Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Dotted line

News coming out of the club is that Peter Ramage has signed a new deal and also (according to nufc.com) that Kieron Dyer is poised to put his mark on a new contract (presumably that's just a large X, rather than an attempt at joined up writing).

I think we'll all welcome Ramage committing himself to the club for a while yet; his emergence towards the end of the season was one of the few highlights following our defeat in Cardiff, and whilst it is yet to be seen whether he can really make the step up and continue to flourish as a player, at least he'll have the chance in a black and white shirt.

Dyer's signature appears to signal a statement of intent from the club, and backs up the comments of Souness and Shepherd at the time of the fight, that Dyer is now firmly back in the fold, and given his massively improved performance last season should be welcomed. It also stops him buggering off for nowt next summer, which would have been on the Chairman's mind if nothing else.

Provided Kieron continues to put in the level of effort which he showed once Souness arrived, and led to the rehabilitation of his reputation on Tyneside (one which was in the gutter following his refusal to play wide right against Boro last August) it must be a good think for the team, and on that basis should be welcomed.

However, if he doesn't we'll presumably have upped the wages of a player who needs another strong season to complete his own personal revival on Tyneside - further arsing about will not be tolerated.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Please release me

Bye bye Paddy.

The club confirmed at the weekend that Fat Pat has been released from any obligation to even pretend to look interested in football so he can concentrate on shagging anything that moves and eating all the pies without the irritating distraction of the odd ninety minutes in a black and white shirt here and there.

No doubt less chuffed about his release is Jamie McClen, a Geordie born and bred who failed to make the grade at his hometown club but was rewarded for underachievement with not one but two new contracts under Gullit and Robson. Three minutes of first team football in the last three seasons - he'll find it's not a nice world out there beyond the comfort zone.

The emergence of Peter Ramage has seen Republic of Ireland U21 international Stephen Brennan part ways with the club without having made a first team appearance, while Michael Chopra has, like Ramage, been rewarded with the offer of a new contract that looked unlikely a few months ago. Obviously his prolific loan spell at Barnsley prompted a rethink from the board and management, but whether he's good enough to play at the highest level is still very much in question.

Winning pair

Following Sunday's last minute heroics by Motherwell, Jean-Alain Boumsong can now add a Scottish Premiership winners medal to his collection. He, of course, joins Celestine Babayro as Newcastle players who've managed to pocket a league winners medal this season, despite our collective drought.

Whether Craig Bellamy can add a Scottish Cup Winners medal to that tally remains to be seen, but at least it's Boumsong who pockets the league winners medal and not Bellamy – a result that will no doubt see one time Rangers boss Graeme Souness enjoy a quiet chuckle.

Whether it prompted Alan Shearer to send Bellamy a text message or not is unconfirmed.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Look back in anger ... and look forwards in trepidation

Oh, do we have to?

OK then, here it is, about as enjoyable a read as Patrick Kielty's autobiography: our assessments of the season, and a look forward to what the summer might bring...

Paul: Right, well what was a pretty dismal season has thankfully now passed into history. Looking back, it's hard to find many positives to take out of the season, but for the sake of balance, I'll try.

Selling Jonathan Woodgate to Real Madrid looked a terrible plan back in August, but seeing as he hasn't played a game of football since, and we got good money for him, I suppose that (grudgingly) I'll give credit to Freddie for taking the money and doing a very shrewd bit of business.

The fact that we then ultimately used the money to sign a player who shows real promise and has actually played consecutive games for us (Boumsong) is also a positive, and his partnership with a newly rejuvenated Titus promises to give us a bit more defensive solidity next season. Couple this with the emergence of Steven Taylor and latterly Peter Ramage from the reserves, and despite our terrible defensive record before Boumsong arrived, I think there are enough positives to look forward to next season with a bit more confidence in our defence. Of course, we could do to add another quality centre-half into the mix, because one thing we have learnt this season is that Andy O'Brien, committed tryer though he undoubtedly is, simply lacks the quality to take us to where we want to be.

The other worry is that with Harper seemingly out of contract in the summer, and Given currently much better than his teammates I wouldn't be surprised to see us start next season with a complete new roster of keepers. Losing Shay (if he goes) would be a real blow, but I wish him every success wherever he is next season, and salute his efforts behind what at times has been a real a bunch of wasters this season.

In midfield, Souness at least managed to spark a bit of a return to form in Jenas (at least before Christmas) and Dyer has finally started scoring with more regularity. The emergence of N'Zogbia is promising, and after an indifferent season Milner has started to raise his performance level, which is good. Whether Ambrose has done enough to stay remains to be seen, but at least there are some signs of new growth coming through.

Upfront, the only positive that I can see is the decision by Shearer to stay for one final year. That said, whether he's made the right decision is one which we'll only be able to answer in twelve months time, but it was noticeable that his performance level seemed to drop once he'd committed to next year. Whether he was saving something to sustain him for one final last hurrah remains to be seen.

Off the pitch, I'm still relatively happy with the appointment of Souness. I fail to see how he could have handled the off-field difficulties any differently and his signings have been decent enough so far. Granted Babyaro has looked a bit slack at times, but hopefully with a decent pre-season under his belt he will hopefully show more promise. It's also worth noting that Bernard has done absolutely sod all since he left.

On the down side, a season that started with so much hope and expectation rapidly descended into farce, and never recovered. The farcical chase for Rooney, when clearly a defender was a much higher priority, and the appallingly timed and handled sacking of Bobby (which ultimatly scuppered the Rooney deal) both left a bad taste in the mouth. Similarly, Freddie Shepherd's insistence on turning himself into the new Peter Ridsdale and giving out quotes to every Fleet Street hack makes me sick to the stomach.

Defensively, we were shocking in the early part of the season, and players like Elliott and O'Brien aren’t of the calibre of players we need if we are to return to challenging at the top of the league, and the sale of Woodgate (good business though it proved) was obviously carried out with no contingency in mind - a terrible footballing decision.

In midfield, Dyer's refusal to play wide right against Boro, and the ensuing Bellamy debacle both stemmed form the mystifying sale of Nobby 18 months ago. The signing of Butt has proved a poor move, with the player obviously not interested in doing anything except lining his wallet. Up until we entertained Villa I would have mentioned Bowyer's return to form as a positive, but his punch-up with Dyer left me absolutely sickened and filled with contempt.

Up front, we've lost our biggest threat to opposing teams (although in terms of dressing room harmony Craig was also probably the biggest threat to that too), which is something of a blow. Kluivert - the most technically gifted player I have ever seen in black and white - proved a dead loss, and Ameobi once again flattered to deceive.

Overall, it's interesting to note that the two players who Bobby didn't want (Kluivert and Butt) clearly haven't performed. Hopefully that'll teach the chairman to mind his own business on the player front, but I doubt it.

As a way of taking things forward, Souness has already said that he'd like to add four or five quality players, and both Robert and Kluivert have said they are leaving. Realistically, we could also do with clearing out Bowyer, Bellamy, Viana, O'Brien and, unless something spectacular happens or there are circumstances that have undermined him this season, Nicky Butt.

In terms of players I'd like to see us sign, I'd love to see us sign Owen, Defoe and William Gallas. However, I don't think we have a cat in hell's chance of convincing any of them to trade what they have for a chance to win the Intertoto Cup.

More realistically, players like Robert Earnshaw, Andy Johnson, Dean Ashton, Wayne Routledge, Scott Parker and potentially Danny Gabbidon may be available, and despite our obvious troubles this season would probably all still welcome the chance to play in front of 52,000 screaming Geordies.

It could well be a long summer, but if we finally have some good luck (and can find people foolish enough to give us money for the lazy troublemakers) we may be able to invest wisely and really bolster the squad ahead of next season. Failure to improve the playing staff will leave us worrying more about getting 40 points than anything else, and that simply isn't good enough.

Ben: And it all started so promisingly too. Well, at least up until Dyer refused to play on the right against Boro on the opening day of the season.

Before that, I think we had good reason to feel optimistic. I felt we'd made four very good summer signings - an extraordinarily talented if occasionally wayward striker (Kluivert), the Spurs captain and full-back (Carr), England's holding midfielder (Butt) and one of the most promising young English prospects around (Milner).

As it turned out, Kluivert, despite scoring a few important goals, strode around lackadaisically, lining his pockets with our cash and his stomach with Greggs sausage rolls; Milner proved utterly incapable of shooting or scoring; Carr looked worryingly out of his depth; and the less said about Butt the better.

No, arguably the player most influential on our season was actually someone sold in the summer. When Yeats wrote "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold", I doubt it was in reference to Gary Speed, but it might as well have been. Without the Welshman - professional, level-headed, solid, consistent - in the centre of midfield and at the centre of the club, things really have fallen apart, with dressing room squabbles, mouthing off in the press and spineless, gutless performances on the pitch a routine occurrence. Meanwhile, Speed has the prospect of the UEFA Cup to look forward to with Bolton, who finished eight places higher than the club that deemed him too old to deserve a new contract.

Perhaps this is overstating the case, but the situation is hardly going to be helped by the sale of Hughes, one of the few young players to understand the value of silence and professionalism, and the increasingly likely loss of Given to either Man Utd or Arsenal.

If a bid comes in for Given, then as painful as losing him might be, no Newcastle fan should begrudge him a move. He's performed wonders for this club over the last eight years, often singlehandedly preserving leads or securing points because the defence supposedly offering him protection hasn't been worthy of the name. He owes us nothing, and should feel perfectly within his rights to leave in the hope of winning the honours he is good enough to achieve and certainly deserves.

I still maintain we have a talented squad, but it's a squad stuffed full of arrogant, underperforming wasters and a major clearout is what's needed. For a start, Bowyer should be sold without any hesitation - the Villa incident was completely unacceptable. Robert too - a player who has brought me as much pleasure as frustration over the last four years - has to go for the good of the club.

Souness has already gone on record to say that Bellamy can never play for him again, and hopefully we'll get a decent amount for him - but the problem is that everyone knows we're desperate to sell, so will think they can get away with pathetic bids that come nowhere near to matching his true valuation. Without Bellamy's lightning pace up front, we look decidedly ordinary.

Kluivert having already packed his bags, we're left in desperate need of strikers and, as much as I'd like to see us sign players of the calibre of Michael Owen, with Shepherd and Souness at the helm and with the club in the parlous state it is currently we don't stand a chance. Expect Souness to go after the likes of Andy Johnson, Robbie Earnshaw, Dean Ashton, Louis Boa Morte and Peter Crouch, especially if he misses out on Robbie Keane.

In midfield we need someone with passion, stamina and commitment - Faye has hardly impressed much more than Butt - as well as someone with creativity and goalscoring prowess. Juventus's Olivier Kapo, with whom we've been linked, would be a decent signing, as would Steed Malbranque. Defensively we look short-staffed, particularly following Hughes's departure. Although Boumsong has looked quite sound so far, and Bramble mutated into a decent player towards the end of the season, another quality central defender is a must, and we could also do with better cover in both full back positions.

Of course, depending on transfer activity, by the time the beginning of the new season comes around most of us will no doubt have rediscovered that giddy optimism that usually fades within the first few weeks. But if the 2003/2004 season (5th place and UEFA Cup qualification, UEFA Cup semi-final) was deemed a disappointment, then what does that make the season we've just witnessed? For now I'm decidedly depressed about our prospects.

View From The Away End

For a more detached, distanced and objective perspective, it's over to Pete of Round & White and Watford fan Jez.

(Both contributions were written prior to the news that Kluivert had been released and Hughes had signed for Aston Villa.)

Pete: "The curse of View From The Away End has struck again. No sooner do I receive an email from Ben asking me for my thoughts on Newcastle's season, than the newspapers report that Newcastle are requesting that Craig Bellamy attend pre-season training. Obviously, this was just a ploy to show any potential buyers that they won't get Craig at a bargain price. Nevertheless, it's a good example of why NUFC's idea of staff management leaves something to be desired.

To the long-suffering Toon Army fan, the season has been all about HR problems and apart from the dream of European and domestic silverware that sadly faded away in April, the last 9 months are a long stretch of time that everybody connected with Newcastle will want to forget. The antics of Bellamy, Robert, Bowyer and co. have held the team back, although fair play to Souness who made the best of a bad hand by taking the team as far they did in the cups.

Time to look to the future then. With regards to squad movements this summer, the key issue is finding a suitable replacement for Shearer and possibly for Kluivert who's convinced that he is moving to Spain ASAP. Call me mad, but I think I'd like to see Peter Crouch in a black and white shirt. Another solid centreback to partner Boumsong wouldn't go amiss either, while a new left winger (or even two) would be sensible given that the now semi-naked Robert is likely to leave in the summer, along with Hugo Viana. Personally, I'd like to see the back of the ineffectual Nicky Butt, but I doubt that this will happen.

So that's a fairly large shopping list, but unfortunately, the only substantial rumour I've come across so far is of the Magpies' interest in Juve midfielder Oliver Kapo. Frankly, that's not enough incoming quality if Graeme's promise of a 'challenge to the top three' is to become reality. Frankly, unless he gets the players he needs, Newcastle will be lucky to be challenging for a UEFA Cup place. It's going to be an interesting summer…

Jez: "Of course all of us are a mish-mash. We say we come from here or there but in my view if we took our family trees back far enough there would be a hugely irresponsible fish attempting to fin its way onto land somewhere. If it had been onto 'Celebrity Love Island' it would have found the energy to fin its way back to the more eloquent jellyfish in the brine pretty quickly.

Anyway, if we, in some way, define ourselves by where we’re from by supporting our local team then we don’t have much say in the matter, as it is with me. My Dad hails from London, my Mum from Prudhoe, I was born in Watford. Fate sealed. On the rare occasions our families converged I was intrigued by those who had made what must have seemed like an endless journey. As a child I could hardly understand a word they said (I’m sure the accents and vernacular were tweaked a little for the occasion) but my Uncle Jack, the sort of man who came out of the pits to fight two world wars, would sit me on his knee and talk about the family passion – football.

He must have taken pity on me. You may find this strange but it’s hard to be passionate when you are a Watford fan. We’ve had our days in the sun and some time in the future we’ll get our shades on again, although it will be relative - perhaps a cup run or a push towards the play-offs in a few years – staying afloat is our aim. But my Uncle Jack would speak with absolute passion about Newcastle. The heroes, the crowd, the way of life. It stayed with me, I had to go and see it for myself.

One rainy November Saturday in 1992 It all became clear. St James’s looked like a space ship had landed. Steam, smoke, light and noise was rising from it. For the first time in my Watford watching days I actually wanted the ‘opposition’ to score just so I could hear this murmuring volcano explode. Of course it did, twice. It was then I understood what I was being told all those years earlier, it was the passion of a community united through football.

The ability to view Newcastle United objectively when they have a place somewhere in your heart isn’t pleasant. How can the club in its present incarnation represent the pride and dignity that has preceded it? It pains me to write but there has been such a shift from communion to ego that Newcastle United are having a real attempt at representing in one swoop the whole of the current malaise in football.

A chairman who has no idea of anything but his own self-aggrandisement, like Del Boy without the nous, players who only care about themselves and a manager who would have trouble keeping a straight face if a humorous, self-effacing thought had ever crossed his mind. Perhaps Shepherd is to blame. The man is an offensive fool who should feel like the luckiest person on earth. To chair a club with such history and passion, to represent the interests of the best fans that I have ever heard or seen, he should feel indebted to such greatness. Alas, the rudeness of this disrespectful arse is beyond the pale.

This is exacerbated by his truly awful business decisions. Employing Bobby Robson was wrong but his treatment thereafter was unforgivable. How does he right this? Employ Souness! The man who drained the last vestiges of pride from Liverpool, almost started a riot in Turkey with his childish antics, was so inept at Blackburn that he was in serious danger of taking them down that he should never have been given a job anywhere let alone in football management by one of the biggest clubs in the world. Well done Freddy. Souness was obviously brought in to bring some discipline to the bunch of delinquents Robson had been shooed away from. Souness can’t even bring discipline to his own mind. Leave him in an empty room and there would be an almighty scrap. It’s fine to be a despot when you are as successful as Alex Ferguson, but not when you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing. If Souness was an actor he’d have a bit part in 'The Bill' and would be singled out for guffawing laughter on 'Harry Hill’s TV Burp'.

So now the totally inept Shepherd has announced he wants Shearer to be the next manager. Dear oh dear Freddy. Shearer is one of the best players I have ever seen, but what proven qualities does he have to run a major football club? Well, he’s popular and he comes from the area. Learn from history Freddy, send Alan off for a few years and let him return with some experience. I’m forgetting, that’s a long term view. Shepherd wants to vicariously enjoy the popularity of Shearer by making him manager - would he endure the inevitable bitterness that would inevitably follow this naïve appointment?

As for the players, well at least Kluivert is going, but Given wants out too. More worryingly even Aaron Hughes wants to leave with Villa in the frame. Can you believe this? Aston Villa is now a more enticing club to be at than the mighty Newcastle United.

Things are currently terrible at St James’s Park and they are rapidly getting worse. The ship is rudderless; the only dignity comes from the fans, how long are they going to stand this before they start voting with their feet? Football has a transient nature, what exists now will not always be. The Newcastle fans’ devotion will be rewarded in the long run, but long term plans must be initiated to reap lasting rewards. I can hear the ghost of my Uncle Jack tutting and telling me about the glory days. Days when it wasn’t just the people on the terraces that cared.

Thanks to Pete and Jez for their thoughts.

New Villain

Confirmation has emerged that Aaron Hughes has joined Aston Villa, although as yet no figures have been confirmed.

Whether David O'Leary was so impressed with the Hughes/Solano right sided attack we had a couple of years ago that he was desperate to recreate it, is unconfirmed. What is certain is that we've lost a hard-working, solid if unspectacular player, whose attitude was never in question, but whose ability sometimes was.

That said, we at B&W&RAO wish Aaron all the best for the future. He may not be that badly missed on the park (let's face it, he suffered from being jack-of-all and master of none), but I'm sure he'll be missed around the place.

Still, it's the start of what promises to be something of a summer where St James' Park will resemble a revolving door, and of course it’s some more money for Souness to attempt to strengthen the squad.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Transfer tales

This week's must-read football-related blog post is without a doubt "Four Yugoslavians for a single Phil Neal", in which Jonathan of Crinklybee recalls the time when Fenham was gripped by Panini-sticker-mania:

"We needed Daniel Passerela of Argentina and Kevin Keegan, the England superstar. One Tuesday morning Passerela turned up in the playground; I was past caring and snaffled him in exchange for a half-dozen Czechoslovakians and a Mars Bar. Just Keegan to go now - but in the week before the big kick-off the England star striker signed, incredibly, for second division Newcastle United - elevating his status on the streets of Fenham in one fell swoop to somewhere more important than Pope John Paul 11, and the value of his Panini sticker to somewhere beyond priceless."

Half a dozen Czechoslovakians and a Mars Bar - well, I'd take that if it got Bowyer off our books, though I'd be holding out for a Snickers.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Double departure

Stories are emerging that we've flogged Bellamy and Hughes to Aston Villa. Whether this turns out to be true, or just over eager journalism we'll wait and see. If it is, then depending on the fee, the sale of Bellamy is clearly a good thing, although I would have preferred to see him go overseas.

The loss of Hughes is sad in many ways, as he has been a very faithful servent of the club, and unlike the little Welshman has always kept any gripes that he has had behind closed doors. However, the emergence of Steven Taylor, and latterly Peter Ramage, together with last summer's signing of Stephen Carr means it is perhaps time for Hughes to move on, if only to guarantee him first team football. If it is true, then we wish him well in the future.

Fat Pat released as Shay shares our pain

News today that one of our number has moved on to pastures new, and another has issued a slightly covert come and get me plea.

It will hardly come as surprise to hear that we've stopped paying Patrick Kluivert any money whatsoever, and based on performances it isn't before time. What's sad is that all the suggestions last summer, that he was only in it for the money, turned out to be true and a player who I personally used to rank as one of the best strikers on the planet turned out to be a lazy fat slob, who could rarely be arsed to break into a sweat on the pitch.

Speaking to the Guardian today, Shay Given has questioned the direction the club are going in, and expressed his frustration at our crap season. In light of the keeper problems at several higher finishing clubs, this is probably as close as our player of the season will ever come to issuing a come and get me plea. It's not like he wants out, but simply that he feels he deserves better.

We know how you feel Shay.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The long wait is over

For most football fans, the summer months are depressing. What to do with Saturday afternoons (and, thanks to Sky, Saturday lunchtimes and evenings, and Sundays too)?

But yesterday's final whistle at St James's Park was greeted with a sense of relief that, even with the prospect of a shortened summer break due to our involvement in the Intertoto Cup, we've got at least a month without Newcastle playing a competitive match.

A home game with Chelsea brought the curtain down on the season, which has been one to forget but which will no doubt remain long in the memory for all the wrong reasons. But this is a match report, and there'll be plenty of time for reflections on our decline and fall later in the week.

I imagine I wasn't alone in thinking beforehand that the scoreline would depend what mood the visitors were in. If the Champions were up for it despite having nothing to play for, we'd be in line for a thrashing. If they weren't, we might get away with a one or two goal defeat. So a 1-1 draw was actually quite a pleasing result, especially as they'd won their previous nine away encounters in the league.

Not that a draw looked likely early on. Modelling the new home kit, we were sluggish, affording the Blues several opportunities which were spurned by Jiri Jarosik and Joe Cole. Boumsong also got in a vital block to deny in-form bogeyman Eidur Gudjohnsen.

So it was something of a surprise when we took the lead just after the half hour, Milner's corners unsettling the Chelsea defence enough for Geremi to put through his own net with Bramble ready to pounce.

It took the Blues only two minutes to restore parity, though, that man Gudjohnsen pulled to the ground when bearing down on goal by Babayaro, obviously eager to help his former team-mates back into the game. Frank Lampard duly beat Given from the spot.

Shearer, back in the side for the suspended Ameobi, hit a decent free-kick towards the end of the half, but couldn't register his first goal in twelve Premiership appearances and it was all square at the break.

Fired up at the beginning of the second period, we had Chelsea very much on the back foot. Babayaro went close with a shot and Carlo Cudicini made a good stop from a Kluivert header, but we couldn't convert our dominance into another goal.

At the other end Given was called upon to deny Gudjohnsen and Jarosik with splendid saves, but it was us who arguably came closest to snatching the three points when Geremi made amends for his own goal by clearing off the line.

The point meant we equalled our worst ever Premiership points haul, and, as pleasing as avoiding defeat against Chelsea was, results elsewhere - Fulham's thrashing of Norwich and Birmingham's surprise win over Arsenal - dropped us to 14th, our lowest ever finishing position.

All the same, at the end the fans were in remarkably charitable mood (or were they, like me, just relieved?), warmly applauding the players. Robert, who didn't make it onto the pitch from the bench, stripped down to his underwear and threw his kit into the crowd, and has since announced he'll be leaving in the summer. Kluivert, meanwhile, received a similarly enthusiastic response when withdrawn towards the end, to be replaced by Chopra, back from his successful loan spell at Barnsley. All three are expected to depart, but how many other players were making their farewell appearances remains to be seen.

A Chelsea perspective: Chelsea Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, May 12, 2005

No rest for one

Without any club colleagues to accompany him, Jermaine Jenas has been picked for England's largely criticised forthcoming tour of the USA, and with it go any likelihood of him managing enough holiday time this summer for more than a weekend at Seahouses.

Accompanying him on the flight will be Southampton's Peter Crouch, who has been scoring goals on behalf of tall people everywhere this season. Yet another example, to Shola, that if you work hard and score some bloody goals, then Sven will pick you. However, without the hard work, and actually using your ability to put the ball in the net, the only place you'll go is down the divisions. (Ironic that this fate may yet befall Crouch on Sunday).

Hopefully this will give Shola a much needed kick up the backside and force him to stand up and be counted as a goal threat next season. However, if 52,000 people willing you on aren't enough of an incentive, I doubt watching a younger man board a plane to the States will be.

Temporary cessation of hostilities

Vermin - they get everywhere, don't they? Even the internet...

In all seriousness, though, and setting aside bitter and intense local rivalries for the duration of this post, this new blog, set up by Dean and dedicated to the Old Enemy, really is an excellent site and a welcome addition to our blogroll, well researched and much more than the parade of match reports that B&W&RAO has become of late (apologies for that).

Even as a Toon fan I can say it's well worth a peek.

Shut up, just shut up.

Why can't Fat Fred just keep his mouth shut? Whilst there's nothing really wrong in saying he’d like Shearer to manage the club in the future (although personally I'm far from convinced that it will lead to anything other than a souring of the relationship between Shearer and the fans), the fact is that we are once again in the papers.

Surely after the last couple of years we've had, it would be prudent for Fred to just decline to comment on such idle rumour, let alone start issuing missives about the future manager of the club. Wouldn't he be better simply backing Souness, and not disrespecting his work by talking about potential replacements?

When will Fred learn that the Peter Risdale school of media courtship is NOT the way to effectively run a club, and that we would all benefit from him accepting that with all the responsibility he has running the club, he should be setting a good example and introducing a culture of respect for the manager and desire not to talk to National newspapers among the staff.

Sadly, until he learns and understands that particular lesson, we're fated to reappear in the press again, and again, and again for reasons other than our match day performances.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

There goes / here comes trouble

It looks like the brief romance is over, with Patrick Kluivert announcing to the News Of The World that he's heading for Spain in the summer.

In truth, his relationship with the majority of Newcastle fans turned sour some time ago and though he's scored some undoubtedly important goals for us, he just hasn't lived up to his billing and of late has looked overweight and disinterested.

Meanwhile, another striker on our books "renowned" (notorious) for his temperament, Craig Bellamy, has been ordered to return for pre-season training with the rest of the squad, along with Hugo Viana, also currently out on long-term loan.

Does this mean a reprieve, then? Souness forgiving and forgetting about their angry public slanging match in January, and the way the Welshman disrespected the club?

Well, for those of you who lament the falling-out, can overlook Bellamy's trangressions and would like to see him back in a black and white shirt - there's not a snowflake's chance in hell.

Shepherd and Souness will be earnestly hoping to have offloaded him by that point, and, if not, certainly before the new season kicks off. In the meantime, they've got to make sure he stays fit and saleable.

Of course, quite how Shearer greets the Phantom Texter back will be interesting. Let's just hope the TV cameras aren't around to capture that particular internecine tete-a-tete...

The #1 #9

On this day in 1924 the Toon legend that is Jackie Milburn was born in Ashington. Milburn remains the club's leading scorer, with 200 league and cup goals.

Our current number nine, having failed to overhaul Milburn's total this season, has opted to delay his retirement by another year. Of course, it wasn't the sole motivating reason behind the decision, but there's no doubt Shearer wants that title.

Whether he can grab it or not is open to debate. Souness has allegedly told him he can no longer expect to be an automatic choice, and that's something it would be difficult to argue against given the evidence of recent games, in which he's looked sluggish and out of form.

But no matter - even if he can't top Jackie's haul, they're both already two of the most important names in the club's history.

RIP Wor Jackie.

The curse of the football fan

Let's face it: as Newcastle fans, we all know what Jonathan's talking about when he laments his seemingly eternal association with "hopeless causes"...

Monday, May 09, 2005

An example to us all

Saturday saw us confirm our position in the bottom half of the table, and also saw us given a lesson in team spirit and hard work by an Everton side who (following Liverpool's defeat on Sunday) claimed the coveted fourth place in the league.

Enjoying the better of the first half, we carved open chances only for Ambrose, Kluivert and Milner to all fail to beat the keeper. However, with only a couple of minutes left before the interval Jean-Alain Boumsong competed for a ball on our right hand touchline and referee Barry Knight blew for a foul. Regardless of Souness's gripes as to whether or not it should have been a free kick, there was little danger posed, and no need for Boumsong to even get close enough for the referee to consider giving it.

Nonetheless, we went from being in little danger to having to defend a free kick. The ball then came in, and nobody picked up David Weir's run to the back post, allowing him a free header past Shay Given to give Everton a barely deserved half time lead.

The second half began with Newcastle still competitive, looking to force an equaliser and salvage something from a game which we should already have been winning, when Shola Ameobi got rattled by Tim Cahill, and swung out in frustration. Shola caught the back of Cahill's head, and inevitably was given his marching orders, taking with him any hopes we might have had of taking a point from the game.

Our chances of even fluking a point vanished shortly afterwards, as Cahill was afforded the freedom of our defence (with Boumsong in the left back slot, and Babayaro in the middle covering, neither was able to close the massive gap around the D) to put the ball into the net, and bring delight to the Blue half of Merseyside, heaping more grief upon our already beleaguered support.

The rest of the game rolled by, with Everton content to play out time against ten men, and only Patrick Kluivert's attempt to finish the job started by Shola and chin Cahill mercifully considered only worthy of a booking by the referee.

Souness might bleat about the referee being biased against us, and in truth the "foul" by Boumsong was maybe harsh, but it in no way excuses the crap marking that followed, nor does it excuse Shola's rush of blood. If only he channelled all that energy and frustration into his football, he'd be a decent player, rather than one who all too often looks like he can't be arsed.

Still, only 90 more minutes of the season to endure.

An Everton fan's perspective: Toffeeblog

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Cottage industry pays off

And then, from out of nowhere, a decent performance - and, more importantly, a victory.

With both ourselves and Fulham coasting along with nothing to play for except Premiership places and prize money, it was never going to be a particularly significant night at Craven Cottage, but the three points were nevertheless very welcome indeed.

Fulham went into the game off the back of a comprehensive win over Everton at the weekend, and we hadn't won an away match in the Premiership since November, but I felt that, with our remaining fixtures being away to Champions' League chasing Everton and home to champions Chelsea, the match offered our most realistic chance of a final victory of a distinctly underwhelming season.

All the pre-match talk was of Shearer's absence, Souness having since revealed that the skipper actually himself asked to be given a rest. With the number nine not even on the bench, the portly figure of Patrick Kluivert squeezed into a Newcastle shirt for what is likely to be one of the last times to lead the attack. Defensively we were bolstered by the return of Bramble (yes, using the words "bolstered" and "Bramble" in the same sentence still has a strange ring to it...).

Fulham began the game in control but the better chances fell to us. Ambrose, playing on the left side, had already had one shot blocked by Liam Rosenior when, in the 18th minute, he reacted fastest to a loose ball in the box, prodding it past Edwin van der Sar. Another goal, another decent performance - perhaps he has a Newcastle future after all (sorry ChevBlue).

Kluivert had a presentable chance from a Milner cross but couldn't direct his header on target, while at the other end Given had to be alert to deny Andrew Cole, though he got lucky when fellow former Toon player Lee Clark failed to find the back of the unguarded net with his header from the rebound.

The second half conformed to the pattern of the first, Fulham bossing possession but us looking sharper and more dangerous up front. We doubled our lead on 62 minutes, Kluivert taking advantage of some sloppy defending and heading in an N'Zogbia corner at the near post, Mark Pembridge unable to keep the ball out. Is a reprieve, in the shape of a new contract, still a possibility?

As Fulham pressed to get back into the game, we grabbed a decisive third. From another corner, this time delivered by Milner, Ameobi outjumped another former Toon player, Alain Goma. Not only winning comfortably, but also scoring twice from corners - this really was a performance untypical of those we've served up all season.

What wasn't untypical, though, was the way we gave Fulham more than a glimmer of hope towards the end. Tomasz Radzinski latched onto a through-ball and finished neatly, and only a decent save from Given to deny Brian McBride prevented a very nervous finish.

The result went some way to avenging the extraordinary 4-1 home defeat Fulham inflicted on us in November, and alleviated some of the gloom that's been hanging over us for the past few weeks. What we need now is real character and commitment for the last two matches - things that have been in depressingly short supply all season.

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Dishing out the plaudits

It's that time of year when we feel obliged to overlook narrow tribal allegiances for a moment (easy this season, given that most of us are cursing our misfortune in following Newcastle), and to give credit where it's due.

So, congratulations to Chelsea - head and shoulders above the rest of the pack, they are worthy winners of the Premiership in their centenary year.

Congratulations too to Liverpool for last night's hair's-breadth victory over the Blues (making them - I think - only the third English side to beat Chelsea this season after Man City and ourselves). The triumph over two legs takes them into a European Cup Final for the first time since the 80s, but if it's Milan who they face in Istanbul, as looks likely, they'll have another very tough match on their hands.

Meanwhile, commiserations to Forest, for whom I feel a certain degree of sympathy even despite the years of mismanagement and the general awfulness of their performances this season. It's on behalf of the fans, though - as this, from Forest site Lost That Loving Feeling, suggests, they're a passionate lot that, like us at present, don't deserve to be let down time and again by the arseholes who run the show.

(Thanks to By The Sea Shore for the last link.)

Around the grounds

Extreme Groundhopping is the creation of ChevBlue of Ipswich blog Portman Road and, as the slogan goes, does exactly what it says on the tin, making it a fine accompaniment to the excellent Hobo Tread.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Well, another goalless draw in the space of a week prompted a small sigh of relief and a larger sigh of resignation.

Relief that we are now mathematically safe, and are now guaranteed Premiership football next season, and resignation that what promised to be a glorious season (before we kicked off at the Riverside back in August) has ended in such a dismal whimper.

The game? Well, we attacked well in the first half, but currently lack players who could score in Ibiza let alone on the pitch, and as has been the case so often this season we were rubbish after half time.

That we scored two goals, through Taylor when the referee wasn't ready and Kluivert when the linesman thought he was offside, can't mask the fact that we couldn’t even beat a team who were in the third tier of the football pyramid a couple of seasons ago.

At present, we're rubbish. The locals are restless and thoroughly disheartened with the whole sorry lot of them, and the season can't end soon enough.

I would try and write more in terms of a report, but as the only good thing to come from the game was the removal of any lingering chance we might get relegated, I can't really be bothered.

The game was poor, the team was poor, the fans were mostly too bored to show any great enthusiasm, and come the summer it's going to take a massive amount of skill to either motivate the slack buggers we've got, or convince someone else to take them off our hands. However, that's nothing to the amount of skill and cunning required to convince players with dreams of achieving something to come here and replace them.

If I was Shay, I'd already be looking at property in North London and Manchester, and to be honest, you couldn't blame him if he was, particularly as our hopes of playing any form of European football next season appear to rest on Boro finishing ahead of Spurs in the league.

Other reports: BBC