They say it’s the hope that kills you.
Newcastle United is a hopeless zombie club, the walking dead stumbling its way through sequel after sequel of the same shit, and how do you kill a zombie? You chop off its head. It is a twisted irony typifying life in black and white, that the hope which has eventually killed us was given to us by those with a penchant for beheading. How sharp’s the scimitar, did ye say?
After thirteen years as the global advertising board for Sports Direct, thirteen years of our club being stripped of meaning and ambition, we put aside the skepticism that comes from perennial false dawns to embrace the hope of salvation. That salvation came from a group with so many flaws made some uneasy but when you’re buried in the darkness under a pile of Donnay duffle bags, do you really care who digs you out?
For four months, football fans have been forced into a wrestling match with their collective conscience as outsiders from every sector of global society have implored the residents of NE1 to reject a brighter future for the greater good. We live in a region largely ignored by national government, we are the have-nots and the forgotten as the south of the country will always take priority in a conservative government. Any semblance of parity was sustained largely by European Union investment in the region which was voluntarily ended by the very people it benefited most. This opportunity was more than a revival of our beloved football club – this was the opportunity for a resurgence of our city. Never mind, eh? Just as the empty claps for the NHS nourished the impoverished and neglected workforce, the city of Newcastle will rebuild itself with morally and ethically strong pats on the back from those who always knew what was best for little ol’ us.
Both sides of the takeover debate house guilty parties for their temporary but intense involvement in the interests of the North East of England. As anti-Saudi Delaney wanks himself into a frenzy because of the moral victory, spare a thought for pro-Saudi Kate, who’d only just ordered the new £65 20/21 home shirt with ‘Stewart 9’ on the back. Perhaps Sports Direct can sort her out with an exchange for a Manchester United home shirt as her attentions no doubt turn elsewhere and Miguel’s objections disappear. Once a Geordie, always a Geordie, flower. Kate Stewart’s Avi, or KSA, wasn’t the only ‘person’ to appear on the black and white scene this year and like any foreign occupation claiming to have entered a region with good intentions, they will leave us to deal with the aftermath.
As the Saudi flags are deleted from Twitter bios like an embarrassing drunken text from your mobile phone the morning after a few too many, the Newcastle United fanbase faces possibly its darkest hour as it attempts to answer the unanswerable question - what is the point in supporting this football club? The league title that should have been and the two lost FA Cup finals have haunted me to this day as the biggest ‘what if’ moments in my life as a fan but I wonder whether this is an even bigger sliding doors moment in our club’s recent history. This was more than the short-term joy and eternal pride of a trophy – this was a chance of long-term success, although not the success that many outside of black and white wanted the rest of the country to believe we demanded. We were not expecting world domination, we just wanted to believe in our club again and see that there was a point in it. Without ambition, without hope, without improvement, without entertainment, what is the point?
This season has been exactly what life under Mike Ashley has become, with our average Premier League finish of 13th once again ‘achieved’. Expectations are so low that this is seen by some as a good season and the manager talks of reality checks for fans whose reality is generations without success. In another turgid season of stagnation, ending in relegation form, the bigger picture provided an ever-present gloss over every 0-0 cure for insomnia. Football fans, usually short-sighted and addicted to the instant gratification of 3 points, saw beyond the league table to a greater purpose – the release of their captive club. The prospect of real investment in our squad, as well as the long-term investment in our stadium and training facilities would have given an injection of life into what has become an increasingly lifeless environment.
The last four months have been the hardest many of us have ever lived through, as COVID-19 turned our world upside-down. That lockdown began around the same time as the Newcastle United takeover was a catalyst for levels of obsession that only come from those with nothing else to occupy them. If the fan base was still going to work, to the pub, to the gym, to the match and to their family and friends’ houses then it seems unlikely that 24/7 flight radar updates would have become the norm. With no distraction, football or otherwise, the intensity of the situation gave rise to irrational thought and behavior. We are desperate, we are tired and we are powerless and a combination of this led to the mental health of many slowly deteriorating as calls for help were rejected with an NDA stamp to the forehead.
However, there are those who feel that we are not powerless, despite the evidence right in front of them to the contrary. The petitions and the emails received nothing but auto-reply platitudes from a Premier League employee as far beneath Richard Masters as can be. The man himself hid behind confidentiality and a condescendingly smug grin, while Ashley and Newcastle United maintained their consistent approach to communication with their paying customers. Although local MPs and the NUST wrote letters, they received the same response as the average fan email. It’s difficult to accept that you have no power or influence over something you care so deeply about but that was always the case and has now been demonstrated in the form of a big ‘fuck you’ to the city of Newcastle.
The Premier League test allegedly designed to protect clubs has been exposed as a test to protect the status quo. This is not protection of Newcastle United. Leaving us in limbo for four months, extending into the first week of the transfer window and resulting in a disengaged owner potentially reaching new levels of disinterest and neglect is not protecting our football club. The Premier League can make all of the empty statements it likes about fan engagement and inclusive behaviour but it has left an entire fan base in the dark for months and owes us an explanation. Silence is no longer an option and Masters can no longer claim confidentiality and walk away. We deserve to know why we spent four months of our lives in false hope and why our club remains in the hands of a man who has brought it to its knees.
The Premier league stalled, delayed and offered no timeline for those involved to work to. Whether the reason was piracy, human rights, difficulties establishing board roles or any other suggested stumbling block will not ultimately change the outcome of our ownership nor buy much needed players for next season’s fight against relegation. It will, however, be a step towards closure on this drawn out and draining saga. We need to know what the last four months have been about. We need to know what was happening while we were all speculating and stockpiling cans that have now been opened to drown sorrows rather than celebrate possibilities.
That the announcement yesterday came without any whispers or murmurs that morning should be the final nail in the coffin of the ‘ITK’ plague that has infested NUFC Twitter over these last few months. ‘My understanding is’ is the new ‘I’m not racist but’ - a smokescreen of an introduction before the user contradicts it with the nonsense that spews from them. Nobody knew a thing outside of those directly involved with the process and now, in the immediate aftermath, we are starting to hear from some of the parties. Mike Ashley has reinserted his chubby fingers up the hole in Lee Charnley and made his mouth move to the sound of, ‘Never say never.’ Thanks for the inspirational words, I’m sure they’ll be a vinyl sticker on the living room of Geordies everywhere within days.
Meanwhile Amanda Staveley suggests that, ‘It’s up to the fans to go to the Premier League and say this isn’t fair.’ The thing is, Mandy, they don’t care, they don’t play fair and they don’t listen to us. Fans are once again signing petitions and aiming to trend hashtags in one final, desperate push. Go for it, it’s your choice but it’s not for me. Our life support machine was switched off yesterday and I’ve accepted the imminent (sorry!) death of my club. Don’t interrupt the grieving process by telling me there might still be a chance. Pull the plug, I’m done.
It’s the hope that’s killed me.