It's a Sunday morning, and I'm sitting in my kitchen, stabbing at a large bowl of wilting salad, listening to nothing but the low hum of my broken refrigerator. It taunts me. "DLDLLL," it repeats on a seemingly infinite loop. The malaise chills my spine while my food defrosts and spoils. It's a familiar tune, if I'm honest, and serves as nothing but a pulsating reminder of the disappointment that I've suffered at the hands of Newcastle United over the opening weeks of the season.
Winless in the first six matches, they're hovering one spot above the bottom of the table, with a near-negligible goal difference all that's saving them from the shameful disgrace of "Dead Last" and "Lower Than The Mackems". NUFC desperately need to change their strategies with the same urgency as this pink-haired girl needs to panic-eat this box of room temperature mixed greens, or we'll all run the risk of being left with something slimy and unpalatable. They're bringing me something entirely dissatisfying, and leaving me with the kind of existential crisis that usually only comes with a forced, dry, pre-10am salad. They're furthering the distance between me, a supporter, and them, the club. They've become something that I feel like I don't recognize. They've become "they".
I know that this is the kind of argument that divides friends jokingly across the bar, but secretly breeds disdain and discontent beneath the surface. It’s that base level of semantics that can make almost any supporter's left eye twitch a little bit. It's the kind of textbook answer that you find in Psychology class in the summer semester at your local community college. But, it's important.
Where you stand on the "we" vs "they" debate can shape the way that you, as a fan, feel about and react to the thing that you follow. It's a little linguistic differentiation that keeps the sides separately as fans and players, or unites supporters and club. Using "we" when describing the club invokes that base desire for inclusion. NUFC is "my club," "our club," and "we" are a part of it. I know I'm not on the pitch (I'm not even in the building because it's a bastard of a commute), I'm not scouting new prospects, I'm not making sure everyone's boots are properly laced. Nope. I'm sat in my slept-in '98 home shirt, an 8 hour flight away, at a god awful hour, crying into my first cup of tea over a broadcast that's about 30 seconds behind the live feed. But, I still want to buy into the idea that I'm a part of something, because I unashamedly like that feeling, however manufactured it is. The "we" I use isn't representative of anyone else as a supporter. It's about me - flamingo-headed Rachee - feeling close to something that I love, because I'm the kind of person that keeps coming back for more, convinced that everything will be fine, even when I've been cheated on for the third time, and I'm beating an umbrella off a letterbox across the street from your bedroom window.
For me, the "they" has always represented something else, something far away. It puts the club as a completely separate entity from me. It alienates the fans, taking them from participant to audience member. If I wanted to sit quietly spectating, waiting for the house lights to come up to cue me to grab a plastic glass of overpriced alcohol at intermission, I'd buy a ticket for the symphony. I don't want to be a "me" and a "they".
But, that's where I am now. This club has, over time, pulled away and finally become that "they" to me. They've become an organization. A franchise. A corporation. They're systematically leaning back from things that connect me to them. And, frankly, this is nothing new. I've had a bad taste in my mouth before. But, there's always been that overriding nostalgia and the reminder of the people I've met simply because I happened to be born into a family from a certain place with a particular preference for a football team. But, that comfort is dwindling every day.
The club has shown in the past few months that they are trying to change the rhetoric, hoping to get the fans onside following all of the discontent that was the direct result of the last few seasons. Mike Ashley isn't dumb and he certainly hasn't surrounded himself with people who are. He's sold enough replica kits and discount trainers to prove that. He let them spend a little money, make some management and personnel changes, and send a series of (sometimes baffling) open letters, but it still seems disingenuous. I can be told by a million Lee Charnley emails that he wants to "accept responsibility" and to "progress as a club together," but I don't buy it because I feel like nothing has changed. I'm not placated by this, because the words mean little when I'm seeing the same hapless buffoonery 90 minutes at a time, once a week. I don't want empty promises. I have enough in this salad bowl. I want to see that interests actually lie in getting "them" and "me" to "we", and not just in selling me merchandise and tickets. Show me anything on the pitch that indicates otherwise.
At least I'm almost done this terrible morning salad and the building manager will be in tomorrow to fix my dying fridge.