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Newcastle United – a big club?

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St. James' Park's time for European football will come againNewcastle United have been ever-present in the Premiership since the second year of the league’s existence. That is, of course, with the exception of the 09/10 season, which The Magpies spent in the second tier of English football for the first time in seventeen years. And it will be ten years this summer since Newcastle started their most recent Champions League campaign, embarking on a journey which led them to the dizzy heights of the San Siro, Camp Nou and Stadio delle Alpi. But because all recent seasons have been compared to that special campaign, Newcastle have fell far, far short of expectations from Geordies in and around the city, which has led to fans and pundits alike to question United’s stature as the big club they most certainly once were.

Which Newcastle fan will ever forget Craig Bellamy’s last minute winner in Feyenoord? Or Shola Ameobi scoring in the Camp Nou? Or how about Shearer’s brace at the San Siro? Newcastle’s illustrious past culminated in the 02/03 season when, after a magnificent run, they were sent crashing out of Europe. Since then it’s been a downward spiral which, at one point, didn’t seem to have an end. When retail tycoon Mike Ashley bought Newcastle United in the summer of 2007, fans would have been forgiven for feeling optimistic, with Ashley erasing chunks of debt from the club, as well as appointing fan-favorite Kevin Keegan as manager.

The question “are Newcastle a big club?” has been on the tip of everyone’s tongue as of late, with the majority feeling that The Toon have been under-achieving for too long to even be considered amongst the giants of Manchester United and Liverpool. And although this question is mostly down to personal opinion, the facts don’t lie; and they also don’t do Newcastle any favours. The Magpies have gone without a major domestic league trophy for eighty four years. Their most recent major title was the F.A Cup in 1955. Had it not been for their Championship winning season, Newcastle’s “recent achievements” cabinet would have collected more dust than Joey Barton’s lone England cap.

But United’s lack of success can possibly be counter balanced by their support and facilities. 52,000 loyal black and white’s flood to St. James’ Park every other Saturday to see their team; come rain or shine. Be it against Chelsea or Cheltenham, the Geordie nation wear their colours with pride and, as the terrace chant goes, are the loyalist football supporters the world has ever had. To be a big club is to have a big following and Newcastle certainly tick that box. As one of the largest and best looking grounds in Europe, United’s St. James’ Park would be a suitable home for any top professional.

As the new season draws near, Newcastle fans have been able to catch a quick glimpse of their four new French recruits; Demba Ba, Sylvain Marveaux, Yohan Cabaye and Abeid Mehdi. These four new squad members may be the proof that Newcastle still have appeal overseas, which would fuel arguments against United not being a big club. To be able to attract top foreign players away from clubs with suspected interest in them (Liverpool and Manchester City) is a big plus for Newcastle. However, the fact that this appeal only seems to apply overseas may be worrying, as it leaves the question whether or not a player from the Premier League would choose Newcastle over Liverpool very much wide open.

A player that didn’t make that choice was young Geordie centre-forward Andy Carroll. Gateshead born Carroll was a life-long Newcastle fan, but even his black and white blood couldn’t keep him from jumping ship. A hefty £35m was paid in return but this money is of no use if not spent wisely, as Newcastle know only too well (see Owen, Michael). If bringing in foreign players is proof Newcastle are a big club, what is losing home-grown players to rival teams? This further advances arguments that Newcastle aren’t what they once were, as in the not so distant past a talisman named Alan Shearer famously rejected offers from Manchester United and Liverpool to captain his home-town club.

But what is a team without a captain? Newcastle had to deal with this dilemma during the summer transfer period, as Kevin Nolan was sold to recently relegated West Ham United for a reported fee of £4m. Nolan’s reason for wanting to leave United was that he felt he was “not wanted” by the board. If the captain of a club is not wanted or needed, what does that say for the rest of the players? The captain is the inspirational figure in the dressing-room, the manager on the pitch. If he is not needed, who is? It is decisions like this which make Newcastle fans wonder why they fork out their hard earned money each week and hinder their pleas for big club status.

The season just gone really was a strange one for Newcastle, as it did little to clear up the confusion on whether or not they deserve to be named a big club. If ever one campaign epitomized a team’s recent history, it would be the 10/11 season for Newcastle. Never has a team succumb to as much fluctuation in terms of results, transfers and off the field antics. After promotion, Geordies didn’t really know what to expect from their team. Yes they walked through the Championship but they had no idea how the Premiership would treat them. This was very evident on the first day of the season, as a lack-luster Newcastle side surrendered to Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford.

Toon fans feared the worst, but in a sign of things to come the next game would totally contrast the previous in extraordinary fashion. Newcastle ran out 6-0 winners against Aston Villa at St. James’, and the Premier League got its first glimpse of Andy Carroll, scoring a hat trick in Newcastle’s first home game back in the top flight. As games went on, fans started to enjoy life in the North East for the first time in years. Newcastle were scoring freely at home and scraping results elsewhere, however silly mistakes were costing them points. On the 31st October 2010, however, Geordies everywhere rejoiced in jubilation as their team finally found the bottle it had been lacking over the years and put five past rivals Sunderland. By Christmas, Newcastle found themselves in 13th place. But things were starting to take a turn for the worst, as manager Chris Hughton was sacked and Andy Carroll had kicked his last ball for the club.

Alan Pardew was given the task of steadying the ship and keeping Newcastle afloat; a decision that was met with confusion from Geordies everywhere. His Premiership record shows relegations with both West Ham and Charlton, however with the former he reached the F.A Cup final. Pardew kept his cool and saw off the threat of relegation that was lurking in the back of the fan’s minds. He also spirited Newcastle to one of the greatest Premier League comebacks of all time. 4-0 down to Arsenal at half time, Pardew’s side came out fighting in the second period and fought back to earn a 4-4 draw. Their second half display defied superlatives and gave Newcastle the confidence they needed to push on for the remaining games.

Taking all this into account, the jury is still out on Newcastle being a big club. Their support speaks for itself, but it is difficult to fuel an argument without their lack of trophies or stature being mentioned. Newcastle’s finances have drastically improved over the last two years and so they are looking better than ever in terms of planning for the future. Who knows, in the next couple of years Newcastle could once again taste Europe and put themselves back on the map. But for now, United’s feet remain firmly on the ground and that’s where they need to be.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Matt Jennings

    July 14, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    I agree with what you’ve written. I’d like to see Newcastle back where they belong in the next few seasons and as you’ve pointed out, they’re on the right track. Thanks

  2. liam monaghan

    July 14, 2011 at 11:09 PM

    Excellent article dean, had me nodding my head with agreement from the very start, id like to read more of your stuff, keep up the good work
    Thanks

  3. Stephen Bell

    July 16, 2011 at 6:21 PM

    The reason also why Kevin Nolan left was because he wanted an extra 5 Year Contract, taking him to 34 years old, and we are trying to limit the Age/Wage ratio.

  4. mick O' tooooon

    July 20, 2011 at 12:55 AM

    Spot on Dean, but ,as a life long(and i mean long)magpie, I am of the beleif now that if we hadnt experienced the highs of King Kev and Sir Bobby, the rain sodden sommbrero’s in Barca,trying to buy chips in Milan, the rubber Chicken in Mallorca etc etc etc
    we would be the same as all the other “also rans” in the premier league, happy to finish 16th year in year out.The problem is we have tasted it and it was like the rarest of fruits,so delicious we wanted more.Look at us now!!!Then we demolished Man united ,murdered Chelsea and Arsenal wipe’d the floor with Liverpool, now we struggle to get a point at “Fortress st James’s” against Wigan,Blackburn,West Brom etc. We too have become the “also’s” and i strongly believe that we will never taste that fruit again, not in this proud Geordies time left. As one of my fellow euro tripper’s screamed as we exited AZ Alkmaars tight little stadium, OH WHEN THE MAGS GO UP TO LIFT THE FA CUP, I’LL BE DEEED

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