Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Month Of Saturdays: May 2007

(Rather belated, unfortunately - things have moved on somewhat since this was written - but hopefully worth posting all the same.)

What a difference a month doesn’t make, eh?

That was how my last A Month Of Saturdays round-up began. Suffice to say that May was a timely reminder that in the topsy-turvy world of Newcastle United Football Club, nothing stays the same for very long.

I was bemoaning the fact that our chronic inability to score had persisted for a second month, without even the return of Michael Owen against Reading looking likely to herald an upturn in fortunes – and in truth nothing did change before the visit of Blackburn. That afternoon we spent the whole 90 minutes toiling ineffectually and half-heartedly, while strike pair Benni McCarthy and Jason Roberts plundered the goals that enabled Mark Hughes’ side to disappear back down the A1 with perhaps the easiest three points they won all season.

For Glenn Roeder the writing was well and truly on the wall – and what it said was “You are courteously summoned to an emergency board meeting tomorrow, love Fat Fred”. Roeder should be credited with having had the good sense to jump before he was shoved over the precipice, retaining his dignity rather than clinging desperately to anything he could a la Souness.

Even with hindsight, there’s no doubt in my mind that we were right to give Roeder a chance at the helm, given the incredible rescue operation he had performed at the end of the 2005-6 season – but unfortunately it just didn’t work out as we’d hoped (though we weren’t actually relegated, much to the chagrin of those who had gleefully pointed out Roeder’s previous managerial record of seventh place finishes followed by relegation…). He could justifiably point to a horrendous injury list which never really seemed to shorten and to the appalling form of supposedly talented players (as well as to their ultimate disloyalty that, together with the Blackburn result and the fans’ boos, brought matters to a head) – but ultimately his personal culpability for our predicament was also clear.

No sooner had Roeder cleared his desk than speculation was rife that his replacement would be Sam Allardyce, who had only recently relinquished the hotseat at Bolton. The final game of the season, away to already-relegated Watford, was little more than a trifling distraction while we were waiting for the appointment, though some travelling fans still got themselves sufficiently worked up to dish out abuse to goalscorer Kieron Dyer – abuse that was for once unmerited.

Two days later Allardyce was duly unveiled as manager, to a less than enthusiastic response from yours truly. During his tenure at the Reebok, he may have managed to wring the best out of supposedly past-it players seemingly en route for the knacker’s yard (the continued brilliance of Gary Speed under his charge particularly galling to us), and Bolton’s results were often impressive – but he had them playing dreadful football and always struck me as an arrogant oaf (perhaps Fat Fred saw a kindred spirit?). Plus there was the small issue of the ‘Panorama’ allegations, which have clung to him like cigarette smoke but which seem to have been conveniently forgotten about.

Allardyce blustered into Toon with all kinds of pledges and threats, most notably his promise to bring an end to our ongoing injury crisis by putting in place all kinds of cutting-edge training methods. If he manages it then I’ll hold up my hands and be thankful – but most of what he’s said about such methods and sports psychology has struck me as meaningless mumbo-jumbo (and no doubt something we’ll end up paying for as the number of backroom staff mushrooms). Grudgingly, though, I suppose we ought to give him a chance.

Within a few days Allardyce was portrayed as wielding the stiff broom of reform in dispensing with the services of Craig Moore, Pavel Srnicek, Olivier Bernard, Oguchi Onyewu and perhaps most notably Titus Bramble – but then those departures were always likely even if Roeder had stayed on, all of them being out of contract.

But it wasn’t long before Allardyce himself was caught by surprise, though perhaps not to quite the same extent as Fat Fred. Shepherd was reportedly in hospital when the news broke that Sir John Hall, the club’s pre-Keegan saviour in the early 90s, had sold his share of the club to billionaire businessman Mike Ashley, inventively dubbed the “Buckinghamshire Abramovich”. Needless to say, despite the shock Fat Fred wasn’t speechless, and soon issued a challenge to his rival: “There is nothing Mike Ashley can do with this club unless he gets 75 per cent of the stake. He can’t take full control, he can’t change resolutions or the club’s articles of association. He has spent more than £50million, but he will have to spend a whole lot more as he must now make an offer not just for my shares, but the shares held by all the other shareholders”. Clearly he wasn’t going to relinquish his grip on the club without a fight – but the prospect of a change at the highest level was suddenly very real.

As the month drew to a close, the takeover talks continued, and transfer speculation went into overdrive. If I could have Sam’s ear, there’d be one thing I’d be shouting into it right now: “DEFENDERS”…


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