Many years ago, I studied a little about Stockholm Syndrome at university - the feeling of ambivalence towards your captor which can even result in positive feelings or admiration. The closest I have personally come to Stockholm Syndrome was watching Andreas Andersson take us hostage for the princely sum of £4m for 4 goals. There are no positive feelings from me towards Michael James Wallace Ashley and no interest in reading any of the rose-tinted obituaries formed by the psychological bonds of the abused. There isn’t a giant mug large enough, not even free with your Kangol gym bag, to transcribe the personalised message I’d like to gift that man.
After what has felt like an eternity since the news broke that our imprisoned club was set to be freed from its 70% off Sports Direct shackles, we still await the confirmation that some of our online fans have been camping outside of The Athletic’s virtual house for. It has been a challenging time for all concerned but the degree of that challenge has actually been the only thing fans have had any control over during this process. Each of us has the individual choice to be as involved in the endless claim and counter-claim culture as we want to be. Nobody forces us to go on Twitter, nobody forces us to follow the people we do, nobody prevents us from using the mute and block options.
It is understandable that as helpless supporters, lost in an online cave of silent darkness, we clamber desperately for someone to respond to our calls and shed some light. However, after weeks and months of whispers and flickers, what do we hope to achieve from the same voices echoing back to us? Such is the fatigue of the fanbase now that those who respond by telling us that we are still lost in the dark are abused for being so negative, as though a fact can be so. Instead, those who tell us that it has been light all along but we have been misled and spun into the blackness by agents with agendas are the ones who are praised and held up as saviours. ‘Nobody knows a thing except the Premier League and consortium!’ they shriek at the professional journalists daring to suggest that things may not be going to plan as we enter week 249 of a 4 week process. The irony apparently lost on them as they then tag a promoter, a dentist and a bot to fill in the blanks. Nobody who disagrees with me knows a thing.
I’m sure the ‘ITK’ Twitter accounts have harvested sufficient likes and followers to feed their fragile egos until the transfer window opens and they proclaim that their socially-distancing barber spotted Cristiano self-isolating in a privately booked Munchies booth while driving a masked Messi to the Malmaison. Maybe they can now afford to pay their Mam some board money for the spare room they inhabit. They are in their 40s, after all. Meanwhile, George Caulkin and Chris Waugh are taking turns walking 500 of NUFC’s most neurotic fans to work every day, while holding their hands and assuring them that nothing has changed since yesterday when the green man really did mean go! Any red men, George?
What started as a fantasy football fiesta among fans, with edited images of Messi in the black and white, has descended into a fractious frenzy of fabricated falsities. That’s easy for you to say. The excitement and anticipation of what the future could hold for our hopeless club has given way to supporters becoming embroiled in the murky depths of politics. In those murky depths, it is difficult to see clearly and this has led to the blind leading the blind. Does anyone know a good optician? Barnard Castle, did ye say?
We have been a club with an ever-fading identity over the last thirteen years but our fans have remained something tangible and familiar to cling onto as we navigated our way through the turbulence of the Ashley years. Although the home support has been moderate and muted in its misery, there has always been that potential for it to explode and influence a game. The away support has consistently been there in its capacity, singing in the rain an hour beyond the full time whistle into an empty, echoing stadium. Without football to attend, what is our identity?
Of course, social media is only a small snapshot of the Newcastle United family but without the matchday gatherings it is all we have these days and #cans was the Newcastle fanbase I knew and loved. It resonated with the identity of gallows humour and playful expression that I have been a part of for almost thirty years. Ironically, the cans that were initially purchased in expectancy of a lockdown party have since been recycled into Slazenger tennis rackets available at 80% off from a warehouse in Shirebrook. In fact, so many cans have been purchased in the NE1 postcode over the last few months that I’m beginning to wonder whether Beer52 has a seat on the Premier League’s ‘fit and proper’ panel.
After months of empty cans, social media now contains thousands of responses to a poll about which state has your support between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, imploring you to ‘choose a side’. Here’s me thinking I supported a side called Newcastle United. You absolutely do not need to support Saudi Arabia just because you support Newcastle United. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. One man’s multiple personalities are now regularly engaging with each other in support of their own CAPS LOCK rants at professional journalists, while tagging the Premier League and hash-tagging Richard Masters just to speed things along. Google and Wikipedia are finding surges of activity in the North East of England as fans take it upon themselves to unearth the truth about whether a woman really was in a relationship with a murdered journalist. Politicians are confronted with apparent links to their involvement with Qatar as though this will discredit their alleged pleas for rejection. Petitions, letters and emails are sent to anyone who has contact details available to the general public as this will surely, surely, end our ordeal. Have a heart! Career journalists have been let down by their sources, the Premier League has maintained a ‘no comment’ stance and our football club continues its non-existent line of communication with its supporters. The evidence is right there in front of us that nobody who is willing or able to talk, knows anything.
I am not on the Qatar payroll. I am not on the Saudi payroll. I am not in the know. I am not negative. I am not positive. I am a Newcastle United fan who is seeing his fellow mags lose their identity. I am also experienced in the fragility of mental health on both a personal and professional level and see signs of its collective deterioration on a daily basis when I click on #NUFC. I do not mean to patronise or condescend those who have become lost in this labyrinth but we all have the choice to take a break from Twitter. It isn’t taking a break from Newcastle United as that is something most of us can’t walk away from. At this point though, what are hoping to achieve? All any of us want is resolution but you are not going to unearth it by digging into the dirt of Middle Eastern politics with the help of a Saudi bot’s shovel. Take a step back, then another. It’s the one thing we can control.