It’s funny how we choose who we support isn’t it? I love the underdog! I always have, and honestly, sometimes to a fault. I look at the teams that have everything, as evil empires, and love the teams that seem the most likely to be able to take them down. That is how it started, and by extension how I became a fan of Newcastle United! In the 90’s Newcastle United experienced a resurgence, and it coincided with my love of the underdog perfectly. While Manchester United was winning everything and going for trebles, the only team that seemed likely to catch them was Newcastle United. In back to back years the Toon Army finished 2nd in the Premiership and were also runners up in the FA Cup. They were a team of ambition! I didn’t call myself a fan in those days…I was a lover of the international game. While I considered Newcastle admirable, I couldn’t attach myself to them.
Fast forward to the 2007/2008 season. I now decided that as much as I loved the international game, I needed a club or two to support. I began searching for a club that seemed to fit the mold of what I always supported, lovable underdogs with ambition. I grew up on Serie A, and Sampdoria had caught my attention before any other team had, way back in 1996. Werder Bremen fit the mold perfectly and would become my Bundesliga team, but I no longer watched either of those leagues regularly. Following those teams required nothing more than score checking and internet searches. I had become a full-fledged Premiership fan, needing a team I could support week in and week out. I briefly considered Arsenal, I admit it. Dennis Bergkamp was my childhood hero and Arsenal was his home. Something about Arsenal always kept me from loving them however. Enter Newcastle United. One look at their roster and I found what I was searching for. Ambition!
That team certainly fit the underdog title, as they weren’t league favorites in the slightest. They had a team full of internationals however, and some future internationals too. For a lover of the international game, that wanted an underdog, I had found my team! Shay Given, Geremi, Joey Barton, Damien Duff, James Milner, Nicky Butt, Obafemi Martins, Michael Owen, Mark Viduka and Andy Carroll…They were all on that team! Admittedly, the team did not perform up to the standard that I had expected. Michael Owen never seemed to recover from injury and barely ever seemed to play, for example. Andy Carroll was still young and being loaned out at the time. The team went from challenging for a possible place in Europe to finishing mid table, but I did not care…This team clearly had ambition! I was all in. This was unfortunately the beginning of the Mike Ashley era, but at the time everything seemed okay.
Over a decade later, I am officially stuck for life, and struggling to find that ambition in my beloved underdog. The team that signed big names, seemingly just to sign them, once upon a time has now been replaced by a franchise that is held down by their owner. Yet I love them more now than I probably ever have. Despite the additional hurdles, the team has continued in recent memory to exceed expectations. Sure, they were relegated twice - most recently in 2015/2016, but they immediately won the Championship division and returned. After returning they kept largely the same roster and were picked by everyone to be relegated. Instead, they fought their way to a top half finish in 2017/2018! How could I not love that? Still, times are hard, and by the way owner Mike Ashley treats the team it is evident. He is basically the parent that waits until the last minute to do their child’s back to school shopping. He has been tight with the money, and has waited until the last minute, only shopping for bargains along the way. It is disheartening.
Still, I can’t help but be optimistic. The team has made some credible moves, despite the disappointment in them from the fans. Kenedy and Martin Dubravka had successful loan spells at Newcastle, and the club has made sure that us fans will get to see more of them in the Newcastle kit. They also managed to bring in 3 players that were present at the 2018 World Cup - Muto, Ki, and Schar. They are professionals and will surely help the club in the upcoming season. Finally, they were able to land a loan deal for Salomon Rondon, a striker that should contribute given better service than he had at WBA. I don’t love the amount of loan deals that the club seems to be seeking, but short term Rondon and Kenedy will definitely add a boost. They are also finalizing a deal that would bring Federico Fernandez to Tyneside. With under 12 hours left in the transfer window,* I would love to see another move or two completed, but I won’t hold my breath. Any player that is affordable, and better than what Newcastle currently has, should be considered. Assuming they fit what Rafa Benitez would like to do.
I will be a Newcastle United fan for the rest of my life, but the ambition of the club has gone away, and I would love to see it return in the near future. The club took care of their fans in the past by bringing in big names, even when they did not seem necessary (I do however prefer calculated tactical moves). Now it seems to be the players that are taking care of the fans, while the club (Mike Ashley) does not seem to give a damn. I am often questioned for supporting Newcastle United. Why? It’s the question that’s always asked. Why not? Is the usual reply. This is a big club! The club of Alan Shearer and Bobby Robson! A club that currently has Rafa Benitez as its manager! The ambition may seem to be gone, but I guarantee that Rafa Benitez has that ambition still. I guarantee that these players still have that ambition! A new season is upon us and we will shock the world once again. The questions may be valid, but at the end of the day - we are Newcastle United!
*Editor’s note -This was written before the window was shut.