Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Month Of Saturdays: October 2009

Talk about getting off on the wrong foot.

October began with the tribunal presiding over the club v Keegan dispute delivering its damning indictment of the current hierarchy: Keegan HAD been constructively dismissed (as he'd claimed); the club had issued deliberately misleading statements in the press in what it bizarrely described as "an exercise in public relations"; the loan signing of mystery man Ignacio Gonzalez - which was against Keegan's express wishes and therefore in breach of his contract, and which prompted his departure - was a dubious and expensive "favour" for a couple of South American agents in the hope of getting their richest pickings in future. In its subsequent supplementary award of costs to Keegan, the tribunal declared that the club's "defence on the primary liability issue was, in our view, wholly without merit and it chose to make entirely unfounded allegations against Mr Keegan". As is so often the case with us, the dirty washing was there, hanging on the line for everyone to see.

While Fat Mike and Llambiarse kept stumm in the days following the verdict (no "exercise in public relations" in sight, strangely), they had a gobby apologist in the unlikely form of the Poison Dwarf. Like a dog that's taken a boot in the ribs but that remains stupidly loyal, Dennis Wise - sacked by Ashley at the same time as Alan Shearer's temporary appointment in April - seemed intent on towing the discredited party line, thereby flying in the face of the facts and the legal judgement. If the Gonzalez deal really was an act of behind-the-scenes back-scratching that would reap handsome rewards in the long term, for instance, then where was this flood of supposed superstars for whom we'd paid our blood money?

It was only natural that Wise would express bemusement at Keegan stubbornly opposing the Gonzalez deal and turning down an alleged out-of-court settlement, after all, being an unscrupulous, unprincipled little shit. But hey, Dennis, at least your pathetic boo-hooing to the press about how the episode had damaged your career didn't go completely unheeded, with one journalist at least wishing you a swift (if unhappy) return to management...

When Fat Mike did belatedly break his silence, there seemed to be a measure of chastened contrition: "I never said I was an expert in football clubs. I tried my best. But I accept my best was woefully short". But this vague and grovelling attempt to win the fans' sympathy was shown up as nothing more than thinly disguised self-pity in light of his subsequent comments arrogantly belittling our support and loyalty: "I have to put £20m a year into the club — I spend more than every other fan put together puts into the club each year".

Wrapping up his post reporting on the tribunal's findings, Paul noted: "All that can be hoped is that the conclusion of this process means that the sale of the club can now proceed quickly and the fat Cockney bastard gets out of our club". For a while, it looked as though our hopes would be realised. The papers brought fresh reports of Barry Moat and a South African consortium jockeying for position while the Newcastle United Supporters Trust launched their Yes We Can campaign aimed at acquiring a stake in the club. And then in steamrollered the US-based Star Foundation, whose British spokesman Geoff Sheard had a distinctly American bullishness about him in claiming: "We will push it forward this week and it will be resolved. It’s all done as far as we are concerned. It’s all down to the solicitors now."

That, like all of the other buyout talk, turned out to be nothing but hot air. On the 28th came the bombshell. On the one hand, Chris Hughton was rewarded for his steady guiding hand and his two consecutive Manager of the Month awards with a permanent appointment (in the same month, it should be added, that Shearer also received a prestigious appointment - to the position of Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland). But on the other, Fat Mike had taken the club off the market and declared he was staying put. And, worse still, we were seriously considering renaming St James' Park for commercial gain.

The news was disturbing enough without realising we were in agreement with Fat Fred on the issue - and just one look at Ashley's predecessor is enough to underline that there isn't much he finds unpalatable. The full horror of the decision wasn't actually revealed until the calendar had flipped over into November, but Paul was still so moved by anger he indulged in a spot of undemocratic renaming himself, christening Fat Mike with the less flattering nickname Jabba.

Unsurprisingly, any other off-field matter over which Jabba didn't cast his blubbery shadow seemed like little more than a footnote. For instance, the loss of Richard Money to Luton (I still think we should have gone with "Money walks" as the title of the post...) was largely buried amidst the wrangling, but could prove to have significant consequences for the Academy, just as the defection of chief scout Lil Fuccillo to Swansea in September might have long-term ramifications. There was also ASBO's interview with Sky Sports, in which he somehow managed to utter even more infuriating drivel than the Poison Dwarf talking about the tribunal - whether talking about his "respect" for Shearer, the fact that he might have reacted differently to his training ground disagreement with Hughton had he been "a bit more hot-headed and not as mature as I am now", or his decision to 'fess up belatedly about his injury for the good of the team (what do you want, Joey - an effing biscuit?!).

And in amongst it all, lest we forget, there were some football games. Not that they provided much respite or succour, our early season wings suddenly clipped by a succession of dogged opponents. If our 1-1 draw at home to QPR on the final day of September looked much better in the context of the rich vein of form the Londoners subsequently hit, the goalless stalemate with Bristol City three days later wasn't very clever in any light. OK so the Robins were occupying a respectable league position, but that was solely down to their home form - they hadn't won away. They posed an attacking threat in the first period, but for the most part all of the frustrations were ours - Homer struck the post early on, Steven Taylor and Kevin Nolan both rattled the bar, we should have had a penalty and did most of the pressing but couldn't make the vital breakthrough.

The international break provided an opportunity to regroup and refocus - but what followed were back-to-back defeats on the road. Our visit to the City Ground unfortunately coincided with the hosts hitting form, and amidst a spicy atmosphere we looked off the pace and fell behind to a solitary Dexter Blackstock goal seconds before the break. Again there was a second half onslaught, and again we were denied a spot-kick. Throw in a Nolan prod disallowed for a debatable offside and a chronic hesitancy to shoot when presented with the chance to do so and it was another disappointing game from which we knew we should have taken something. There was a further psychological blow, too - our three-point lead at the top of the table had been eroded. So what we really didn't need in our next fixture was to gift Scunthorpe's Martyn Woolford two easy goals either side of a Nolan equaliser.

When, after four games without a win, we did at last get back on track, at home to Doncaster Rovers, the victory was hardly straightforward. Not only were we trailing at half-time, we also conceded a penalty and finished up with ten men, Zurab Khizanishvili dismissed for not unreasonably taking exception to a sly punch on his teammate Tamas Kadar. But at last our luck was in - Martin Woods carried the curse of being an ex-Mackem and squandered the penalty before Nolan popped up with an injury-time winner to send us back into pole position.

Something to smile about, then - but Jabba's bombshell was only a few days away.


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