Saturday, July 30, 2011

Transatlantic tales

And now, a first for Black & White & Read All Over: a guest match report from another continent. What follows is regular reader Bob Mueser's eyewitness account of Tuesday's friendly against Columbus Crew.

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In the comments of the "Toothache" post I had passed along a link explaining why the US had denied the visas for ASBO, the Lone Ranger and Yohan Cabaye and that I had just recieved my tickets for the Newcastle v Crew match. Ben asked me if I would be willing to write up something about the match... I really enjoy this blog so I am happy to help out. Be warned, though: I'm not a life-long Newcastle supporter like I'm sure most of you are, but after the trip to the Toon in August 2008 and a visit to SJP to see a 1-0 victory over Bolton I proudly enlisted in the Black and White Army. This isn't going to be the most technical review, but hopefully it will at least be entertaining...

A couple months ago when I first learned of the US tour and the Columbus date I was rather excited until I learned it was on a Tuesday night. I don't know much about Columbus other than it's the capital of Ohio, home of Ohio State University, the Blue Jackets and the Crew and it's 200 miles (three and a half hours) away from where I live (Pittsburgh, PA). We took the afternoon off from work and packed up the boys (two-year-old Ryan and 11-month-old Logan) and made the surprisingly pleasant drive (the boys slept most the way) to Crew Stadium. After pulling into the parking lot, I immediately saw a patch of black and white and we were greeted by a number of cheers when we got out wearing our strips. I thought the grounds were very nice, very clean and simple to navigate. We checked out the Budweiser Clydesdale horses and the playground and grabbed some dinner before making our way to our seats in the south end.

The Newcastle supporters were given the south stands for the main group, but looking around the half-filled stadium you could find a number of black and white kits in the sea of gold. Quick renditions of 'God Save The Queen' and 'The Star Spangled Banner' ensued, Mark Allison of Run Geordie Run did the coin toss and we were underway. I can't say enough about the supporters and the lengths that some people traveled for the match. I talked to people from all over Ohio, ran into other Pittsburghers, someone from Wisconsin (500 miles and 9+ hours away) and even overheard some displaced Geordies talking in the refreshments line.

I also can't explain how good it was to sing, stomp and clap for my team again in person. Despite having to deal with tired and squirmy little guys, I'm very glad that we took our little ones with us. On a side note, you might be able to finance a trip Stateside next year by selling kids kits and "My First Toon Kit" onesies in the parking lot, judging by the volume of questions we got...

As for the match, I thought that the lads looked very good. I was very pleased with Tavernier. I thought he defended well (on the few occasions he had to) and I liked how he distributed the ball upfield. Marveaux seems like he's going to be a good addition to the squad as well. Spidermag had an iffy first half with just about as many errant passes as good plays, prompting the supporter behind to advise him to "loosen up that pony tail". He must have done something in the locker room as he looked much better in the second half. Big Lad also looked good scoring the opener around the ten-minute mark. I was getting Ryan situated with his water when I looked up and saw Shola behind the defense and slotting the ball home.

The talking point of the match came in first minute of first-half stoppage time when Ba was sprung loose and Andy Gruenebaum came out and made the stop with his hand. Unfortunately, he was about five yards out of the box. As soon as the play happened, the first thing out of my mouth was "Let's see some color, ref!" and the man in the middle didn't disappoint. As someone who officiated for 15+ years, this was the correct decision for this level no doubt. Argue all you want about "it's only a friendly / exhibition game", but the purpose of the match is for everyone to get better, to make the right decisions, and this goes for the officials as well.

The second half was all Newcastle with the man advantage. Ba had a good chance early on, but it was Sideshow Bob with the goal. From the corner, the ball bounced right to his feet, and he turned and picked his spot; the keeper had no chance. This of course led to many verses of the Coloccini song for the rest of the evening. That's when Pardew started subbing the main players out and by the 85th minute I swear he was sending in fans from the stands... Sadly, I missed what was apparently a beautiful goal by Vuckic at the end of the match - that's the price you pay for keeping a two-year-old up past his bedtime.

It was good decisive victory for our side, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Crew rested a number of their players, their back field played very sloppy and the 'keeper who played the second half wasn't part of the squad a week ago.

The one thing that surprised me was that only Steven Taylor came over to the south end to thank the fans for their support. I assumed more players would do the same, so I wanted to thank Steven for that, as I'm sure he reads this site as well!

Finally, I wanted to echo some points from another Bob from his I Wish I Was A Geordie blog: "It was clear from the faces of the players that they didn’t expect to see scenes like the one pictured above in the middle of Ohio. A lot of folks in those stripes aren't English. Earth to Newcastle: soccer people in America are getting a little weary of Manchester United and Arsenal and their boring synthetic look-we-won-again US followers."

I can't agree with this more. Last season, only two Newcastle matches were broadcast live on ESPN - not surprisingly, it was both times they played Man Utd. Every other match that I watched was downloaded after the fact via BitTorrent.

Back to Bob: "...that’s why Newcastle United has joined the small list of Premier League clubs with national fan organizations in America; and that’s why this tour was a better idea than United seemed to know. It’s a goldmine sitting here. The club should keep mining it. Newcastle United needs to come back to the USA soon. And do it right. With more advance preparation and a decent immigration lawyer, the club can bring a full roster, play in temperatures under 90, and win on the field as well as off it. We’re not going anywhere, NUFC. If you think this trip was a party - just wait."

I don't see any reason why Newcastle and any other mid-table club couldn't fill a football stadium to at least 75% capacity if:

1. the game's marketed correctly, namely to youth soccer clubs
2. it has the backing of the city and host team (ie meet players, local news interviews, etc)
3. it's played on a weekend night.

Some other links from Tuesday:

The Crew's official recap
The Chronicle's recap
Video highlights
My pictures and video

Last but not least thanks to Ben and Paul for this blog. I really enjoy their take on things and I'm glad I was able to contribute.

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Well, allow us to return the thanks, Bob - it's our pleasure.

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Blogger Unknown said...

UPDATE: Someone from the stands behind me posted the Vuckic goal.

Also, you you guys must have sent a decent volume of traffic off to the " I wish I was a Geordie" blog as they referenced back to you guys.

2:48 pm  

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