A Month Of Saturdays: November 2011
But, as has been evident so often before, the author of our club's fate is clearly an aficionado of the work of Thomas Hardy, and so, with a sense of crushing inevitability, delight was followed with despair. The very day that Paul chose to survey those story-of-our-success articles, it was announced that Jabba, in his infinite wisdom, had decided to rename St James' Park as the Sports Direct Arena. (With hindsight, of course, the replacement of the old East Stand sign with one bearing Sports Direct branding looked like a stealthy move, a precursor to the announcement.)
Just what is it that compels Jabba and Llambiarse to so often undermine any good work they may have done or obliterate any good will they may have accumulated? Clearly there are a whole host of factors which have contributed to a hugely encouraging opening third of the season, but the duo can take some credit for getting things shipshape behind the scenes and helping to provide the platform for a unified team playing (and winning) with spirit, skill and a one-for-all-and-all-for-one attitude. But no sooner have Jabba and Llambiarse given us what we want than the pair memorably referred to by ASBO as "those two cretins" give the media and the rest of the footballing world what THEY want - namely, off-field turmoil, discord and high farce.
Disappointingly, given the mutterings of mutiny among some fans who were once again left feeling ignored and bulldozered by an indifferent hierarchy, the genuine opposition and protest extended little further than one man prising up a brick in disgust. It was left to the chief executive of Virgin Money, the new owners of current-but-not-for-much-longer sponsors Northern Rock, to pour icily cold water on the contention that changing the stadium name - pissing on over one hundred years of heritage, essentially - was justifiable on commercial grounds (or, in Llambiarse's words, "inviting people to come in").
And then, typically, once the organ grinder had made the decision, his monkey just had to go and compound matters by ill-advisedly allowing his gob to open while in company. There were echoes of Fat Fred and Deadly Doug's famous ridiculing of Wor Al as "Mary Poppins" in Llambiarse's unguarded comments about the Lion of Gosforth - a man whose very name, as my personal travels through Southeast Asia during the month proved, remains indissolubly associated with the club, as well as being a key term in the international lingua franca of football.
Not content with publicly slagging off one legend, Llambiarse moved on to take aim at King Kev (unable to handle the pressure) and Chris Hughton (incapable of making a decision), before announcing in a way that seems to suggest a bizarre degree of pride: "You guys don’t understand how fucking horrible we can be". I think we've all got a fair idea now, thanks Del Boy, but - as Paul suggested - no doubt you'll still find some ingenious way to upset and disgust us again in the future.
The Silver Fox came in for praise for apparently daring to have his own views and express them to the hierarchy - but wasn't that exactly what caused the breakdown of the relationship with King Kev? And, in any case, the manager is all too aware that the circumstances in which he's being asked to operate are largely beyond his control. His comments about the forthcoming transfer window suggested someone steeling themselves for another January shafting. It's inevitable that other clubs will be sniffing around our players, but we're under no obligation to sell and so that interest will only be a problem if it excites Jabba into cashing in. Which, given his past track record, is worryingly likely.
The player arguably most in the spotlight in November (though not as a subject of transfer speculation) was, oddly enough, Raylor. The man who began the season as a makeshift left-back enjoyed his finest moment in a black and white shirt against Everton, easily securing Match of the Day's Goal of the Month just five days in with a sensational long-range volley. That goal, one of the best St James' Park has seen for many a year, put us 2-0 up following Johnny Heitinga's own goal, and while Jack Rodwell pulled one back on the stroke of half-time and the visitors dominated the second period, we clung on for another tremendous win which cemented our third place going into the final international break of the year.
Fast forward a fortnight and it was a rather different story. A nightmarish five-minute period immediately before the break at the Etihad saw Raylor literally hand Man City a penalty and then gift Micah Richards a second goal. We'd repelled our hosts well prior to that, and even threatened ourselves. After the interval, the inventive HBA struck the post before blotting his copybook by presenting City with another spot-kick. Our unbeaten run in the Premier League at an end, our only consolation for a gutsy David v Goliath display was a first Toon goal for substitute Dan Gosling. HBA's encounter with Nigel de Jong had been the pre-match focus, but whether the Frenchman actually met his leg-breaking assailant after the game, as was apparently agreed, I'm not sure.
If that result was supposed to signal a dramatic downturn in our fortunes, though, especially with a trip to Old Trafford next up, then we didn't seem to have read the script. We matched the champions blow for blow until the late bombardment given momentum by Spidermag's sending-off, and while the penalty which brought Demba Ba's equaliser and ultimately secured a valiant draw was dubious, anything which leaves Taggart's face an even deeper shade of puce than normal has to be celebrated as thoroughly well deserved.
Instrumental in this season's French revolution has been Dreamboat, so it was good to get to know him a little bit better courtesy of an interview written up by a clearly smitten, gooey-eyed TBW. Among the most interesting titbits were the facts that he could have chosen to play his international football for Vietnam, and that one of those who recommended he sign for us was Franck Dumas - it seems the club made far more of an impression on Dumas during his short six-appearance-long stay than he did on it...
Dreamboat may be an aesthete's dream at times, a highly skillful player with an excellent range of passing, but he also appreciates the value of hard graft and the need to apply himself at all times. An excellent role model, in other words, for some of the younger squad members. While Kazenga LuaLua was finally released to become a Seagull permanently, the loose cannon that is the Lone Ranger was shipped out to Barnsley on loan and Tamas Kadar moaned about a lack of first-team opportunities, Little Big Lad was rewarded for his conscientiousness and head-down attitude with a new contract (and some racist abuse on Twitter).
Everywhere you looked in November there were ex-Mags in the news: David Ginola, Dietmar Hamann, Little Saint Mick, Habib Beye, Andy O'Brien, Lomano Tresor LuaLua, Carl Cort (the latter for winning his second cap for Guyana, not for getting himself banned from another supermarket, in case you were wondering). Congratulations were in order to Lee Clark, whose Huddersfield side set a new Football League record of 43 games unbeaten before finally succumbing to League One leaders Charlton. A future Toon manager, perhaps?
Meanwhile, it was an unhappy month for all of our agents currently or formerly planted down at the Dark Place. While Agent Bramble served a club suspension following his arrest on suspicion of sexual assault, Agent Bruce was booted out and onto the dole by Ellis Short after a particularly dismal home defeat to Wigan and Agent Chopra, now at Ipswich, came clean about the extent of his gambling addiction.
The month was drawing to a close, the glee at having foiled Fergie's mob still fresh, when the news broke that Gary Speed had died at the age of just 42. Like the rest of the footballing world, we were stunned and saddened at the premature death of someone who always conducted himself with dignity, who was an excellent servant for the club and who clearly had a huge impact on everyone he met, both within and outside the game. Jabba and Llambiarse can muck about with superficial rebranding and relabelling all they want, but they'll never touch the club's soul in the way Speed's death did.
Labels: a month of saturdays