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Offside, 9 February

There is a gulf between Geordie delusions of grandeur and Newcastle's woeful under-achievement.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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Am I alone in finding the current misfortunes of Newcastle United FC thoroughly entertaining?

Some people have said that the British sitcom is dead but they obviously haven’t been following the comic capers at Newcastle United. In this week’s episode Newcastle sacked their manager Graeme Souness who spent £50million on players yet somehow contrived to assemble a team that is not only incapable of defending but can’t score goals either. You don’t need me to tell you that this was not a recipe for success.

Souness’ hapless 18-month sojourn was the latest in a catalogue of farcical Tyneside mishaps that have had neutrals in stitches for the last few years. My top three comedy highlights of the last decade are:

  • The Keegan rant: In 1996, as Newcastle were in the process of blowing a 12-point lead in the Premiership, an emotional Keegan delivered his immortal ‘I’d love it we beat them’ rant at Sir Alex Ferguson. Newcastle collapsed, Geordies wept and Manchester United stole the title;
  • The Slog on the Tyne: In April 2005 Newcastle’s woeful 3-0 capitulation at home to Aston Villa was unexpectedly enlivened by a punch up between Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer. Geordies were horrified, both players were red carded, and the nation wet itself laughing;
  • The Marbella brothel sting: In 1996 Newcastle directors Douglas Hall and Freddie Shepherd told undercover reporter Mahzer ‘The fake sheikh’ Mahmood that Geordie women were ‘dogs’, that Toon fans were stupid for buying overpriced replica shirts, and that Alan Shearer was the ‘Mary Poppins of football’ (meaning that he is boring not that he is a cross-dresser). Geordies were enraged… and Freddie Shepherd became chairman.

But why, you might ask, do I derive so much pleasure from the travails of Newcastle United? What have the good, honest burghers of Geordieland done to deserve this? Well, in short, it’s their propensity for elephantine self-aggrandisement. According to self-mythologising Geordies, Newcastle United are a ‘massive club’ and the Toon Army are the most passionate and loyal supporters in the land. These delusions of grandeur are perfectly illustrated by chairman Freddie Shepherd’s claim that the Newcastle job is ‘one of the biggest in world football’. Shepherd’s sentiments were echoed by former Magpies’ striker Micky Quinn who said that ‘Newcastle is a bigger job than England’.

‘It’s a massive, massive club’, declared Scott Parker when he joined the ranks of big name underachievers at St James’ Park. But in what sense are Newcastle a massive club? A football club’s trophy cabinet is the best measure of its stature yet Newcastle’s is extremely bare. Newcastle are great at collecting trophy players but not so good at winning actual trophies.

The last time the club actually won a domestic trophy was 50 years ago. Even MK Dons of League Two can boast a better recent silverware haul than that, having won the FA Cup in 1988 in their previous incarnation as Wimbledon. Newcastle are champions of underachievement certainly but a prehistoric cup win does not entitle any club to permanent big club status. Manchester City are another self-styled ‘massive club’ despite the fact that they haven’t won a domestic trophy for 30 years. As the Guardian’s Martin Kelner pointed out, the term ‘massive club’ has come to mean ‘any team that once won something but is unlikely to ever again’.

The Geordies would no doubt argue that there are few other clubs which can boast such fanatical support. Yes, the Magpies attract crowds in excess of 50,000 to St James’ Park every week but it wasn’t always thus. In 1991 average gates slumped to 16,000 when Newcastle were in the old Second Division – so much for the best supporters in the land!

If we are looking for superlatives to describe the Toon Army then the most self-deluded and self-pitying would be far more appropriate. Scousers are routinely pilloried for their maudlin tendency to wallow in grief but somehow the loveable Geordies get away scot-free. And yet, as history will judge, Newcastle’s only meaningful contribution to civilisation is to have imported public weeping into our national game. Gazza started it by welling up at Italia 90 and the phenomenon spread to the terraces in 1996 when Newcastle fans were caught on camera brazenly blubbing like girls as the Premiership title slipped away.

If anyone is to blame for the rampant emotionalism and mawkish displays of public grief that episodically grip Britain it’s those massive, massive crybabies, the Geordies.

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spiked-issue: Sport

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