Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Month Of Saturdays: August 2010

August, it seemed, was a month when the improbable suddenly became not only probable but even likely. The No-Necked One, frozen out at Moneybags FC, turned up in his home town - and not just for a night out on the piss with a trumpet-playing Peruvian. Arsene Wenger actually publicly admitted to have witnessed something: the magnificence of our stadium and the passion of our fans. ASBO endeavoured to foster team spirit and harmony in a historically factional dressing room by growing a moustache (and finding himself rechristened Begbie as a result). If things carry on in the same vein, this time next month we'll be reporting that he's managed to broker peace in the Middle East (though I can guarantee that Phil Brown still won't be England manager).

All that said, once the pre-season formalities both on the pitch (a penalty shoot-out win over Deportivo La Coruna and a 2-1 defeat at Ibrox) and off it (assessments of our prospects for the season from Paul and the chaps at The Two Unfortunates, and my two-part verdict on our opponents) were out of the way, our Premier League campaign kicked off in entirely predictable fashion. There was to be no repeat of the well-deserved draw with which the ultimately fateful 2008/9 season began, as Man Utd cantered to a 3-0 win without so much as breaking stride or sweat. That was largely thanks to our respectfully granting the freedom of Old Trafford to a man scoffingly rubbished as a has-been by our local daily paper seven long years ago...

Suffice to say that there wasn't much to suggest what would come next. OK, so Bigger Lad gave Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans something of a headache, but it was more a dull insistent one rather the sort of skull-cracker you get from downing pints of cooking lager in his favourite Bigg Market haunts. And when the first visitors to St James' Park, Villa, were awarded a penalty in the tenth minute, it looked like turning into another game to have us ruefully reflecting "Be careful what you wish for" with regard to our instant return to the top flight.

But John Carew sent his spot-kick into the stratosphere and we proceeded to overrun and overwhelm our O'Neill-less opposition with impressive ease. Begbie started the rout with a scorcher, and new captain Kevin Nolan bagged a brace, but the undisputed claimant of the match ball was Bigger Lad, who completed his first senior hat-trick in injury time. The 6-0 victory had us pinching ourselves and trying desperately to recall the strategic cold shower Chris Hughton had been administering to our expectations, whle certain mischief-makers dared to venture that our collective delusions had begun to manifest themselves in reality.

Rather less spectacular and comfortable was the League Cup tie at Accrington Stanley three days later, which saw an entirely different XI represent the club. The kids were indeed alright, but it took goals from senior players - a screamer from Ryan Taylor followed by opportunistic strikes by Big Lad and Peter Lovenkrands - to knock out a spirited Stanley side and secure a daunting Third Round meeting with Chelsea.

The first team were back for the trip to Molineux, Hughton naming an unchanged 4-5-1 for the third league game in succession. Wolves, and skipper Karl Henry in particular, set out to maim the man once again known as ASBO (after his reacquaintance with a razor), much to Wor Al's subsequent mirth on Match Of The Day. They took the lead through Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and should have had a penalty when James Perch's slide tackle took down winger Matt Jarvis, but were denied the win - justly so, given their cynical strongarm tactics - by a Bigger Lad header that got us the draw most would have taken prior to kick-off.

That morning, with the transfer window just over three days from closing, it was confirmed that we had secured the on-loan services of Hatem Ben Arfa to bring to a conclusion one of the summer's most protracted deals. Upon learning of our interest and his club's attempts to rebuff it, the Marseille man had stomped off in a sulk before doing the very French thing of declaring himself on strike - and even then the wait went on. Ben Arfa is the latest in an increasingly long line of mercurial but temperamental Gallic left-footers to arrive on Tyneside - hopefully he can evoke pleasant rather than painful memories of Messrs Ginola, Robert and N'Zogbia.

With Dan Gosling, Sol Campbell and Perch already on board, Hughton also moved to strengthen in the defensive midfield area, opting to recruit Ivorian Cheik Tiote ahead of the Iron Man. Meanwhile, our only departees were on a temporary basis, Fraser Forster and Kazenga LuaLua farmed out to Celtic and Brighton respectively to gain experience. Steven Taylor had been expected to leave when unceremoniously dumped on the transfer list, the club taking a tough stance when contract talks stalled, but it seems no one fancied a cut-price deal and the local lad looks set to remain with us until January at least. So, two successive quietly successful transfer windows with the lack of reinforcements to cover for Jose Enrique the only gripe, while the Curse of Milner struck elsewhere. Happy days!

To conclude, though - and please excuse the navel-gazing - it's fair to say that August found Paul and myself re-evaluating exactly what it is we're doing and what this 'ere blog is for. First Paul was lambasted for his views on Fatgate, having the temerity to suggest that perhaps footballers who are trying and succeeding to secure £35,000-a-week contracts should look after themselves physically and comprehend criticism when they don't. And then I was taken to task for voicing my disapproval of ASBO, some readers baselessly treating him as some kind of sacred cow who can do wrong even though the evidence certainly up to that point suggested that in fact he'd done very little right.

When, we wondered, did expressing opinions (especially those backed up with a weight of evidence and sound reasoning) become "not the done thing" on a blog? What was most ludicrous was the implication that we were somehow traitorous, and couldn't possibly be "true" fans. Au contraire. We care passionately about what happens in and around our club - which is exactly why we're not afraid to be critical and express dissenting views when we feel it's necessary.

So if you want to deny our prerogative (which is equally the prerogative of every fan) and be force-fed the party line, then by all means trot on over to the official site. But if you're more interested in the thoughts and comments of a pair of independent fans whose rose-tinted glasses are worn judiciously if at all - even if those thoughts and comments may not tally with your own - then stick with us.


Anonymous Mighty Milburn said...

Dear Ben

Just want to say that I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog - sometimes I agree (with what you write) and sometimes I dont.. but that's not the main thing for me.. I just like reading the thoughts of other people that have been bitten by the same bug as myself - namely following Newcastle United Football Club through thick and thin (and we all know what we fans have been fed in recent decades..).

So keep on posting your comments about ASBO, Jabba and whatever their names might be.. I enjoy reading them - no matter if I agree with them or not..

7:49 a.m.  

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