Sunday, June 06, 2010

A Month Of Saturdays: May 2010

For those of us who plot out our weeks around football fixtures, the close season is a peculiarly disconcerting and nebulous period of indeterminate length when all routine and structure seems to fall away. Was it really only a month ago that we were wrapping up our Championship-winning season with a 1-0 victory at QPR? It feels like aeons. The Hoops' Peter Ramage did his old club a favour by getting himself red-carded at the start of the second half, and Peter Lovenkrands capped a season that has been one of professional success but personal tragedy with the only goal of the game. Short though the Championship's history may be, our total of 102 points put us second only to Reading's 106 in 2005-6.

The trophy had already been presented, but Chris Hughton - following the death of Keith Alexander and the unemployment of Paul Ince the only black manager in the top four divisions of the English game - received a personal award from the Kick It Out campaign for his achievements. (The issue of race and racism was to raise its head again towards the end of the month, when we took exception to some unusually glib, childish comments from the .com chaps.) Not all of our awards were to be celebrated, however - The Two Unfortunates Worst Kit 2009-10 Award, for instance...

Job done, it was time for me to reflect on how our brief sojourn in the Championship had been akin to a trip to a health farm and for Paul to look forward to how and where we might choose to strengthen over the summer.

The latter speculations were complicated by the release of a bizarre public statement by the club which didn't so much dampen expectations of serious investment in exciting talent as put it in a sack weighed down with bricks and lob it into the river. Sure we appreciate the importance of financial stability and prudence, and no one was expecting a return to the days of frittering £8m on a donkey who'd cost nothing six months previously - but all the same most of us recognise that while the existing squad has walked the Championship, it's arguably not strong enough to survive in the Premier League without some quality additions, the sort which cost decent money. By all means exercise restraint, Jabba - but talk about safeguarding the long-term future of the club will look cheap if in twelve months' time we find ourselves back in the second tier as a result.

Add to that the questionable wisdom of broadcasting our transfer policy (and its inflexibility) to all and sundry and the fact that what was supposed to set everything out clearly required a further statement of clarification a few days later and you had another masterful demonstration of the clunkily unwieldy St James' Park PR machine at work. At least it promised an end to Llambiarse's unsolicited spoutings, though. (And, on the subject of damaging public wafflings, the club hierarchy should be commended for extending their blanket ban on the Mail's reporters.)

One thing the statement emphasised was a concerted focus on capturing and retaining the best local talent (which may turn out to be a self-defeating strategy in itself, we suggested) - so, naturally enough, May saw the two most prominent Geordies at the club linked with moves away. The Steven-Taylor-to-Arsenal claims resurfaced yet again, while his sparring partner Bigger Lad was also rumoured to be interesting Premier League rivals. Hughton, however, suggested that both could continue together in the same squad despite their training-ground contretemps, and that our short-fused striker is a potential number nine (though he's also a potential jailbird).

One player who did leave, though, was Fabrice Pancrate, whose time on Tyneside will be memorable almost solely for THAT goal against Watford. Compare the Frenchman's farewell comments ("The fans were the best I’ve played in front of and it was a great feeling to play in front of them") with the latest guff from Fat Sam ("Fan pressure there is ­hostile towards the players. They don’t really support the team as they should, they’re very critical and the players can’t handle that") and see if you can spot the embittered wanker still pig-headedly unwilling to accept any blame for his own shortcomings.

And that was just about it for May. What was left for us to do other than to join in (often against our better judgement) with the grindings of the rumour mill (Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley, Bernard Mendy, Nedum Onouha, Youssuf Mulumbu, Kieran Richardson...), follow the fortunes of various ex-Mags up and down the country and leagues (beaten Championship play-off finalist Agent Chopra; fellow sufferers of play-off agony Nobby Solano, Lee Clark and Terry McDermott; Man City target James Milner; generous-spirited former Yank loanee Oguchi Onyewu; and sacked Gillingham boss Mark Stimson) and amuse ourselves with a spot of Mackem-baiting?

Thankfully, routine will return in less than a week's time when the World Cup gets underway, and we'll have one player to cheer on in the form of Spidermag (a shame it won't be two), as well as being able to cast ourselves in the role of beady-eyed club scouts. Surely I can't be the only one who sits on the sofa in a sheepskin coat and with notepad in hand, muttering things like "No dear, I'm afraid I can't wash the car/cook dinner/go to your mother's (delete as appropriate) as I need to run the rule over the Slovakian back four"?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A good summary of the season. Don't waste your time scouting the world cup though, Ashley has no intention of paying for anyone decent. His 5 year plan is to hang on near the bottom of the prem each year (17th would be ideal) recover his investment then off back to London, having sold the club finally with economic recovery finally returning. Sorry to be pessimistic but the owner deserves nothing less. Long live the Toon Army.

4:05 pm  

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