Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Geordie Chronicles

A lull in Toon-related news, a break in the World Cup action - which means it's time for the long, long, long overdue final installment in Jonathan's Geordie Chronicles series, which first appeared in The Mag and on the Bonkworld site. Not at all topical, but a great read nonetheless...

In defence of the Messiah

Ever been accused of stating the obvious? My mate's uncle hasn't - it's the very thing he tries to avoid. And with some success - his pronouncements, particularly when football related, never fail to raise an eyebrow - and occasionally the odd heckle or two. How does this gentleman maintain such an impressive aura of unpredictability? Simple - he's been talking pure bollocks now for the best part of forty years.

Take Waddle for example - he could never play. Beardsley - workshy. Jackie Milburn? Should have stayed down the pit. Nonsense? Of course. And harmless enough, in its own way. After all, it's only my mate's uncle broadcasting his idiosyncratic views across the bar-room. As long as this idiosyncrasy doesn't become accepted wisdom - and that could never happen, right?

Right. Except, no-one likes to be accused of stating the obvious. And in an area like Tyneside, where everyone, even the grannies on the bus, seems to have an opinion on the game, original statements can be hard to come up with. You have to be outrageous to stand out - and how better to outrage a devout community than by taking the name of the Saviour in vain?

Which brings me to Kevin Keegan. He was our saviour, right? Not wishing to state the obvious of course, but didn't the bloke propel us from the doldrums to the big time, disappear from the centre circle in a helicopter for God's sake, then return and save us from extinction and take us to the very top of the League, before being forced out on the verge of ultimate glory by nameless, faceless, City executives? Well of course he did - it's bleedin' obvious!

Not though, obvious enough for some. Among the lads in the pubs and the grannies on the bus, hell, even among the contributors to The Mag, some dissenting voices are beginning to be heard. Their arguments against the Messiah appear to be threefold. Let's look at them one by one.

Firstly, say the courters of controversy, Keegan's teams couldn't defend. Now I really think, and you may be surprised here, that this is the easiest argument to counter. For sure, the Keegan era had its fair share of 3-3, 4-3, even 5-4 scorelines - matches that stick in the memory. But games like the Anfield 4-3 classic, which ended with the manager slumped over the hoardings in apparent emotional exhaustion, were the exception. In fact, during the 95-96 season, when it is commonly held we lost the title through over-exuberance, just 36 goals were conceded in 38 League games -- a ratio bettered only once since the war (69-70, if you're interested). And Pavel kept no less than 10 clean sheets. We may never have sung "1-0 to the Geordie Boys", but we could have done - against Boro, Blackburn, Everton, Coventry, Villa, Southampton, and Leeds. No, the "leaky Newcastle defence" was strictly a media invention.

Secondly, insist the doubters, anyone could have done it with the money Keegan had. This is an argument which, it seems to me, rests on two assumptions. The first, that big money signings always succeed, can be easily countered. Have they succeeded for Wolves, Blackburn, Middlesborough? The second assumption - that Keegan himself specialised in obvious, big-money signings, needs a little more investigation.

Let's start with Wor Kev's first three signings of note: Kilcline, Venison, and Bracewell. Obvious? Well, Kilcline was held to be a lower league hoofer, Bracewell past it, and Venison both past it and a bad-hair Mackem. Big money? They came for £750,000 the lot. Inspired? Absolutely. The unlikely trio, as we know, formed an integral part of the great renaissance. They were soon joined by bigger names, but even these - with the exception of Shearer -- rarely broke the bank. Ginola? A paltry £2.5 million. Beardsley? A million less. Keegan could look after the purse strings all right.

But finally, insist the unbelievers, Keegan was, and is, an over-emotional bottler. This, I'll admit, is the hardest one to argue against. After all, the Keegan rant of '96 - "I'd love it if we beat 'em - just love it!" has passed into the folklore alongside "there's some people on the pitch" uttered 30 years earlier. But hasn't Keegan's quite understandable reaction to Alex Ferguson's indefensible allegation (that the Leeds players might relax and give Newcastle an easy ride in a vital game) been blown quite out of proportion? Wasn't KK - not for the first time - voicing the exact thoughts of the fans and making it clear to the players it was a case of "us against the world, lads"? Finally, wasn't the man's passionate approach a great part of his strength? We should hardly complain if under extreme provocation that passion ran overboard.

So to conclude. Sure, KK never quite brought us the Holy Grail. But hell, he came pretty damn close. Along the way, the man brought us an attacking team that could also defend, made astute imaginative signings, and showed a great passion for the club. Sure, he showed some very human weaknesses too - who wouldn't have done at the helm of that rollercoaster ride? But most importantly, between February 1992 and January 1997 this native of Armthorpe near Doncaster brought us fans more straightforward, uncomplicated, good old-fashioned joy than any other figure associated with the club in living memory. For that alone, the man should be held in eternal reverence. Sorry (to me mate's uncle and everyone else) for stating the obvious - but Kevin Keegan was, and is, our Messiah.

* * * * *

A few years on, and we've definitely moved on from Keegan. Since leaving Newcastle he's managed Fulham, England and Man City - each new job effectively putting greater distance between himself and his time on Tyneside. But that's not to say his accomplishments in his two spells have been forgotten - far from it. And the moment at the end of Shearer's testimonial that saw the striker embrace Sir Les and Rob Lee brought the memories of the good 'ol days flooding back - when we were the Entertainers, everyone's favourite second team. Just a shame Keegan left when he did - I just hope he is proud to take credit for bringing Shearer to St James'.

(Jonathan's other pieces in the Geordie Chronicles series - "Between the sticks", "The bovver boys" and "Up for the Cup" - can be found here, here and here.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Men no longer at work

Australia were reminded yesterday that football is a cruel game, exiting the World Cup following Italian substitute Francesco Totti's 94th minute penalty. The spot kick was awarded after Fabio Grosso took advantage of Lucas Neill's prostrate form and went to ground easily. Then again, Neill has got away with so much in the Premiership that perhaps it was time he got his comeuppance.

The Aussies' exit means no more World Cup involvement for our very own Craig Moore, who defended stoutly throughout the tournament and yesterday made an impression of a rather more physical kind on Luca Toni, winning the ball and taking out the Italian striker in one particularly ferocious tackle. Moore can return home just in time to join in with the start of training for our forthcoming campaign...

Jean-Alain Boumsong is now the only current Newcastle player still with any direct interest in the World Cup, but the likelihood of him dirtying his boots would seem to be slim - especially as France are widely expected to be dumped out of the tournament by Spain tonight.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The English connection

Nearly all of today's papers seem to be working themselves into a bit of a lather at the prospect of Alan Shearer reportedly being approached by Steve McClaren to assist with the national team when he takes over after the World Cup.

An intriguing possibility, and his value as a motivator is well-renowned, but last night on BBC's interactive service and on the 'Match Of The Day' highlights programme, Shearer was fairly tight-lipped in response to the rumours, without actually ruling it out: "It would interest me in the future and it's very flattering to be linked, but I haven't heard anything".

Incidentally, he was far more vocal in his mockery of old nemesis Graham Poll for his atrocious refereeing display in the Croatia v Australia match, in which he showed three yellow cards to Croat Josep Simunic. "What have Croatia and Graham Poll got in common?", he smirked, before delivering the predictable punchline with a grin: "Neither of them are going to be involved in the last sixteen..."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Smogs: not all humourless foam-handed twats after all

You've probably already seen this, but just in case you haven't: a Nuneaton Borough fan called John Boileau applies for the manager's job at Middlesbrough on the strength of his expertise on Championship Manager - and gets an equally tongue-in-cheek response from Smoggie chairman Steve Gibson.

Anyone prepared to suggest that Fat Fred would have received and responded to a similar application in such good spirit? No, thought not.

(Thanks to Lord Bargain for the link.)

Moore and more

As of tonight we can claim to have a goalscorer at this year's World Cup jamboree.

Before the tournament kicked off, you would have got very slim odds of either Jean-Alain Boumsong or Craig Moore beating Michael Owen to achieving that feat - but in tonight's game with Croatia, Aussie Moore blasted home a penalty equaliser shortly before the break. The goal helped Australia towards a 2-2 draw which ensured they qualified for the knock-out stages of the World Cup for the first time in their history.

So, congratulations Craig on the goal and on your nation's progress, and good luck for the next match against Italy - you'll need it.

Oh, and come back to Tyneside in one piece and carry on playing the way you have been on the world stage...

Quote of the day

"When I told my little girl that Daddy had hurt his knee, she just asked me to put on 'Postman Pat'".

It turns out that not everyone was knocked sideways by Michael Owen's knee injury.


The fixtures for next season are out, and we start with the eminently winnable combination of home game against Wigan, before an August bank holiday weekend trip to Aston Villa.

Having had a quick glance down the list we appear to have been spared any particularly unpleasant looking months, for once. (Although, I always think that, only for a loss of form or injuries to key players contriving to lessen my expectations as the season progresses).

If nothing else, the fixtures list presents us with a chance to sample the delights of Reading and Sheffield in the spring - by which time both clubs will either be scrapping for their lives, or basking in mid table security, whilst hopefully we'll be planning for Europe, with at least one eye on a major cup final.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


"I nearly vomited when it happened". Thus quoth Fat Fred, and for once I'm 100% with him.

I'm still not sure what was worse - the knee-wrenching fall itself, the tragi-comic rolling off the pitch or the agonised look on Michael Owen's face as the England physios prodded his leg on the sidelines before the stretcher appeared.

This morning BBC News 24 were still holding out some hope of Owen appearing in the World Cup, saying his injury would "probably" rule him out, but shortly before lunchtime came the announcement that the damage sustained to his anterior cruciate knee ligament will rule him out of action for around five months - no less terrible for its depressing inevitability.

Dreadful news for England, not least because of Sven-Goran Eriksson's decision to take only four strikers to Germany - but when Owen went down my first thoughts, like those of Fat Fred, were of Newcastle.

You wouldn't have guessed it was a tragedy for the club, though, from the way it's been reported in the media. Newcastle have merited a mention for the fact that that's where Owen's headed upon his arrival back in Blighty. But, as Shepherd has said, it's now us who "pick up the pieces". It's hardly any consolation to know that we'll be compensated by the FA for the loss of Owen's services.

For long-suffering Geordies like ourselves, it's shades of 1997 all over again, when Alan Shearer suffered a terrible injury in a pre-season friendly at Goodison Park that ruled him out for the first half of the season. The club desperately tried to halt Les Ferdinand's move to Spurs, but it had already gone too far to turn back and we were left with just Tino Asprilla and youthful new signing Jon Dahl Tomasson, untried in the English game.

If anything, the situation as it currently stands is worse. Owen's long-term injury, allied to the retirement of Shearer and the departure of Michael Chopra, leaves us with the semi-fit Shola Ameobi and sulky Spaniard Albert Luque, who could still come good but who in his first season on Tyneside looked short of form and motivation - when he wasn't injured himself, that is.

Our summer dealings have just become that much more important. Roeder and Shepherd had already been talking about replenishing and reinforcing our attacking options, and now it's even more imperative that we get two or maybe even three forward-thinking players in. And of course, as the chaps at have pointed out, everyone will know how desperate we are and try to capitalise by demanding that we pay over the odds for strikers. Oh joy.

Best wishes for a swift recovery, Mickey.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006



Monday, June 19, 2006

News round-up

It's been sluggish on the news front of late, but today came details of a potentially significant development: an approach has been made to buy Sir John Hall's stake in the club.

The club's statement gave no indications as to what might happen - it "may or may not lead to the disposal of the stake" - but Fat Fred has apparently ruled out the possibility of a Man Utd style takeover. Anyone fancy taking him at his word? No, thought as much.

On a tangential note, this site might well be of interest to those concerned by the way our club has been run for the past few years.

Meanwhile, Roeder has announced that signings are imminent - we'd hope so too, having lost Shearer, Chopra and Bowyer so far this summer without any incoming replacements. One name persistently linked with us is that of Steed Malbranque, who we're apparently battling it out for with West Ham. He's a player I've long admired, and at the reported £5m he'd be a decent investment.

Over in Germany, it's good news for Michael Owen as he looks likely to benefit from Peter Crouch being on a yellow card and get another start for England tomorrow, heading the attack against Sweden with the fit-again Wayne Rooney. He'll have to improve on his last couple of showings, though - his lack of fitness has shown in largely ineffective and lethargic performances.

Commiserations to Craig Moore, who battled valiantly to try and keep Brazil at bay on Sunday evening and was unlucky to be withdrawn as the Aussies chased the game, having put in a sterling shift at the back. Perhaps he and Bramble could work out after all? I'd still like to see us strengthen our back line, though...

Let's start at the beginning...

New to the very fine Cheer Up Alan Shearer blog - The A-Z Of Football. Both of us are contributing, and the first installment is up here now.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Chop's away

Nice to know that, as of next season, there'll be at least one other Geordie exiled here in the Welsh capital - Michael Chopra has signed for Cardiff City.

Chopra's current deal was due to expire at the end of the month, and according to Cardiff chairman Sam Hamann we "wanted him to stay and offered a new contract". However, as we suggested last week, the lure of regular first team football, albeit at a lower level, has proved irresistible.

He's signed for £500,000 - not a transfer fee but a compensation fee for a 22-year-old to the club who brought him through the ranks - and passed a medical, though the BBC report that "one small detail has to be sorted with Newcastle".

The South Wales Echo carries more quotes from Hamann: "We have had to fight off seven other clubs to sign Chopra. We feel the guy has a serious chance of being a goal machine for us. He still has to prove himself in the Coca-Cola Championship, but he is a quality player. And what I loved most was that he was so keen to sign for Cardiff".

Chopra will be stepping into the sizeable boots of Cameron Jerome, who after a brilliant season has left for Birmingham for £3m. He leaves us having never really fulfilled his early potential (though his opportunities were limited), but he'll always be fondly remembered on Tyneside for the instant impact he had when he appeared as a sub in the derby match in April, a game which we eventually won 4-1 and which marked the end of Shearer's career.

Best of luck, Chops.

Who do you think you are kidding Mr Eriksson?

Judging by this quote from Sky Sports, it seems Fat Freddie is intent on picking another fight, this time with Sven over Michael Owen's early substitution in England's World Cup opener with Paraguay on Saturday:

"Nothing surprises me as far as Mr Eriksson is concerned any more and that's being kind to the fella. Any striker worth his salt would be upset at being taken off after just 55 minutes. But Michael doesn't need to worry. The entire Geordie nation is still right behind him."

Fred, stop being an arse and wading in to stir things up when there's no need. And one other thing: do you find it impossible to make any kind of statement about anything without referring to "the Geordie nation"? It's all getting a bit tedious, not to mention embarrassing.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Hammer time

News has come through that Lee Bowyer has signed for West Ham for an undisclosed fee (allegedly somewhere around the half million mark). Whilst he was one of our better players during the latter half of last season (notably after Parker fell ill) his performances of Tyneside continually failed to live up to our expectations.

With his limited impact on the park (in a football sense at least) the baggage which came with employing a player with such a short fuse and his much publicised history was probably more than we should have carried, and his departure is unlikely to upset too many people.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Taking the Mickey?

No, for once we're not talking about the endless Owen to Liverpool / Arsenal / Chelsea etc etc rumours, but about his fellow Toon striker Michael Chopra.

Cardiff and Barnsley, who had him on loan a couple of seasons back, have both declared their interest in signing him, while Birmingham and Crystal Palace are also reportedly keen. The figure of £500,000 is being bandied about, and though no firm bids have yet materialised it seems it's only a matter of time.

Would the Championship be a good move for the player? Probably, yes. Despite the wrench of leaving his hometown club, for whom he broke his Premiership scoring duck against the Mackems, Chopra would be a handful at Championship level, and also far more likely to start. With Owen, Ameobi and Luque currently ahead of him on Tyneside, and the prospect of at least one more striker joining the club over the summer, his opportunities look slim.

Would it be a good move for the club? Well, he was for a time our most exciting youth prospect, but his development seems to have stagnated somewhat. His performances towards the back end of the season were energetic and whole-hearted enough to merit another one year extension to his contract, I think, but that would probably be unsatisfactory to a player who, at this stage in his career, really needs to be playing more regularly.

It's always a shame to see a homegrown player depart for pastures new (particularly because you just KNOW that he'll come back to haunt us in a Cup tie some time in the not-too-distant future...), but the jury remains out on whether Chopra has what it takes to cut the mustard at the very highest level.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Final word

Just to let you know that over the course of the forthcoming football festival I'll be writing for the collaborative blog Finals Fantasy - come and pay us a visit.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Black & White & Read All Over will be neglected - far from it. Paul will be here to look after you, and I'll be popping up with the odd post here and there too.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Roeder (re)shuffle

Having taken his time, Glenn Roeder has finally got his man, and with the appointment of Kevin Bond has almost completed the organisation of his backroom staff.

Bond comes in from Portsmouth to take on the role of Assistant Manager, with Lee Clark taking on a post as first team coach (although still expected to turn out for the reserves and if needed the first team next season). Tommy Craig remains in charge of the reserves, and Terry Mac joins our network of scouts.

With the return of Roddy Macdonald as team doctor, after a period at Celtic, the only post left to fill is that which Roeder himself previously held, namely Academy Director. Rumours in the press are linking us to Bryan Klug, who is currently at Ipswich, and was responsible for the development of messers Dyer, Bramble and Ambrose amongst others.

Hopefully now that the back room staff have been sorted out we'll be able to push on with player recruitment.