Guest Post from Newcastle Fan @mrseanfraser
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With just one week to go before the Premier League season kicks, fans and followers across the world are loaded with excitement. It’s that time of year where we are all filled with hope based on the dealings of our clubs in the transfer market.
Speaking specifically as a Newcastle United fan this season is one that sticks out from recent years. Anyone who knows the culture of Newcastle and its supporters knows that we are all big advocates for attacking and swashbuckling play. We love our number 9’s and we love our tricky wide players. Coming off a World Cup which smashed the goals per game record nothing has changed in the appetite of Newcastle fans, we are ready, we are hungry and we are re invigorated by the dealings of our club in the latest transfer window.
I remember about 20 years ago (the real falling in love with the club for me). A period of summer’s where Newcastle splashed out on players like Ginola, Ferdinand, Beardsley, Albert, Asprilla and our god Alan Shearer. The gun-ho times had arrived! Newcastle spending money on players, who changed our thinking as a region forever, changed our appetite for football and redefined what we are as a football club.
Newcastle became everyone’s second favorite team as they raced to a 12 point lead in the Premier league over Manchester United only to lose its grip on the title with only games remaining. Seasons came, seasons went and nothing changed, Newcastle continued to spend yet starve their supporters of real success until local lad Bobby Robson took over the club bringing back the good old days, champions league football and more players who excited us. Robert, Bellamy, Dyer, Jenas the list goes on. We had pace, power, youth and just overall class players playing for a manager who would hear his name being screamed religiously by the St James park crowd on a weekly basis.
Times have changed as did Newcastle out with the obnoxious spending and risk taking and in came a guy called Mike Ashley, buying the club from Freddie Shepard, Ashley changed the culture at Newcastle almost instantly, and to most fans, in the worst way possible.
Out went some of the big names as Newcastle began to cut the wage bill, Keegan returned but was accompanied by Dennis Wise, an experiment that ultimately played a large part in Newcastle being relegated from the premier league for the first time in Premier League History (and the first time in my life).
After being promoted (with record numbers) back to the premier league Newcastle set upon staying there, half way through that season in came a manager named Alan Pardew. After a 3-1 demolition of Liverpool at St James Park I remember an interview where Pardew promised to bring back the glory days of Newcastle United. After that performance we must all have been believers despite the cautious and methodical development by club owner Mike Ashley.
Three and a half years on we are still in the Premier League, but what sticks in my mind the most is what turmoil the club has endured. After finishing mid table during the first year back, Newcastle raced out to a 5th placed finish the following year narrowly missing out on the champion’s league. In 2012/13 fans had high hopes of a run at the champions league places, although Newcastle struggled fighting a relegation battle all year narrowly staying up. 2013/14 came and Newcastle raced out to a 6th place position at Christmas having just demolished Stoke City 5-1 at home.
The season filtered out and “The Toon” finished 10th having never been a part of the relegation picture all season. Fans were left frustrated at a team which for the first time had lost 6 premier league games in a row, sold it’s best player and indeed failed to sign a single player on a permanent basis for the full calendar year. Fans were clear in venting their frustration for the last 3rd of the season, directing most of the negativity toward manager Pardew and owner Ashley.
Pre-season 2014 arrived quickly after the World Cup and Newcastle have acted dramatically signing 7 players so far with the promise of more. Fans and players alike must surely now be buzzing with excitement as our new look team can resemble something of many years past.
So, what’s my point? As I write this blog I have read and researched many an opinion of fellow Geordies. I’d like to “chime in” with my “ten pence worth” so here goes; Football has evolved, as has our club and in my opinion for the better. Mike Ashley has restored financial stability amongst our club which evidently was missing in the Shepard era. Of course the spending of millions was fun while it lasted but what did it bring? Owen, Luque, Boumsong, Emre, Parker, Andreas Anderson, Marcelino, Bassedas, Goma the list can go on forever but will not include a single trophy. After clearing the clubs debt, one of the first things Ashley did was slash the wage bill, getting rid of some big big earners who were drastic under performers. One of the things that strikes me was his boldness in accepting that we as a club might have needed to take a step back to take two steps forward. Looking back on our relegation I do believe that is what we have done.
Newcastle now has a policy of signing players, developing and moving them on for profit. Namely Ba, Cabaye, Debuchy and Carroll have all brought higher fee’s than they were acquired for. Newcastle have been able to invest in the youth academy and we are now starting to bear the fruits of that. Paul Dummett and Adam Armstrong have been first team players while Rolando Aarons looks a carbon copy of Raheem Sterling. Newcastle have also brought in 7 players so far this transfer market all who have excited the fans. Cabella looks a very clever player while De Jong looks to be the cunning, creative passer we have craved since the departure of Cabaye, Rivière has added power and athleticism while Colback, Jaanmat and Ayoze have also struck life into a squad that seemed destined for mid table obscurity.
So where are we? Are we a challenger for Europe? Who knows, but the facts are evident. We have a stable back room team who supports each other. Our football club is now being ran like a business rather than a big expensive toy. The owner won’t take risks while the manager works within his boundaries (other than nutting opponents). We evidently have one of the top scouting teams in the world for what we need, which is cut price players who we can develop and then move on while giving the fans what they want which is a team to be proud of.
Only time will tell if this policy will bear fruit, I think all Newcastle fans across the board have been frustrated and that must surely be a byproduct of the good times given to us by the legends Keegan and Robson. We must accept that football has changed, as has our club and despite the pragmatism our ambitions are real and attainable. If we finish in the top 6 this season that must be seen as notable improvement from last year, which was a notable improvement from the following year.
We look out at our squad with excitement, we have an abundance of quality and indeed with Cabella, De Jong, Rivière and dare I say it Ben Arfa a squad which now profiles exactly what Newcastle United stands for which is attacking football to the maximum, as fans we have to be licking our lips and getting ready to cheer our team through what surely will be a season filled with progression. Atlético Madrid proved last season that mega bucks are not needed to succeed as they reached the Champions League final (almost winning it) and lifting the Spanish league title ahead of big spending rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Football will change with the FIFA fair play rule also as whatever comes in next to level the playing field, one thing for certain is that clubs like Newcastle and Atlético Madrid will be very well prepared for one changes but more importantly as we see more clubs dive into financial ruin, our club will be here for a long time to come.
In Pards we trust.
Sean is the Head Coach at Midland University in Nebraska USA and moved over from Durham 10 years ago. His team won their conference and was ranked as high as 10th in the nation last season.
He likes to spend his spare time trying to eradicate the word “Soccer” from common use across the pond.
Follow him on Twitter at @MrSeanFraser