On September 27th 2012, Newcastle United announced new eight year contracts for Alan Pardew, Steve Stone, John Carver and Andy Woodman. Today marks the end of those infamous contracts and is worthy of a look back on the Alan Pardew era. It is a difficult period to analyse, with memorable moments and unwanted records in equal supply. It is a four year microcosm of life as a Newcastle United fan.
On December 6th 2010, popular manager Chris Hughton was sacked as manager of Newcastle United. The following day, a poll of 40,000 fans was reported by Sky Sports, with Alan Pardew receiving 5.5% of the votes on who should become our next manager. Two days later, he signed a five-and-a-half-year contract. This wasn’t quite a post-Ferguson or post-Wenger appointment but the likeable Hughton had stabilised a chaotic club and guided us back to the Premier League, setting various records along the way including an unbeaten home record. Despite the 2010-11 season beginning with beating Aston Villa 6-0, the 5under1and game and a 1-0 win at the Emirates, Hughton was dismissed with the club in 12th position. Hughton’s sacking was badly received by players and fans alike as the club stated that, ‘An individual with more managerial experience was needed to take the club forward.’
Pardew was following a popular man and came in on the back of a decision which had caused confusion, anger and protest. However, results talk in football and can heal the biggest of wounds. In his first game in charge, Newcastle beat Liverpool 3-1 with goals from Nolan, Barton and Carroll. Though the Christmas period saw consecutive defeats to Man City and Spurs, Newcastle began the New Year with an away win at Wigan and a convincing 5-0 home win against Pardew’s former club, West Ham. January wasn’t all positive, however, as an embarrassing knockout from football league newcomers Stevenage ended FA Cup hopes for yet another season. Off the field, star striker Andy Carroll was sold to Liverpool on transfer deadline day.
Our form would remain erratic throughout the season, with the remaining highlight being the iconic 4-4 comeback against Arsenal. Premier League survival was guaranteed in the penultimate game of the season against Birmingham and the season ended with losing a 3-0 lead against West Brom to draw 3-3. The Pardew-era league record for that season was 6 wins, 9 draws and 7 losses as the club finished 12th, 7 points above the relegation zone. Being 0-4 down against Arsenal and drawing 4-4 and then being 3-0 up against West Brom and drawing 3-3 perfectly encapsulates the frustrating nature of that initial season and this would set the tone for his time at the club.
The start of the 2011-12 season saw Newcastle United’s best start to a league campaign in 17 years, as Pardew led the club to an unbeaten run of 11 matches and 3rd place in the table. However, this was followed by six games without a win. Remarkably, the club would never fall lower than 7th in the table and six consecutive wins in March and April saw us climb to 4th place with four games remaining. Unfortunately, we lost three of those four games and missed out on a Champions League qualification place. However, perhaps this was a blessing in disguise as celebrations over that achievement would have only been cut short six days later as Chelsea won the Champions League. Pardew was awarded the Premier League Manager of the Season award, as well as the League Managers Association Manager of the Year award. He was the first English manager to win the two individual awards in a single Premier League season. His third accolade would come on September 27th as he signed his unprecedented eight year contract.
Despite qualifying for Europe and therefore having an additional tournament to compete in, the club failed to sufficiently strengthen the playing squad that summer. By mid-December, Newcastle sat 15th in the Premier League having won only four of seventeen games. The Christmas period saw another example of the chaos of the Pardew era as consecutive away games to Manchester United and Arsenal saw Newcastle score an impressive three times on each occasion, only to concede four and seven, respectively. Despite January reinforcements, the club would hover between 13th and 16th for the remainder of the season, with consecutive April home games seeing a low point of the season. On April 14th, Newcastle lost 0-3 to Sunderland, in the club’s biggest home derby defeat since 1979. The following home game, Liverpool strolled to a 6-0 victory in Newcastle’s worst top-flight home defeat since 1925. Away from the Premier League, Newcastle reached the quarter-final of the Europa League in a welcome distraction from the difficulties of the domestic campaign. However, the season finished with the club in 16th position, just five points above the relegation zone.
2013-14 would again show the two sides of Alan Pardew’s Newcastle career. November saw us climb to 5th in the table following four consecutive wins, including 2-0 at home to Chelsea and 1-0 away to Spurs and a Premier League Manager of the Month award followed. However, this run came after another derby defeat away to Sunderland. On December 7th, Newcastle won at Old Trafford for the first time in 41 years and with two more wins and a draw, sat in 6th position on December 26th. What followed can only be described as a total collapse, as Newcastle lost 14 of the remaining twenty games and were lucky to only fall to 10th position. Despite winning the final home game 3-0 against Cardiff, the home crowd was vociferous with sustained abuse towards both Pardew and Ashley. Indeed, The Chronicle reported that, ‘This was arguably the worst personal abuse a Newcastle manager has had to endure at any game. It was an excruciating afternoon.’
The yo-yo of extremes continued into the 2014-15 season. After failing to win in the opening seven games, and sitting in 18th place, Newcastle won five games in a row including an away win at Spurs followed by a home win against Liverpool. Seven without a win followed by five wins in a row and Pardew again won Premier League Manager of the Month for November. Despite ending Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season in December, this was followed by heavy away defeats to Arsenal and Manchester United either side of another derby defeat on December 21st. Pardew’s derby record would end with just one win out of eight, with three draws and four defeats as the end of December saw the end of his Newcastle career with the club in 9th position.
So how will Alan Pardew be remembered when we look back on the managers of our beloved club? He is the man who managed the club to 5th place in the Premier League, comfortably the highest league position of the Mike Ashley era. He is also the man who managed us to a European quarter-final. There were many memorable wins such as 3-0 against Man Utd in 2012 and the 1-0 at old Trafford. There was his remarkable record against Chelsea, wins against Liverpool and the comeback against Arsenal. However, he is also the man who oversaw the worst run of results in our Premier League history, as well as the worst derby record and biggest Premier League home defeat. He was truly a manager of extremes, equally capable of winning every game in a calendar month as losing every game.
Many positive assessments of his time come with a footnote about the quality of the squad he had to work with. Few managers of recent years have worked with players of the standard of Coloccini, Tiote, Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Ba and Cisse and it is often argued that a better manager would have achieved more than 5th place with such a strong squad of talent. Perhaps this is fair and we’ll never know what that team could have achieved in different circumstances. However, the 2008-09 season demonstrates that strong squads do not necessarily result in strong league performances as Coloccini, Enrique, Nolan, Barton, Duff, Owen, Martins et al. relegated the club to the Championship.
It is perhaps then ironic, given the extremes of his tenure, that my overall assessment lies away from extreme judgement in the less eye-catching, non-headline grabbing centrist area. He was better than McClaren, Carver, Kinnear, Allardyce and Gullit. He was obviously not as successful as Keegan, Robson or Hughton. His place ought to lie in the middle ground, alongside Roeder, Souness and Dalglish. I would argue that he leads this middle group based on the highlights of his reign alone, as what is the point of football if not for the highlights. Perhaps it is the rose-tinted glasses, or the subsequent years of mediocrity, but when I look back at that era I have erased the derby defeats and the Liverpool game from my memory but see vividly the Cabaye winner at Old Trafford and the Tiote volley against Arsenal. I remember the elation of his opening game, in beating Liverpool 3-1, and the several victories over Chelsea. I remember European nights back at St. James’ Park and away days in Europe. I think of Tiote, Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Ba and Cisse and must double check that Newcastle United, Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United, finished 5th in the Premier League and reached a European quarter-final. Perhaps it is Stockholm Syndrome, but during 13 years of being held hostage by Sports Direct, that really was as good as it’s been.