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What Do You Want From Me?

Newcastle United: It’s Not How It Used To Be

Newcastle United v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

What do you want from me

It’s not how it used to be

You’ve taken my life away

Ruining everything

Apparently Monaco’s biggest single was about Peter Hook’s relationship with Caroline Aherne. Although, I’m beginning to suspect that Hookie was a Newcastle United fan sent back from the year 2020.

When mathematical safety was guaranteed after Newcastle’s home draw with West ‘am, apparently I was supposed to be happy. Apparently I was supposed to be grateful because ‘Brucey’ had done an incredible job. Apparently he was supposed to be a candidate for Manager of the Year. Fast-forward a few days to Citeh setting a new Premier League record for completed passes during David Silva’s testimonial match and apparently I’m supposed to accept a level of passivity from my team which is usually reserved for BDSM enthusiasts. I can’t even fathom playing an entire football match and only interrupting 53 of your opponent’s 840 pass attempts. Uneven playing surfaces have done more damage to possession stats. That was the second time we had conceded five goals this season, as well as conceding four goals on two occasions (in 34 games). In the previous two seasons, we never conceded five goals and conceded four goals twice (in 76 games). Apparently I’m not allowed to make Rafa comparisons, though. What do you want from me?

Manchester City v Newcastle United - Premier League
You’re allowed to tackle, lads.
Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

Sports Direct Syndrome has inflicted many symptoms on the suffering but a chronic, significant lowering of standards and expectations is perhaps the most damaging of all and is seen at both results and individual player level. An acceptance of the ordinary. An acceptance of a pathetic capitulation because you’ve scored a few goals since the restart. It is a symptom worsened by a number of pundits and journalists displaying traits of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, intent on creating the appearance that Newcastle fans are sick to question the status quo. Whatever you want. We are not stagnating though, apparently. Reject the evidence of your eyes - it was their final, most essential command.

Newcastle United finished 10th two seasons ago and 13th last season. We will likely finish 13th or 14th this season. ‘Yeah but...’, come the cries of the inflicted. There are many ‘yeah buts’ for every season in football, offering excuses for performances and results yet apparently these can now only be used to defend and not to critique. It is permitted to offer the loss of Rondon and Perez, following the much-loved Benitez, dealing with the takeover and the closure of Greggs as valid excuses in your case for Brucey. It is permitted to offer formation, tactics, age, language, haircut and the absence of decent caipirinhas on the Quayside as valid excuses in your case for Joelinton. But don’t you dare offer the transfer funds to source the additions of Rose, Krafth, Bentaleb, Lazaro, Allan Saint-Maximin and Big Joe as reasons to expect better. ‘Nurse, I think these fans are sick!’

Manchester City v Newcastle United - Premier League
How’s the caipirinhas, did ye say?
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Speaking of tactics, a particularly sadistic one plucked straight from the playbook of any fascist or despotic regime is the attempt to rewrite or even ignore history. ‘Rafa’s gone, move on!’ bark the orders. Every publication you can think of writes comparison articles on the current Liverpool team versus the Arsenal Invincibles versus the Man Utd treble team. Klopp is compared to Guardiola and they are, in turn, compared to Wenger and Ferguson. It is perfectly acceptable to compare the successful with the successful, from your oasis of calm and pleasure. Just don’t look back in anger. The instruction to ‘move on’ comes as though anyone who uses Rafa’s Newcastle as a reference point is a moping teenager pining over their first girlfriend, who left them for a rich Chinese lad. Perhaps it isn’t healthy or helpful to still think about them but to ignore that they existed, that they made you happy, that they offered you hope after what seemed like the eternal virgin years of McClaren...you’ve taken my life away.

With four games remaining, the end to Newcastle’s season has that familiar feeling manager, players and fans alike. The manager tells us that he expects better than 5-0 defeats (give him that award now) and the players assure us that there’s plenty to play for while shuffling awkwardly in their expensive flip-flops. Meanwhile, fans debate whether we’ll finish 11th or 14th and whether they’d contemplate Newcastle United losing a game if it meant some twats with bed sheets were relegated. It’s not how it used to be. The never-ending story of the takeover has become the all-encompassing blanket thrown over our football club. What felt warm and cosy at first, has become stifling and suffocating. Every result, every transfer rumour, every contract extension. Ruining everything.

Whether we finish 11th or 14th doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Whether we surpass our points total from the Rafa years only matters to those seemingly determined to reduce a manager’s achievement to nothing more than the columns of the Premier League table. What matters is seeing that the current incumbents of our beloved black and white want to be here and that there is an ethos of improvement at our club. I want to see progress, or signs of it, otherwise we are stagnating. Honest, check its definition. Every game should be seen as an opportunity to develop a player, a tactic, a system, a style. I want us to win all four games but I’d take less than that if I could see a manager and squad moving in the right direction. Just because we’ve ‘achieved’ safety, doesn’t mean the season is over.

Newcastle United Training Session
The season isn’t over
Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images

Away from being violated by the two blue moons, I rejected the invitation to the love-in over draws with Villa and West Ham, like the anti-social curmudgeon that I am. Despite the positive result, there ought to be an element of reservation about what happened when Sheffield went down to ten but there were certainly signs of progress in the Bournemouth game. However, today’s game is the classic match-up of everything to play for versus relatively little to play for. It is the ultimate test of mentality, focus and a commitment to something greater than the points available. Show us what you’ve been working on in training, show us what next season might bring, give us hope to take into the post-season. ‘Yeah but Watford are fighting for their lives!’

So what do you want from me, over these remaining four games? As with any game, regardless of apparent significance, I want to see that the players who put on the black and white give a shit. When I spoke recently with Gavin Peacock, I admired his understanding of the importance of the fans seeing that you’d sweat blood because that’s what they would do. I can forgive the odd poor finish or poor pass because I’ve seen many poor players and I’m reasonable enough to accept that we are not in the market for the elite. I can never accept a lack of effort and desire to challenge from players. I don’t care if it wasn’t the first eleven who strolled around The Etihad, I expect to see pressing, aggression and sprinting as an absolute minimum. I expect to see a tactic and a game plan from the manager smart enough to at least cause the opposition to break a sweat and get out of testimonial gear.

It was bad enough when we paid to sit in our plastic seats to watch it, it’s even worse when we have paid the club to sit on our sofas as advertising banners drape across our buttock-indented throne. I’ll be turning the commentary off, though.

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