire region. If yesterday’s rumours are true, and Ashley has decided not to sell and instead install David O’Leary as manager, then that’s fine by me. Please just get on with it: it’s the uncertainty that’s killing us.

Mind you, I’ll say one thing for our current demise: I’ll probably have a better view of the action at the first home game next weekend. As I moved back to Tyneside mid-season a couple of years and five managers ago, I could only get season tickets in the corner near the goalmouth. You needed binoculars or an earpiece tuned to local radio to find out what was happening at the other end. But tickets are like gold dust and I was just pleased to be part of the crowd.

So a few months ago, more in hope than expectation, I wrote to the club to see if there was a chance of moving closer to the halfway line. The day after the deadline for renewals I had a phone call from a nice lady in the box office. “About your request to move seats,” she said wearily. The voice didn’t sound optimistic and my heart sank. “Well, I do have some nearer the centre – in fact they’re right in the middle”. “You mean at the back?” I suggested warily. There was a pause, and I immediately understood why she might be a little stressed. “Well, to be honest, you can have almost any row you want. How about second from the front?”

The fans have voted with their wallets. Nice one. But if next week there’s black and white smoke coming from St James Park and we finally have an owner and a manager, you can be sure the place will be packed and the crowd cheering as loudly as ever.

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