THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

23 March ~ An awful lot has happened at Newcastle Utd, and in football generally, over the last 24 years. But the media cliches and the club's lack of trophies haven't changed at all, as seen from this article by Mike Ticher in WSC 6

Newcastle United - cue media buzzwords: "Passion", "hotbed", "fanatical". Newcastle are supposedly one of the great "sleeping giants" of English football. If so, their sleep is beginning to look dangerously like unconsciousness. Not only have they not won the League since 1927, but they have rarely even looked like doing so. Their last FA Cup win was in 1955, and even in those "glory" years of the early 50s, when the Cup was theirs three times, they regularly finished in the bottom half of the First Division. Since then, a Fairs Cup win in 1969 (for which they qualified by finishing only 10th in the League!) and losing Wembley finals in 1974 and 1976 have been their only sniffs at success. Nevertheless, undeterred by this consistent level of mediocrity, which the current team look well capable of sustaining, the fans remain unswervingly faithful to the dream of the all-conquering Magpies.

Newcastle itself has been left behind the rest of the country in many ways. But despite shocking levels of unemployment brought on by the decline of traditional industries, the town belies its image as a depressed and depressing area. Everyone seems to want to spend their money as soon as they get it, and pubs and clubs are packed with smooth dressers on a Friday and Saturday night. The fans attitude to their football team is equally disdainful of reality. Their loyalty is astonishing, with crowds rarely less than 20,000 even now, and it would only need the slightest hint of a revival to fill the 36,000 capacity with ease. Even more amazing is their belief in the capabilities of a team which remains stubbornly ordinary. This is the crowd that nicknamed Mick Martin "Zico" and almost believed it. The Geordies will never resign themselves to the fact that United are crap.

Other aspects of the St James Park crowd are less endearing. Black players are not just rejected, but treated like creatures from another planet ("He's a wog, a wog, It's plain to see, to see, He's blacker than you or me, He's a wog, a wog"). This was displayed more clearly than ever on the live TV game v West Ham, but as it obviously isn't part of the BBC's pre-arranged "Geordie Passion" script, there was no comment on it. Traditional male preserves are generally still very much intact in Newcastle (the Labour Party still hesitates to select women for safe seats) and that certainly applies to the football ground. In other words, Newcastle is about as close as you can get to what a lot of football people still like to think of as The Good Old Days.

That goes for the board, too, where the traditions of aloofness and inertia established under Lord Westwood (now apparently a Life Member of the League, although few believe that he is not yet dead) are kept alive by the current chairman, Stan Seymour. The managers they have chosen have invariably been of the Old School, delegating training to their assistants (e.g. Keith Burkenshaw and Richard Dinnis) and often placing more importance on discipline and respect than on talent (e.g. Gordon Lee). With the exception of Jack Charlton, whose heart never seemed to be in the job anyway, none of United's recent managers have seemed likely to provide the inspirational qualities which the fans crave. Since the long reign of Joe Harvey (still at St James' as assistant manager!), we have seen Lee, Dinnis, Bill McGarry and Arthur Cox, before Charlton's brief excursion. All were quietly ineffective.

In transfer policy, Newcastle behave like a struggling Third Division club rather than one of the richest in the country, which they surely must be. Until the recent arrival of Paul Goddard, their record signing, unbelievably, was John Trewick, for £250,000 in 1980. Afraid to buy heavily, they rely on a stream of local youngsters, and sell their star players at the first opportunity e.g. Terry McDermott, Alan Kennedy, Pop Robson, even Chris Waddle. Meanwhile, a whole succession of Geordies, from Bobby Charlton to Bryan Robson have been allowed to slip away and find fame elsewhere. MacDonald and Keegan, the demi-Gods of the Seventies and Eighties respectively were outstanding (and relatively inexpensive) exceptions to this lack of boldness and imagination in the market.

Even now, the team is still heavily populated by home-grown players, and while this is laudable in itself, the promise of the likes of Gascoigne, Stephenson and McDonald is not enough to build a successful team without the help of outsiders. Perhaps Willie McFaul has finally started to turn the tide by holding on to Beardsley and securing Goddard. Having rooted out some of the dead-wood and made good buys in Peter and Darren Jackson and Andy Thomas, the signs on the field are more promising than for some time. And yet the chasm between its capabilities and the expectations of the fans is as huge as ever. The very isolation of the town keeps them insulated from outside and fuels the feeling that Newcastle United really are a great team, even if fate has dumped them at the bottom of the First Division.

Newcastle have been living on passion for far too long. A club of their prestige and with their following should not be reduced to scratching around for cast-offs from the top clubs and pinning their faith in Messiahs to lift a sub-standard team. The fans deserve better. The ground, when the new Leazes End is eventually completed, will also deserve better. A team winning a few trophies would bring back some much needed pride to a shamefully neglected area. But unless the rigid attitudes of the board can be changed (and they, not the manager, were rightly the target of fans displeasure earlier this season), and McFaul proves to have a bit more zip in him than his predecessors, the club will continue to meander through the backwaters of First Division, or even, like Sunderland, the Second. Surely there's more ambition in the club than that?

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