Friday, December 04, 2009

A Month Of Saturdays: November 2009

Can you play your home games at an email address? Judging by events in early November, Jabba certainly seemed to think so. But then this is a man who has some kind of perverse fascination with email, having believed it a wise move to solicit serious bids for the club by that means back in the summer...

When news broke of the unwieldy moniker with which the organ grinder had unilaterally decided to saddle our ground - while all the time his monkey Llambiarse insisted that they realised the importance of St James' Park as a name - the first sound was a collective thud of jaws dropping. And then came the furious outcry: guest contributor Jonathan's angry piece about the flagrant disregard for tradition and heritage, and noisy protests swiftly planned for both before and after the game against Peterborough on the 7th. Local MP and diehard fan David Clelland, who had already tabled a motion in the House of Parliament in protest at the proposed name change, must have been even more disgusted when he learned exactly what that change would be to. We vowed never to make reference to the stadium as anything other than St James' Park on this site, while the BBC, to their credit, appeared to be happy giving Jabba a similar two-fingered salute.

The dissent wasn't unanimous, however. While Chelsea and Spurs - two clubs with dollar signs permanently in their eyes - seemed to have been waiting for another club to take the lead before suddenly announcing their interest in flogging off the names of Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane respectively to the highest bidders, Barry Moat declared himself in agreement with Jabba over the rebranding. Some knight in shining armour you turned out to be, Barry.

The moral of the story being that if you want something done well, you're better off doing it yourself. What was needed wasn't whingeing but effective collective action - and this was where the Newcastle United Supporters Trust stepped in, launching the Yes We Can campaign with the aim of gaining a significant stake in the club, and perhaps even wrestling full ownership away from Jabba at some point in the future: "The fans can lead the way where others have failed - by standing together and investing together - we can make our club the shining beacon of honesty and integrity and bring the city together to save our club from the current regime, its mistakes and its calculated snubs." The campaign quickly gathered pace, gaining the support of David Clelland, Home Secretary Alan Johnson and a host of other local MPs, and as the month drew to a close it was announced that Mike Ashley had signed up too. Not THAT one, though, so no need to worry...

The whole affair gave the lie to Alan Smith's assertion that "Last year there was a big divide between players, fans and football club. This season you can see a togetherness". The divide between the fans and the club was actually widening, if anything, while simultaneously (and ironically, in the non-ironic sense used by your average football pundit) bringing the fans together in united action. But our skipper was right to talk of a new-found unity amongst the playing staff, which he explained was the result of player-led crisis talks in the wake of the Leyton Orient disaster in pre-season. Smith himself, useless last campaign, epitomised the new tough, resilient and committed attitude that saw us win all four of our fixtures in November.

Our two away matches, televised Monday night affairs at Sheffield United and Preston, were pretty much carbon copies of each other - 1-0 victories ground out against opposition experienced at this level who tried their best but who just couldn't breach our increasingly solid defence. Of the two, the win at Bramall Lane was the most fortuitous, coming courtesy of a heavily deflected Ryan Taylor shot and a number of splendid saves from Steve Harper. Winning ugly? This was winning the lovechild of Carlos Tevez and Ann Widdecombe.

At Deepdale, it was a fleeting moment of class that saw us prevail, Kevin Nolan scoring just as it was starting to look as though we'd have to settle for a point. As well as the defence has performed individually and as a unit thus far this season, I don't think any of us are under any illusions that much profit has already been made from teams' inabilities to finish - a luxury we certainly weren't afforded in the top flight.

Sandwiched between the slices of dry, unappetising but ultimately nutritious bread that were those two wins came the tasty filling of a much more straightforward demolition of Peterborough. The anti-Ashley protests were replaced by noisy backing of the team for the duration of the 90 minutes, and Danny Simpson was unlucky to find his first goal for the club (a left-footed curler from distance, possibly unintentional) overshadowed by the long, long overdue first for Spiderman. When it came, it was never going to be a tap-in, either - a slaloming run leaving blue-shirted statue after blue-shirted statue in his wake followed by a crashing finish from inside the box. Afterwards, exasperated Posh manager Darren Ferguson declared the side who'd sent his charges bottom to be the best in the division - and was promptly given the boot.

Surprisingly, the margin of victory was even more comfortable three weeks later against the side with the second tightest defence in the league - though once we'd raced into our three-goal lead Swansea could and should have regained a foothold in the game. Once again the goals were shared around, Homer belatedly justifying his selection with a brace and Peter Lovenkrands capping a superb performance with the other to ensure we ended the month with a 100% record and exactly where we started it - looking down from the top of the table.

In other news, the FA Cup draw handed us an unwelcome trek to Plymouth on the first weekend of the new year and Chris Hughton bolstered the squad with another new face, former PSG midfielder and free agent Fabrice Pancrate. On the international scene, Bigger Lad enjoyed mixed fortunes for England U21s but at least didn't report back from duty with an injury, while his teammate Big Lad, nearing full fitness again, announced his desire to play for Nigeria.

If he does end up representing the Super Eagles, he may well find himself partnering a familiar face in the form of Obafemi Martins. Martins made it into the news twice in November - once for firing his country to the World Cup and once for the legal case brought against him by his former management company which revealed he has a childlike inability to manage his own affairs or even understand the concept or value of money. At least Jabba no longer has to respond to those emails from a Nigerian by the name of O. Martins asking for £70,000 to be deposited into his account each week...


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