Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Month Of Saturdays: August 2011

They say you can't keep a good man down. Maybe not, but neither can you keep ASBO out of the headlines. July may have been the monthly equivalent of an annus horribilis for us, as we lurched in time-honoured tradition from calamity to farce, but at least all seemed pleasingly quiet on the ASBO front. Even when Jose Enrique took to Twitter to rail against Jabba's transfer policy, ASBO wisely elected not to join in.

Of course, it turned out that he couldn't keep stumm for long, and, as the calendar flipped over into August, he exploded with a torrent of anger aimed directly at Jabba. The club's response was swift, decisive and blunt: ASBO was not only hit with the same fine as Enrique and banished to train with the youngsters but also placed on the transfer list and made available for free. The decision was succinctly described as "suicide" by his dumbfounded agent Willie McKay - though of course that could equally have applied to ASBO's actions in terms of his Newcastle career. McKay claimed he was still prepared to negotiate with Jabba and Llambiarse, but was clearly licking his chops at the prospect of a bumper pay-day.

There followed a period of detente during which ASBO got his head down in training and surfaced on Twitter only as though determined to prove himself far from your average footballer, quoting George Orwell and appealing for Isambard Kingdom Brunel's phone number. As he worked his way back towards redemption, the club took further action, instigating a blanket ban on tweeting about internal matters. If that was to be the only lasting consequence of the affair, then I think we would have welcomed it. All too often in the recent past our dirty laundry has been hung out on public view, flapping about in the breeze for all to see. Silence would be golden.

On the eve of the new season, by which time ASBO had snuck back into the fold, Enrique was finally flogged off to Liverpool. The Spaniard's excited talk of his new employers' "ambition" and willingness to flash the cash was a barbed jibe at Jabba, underlining that ASBO hadn't been a lone dissenting voice in the dressing room.

No prizes for guessing who would then manoeuvre himself centre stage in a dull yet fractious goalless curtain-raiser against Arsenal (a result that looked worse as the month wore on and the Gunners continued a slow-motion implosion). Already narked at having been deliberately trod upon by Alex Song, ASBO took aggressive umbrage at Gervinho's penalty-area theatrics, received a gentle slap in the face by the Ivorian and went down like he'd been floored by a heavyweight. The Arsenal player was red-carded and ASBO only booked, while in the post-match fallout Song was handed a retrospective ban and both clubs were fined £30,000 for failing to control their players.

ASBO inevitably went on the offensive on Twitter, lashing out at Gervinho, Jack Wilshere and former sparring partner Wor Al amongst others and prompting Alan Pardew to once again warn of the dangers of unguarded comment. Of course, the irony was our manager's conspicuous failure to practise what he was preaching - not only did he infuriate Charlton by making public our pursuit of 'keeper Rob Elliot but he was subsequently charged by the FA for urging Howard Webb to be "astute" in his officiating of the derby in light of ASBO's presence in our midfield.

Predictably enough, ASBO was once again at the heart of the action on Wearside, picking up a booking for a scuffle following a typically crude Lee Cattermole assault on Spidermag. He would have made a more significant contribution, though, if it hadn't have been for the arm of Sebastian Larsson, a man who once looked likely to replace him on the right-hand side of our midfield. As it was, his close-range header was knocked off the line and Webb showed he hadn't been swayed by Pardew's pre-match comments by pointing to the corner flag rather than the penalty spot and allowing Larsson to remain on the pitch. Thankfully, that injustice was rendered irrelevant when recently maligned makeshift left-back Ryan Taylor became the latest Toon player to put the ball in the Mackems' net with a delicious curling free-kick. Our opponents finished up with ten men for the second weekend in a row, Phil Bardsley dismissed for a lunge on Sideshow Bob as ugly as he is (and that's pretty ugly).

That turned out to be ASBO's last appearance in black and white. Rested for the League Cup tie at Scunthorpe - a game we narrowly won thanks only to splendid strikes from Ryan Taylor and Little Big Lad - he was then shipped off to nouveau riche Premier League new boys QPR before our next league fixture against Fulham. After four years on Tyneside, a player labelled by Fabio Capello as "dangerous" may now have been someone else's problem, but very much in spite of myself I couldn't help but feel a sense of loss. Life will be duller without him, that's for sure - though the Lone Ranger was quick to pick up the gauntlet...

ASBO and Enrique were the highest profile departures of a month which also saw James Tavernier and Phil Airey fly the nest, albeit temporarily. Fraser Forster was loaned out too, back to Celtic, though his subsequent comments about Pardew gave the distinct impression that he might not be back. Paul gave a detailed appraisal of our summer transfer dealings, so I won't dwell on those other than to note that in August we added Gabriel Obertan, Rob Elliot and Davide Santon to the squad.

Relatively successful you might think - in Santon we finally had our left-back, albeit one who gave rise to unsettling feelings of deja vu. But our pathetic lack of activity on deadline day - no Bryan Ruiz, no Modibo Maiga, no Papiss Cisse, not even Federico Macheda - was both infuriating and alarming, not least because a limp victory over Fulham had only underlined our considerable deficiencies in forward areas. When you're reliant on both a brace from Leon Best and a string of brilliant saves from your 'keeper when faced with a lame bunch who travel worse than the real Mr T, then you'd best be worried.

So, we might have ended the month with seven league points from nine and still in with a shout of League Cup glory, but Paul's generally sunny forecast and prediction of an 11th-placed finish were nevertheless already looking overly optimistic. Still, August also saw us reflecting on how we found strength in considerably tougher circumstances following relegation, and, if one Toon supporter can dredge up sufficient physical and mental resolve to run the 3100 miles across the US (hopefully helping to create a fanbase along the way), then perhaps blind faith can get us through too. And, if all else fails, we could always laugh at ASBO's new colleague the Little Waster picking up an injury within seven minutes of his debut. Perhaps he could keep himself occupied by teaming up with Little Saint Mick to work on a nice jigsaw?

And, in amongst it all, Black & White & Read All Over turned seven. The very first week of the blog's existence was marked by both off-pitch upheaval and unfathomable decisions and inactivity in the transfer market. How times change, eh?




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