Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Better the devil you know?

Having, yesterday, bemoaned the apparent inactivity around the club, we're today confronted by a BBC is report that Fat Fred is heading a consortium who are preparing to lodge a £60 million bid for the club. Given that he personally made more than double that when he sold his shares to Ashley, that's not a bad bit of business for Fat Fred.

I'll be honest, despite all my frustration at the complete inactivity since the end of the season, the prospect of Fat Fred gurning his way back into St James Park doesn't exactly fill me with joy. As I have mentioned previously, when last in charge he did a very good job of feathering his own nest without addressing the serious problems that his management was creating in the club's finances - something Ashley found to his cost when he bought the club.

Even with Alan Shearer on board as manager, I worry that this could rapidly become a case of deja vu should the fat one take charge again.

Monday, June 29, 2009

All quiet on the North Eastern Front

With two days to go until pre-season training begins for our Championship season, there is depressingly little news coming out of St James Park.

With Hughton and Calderwood reportedly taking charge of pre-season, and with only Owen, Lovenkrands, Viduka and Edgar so far out the door, there really is precious little to report.

What's frustrating in all of this is that there is still no news on the sale of the club, no news on the appointment of a manager and no progress on signing any players to boost our promotion prospects, it remains a fairly depressing state of affairs. Hopefully the next few days might see some progress on the sale of the club (from which surely everything else will flow), but as things stand it's a pretty grim start to what could be a long hard season ahead.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Strip tease

Our new away kit. Bloody hell. As if pulling on a Newcastle shirt wasn't already a source of shame and public humiliation. Clearly it's been decided that if we're going to play in the Championship then we should at least be dressed like a Championship side.

The official site declared the strip "stylish". Either the club is scaling impressive new heights of denial (expect an insistence shortly that, contrary to popular belief, eggs is not eggs) or they've enthusiastically adopted equal opportunities policy by providing writing jobs for the blind.

Credit to Steven Taylor for managing what might pass for a smile while modelling the shirt (though to me it looks more like a rictus grimace than a grin) - perhaps he was able to console himself with the thought that, if the dithering over Wor Al's appointment goes on any longer, he may not have to wear it again anyway.

Counting down the days

It hardly counts as news, but Little Saint Mick can't wait to get the hell out of Toon. "I can't see me staying at Newcastle. I'm still a Newcastle United player but only for a matter of weeks."

Our end-of-season nemesises Hull City have been the first club to declare a real interest, with Phil Nut-Brown blabbering: "He needs to spend a high percentage of next season's games at the highest possible level and that's where we can come in". It's a sad day indeed when the Tigers can offer him that, and we can't.

I have to admit that Owen's stats surprised me - 30 goals in 79 appearances, of which 14 have been from the subs' bench, albeit over the course of an injury-plagued four seasons. Didn't stop me from reading his comment about having "a skin thicker than 99.9% of the population" and wondering if that's what's been slowing him down, though...

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Unusually for Newcastle Utd, it's been a bit of a slow few days for news - so let's take the opportunity to direct you to Black And White Toon, a new site very much along the same lines as ours (though with considerably better use of the sidebar...).

The site's author David has already broken ranks to give positive (if tentative) credit to Mike Ashley for reportedly agreeing that the spine of the side (namely Steven Harper, Nicky Butt and Steven Taylor) shouldn't be sold this summer. Bold words - but I hope he's right.

Also recently added to our blogroll is The Two Unfortunates, a brand new site founded by a Reading fan and a Plymouth supporter but which is devoted to non-partisan, literate coverage of the Championship. "Perhaps Europe’s most exciting league"? Not long now until we get to find out for ourselves... Thanks are already due to them for pointing us in the direction of BHaPPY (not BSaD), a good-looking Watford site.

Incidentally, if you want to know what I get up to on Newcastle's days off, there's a report of my visit to Abingdon Utd in late March up now on Skif's perennially excellent Dub Steps. Add that to my visits to Cardiff, Didcot Town and Bury (the latter with a Gillingham-supporting friend) and it's safe to say that if you spy me turning up at your club's ground next season, expect to witness a grim defeat...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Away days are here again

The fixture list for the forthcoming season was released today, and once again ours makes for familiar reading.

First match of the season? Away (to West Brom, my tip for the title).

Boxing Day? Away (to Sheffield Wednesday).

Last match of the season? Away (to QPR).

So, no home comforts when we might want them most. Still, at least the computer hasn't made us go to Plymouth's Home Park on a Tuesday night - though all fixtures are still subject to TV scheduling...

I must confess to two emotions on glancing over the list:

1. a sense of trepidation - there are actually a lot of decent teams lying in wait for us in the Championship, aren't there, and we're going to have a very tough job just to come close to making it out of the division

2. a slight, vague but undeniable frisson of excitement - yes, like battered wives, how soon we forget the damage inflicted on us and come crawling back black-eyed and bruised to stand by our men, who deserve locking up...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A little less more conversation and a little more action

That was the plea from The Xisco Kid in a recent interview given in Sweden, where he's representing Spain in the European U21 Championships. Choicest quote?

"For players, when you train well you expect a chance, but I got nothing. There was no communication between me and Kinnear, nothing. He never said you have trained well, or you have trained bad, or you have to be like this or that. Never.

I was very angry. For a player the most important thing is respect. At that moment I felt that they didn't care. It was like - you stay here and train one or two hours, and then go home. This is the first time I have known that.

The first game when Kinnear left I played for 10 minutes against West Brom and this day was like - wow, I play again.

Evidently JFK is to man management what Ronaldo is to modesty. Once again you have to ask: what on earth was Fat Mike thinking when he appointed the buffoon in the first place?

In fairness to Xisco, he walked into a car crash, not realising until after his arrival that he wasn't wanted by King Kev and would actually be a prime cause of the manager's departure, and was subsequently plagued with injury for much of the season. But a five year contract for £50,000 a week, with our record of Spanish purchases (Albert Luque, Marcelino)? Madness.

While it's unlikely he'll stay, the comments suggest he is at least relatively settled in the North East (in contrast to Jose Enrique) and wouldn't be averse to sticking around as long as he's handed an opportunity - and given the imminent departures of Little Saint Mick, Captain Pasty and (in all likelihood) Oba Martins, he might be fortunate enough to get it.

Not a lotta bottle

It's hardly news to report that Dave Whelan is once again shooting his mouth off about someone at our club - but, just for a change, it's not his old business adversary Fat Mike who's getting it in the neck. No, it's poor old Little Saint Mick instead.

Asked if he'd be interested in signing Owen when his Newcastle contract expires, Whelan said no: "One, he’s too expensive and, two, has he got the urge and the bottle and the drive to do what the Premier League demands?" So, Mick, if you've already sent a copy of your glossy brochure to the JJB, it was a waste of a stamp.

A man seemingly unable to keep anything to himself, Whelan also revealed that he'd been keen on signing Owen when he left Real Madrid to join us in the summer of 2005, but that his wages had proved prohibitive. Yeah, that and the fact that at the time the prospect of signing for Wigan would have been as appealing as getting trapped in a lift with a post-vindaloo Fat Fred.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New faces

By way of preparation for our forthcoming Championship campaign, I've added to the side bar fan sites for two of the teams we'll be facing:

Hob Nob Anyone? (Reading)
Serendipity (Plymouth)

As ever, if you know of any decent football blogs or fan sites - or if you run one yourself - just let us know via email or the comments box and we'll take a peek.

(Thanks to Rob and Lloyd for the links.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Going for a Bassong?

Fair play to Sebastien Bassong - he's waited a respectful amount of time before making it known (via a source in the Guardian) that he wants to leave, "devastated by the madness at the club". There's not likely to be a shortage of interested clubs - good news for the money men, and for us too I suppose, though his departure will be tinged with disappointment.

As the Guardian article rightly mentions, having cost £500,000 and on just £5000 a week, Bassong was an absolute bargain - certainly in comparison with his erstwhile central defensive partner Fabricio Coloccini, the £10m yin to Bassong's yang - and anything upwards of £6m would be a handsome return. He did more than most to try to keep us in the Premier League, so no one can really begrudge him looking to stay in the division we've just left behind. To stick with us through a turbulent summer and into the Championship, especially as a young foreign player with great potential, really would have made him Saint Sebastien.

The article is also revealing in what the source claims went on after the Villa match: "[Bassong] was mortified by some of the scenes in the dressing room. He said that only three or four of the players looked genuinely upset about the club's relegation. More worryingly, while the fans were still chanting outside, some players were talking about their holidays." A relaxing fortnight in Guantanamo Bay would be too good for most of our mob.

Rogues' gallery

It's not often you come across an agent speaking sense, particularly at this time of the year - but that's just what Barry Silkman's been doing on the Guardian site, when invited to speculate as to what fees we can realistically expect to get for some of our supposedly Premier League players.

On Alan Smith: "Give him away. Newcastle over paid. He’s had a few injuries and it’s such a shame his career has gone nowhere. No one knows whether he’s a midfielder or striker now."

Us neither, and we've spent the best part of two seasons watching him and trying to figure it out.

On ASBO: "Someone will take him and think they can tame him. Perhaps a club that just survived last year. But, if anyone gives more than £1m, they must be brain dead."

That someone hopefully being Fat Sam - and my guess is that he'd pay more than £1m too...

(Thanks to Alf for the link.)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

£100m for the club, but what price dignity?

Has it really come to this: Fat Mike so desperate for bidders that he's pleading for the submission of offers by email on the official club site? A word of warning, Mike, because you're clearly daft enough to need it: don't go getting excited when your inbox fills up with emails from Nigerian gentlemen expressing an interest in depositing large sums of money in your bank account.

Ashley may not need to sift through all the emails from Mackems offering Oasis tickets and a Curly Wurly, though, if the reports of serious interest from a Singapore-based group are to be believed. Just as the blubbery spectre of Fat Fred returning to haunt us loomed large, it seems we might be spared - though on their website our potential saviours do name one Mr K Dalglish as their "UK operations advisor"...

As for the managerial position, what the fuck is going on?! Wor Al said he expected his own future to be resolved "by the end of the week" - that week being last week. After his disastrous mishandling of the Keegan situation which ultimately cost us our place in the Premier League and for which he has grovellingly apologised, apparently genuinely, is Fat Mike happy to let history repeat itself by bringing another legend back to the club only to treat him appallingly and allow him to walk away in disgust?

Once the reality of relegation had sunk in, we had started - as is our wont - to look on the bright side: the prospect of the dead wood being cleared out, a fundamental shift of attitude and direction, possibly even a genuine reconnection with the fans. But currently it feels as though things have got worse, not better, and the longer the club stagnates the quicker that hopefulness and optimism will dwindle away.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

A Month Of Saturdays: May 2009

And so I'm duty-bound to relive the horror for a second time. Let's keep it short...

May: examination time for thousands of students up and down the country. And, this year, for Newcastle Utd too. Despite poor results all year, could we somehow raise our game to scrape through - or would we flunk the final four tests and suffer the consequences?

The first was the footballing equivalent of a five-year-old being confronted with a paper on quantum physics: we had to try to get something from a trip to Anfield, where Liverpool, still chasing the title (though by now more in hope than expectation), had been unbeaten all season. Pre-match optimism was in short supply, even from the manager - Little Saint Mick, whom Shearer had said was pretty much guaranteed a starting place in his teams, suffered the indignity of being left on the bench against his former employers (given how ineffectual he had been in previous games, it could hardly constitute being rested).

Predictably, like our fictional five-year-old, we had trouble even spelling our name right at the top of the paper. The Scousers cruised to a 3-0 win that would have been more comprehensive than December's 5-1 humiliation at home if Steven Gerrard had fancied another hat-trick and Xabi Alonso hadn't decided to idle away the time playing his own game of Crossbar Challenge.

The demoralising nature of the defeat was compounded by the dismissal of ASBO - someone with the mental age and maturity of a five-year-old, regardless of what his old mate Peter Kay says - for a typically crude lunge on Alonso on his first appearance for the first team in three months. Apparently unaware of what can happen when you get on Shearer's wrong side, ASBO went on to call him a "shit manager" in a heated exchange of pleasantries after the game. A better man than most of us, Shearer resisted the temptation to knock the little twat's block off (or at least if he didn't it never made it out of the dressing room - unusual for behind-the-scenes shenanigans at Newcastle), ASBO was formally suspended by the club and Shearer pleaded for professionalism.

Presumably this didn't involve falling behind within the first five minutes of a must-win game to a farcical own goal - but that's exactly what happened when the Smogs came to a St James' Park all aflutter with flags on an evening we all knew would go a long way to determining who went down and who stayed up.

Thankfully, though, the players seemed to appreciate the significance of the occasion, for once, and we fought back with Steven Taylor's headed equaliser. Captain Pasty rubbed salt into the visitors' wounds by turning in his best performance of the season (admittedly that's not saying much) but it was Shearer who got the pundits' plaudits, his introduction of Obafemi Martins and Peter Lovenkrands reaping vital reward as both scored to secure the win.

While the post-match relief was understandably huge, less justifiable were the vague feelings of triumphalism and the thoughts that we had quite possibly done enough to escape. We tried to retain a sense of proportion and perspective, but we had our heads back above water in 17th and at last there was hope - sadly, as the title of the match report suggested, it turned out to be hope of the most painful kind.

Because five days later came the sort of sucker punch that could floor an elephant: defeat to Fulham, coupled with an unexpected point for Hull at Bolton. It was another litany of misery: Diomansy Kamara's winning goal having a pungent whiff of offside, Captain Pasty's header disallowed for Kevin Nolan's alleged block on Mark Schwarzer (something that was learned from Liverpool's Daniel Agger and overlooked for Taylor's goal against the Smogs), Obafemi Martins hit the post, Sebastien Bassong sent off following catastrophic confusion with Steve Harper (his second red card of the season), a familiar failure to press and attack with purpose and conviction.

The afternoon could only have been worse had Hull got all three points at Bolton. For the fact that they didn't we had to give thanks to Jussi Jaaskelainen, whose astonishing performance between the posts suggested someone more desperate to ensure our survival than the vast majority of players actually on our payroll.

One week of the season to go, and, with his impeccable sense of timing, Fat Fred decided to launch another attack on Fat Mike. Quick question, Fred - remind us again who it was who claimed Ashley and friends would be "excellent custodians of Newcastle Utd's heritage"? Now, once and for all, FUCK OFF.

And so it had come to this: a final day showdown at Villa Park. Win or draw and we had to hope Hull had been unable to match our result at home to Man Utd. Lose and we would be relegated. It was as simple as that.

What transpired was our whole season condensed into the space of 90 minutes. It started promisingly in the bright sunshine, as we appeared to have grabbed the bull by the horns with all the confidence of seasoned toreadors and went on the offensive. But as soon as Villa took the lead courtesy of Damien Duff's own goal - another self-inflicted wound - everything changed. All sparks were extinguished and all edge dulled. David Edgar's dismissal only served to make May's statistics even more ridiculous - in the last four crucial matches of the season, we contrived to score two own goals and get three men sent off - and the rest of the players slouched sluggishly and uselessly through to the horrible conclusion like as though already resigned to their fate. At the final whistle Steven Taylor predictably shed a tear, but no one else seemed to care.

And that was that. The defeats for Hull and the Mackems were immaterial and, as had been ventured, the win over the Smogs was rendered utterly insignificant except in determining the order in which we were demoted.

The following day Derek Llambiarse fumbled around for what to say, but it was left to Fat Mike to issue a formal apology to the fans as we tried to come to terms with the fact that our 16-year stay in the top flight had come to an end. The rotten fruit of those reflections was our attempt to clarify what Shearer meant when he said "everything" had gone wrong, which could have been twice the length it was had I had the strength and patience.

By the end of the month we were plagued by uncertainties. Fat Mike put the club back on the market at a cut-price £100m, but would he be able to attract a buyer (and would that buyer come in the form of our pudgy piggy-eyed former chairman)? Would Alan Shearer receive the assurances he wanted to feel able to commit to the club in the long term, and even if he did would those assurances carry any weight were Fat Mike to sell out and walk away? Of the playing staff, who would stay and who would go? Who could possibly be foolish enough to take ASBO, Alan Smith et al off our hands (or, more specifically, our wage bill)?

There were two certainties, though. One was that, when it came to the crunch, we simply hadn't been good enough in May, just as we hadn't all season, and the other was that we would be kicking off in August in a division that not so long ago we thought we'd left behind for good.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Oba out, Omani in?

Over a week after our 16-year stay in the Premier League came to an end, and after a handful of players have committed themselves for the future (Habib Beye, Steven Taylor, final day blunderer Damien Duff), the exit rumours are naturally intensifying.

Kevin Nolan to Hull? Yep, fine.

Alan Smith to Blackburn? Yes please.

ASBO to Bolton, Blackburn or Spurs? Even better.

But it was also inevitable that we'd lose players we'd actually rather keep. Oba Martins, for instance, would I'm sure be absolutely lethal in the Championship - but a player of his talent (though inconsistent and occasionally wayward) was always going to attract the attentions of those teams from whom we've (hopefully temporarily) parted company. And sure enough his agent claims Villa, Everton and long-time admirers Arsenal are all interested.

At the same time, .com and a few other sites are reporting the Ronny Gill's story that our new owner could be Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman.

With another club having gone into Arab ownership only this week (Portsmouth), is this just wishful thinking? Would it be desirable in any case? Do we want our club turned into a rich man's plaything? Sir John Hall I think had a point when, in a recent interview, he said Fat Mike made "massive mistakes" but did at least come "into Newcastle for the right reasons - as a long-term investor looking to build the business over four or five years. He wanted to globalise the club. He did not use it as a toy. He saw Newcastle was a fantastic brand, and he wanted to build that brand." We may want Ashley out, but that doesn't necessarily mean we should welcome any old buyer.

Anyway, on a more serious and important note, can I be the first to venture that if the deal was to go through the Dire Straits song to which the team takes to the pitch would be switched from 'Local Hero' to 'Sultans Of Swing'? Probably not...

From Monkey's Heed to Ol' Cauliflower Face

Eagerly jumping into bed with the Mackems at the first opportunity? Let's be honest: behaviour that's not entirely consistent with professions of being a lifelong Newcastle and Newcastle Utd fan. But then since going into management Steve Bruce's understanding of the term "loyalty" could be best described as unique...

I'm not complaining, though: it gives us even more reason to dislike Ol' Cauliflower Face, means he won't pitch up on Tyneside (for the time being, at least) and may well result in Dave "Dignity" Whelan seeing his side relegated next year.

It's not all over now

Little Saint Mick's Newcastle career may nearly be at an end, but not his career as a whole - at least that's the legal verdict that has awarded him undisclosed libel damages.

The Daily Express had claimed he was "finished", but on being swiftly contacted by his representatives the headline was changed to "Owen: I'm not finished". Those of us who witnessed Little Saint Mick's forlorn and anonymous (though admittedly service-free) last few performances for the club might beg to differ...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Cheap at less than half the price

So, we're back on the market again - only now the asking price is £100m, £300m less than it was last year. Given the knock-down price, presumably there will be some interest this time - but back before Christmas we were at least a Premier League club.

Making the announcement, Fat Mike took the opportunity for some more public self-flagellation: "It has been catastrophic for everybody. I've lost my money and I've made terrible decisions. Now I want to sell it as soon as I can." There was also another explicit apology: "I put my money into it and I tried my best. But I accept my best was woefully short. I am genuinely sorry for everybody about what has happened." All fine and well grovelling now, Mike, but the horse has not so much bolted as galloped a few hundred miles away so don't expect much forgiveness or sympathy to come your way.

In a statement released this evening, Wor Al commented: "I fully understand Mike Ashley's decision to sell the club as he feels it's now in the best interest of the club and the fans." Shearer's own position is still far from clear - verbal, financial and legal wrangling seems to be ongoing, with him displaying an intriguing grasp of nuance and semantics to claim of his meeting with Fat Mike and Llambiarse: "I made no demands but there were obvious conditions". He's predicted everything will be resolved "by the end of the week" - I'd like to think he'll stay, but but the longer things drag on the less likely that appears.

(Incidentally, nice to see Fat Mike referred to as "the American" in the BBC's report on the statement (though no doubt this will have been corrected by the time you click on the link). I could have sworn it was a Cockney mafia we were complaining about, not an American gangster...)

Quote of the day

"Joey has three years left on his contract at Newcastle. He doesn't want to leave."

Loveable agent Willie McKay speaking about his loveable client ASBO at the weekend. Strange, that - anyone would think the selfish, arrogant, spiteful, violent little tossbag was on £64,000 a week... Let's just hope he's soon forced to realise that the decision of whether to stay or go is not his to make.

... and finally, some good news

Yes, really, there is some - namely, that we may possibly have a fit, young, hungry, in-form striker on our hands when we kick off in the Championship in August.

Nile Ranger has now scored four goals in his first three starts for England U19 - he followed one on his full debut against Bosnia and a brace against Slovakia with a crucial strike in a 2-1 win over Scotland that secured his side qualification for the European Finals in the Ukraine this summer. And this after 22 goals for the Reserves. I wonder what price you'd get on him being our top scorer in the forthcoming campaign?

After that first game, he told the Ronny Gill: "It’s been an amazing season for me personally". Glad to hear it's been an amazing season for someone - there is at least hope...