Friday, July 31, 2009


News is coming out that Sir Bobby Robson has passed away, aged 76.

A man of dignity and honour, Bobby took the reins of Newcastle after the reign of Ruud Gullit had ended in a sodden defeat to the Mackems, and guided us to domestic and European semi finals and a place in the last 16 of the Champions League, before the relative failure of finishing fifth saw Fat Fred hand Bobby his P45.

Had he come to the club when we first approached him (following Keegan's departure), I remain convinced that we would have gone on to win at least one trophy, but sadly Bobby's sense of duty compelled him to stay loyal to Barcelona (who promptly sacked him the following summer).

Bobby will be remembered as a true fan: one of immense dignity and honour, who cared passionately for his home city and club, and whose passing will be felt throughout the game and the region.

Our thoughts and condolences go to his family.

Update (by Ben)

Back at the end of May, reflecting on an annus most horribilis as the dust settled on our relegation, I traced the root of our problems back to the sacking of Sir Bobby Robson in August 2004. I still stand by that.

Our spectacles may be rose-tinted, particularly given the predicament we find ourselves in just five years later, but looking back, the five years he was in charge seem like a halcyon age - an age of challenging for the title; of winning in London for the first time in four years and then beating Leeds to stay top of the league at Christmas; of Champions League football and that staggering night in the Netherlands; of bright, dynamic, energetic football played by young men who could rely on their manager for a wealth of guidance, wisdom, enthusiasm and pastoral support.

And it wasn't just the young players who benefited from his presence. For Gullit's final game in charge, Alan Shearer sat glumly on the bench as the Mackems condemned us to a particularly miserable home defeat. In came Sir Bobby, restored Shearer to the starting XI and in the very next home game he hit five as we thrashed Sheffield Wednesday 8-0. As Shearer himself has said, "for me as an individual, he saved my career at Newcastle". As Newcastle fans, if that isn't a reason to be thankful to him, then I don't know what is.

Shearer has commented pointedly, though, "I will always remember him being a great, great man - not only for football". A great, great man who was - according to all those who had the good fortune to meet him - unfailing patient, generous, considerate, gentlemanly and warm-hearted, with a smile and a kind word for everyone (even Fergie).

And, of course, an endearing knack for getting himself in a verbal twist, whether it was calling Shola Ameobi "Carl Cort" or claiming tickets were selling "like cream cakes". Perhaps the best SBR anecdote is the one about the book signing session. As he penned a message on one fan's book, he was asked: "You must be shattered, Bobby. How many books have you signed?" "Oh, hundreds", he replied cheerily. The fan got home to discover the message inside read: "Best wishes, Bobby Hundreds"...

Of course, it's not just those of us on Tyneside, fans of the other clubs he managed - Ipswich, Barcelona, Porto, PSV Eindhoven - or fans of England who are mourning his passing. It's really saying something when - as happened in the office this afternoon - people who have absolutely no interest in football are expressing genuine sadness about the news. He was, it seems, the sort of person everyone would have liked for a grandad.

Deaths can rarely be described as timely, but in this instance I think that might be appropriate. With his valiant but ultimately ill-fated fifth battle with cancer drawing to its end, Sir Bobby made one last public appearance at St James' on Sunday, at the exhibition fixture between England Legends and German Legends in aid of his charity. England won, with the man who was thankful to him for resurrecting his Newcastle career getting the winner.

If you want to pay tribute to Sir Bobby, by all means leave a comment here or elsewhere - but by far the best way to do so would be to support the work of The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation with a donation.

Obituaries: BBC, Guardian, Independent

Tyneside mourns

Tributes to Sir Bobby (word of warning: contains piffle from Fat Fred, the man who gave him the boot)

SBR in his own words

Going Deutsch

Today's sad farewell to Sir Bobby has understandably rather overshadowed the departure of Obafemi Martins, a player who SBR would no doubt have described in the same terms as Lomano Lua Lua - "gymnastic fantastic" - and who, as anticipated, has joined Wolfsburg to bolster what was already a sufficiently prolific strikeforce to fire them to last season's Bundesliga title.

In prosaic terms, the sale means the best part of £9m in the coffers and another big earner off a wage bill which is still unsustainably high for the Championship, but I for one am sorry to see the Nigerian go. Infuriatingly inconsistent he may have been, and we could have expected a little more from him sometimes - but there's no doubt we had a very talented footballer on our books and when he sparkled, he really shone.

Of the 35 goals he scored during his three years on Tyneside, the one that lives longest in the memory - as I suspected it would - is the screamer at White Hart Lane in January 2007 that was instrumental in our overturning a deficit to win against the odds. His last goal for the club, that scuffed strike against the Smogs in May just two minutes after entering the fray as a substitute, could potentially have been viewed in hindsight with the same misty-eyed fondness as David Kelly's against Portsmouth in 1992 - but it wasn't to be, relegation robbing him of hero status.

Still, we wish him the best and move on.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quote of the day

"The opportunity to mock afflicted clubs is one of the joys of being a fan and payback time is difficult not to relish but the sadistic edge to the jeering spree is getting harder to stomach. Newcastle fans do not possess uniquely contemptible qualities and trying to pin the blame on them for the club's travails in the two years since Ashley purchased the club is the ultimate red herring."

What's this? Someone in the national media - the Guardian's Rob Bagchi - who's not only not out to ridicule us fans but actually bring a real sense of perspective? Do mine eyes deceive me?! Surely not!

The narrow focus on Fat Mike thereby largely letting the players off the hook aside, I find myself in agreement with him on pretty much every point - particularly on his characterisation of our summer as being one of "aimless meander".

First I'd heard of Bastien Schweinsteiger being King Kev's preferred target - rather optimistic, it has to be said, but little wonder he was pissed off to end up with Xisco instead. Picture the scene: young Kevin is handed a transfer deadline day present by Santa (Fat Mike in a comedy beard) that his little helper (you know who) has been busy working on, only to discover it's not the dynamic German midfielder he's been hoping for but an unheard-of Spaniard who instinctively wanders off in the direction of the treatment room like a homing pigeon, leaving Kev to play with the wrapping paper and contemplate giving Santa and his little helper a good hard hoof in the baubles.

Anyway, a narrow second in the quote of the day stakes is this pearler from Bordeaux manager Laurent Blanc, speaking about striker Marouane Chamakh: "I am going to do everything to make sure he does not go to just any club. With him, things are clear. After the season he's had, if he has to go, it will be to a big club. That's why I am standing in the way of a departure to Sunderland." Ho ho ho. One thing's pretty much for certain: if the Mackems succeed in their pursuit of Darren Bent, then barn doors on Wearside will be able to sleep soundly without fear of being hit.

All over for Oba?

It's looking increasingly likely that German Bundesliga fans are going to be treated to Oba Martins' trademark gymnastic goal celebration this coming season, with comments indicating that he and champions Wolfsburg were making eyes at each other followed this evening by reports that a £9m fee has been agreed.

Martins failed to make an appearance in tonight's home friendly with Loveable Leeds, with Big Lad taking his place - that no doubt a prime reason why the game ended goalless - so may already have kicked his last ball for the club. As one of our most saleable assets, it was always unlikely we'd begin life in the Championship with the Nigerian still on Tyneside, and at least we'll be near enough getting back what we paid for him three summers ago.

Also rumoured to be edging ever closer towards the exit door is Sebastien Bassong. Long-time suitors Arsenal are a central defender lighter, having flogged Kolo Toure to satisfy Man City's need for a defender to counterbalance all their new strikers, though Arsene Wenger has claimed they've still got seven - but the fact that near neighbours Spurs are likely to start the season with Ledley King, Michael Dawson and old boy Jonathan Woodgate all in the treatment room may persuade 'Appy 'Arry to waggle his fleshy jowls seductively in the Frenchman's direction like a turkey trying to attract a mate.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

So tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you

Today saw Alan Shearer back at St James' Park for the England Legends v Germany Legends exhibition match - but what price a permanent return? While Shearer himself has somehow managed to maintain an impressively dignified silence on his current state of limbo, his close friend Rob Lee has confirmed that, as might be expected, the odds are getting longer by the day.

"I speak to Alan every day and he’s frustrated to say the least. He’s coming to the end of his tether now. He’s waited for ages and been told that things were due to happen, but nothing has and he’s very frustrated."

Waiting ages, being told that things are due to happen and being very frustrated as a result? Let's just say we know how he feels.

"He organised all the pre-season games at the end of last season but he also had targets in mind that he wanted to bring in to the club. Now it looks like he will miss out on them."

Bet the players are quite glad he wasn't around to welcome them back into the dressing room after yesterday's friendly - a performance which indicated, of course, that reinforcements (particularly of a defensive nature) are exactly what we need.

"I’m amazed he hasn’t already told Newcastle that he doesn’t want the job any more, but there will come a point where he says, ‘You’re too late’. He still wants the job desperately but you can’t expect someone like that to wait forever. He’s not daft and they’ve had ample time to sort something out."

Hear hear. Fingers crossed there'll be a positive resolution - but only if Ashley pulls his own fat pinkie out pretty darn sharpish.


Speaking after scoring the winning goal from the spot in the Legends match in honour of Sir Bobby Robson's cancer charity, Shearer himself commented on the current situation: "I am the same as everyone else, I am in limbo - I don't know what is going on. I know as much as you. I would dearly love it to be sorted out one way or the other then the club can move forward. Everyone is telling me there are people in to buy the club. If that is the case, then great".

Responding to rumours his patience might soon break and he might walk away, he said: "I don't know where that's come from, it's certainly not from myself". Er, how's about having a word with your mate and Legends teammate Rob Lee, Al?

An embarrassment of riches

Messrs Beye, Enrique, Nolan, Coloccini, Smith, Guthrie, ASBO, Geremi, Gutierrez, Xisco, Martins, Duff: still think you're too good for the Championship? No, you're bad enough to lose 6-1 to League One side Leyton Orient. Hope you're hanging your heads in shame.

Chris Hughton's verdict on the result and performance - "disappointing and embarrassing" - suggested someone with a very firm grasp of understatement. Of course, he's right that "it’s not the be-all and end-all", but it hardly bodes particularly well, does it?

The players need to realise, and realise fast, that, despite what they might think, just turning up will simply not be good enough to win games - just as it wasn't last season. With any luck this public humiliation will help, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Move along now, there's nothing very little to see here

Well, let's just say Paul and I took our summer holidays at a very opportune time. The fact that the site has been largely unupdated over the last fortnight has served (coincidentally) as much as a reflection of what's been happening - next to nothing - as an indication of our absence.

Both of the half-stories I took time out of my break to post about last week look to have come to nowt. There's been no further word on the rumoured interest from the Drumaville consortium - perhaps publican Charlie Chawke, the group's public face, has had a moment of sobriety and realised that he'd actually really rather leave the current clown in charge - while supposed target Jermaine Beckford has been taken off the transfer list by his club Leeds.

Meanwhile, judging by recent comments from commercial director Steve McMahon, the Profitable Group are less than optimistic that what they claim is a "very serious and genuine offer" for the club will be accepted. In the continued complete lack of any comment from the club hierarchy, you have to wonder what the hell Fat Mike and Llambiarse are up to - we're eighteen days away from the start of the new campaign and still without a manager or any new faces. Of course, the news that Ashley's Sports Direct suffered a 91% drop in profits last year will hardly have come as a welcome distraction...

But at least we put seven past Darlo in a friendly, eh? The home side were presumably dazzled by our lovely new shirts - they must have been for Big Lad to bag a brace and Spiderman to get on the scoresheet too. If we were looking for a reason to outlaw even a modicum of cheeriness at the result, though, here are two: firstly, Nicky Butt injured his thumb and will miss the start of the season as he recovers from surgery, meaning ASBO is almost guaranteed a starting role against the Baggies (presuming we haven't got rid by then - and it's a fairly safe assumption, I think); and secondly, we still contrived to concede two goals to the Quakers' new signing Dean Windass, a man who can only be a couple of years away from getting a telegram from the Queen.

We followed that up with a 1-0 win over Lee Clark's Huddersfield, Kevin Nolan grabbing his second in two games. In Oba Martins' continued absence, Chris Hughton and Colin Calderwood began by pairing Bigger Lad with The Xisco Kid, though Big Lad came on at the break. I'd like to think that Nile Ranger, currently competing in the UEFA European U19 Championship with England (a starter alongside Man Utd's Danny Welbeck and Villa's Nathan Delfouneso in today's opening fixture with Switzerland, which finished 1-1), will be given the opportunity to stake a claim if, as seems likely, Martins does eventually leave.

And talking of departing strikers, how's about a final word from Little Saint Mick? Speaking in the wake of (inevitably) scoring on his Man Utd debut, Owen said: "It's just nice to play with players who are on your wavelength, spotting your runs - they are just class players". Fancy sticking the boot in on your former colleagues any harder, Mick?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Out of office

Apologies for the relative lack of activity round these parts at the moment - both Paul and myself are en vacances en France, but will do our best to keep abreast of developments and navigate pesky French keyboards to bring you news and commentary as usual.

Big time Charlie

Potential new investor ahoy!.

For those desperate to see Fat Mike's considerable back waddling off into the sunset, it probably comes as good news. However:

1. Can we really trust a cartoon clown who got lost at sea? Of course, some would say such an investor would be a perfect fit for the club.

2. Can we really trust someone who only three years ago was part of the Drumaville consortium that bought the Mackems?

3. Can we really trust someone who talks about the club in such bloodless, nakedly management-speak terms as it fitting "very nicely into our portfolio"?

The "Dublin publican" will have had the opportunity to take a closer look at us on Saturday with the pre-season friendly against Shamrock Rovers, in which we ran out 3-0 winners. As well as Steven Taylor and Big Lad, Nile Ranger was also on the scoresheet, surely boosting his chances of first-team action at the start of the forthcoming campaign.

Jermaine man?

Unsurprisingly (if frustratingly), we're still yet to make any additions to our squad, but Leeds Utd striker Jermaine Beckford still seems like a fair prospect to be filling Little Saint Mick's boots come the start of the Championship season. That's according to his agent, Nick Rubery, at least, who's talking up the possibility of a move, using the press to plead for an approach from Newcastle. Still, it's just novel to hear someone describe our club as a "seriously attractive option"...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Stalled sale sees players revolting under Shearer's shadow

According to today's Guardian, Llambiarse has revealed that there are three bidders (well, to use his words "more than two" - that's the numerical skill that got him a job in casinos) who have met the £100 million asking price, but who are now trying to knock money off due to our £40 million overdraft and £65 million wage bill. Unfortunately, due to confidentiality etc, this process could be hours away from completion, or weeks, but until anything is finalised we'll continue in a state of limbo.

Turning to the players, the article goes on to note that whilst they are currently off on a pre-season "boot camp" in Ireland, the squad are following Alan Shearer's pre-season programme, which he drew up prior to the end of last season. The shadow of our former Number 9 continuing to influence the current squad from afar.

Shearer's influence apparently also extends to our attempts to cut the wage bill, with a number of our high earners being openly touted round Europe in the hope of lowering the wage bill (and thereby presumably boosting Ashley's return when he sells the club), with Martins and Coloccini the two names which the press are currently quoting.

The problem of course remains that the longer the sale of the club takes, the less time the new manager and owners will have to try and strengthen the squad in order to try and mount a campaign to get us back in the Premier League at the first available opportunity.

Today's Chronicle even goes so far as to suggest that the players are now threatening a mass exodus if Shearer's appointment isn't confirmed quickly enough.

Whilst Fat Mike might be happy for some of the senior pros to go, and take their doubtless fat salaries with them, the loss of the more reasoned members of our squad would surely be another nail in the coffin of our season before it's even started.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

A Month Of Saturdays: June 2009

This essentially being a monthly round-up of news concerning Newcastle Utd, it should be shorter than your average Bigg Market lass's skirt. Quite simply, there's been very little to report at all over the last four-and-a-bit weeks - nothing much more than the fact that the fixture list was published, confirming that we really are in the Championship and that it wasn't all just a bad dream, and that we've unveiled a suitably garish - sorry, "stylish" - confection of an away shirt for the forthcoming campaign. Perhaps the hope is to induce instantaneous and chronic vomiting in the opposition so their home advantage is neutralised and we have a chance of getting out of there with a point?

No news is good news, or so the old adage goes - and when we're concerned, that's largely true. We don't usually want our club to be splashed all over the papers, whether front or back (or middle - we're probably the subject of a fair few agony aunt letters); we don't usually want our side to feature so regularly in the yellow Sky Sports scrolling newsflash banner that we can claim to own it through squatters' rights; we don't usually want to be the talk - or, rather more likely, the butt of jokes - the length and breadth of the land. No, we'd generally prefer a low profile, a bit of quiet time.

So it feels strange to be complaining about it now. But complaining we most certainly are. Our one crumb of comfort following relegation was that some people might at last awaken and smell the aroma of hot, percolated, caffeinated beverage; that a stiff broom might sweep and a gale-force wind of change might blow through the club; that demotion would serve as a highly effective enema.

But no.

As ever, our club has made us look rather foolish. Instead of there being any positive change - or indeed change of any kind whatsoever - we've stagnated, continuing to fester and stew in the same old filth.

OK, so Fat Mike, in his finite wisdom, decided it would be sensible and in no way undignified or laughable to solicit offers from prospective buyers of the club via email and throughout the month there were rumours of interest - first from Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, and then from a Singapore consortium. But there was no sign of any serious, positive developments that might hint at even a glimmer of a brighter Ashley-free future. (Naturally we at Black & White & Read All Over flatly refuse to countenance the prospect of Fat Fred getting his trotters back under the table and his snout back in the trough as being in any way or in any possible universe a serious, positive development.)

Neither was there any news on the managerial front. The longer Wor Al is forced to spend in limbo, the weaker the club's pull is likely to be (and no doubt the better his golf handicap becomes). What odds on him happily taking up the reins now, if at last offered the opportunity to do so? Instead, by default, we've got Laurel and Hardy aka Chris Hughton and Colin Calderwood once again in nominal charge - hardly what we need if we're going to have any hope of escaping this division. But, I suppose, at least we can be sure we're not going to be landed with a certain cauliflower-faced "Geordie" any time soon - unless, that is, he displays some of the diehard loyalty for which he's famed and decides to swap sinking ships...

And while the one man we want at the club was conspicuous by his absence in June, several others we certainly don't stubbornly remained, clinging on to their ludicrous weekly salaries with far more grit and determination than they ever showed on the pitch last season. Oh the irony. When agent Barry Silkman cast his eye over our supposedly saleable assets, you could almost hear the sense of relief that he hadn't been given the task of finding buyers for them.

Not everyone wanted to stay, though - Little Saint Mick made it abundantly clear he was not only very definitely not finished but also itching to be off down the A1, even if (at the time) his chief suitors were the Premier League's ugly sisters Hull and Stoke. One place our perma-knacked striker wouldn't be welcome, though, was Wigan, whose owner Dave "Dignity" Whelan took time out from his busy schedule of public attacks on Fat Mike to launch a public attack on Little Saint Mick. Variety being the spice of life, and all that.

Another bunny so unhappy he may as well have been being boiled by Glenn Close was Sebastien Bassong, dismayed by "the madness at the club" to the point of wanting out, while forgotten man/boy the Xisco Kid lifted the lid on life under JFK and subsequently, in a convalescence ward somewhere, the air turned a peculiar shade of purple.

The rest of them? No doubt off enjoying the holidays that, according to Bassong, they'd been so eagerly discussing in the Villa Park dressing room...

Friday, July 03, 2009

Seriously, wtf!?!

Did anyone honestly see this coming?

Even our former number 10 suggests he wasn't expecting Taggart to pick up the phone and invite him for breakfast.

Presumably they discussed the move over two cans of Special Brew and a well-thumbed copy of the Racing Post.

Anyway, Owen has a new home and unsurprisingly it's at a Premiership club in his beloved North West. I just thought it was more likely to be Blackburn than Manure...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Back to work

Pre-season training began yesterday, with the Currant Bun reporting that everyone - bar Peter Lovenkrands, released by post - at least had the decency to turn up. Mind you, Oba Martins decided a reported £5000-a-week pay rise wasn't quite enough to guarantee his punctuality, arriving twenty minutes late.

Chris Hughton once again found himself in the role of ringmaster, while ASBO "gave a cheery wave", no doubt delighted to know he hasn't been kicked out and is still sitting on a big fat salary of his own.

The best line of the article, though, is reserved for last: "To add to the sense of farce around the place, Newcastle will bid to become a World Cup centre as part of England's bid for 2018 at a press conference next Tuesday. Shearer was expected to be the main man at the launch. But now Newcastle are scrambling around for a figurehead to do the job. Geordie hero Peter Beardsley is being mentioned as the possible face of the bid". Well, that's certainly more likely than the little magician being the face of Calvin Klein.