A Month Of Saturdays: July 2011
Public humiliation: Rather like a big boy welcoming a weedy new member of the class by relieving him of his sweets, we welcomed Swansea to the Premier League by making a lunge for their left-back Neil Taylor, thinking that we'd activated a clause in his contract. When the Swans disputed the clause and it seemed as though Taylor was pushing for an arbitration panel to be involved, we assumed the ruling would be in our favour. But it never got that far, Taylor instead being kept at Liberty with a new contract while we returned red-faced to the drawing board.
Trouble with the local constabulary: Not for the misdemeanours of players, for a change, but for the antics of a minority of lagered-up fans spoiling for a Friday night fist-fight. "If Sammy scores, we're on the pitch" went the mischievous chant from the away following at our first pre-season friendly against Darlington - and when he duly obliged so did a sizeable number of the supporters, some of whom didn't take kindly to being asked to leave the playing area and physically remonstrated with stewards and rival fans. The result? Prosecutions, bans and an understandable if draconian response from the club, the restriction of future away tickets to season ticket holders and members only.
High farce: Which genius was it who decided to book a pre-season tour of a country which no fewer than three of our players would be barred from entering? The criminal records of ASBO and the Lone Ranger weren't exactly a hidden secret - though said club official could be excused for failing to take account of the fact that new signing Yohan Cabaye would also be persona non grata in the US on the grounds of a disputed dental bill... At least they were able to keep themselves occupied on the Reserves' tour of an altogether more liberal and permissive country, the Netherlands.
Injury: With Danny Guthrie and Shane Ferguson already casualties of that first friendly fixture at Darlo, sod's law that the Stateside tour would kick off against Sporting Kansas City with Hatem Ben Arfa, long-term absentee and creative talisman on whom so many of our hopes rest, being assisted off the pitch on a stretcher. Cue an immediate return to Blighty and a diagnosis of at least a month on the sidelines.
Ignominious defeat: Take your pick. 1-0 to Orlando City, a side who aren't even in the MLS, on their plastic pitch (though the fixture may possibly help us to get rid of Alan Smith)? Or 3-2 to Dirty Leeds, thanks to Fraser Forster blowing his big opportunity to impress and making a mockery of those two seasons of sterling loan service to Norwich and Celtic?
Hollow victory: Again, take your pick. 2-0 in the near-abandoned fixture at the Darlington Arena, in which Cabaye and Mehdi Abeid made their debuts? Or the 3-0 win over a ten-man Columbus Crew XI with which the US jaunt concluded and which was witnessed and reported on for us by honorary Geordie Bob Mueser? (Seriously, Bob, if you genuinely have no personal connection to the club, can read all the above and yet still want to stick with being a black and white out of choice, then I'd recommend seeking help from a psychiatrist...)
Civil war between players and club hierarchy: Contract rebel Jose Enrique - unfocused, according to Alan Pardew - came off the pitch in Columbus and launched into a bilingual anti-Jabba tirade on Twitter that immediately overshadowed the result. The account was swiftly deleted, but a hefty fine duly followed - imposed at Jabba's insistence, apparently, Pardew having been content to administer a slap to the Spaniard's wrist - and there were general rumblings of discontent and mutiny.
Still, at least ASBO was behaving himself on Twitter, only using his account to scotch rumours of a move to Man Utd and complain that his continued omission from the England squad must be politically motivated. Perhaps surprisingly, there weren't any grumblings about being overlooked for the captaincy in the wake of Kevin Nolan's departure, that honour being bestowed upon Sideshow Bob.
Pardew may have been getting his hopes up about ASBO signing on again, but on their way out of St James' Park were Kazenga LuaLua (to Brighton, on loan again) and Wayne Routledge, initially linked with Forest but ultimately bound for Swansea, pending a medical. Post-Rockygate, Pardew appeared to be more cautious about making rash promises and instead to toe the party line - namely that "free" transfers are anything but. However our West Ham supporting correspondent Kenny ventured that Jabba's tight control over acquisitions and sales meant that we might miss making the most of Pardew's nous in the market. (On the subject of the owner, there was some encouragement for those hoping to see the back of him: political support for supporters' trusts in the shape of a Culture, Media and Sport report proposing legal changes to enable them to achieve their aims.)
We picked the brains of the Two Unfortunates Lanterne Rouge and Lloyd on potential transfer targets plying their trade in the Football League, but no new arrivals were forthcoming in July. Plenty of former Magpies were on the move elsewhere, though: partners in crime Jonathan Woodgate to Stoke and Lee Bowyer to Ipswich, Stephen Caldwell to bolster the threadbare ranks at Chris Hughton's Birmingham, Charles N'Somnia to Villa for a reunion with Shay Given and, most remarkably of all, professional cash drain the Little Waster to newly promoted and frankly certifiably insane QPR.
And if you don't know who I'm referring to there, can I point you in the direction of our cut-out-and-keep guide to nicknames? The explanatory post was supposed to have been written long ago and posted during a quiet period - but, as July proved all too well, there's never is one when Newcastle Utd are concerned.
Labels: a month of saturdays