Archive | August, 2010

The Guardian vs. Newcastle United

28 Aug

As underlined by this latest frisson over Andy “working man” Carroll, the feud between Louise Taylor and NUFC shows no signs of abating. I’m not sure how it started – perhaps those in the know can fill me in – but the animosity between the Toon fanbase and the Guardian’s wayward north east football correspondent raises some interesting questions. Is it another instance of the London media just not getting it (see Raoul Moat article below)? Or is Taylor providing a useful objective critique of a criminally run club and a group of supporters unwilling to look injustice in the face if it might harm the team?

In support of the latter argument, it should be noted that Ms Taylor was one of the few people prepared to highlight the outrageousness of Steven (no relation) Taylor’s treatment towards the end of last season. As the promotion battle entered its final, critical phase, Taylor was hospitalized following a training ground bust-up with Carroll. Chris Hughton took no action. Meanwhile Taylor was left feeding through a straw in a Newcastle hospital, and Carroll was photographed at a 50 Cent gig proudly displaying his bandaged hands. This was not only a shocking demonstration of Carroll’s questionable taste in hip-hop; it also represents one of the very few really dodgy episodes in Hughton’s otherwise exemplary tenure as manager. Would, say, Ferguson or Wenger have tolerated such scandalous intramural delinquency?

However, while the incident and its handling undoubtedly needed drawing attention to, the stridency and righteousness of L. Taylor’s response was way OTT:

Carroll’s continued involvement appears a thoroughly depressing victory for pragmatism over principles and Hughton has surely been diminished by the entire sorry affair.

Newcastle’s manager won a UN commendation for anti-apartheid campaigning but as Carroll waved insouciantly to fans at Doncaster it seemed Hughton had suddenly lost sight of the bigger picture.

After doing brilliantly to keep Newcastle top of the table this season, he now looks weak and it is not impossible that this affair could yet spark a chain of events that may lead to him being replaced by a manager such as Mark Hughes or Steve McClaren next season.

If you were being generous, you might call this an overreaction, or a muddled confusion of disparate issues: the Steve Taylor incident, Hughton’s position as manager, his anti-apartheid past (which is surely utterly irrelevant here). Many Newcastle fans, however, responded with something less than sympathy. “Football’s most risible muckraker” was the cry of nufcblog.org, while “that bloody woman” became her epithet over at nufc.com, a title she holds to this day.

Is there an element of male chauvinism in these attacks? Perhaps. Taylor is a brilliant, outspoken and articulate female football writer in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field. Besides, the north east, and England in general, desperately needs people who are able to cut through the self-regarding bullshit and small-c conservatism of football fandom when the occasion demands, as with the Steve Taylor-Andy Carroll incident. L.Taylor’s “principles over pragmatism” stance has a lot to be said for it, especially in a culture that has for far too long now been characterized by apathy and blithe acceptance of corporate “realism”.

Nevertheless, it’s ultimately difficult to defend Taylor’s often fanciful, wildly unfounded and inappropriately politicized comments, like the condescending description of Gateshead’s “working man’s” culture (what do those speech marks mean?!), and her absolutely bizarre character assassination of Chris Hughton:

Giving power to Kevin Nolan, Alan Smith, Steve Harper and Nicky Butt, a man who as a Tottenham full-back had mixed in Trotskyite circles watched that ‘Politburo’ ensure his coaching drills and game plans were strictly adhered to.

Meanwhile the still left-leaning Hughton and the right-wing, brashly capitalist, Ashley formed an unexpectedly close union, their bond arguably deepened by mutual mistrust of the media.

At moments like this, Taylor embodies the substantial disconnect between Guardianista sanctimony and the brash – but essentially and invariably benign – mainstream of demotic north east football culture. In May, another Guardian journalist, Chris Arnot, published an article that included comments made by Chelsea’s “head of corporate social responsibility” Simon Taylor (no relation to either Steve or Louise) suggesting that there had been racist protests outside St James’s Park when Andy Cole made his debut there in 1993. The fact that these claims were so spectacularly and demonstrably spurious (combined with the minor detail that Cole had actually made his debut away at Swindon in the previous game) prompted a hasty retraction, but for many Toon fans the damage had already been done.

In similar fashion, on Monday the Guardian website ran with the headline “Joey Barton denies Nazi salute in Newcastle’s win over Aston Villa”. The victory was an emphatic one for NUFC, a strong intimation that maybe, just maybe, we might be able to stay up this year and reverse the long-running decline inflicted on the club by 15-odd years of corrupt and senseless administration. Yet Louise Taylor chose to draw attention to the meaningless gaffe of a player who surely now deserves one more shot at redemption. But by now this sort of condescension and misrepresentation has become wearily predictable. If Taylor and the Guardian continue to treat north east football players, managers, and fans as naïve, inarticulate punchbags on which to conduct personal vendettas cloaked as bien pensant, pseudo-ideological crusades, the discord is likely to continue for some time.

Louise Taylor on Gateshead, alcoholism and ‘working men’

25 Aug

“More destructively this heritage dictates he has grown up in Gateshead surrounded by a frequently heavy drinking, “working man’s” culture which, sometimes, sees arguments resolved by fists rather than reason.”

A Summer Spent with James Cordon

23 Aug

There’s is really nothing left to add to this – kudos to Taylor Parkes over at WSC.

When a ‘tache was a ‘tache

21 Aug

As ridicule continues to circle Joey Barton for the furry addition to his top lip, the man himself claiming he grew it “as a dare” (that old excuse), here is a quick reminder of a former Toon player who wore the ‘tache with pride; Brian ‘Killer’ Kilcline.

In fact, Killer was so proud of his moustache that when it fell foul to a drunken prank, he seems, as the below anecdote recounted by another former Toon player John Beresford shows, to have lost, if not his power, then certainly his sanity!

“We were in Cyprus celebrating promotion and most of us had been on the drink for something like 24 hours after the Leicester 7-1 game. We’d been on the beach all day and Killer came back glowing, having fair skin and ginger hair. A lot of us grabbed a few hours kip before going back out again that night but a few of the lads had a couple more drinks in the hotel bar. Derek Fazackerley, John Murray and Barry Venison are the ones I can remember but there were one or two others as well. Not me…. Killer was wrecked and was about to pass out on the bar. Venners said for a joke that they should cut a bit of his hair off and see if he wakes up. 

“Well, Killer duly passed out and a pair of scissors appeared. A little bit was snipped and Killer didn’t move. A little bit more followed, still nothing. And then half of his pony tale had gone – the other half still long. This looked a bit strange so all of it disappeared. Still Killer slept. Then they started on his moustache and that went. They left him slumped on the bar with bits of hair in his drink and scattered all around so that he would know what had happened when he woke.

“Eventually he did wake and he was absolutely fuming. Apparently it was like a volcano erupting. He started smashing the place up and the barman legged it, petrified. David Kelly knocked my door asking if I’d go and have a word and try and calm him down, as I’d got on well with Killer that year. ‘You must be bloody joking!’ I said, ‘I’m going nowhere near him until he’s sobered up a bit more!  Eventually Derek Fazackerley went out to see him and had barely got a word or two out before Killer smacked him one. To be fair, Faz took it and thought he’d deserved it but the whole incident ruined the rest of the holiday. Killer never forgave those involved, although he thought the whole team was in on it, which they weren’t. 

“He ended up shaving off his moustache and having all his hair levelled – leaving him with this massive ginger bob. It actually made him look a lot younger but it became like the Basil Fawlty sketch – “don’t mention the hair, I mentioned it once and I think I got away with it….”. However, on the plane back we linked up with some of the other lads who had gone to a different resort and they couldn’t help but notice. Not only did it spoil the holiday but things were never the same with Killer and he left in the January, which was a shame.”

p.s. A number of similarly amusing anecdotes from Bez’s time at the Toon can be found here: http://www.nufc.com/html/bezdiary-intro.html. Well worth a look!

p.p.s. My own Brian Kilcline story is that my dad once remove his in-grown toenail. And I was there when he did it. 

Romanticism Vs. Realism Part 2

17 Aug

Football has a funny way of throwing up serendipitous repeat encounters – those strange second chances that work the like of John Motson into a lather. However, given NUFC’s volatility of late, the chance to re-enact our last ‘first-game-of-the-(Premier-League)-season’ became a surreal ‘changing same’. The same clubs, the same nagging pessimism, the same enthusiasm. Different players, different expectations, different result.

Just two years ago, NUFC played Man. U. At the top of the season and sneaked a 1-1 draw. Keegan was at the helm and – foolishly, with all the self-delusion of love – I was suckered, once again, into daring to dream that the Toon may – just may – be on the cusp of a new dawn; that the perennial ‘sleeping giant’ was going to, if not wake up and actually win something, then at least we might just stop rolling over in our sleep quite so often. How wrong that little daydream was proved to be is demonstrated in the fact that our next season opener was in the second tier of English football.

Fate gave us a cruel mirror of a game – West Brom. – a team favoured for promotion. This game was foreshadowed by easily the most acrimonious and down right pessimistic atmosphere I have witnessed in my time as a Toon fan. Talk was of ‘another Leeds’ and again that masochistic devil within said “good! It’s the only way to sort out a club that is still rotten to its core, despite the arrival – because of the arrival – of the false prophet Ashley!” I even cast a furtive glance at the League One (League fucking One) table to assess who I genuinely though may be our prospective opponents this season. I shudder to think of that nadir now.

Flash forward to last night and once more NUFC play (arguably) the title favourites first off. Yet this time, for the first time, I greeted this game with neither unbridled pessimism nor unrealistic optimism, but with something approaching pragmatic realism.

Of course I had those fleeting moments where I dared to dream that we might just sneak a win. I even had a tentative pastiche of Bjørge Lillelien’s famous commentary[1] ready in my head (Sir Matt Busby, Sir Alex Ferguson, George Best, Peter Hook, James Nesbit, Rod Hull – can you hear me Rod Hull? Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!) I also had those fleeting moments of dread. “we may well get destroyed. It could be eight or nine”. But, for the most part, I was fairly rational and objective (the actual duration of the game notwithstanding). I knew we’d get beat, and anything less than 4-0 would be OK.

2-0, in the real world, I could have stomached, so Gigg’s late goal (as good, speaking objectively, as it was) stuck in my throat. But other than that common sense prevailed. Cold, miserable, inevitable, depressing, common fucking sense.

But it’s OK. The season really begins against Villa next week, where a draw (some more confidence in passing and some more pointed attacks) will be expected. That was the one worry from last night – “where”, to paraphrase Alan Hansen’s well-worn maxim, “are the goals going to come from?” Carroll had a header that he should have buried, and there were a couple of long shots that Van Der Sar could have thrown his cap on, but little else.

But it’s OK. We’re not going to set the division on fire this season. But neither are we going to sink like a stone. From this admittedly early vantage point, Wigan and West Brom. look nailed on to go down (though quite how we are going to fair at Chelsea doesn’t bear thinking about just yet). That means we only need to be less worse than one other team. Blackpool? West Ham? Someone. Anyone. If we can manage that, then we’ve achieved all we can realistically expect to achieve. And what I admire about Chris Hughton’s approach is that he knows that. There seems (I hope) to be a long overdue feeling of realism at a club that have suffered from a bipolar flitting from ‘new dawns’ to ‘end-of-the-roads’ more than most.

This result is not the end of NUFC, nor is it a ‘new beginning’. It’s just another season.


[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqZTP8-8wIs&feature=related This is brilliant not only because of its unconstrained display of that most precious of footballing commodities – passion – but because of the list of English representative name-checked.

Raoul Moat vs. Newcastle, United

13 Aug
“And even those who still have the power to cry out, the cry hardly ever expresses itself, either inwardly or outwardly, in coherent language. Usually the words through which it seeks expression are quite irrelevant. That is all the more inevitable because those who most often have occasion to feel that evil is being done to them are those who are least trained in the art of speech. Nothing, for example, is more frightful than to see some poor wretch in the police court stammering before a magistrate who keeps up an elegant flow of witticisms”. Simone Weil, “Human Personality”.

Recently, The Sun published one of its classically vituperative articles, featuring allegations of pro-Raoul Moat chanting by Newcastle United supporters at the pre-season friendly against Carlisle:

Sections of the 2,000-strong away support sang “there’s only one Raoul Moat” during United’s 3-0 win at Carlisle.

They also copied an old terrace song about 1960s triple cop killer Harry Roberts when they sang: “Raoul Moat, he’s our friend, he shoots coppers.”

The Toon Army also tried to mock home fans with the chant “Who the **** is Derrick Bird?” – a reference to the Cumbrian gunman who murdered 12 people in a shooting spree last month.

There is subtle gallows humour in this passage, and some comic misreading on the part of a sanctimonious tabloid media of what is basically tongue-in-cheek, carnivalesque Geordie braggadocio (albeit of a wildly inappropriate kind). Nevertheless, it’s true that responses to the Moat Saga over the last few weeks have ranged from slightly misguided to downright alarming. Witness the misogynistic, vigilante-ish comments on pro-Moat Facebook groups, where epithets for Moat have included “total warrior and legend”,  “martyr”, and – my personal favourite, for sheer gall – “the British Mandela”.

Writers like Charlie Brooker, John Tatlock, Martin Robbins, and Mark Fisher have written brilliantly about the implications and resonances of all this. I mostly don’t have anything to add to these analyses. (Fisher’s phrase “Britain’s anti-Diana moment” is trenchant to the point of genius.)

However, I have to say that I think Tatlock’s Quietus piece, with its accompanying Spotify playlist on “how folk heroism warps reality”, is massively misjudged. Casual anti-establishment populism can warp, no doubt about that, especially with the help of media exaggeration. Raoul Moat was a deranged, pathological killer – of course he was – and any outright valorisation of the man and his actions is ridiculous. But there was undoubtedly something more to the story than media hype, more to the popular reaction than neo-right mob hysteria. Most importantly, and presciently, I think, was the clear intimation that what you might term folk-opposition remains a powerful extant force in British culture, even after 30-odd years of neoliberal hegemony.

END OF STORY? THE CENTRE AND ITS OPPOSITE

The word folk (and especially its German correlative volk) has extremely dangerous connotations, of course, and from a certain angle, the Raoul Moat narrative does seem like a frightening tale of Robin Hood-style mythologizing eliding with a resurgent thug-libertarianism. Nevertheless, this interpretation necessitates overlooking a number of important contexts. Most notably, there is the whole tangle of social, cultural, political and historical factors that constitutes the identity of the north east of England. What John Tatlock’s piece doesn’t allow for is the fact that: 1) The vast majority of the “support” shown for Moat was from this region, and 2) That such sentiments were, at bottom, an expression of a profound antipathy to the media, to London, and the police force, which may have been utterly misplaced as regards Moat, but must not thereby be dismissed as mere chauvinistic “Geordie nationalism” allied to a sort of anarcho-gangsterism.

The sources of such attitudes are too numerous to list here (though the 1980s would be a good place to start). Suffice to say, Tatlock’s blasé-rationalist dismissal of “folk heroism” does not entertain the fact that there might be entirely sound reasons for the anti-establishment, anti-media, anti-London attitudes which somehow – stupidly and unfortunately – found an avatar in the figure of Moat. Instead, Tatlock explicitly sides with David Cameron, whose “full stop, end of story” rejection of “public sympathy for the callous murderer” Tatlock finds “pithily accurate”. Anyone from the north east, mindful of David Cameron’s recent attack on the region – one of the places where the state has “got too big [sic]” and where “we need a bigger private sector” (surely the prelude to an imminent full-blown Thatcher-style jobs cull in the area) – would think twice before accepting Tatlock’s equable appraisal of Cameron’s good common sense in “taking down” Moat. (Charlie Brooker has interesting things to say about Cameronian sympathy, in a follow-up piece in The Guardian).

In light of such lofty, centrist disdain for populist feeling (however reasonable in the case of Moat taken in total isolation), and in addition to the frankly neo-colonialist, Boys Own-style behaviour of the London media in Rothbury (as reported by Brooker and Robbins), the actions of a minority of Newcastle supporters in eulogizing Moat begins to look, at the very least, a good deal more complicated and ambiguous than the narrow, Old Tory, “full stop, end of story” reductionism of Cameron and Tatlock implies.

As everyone knows, Newcastle United fans are used to being deprived of a voice, and to being treated as “mugs”; “dogs” if they happen to be female. (These two terms were first deployed by former NUFC director Douglas Hall in a Spanish brothel in 1998.) For decades now, Toon fans have been denied representation and dismissed as primitive imbeciles. In such circumstances, people will inevitably latch onto, and identify heavily with, desperate causes, outsiders, even homicidal loners. Hence the whole history of football violence eliding with far-right politics. Hence, “there’s only one Raoul Moat”. Hence, the tragic appropriateness of Gazza – a desperate victim of media celebrity if ever there was one – appearing in Rothbury with a can of beer, determined to go for a fish and “have a chat” with “Moaty”.

It is depressing that Gazza, along with a significant minority of north easterners, was able to overlook the very real crimes committed by Moat, sad and absurd that an apolitical, sociopathic individual should be posited as a kind of bizarre, postmodern Bobby Sands. But conversely, and more importantly, the whole narrative underlines the sheer depth of oppositional feeling in places like the north east to a London-centric nexus that is now, once again, unequivocally Conservative, hard-line, unsympathetic, given to scapegoating individuals, and wholly unapologetic about launching explicit attacks on entire localities like Northumbria and Northern Ireland.

RUMOURS OF COLLECTIVITY

While the pro-Moat chants at the Newcastle vs. Carlisle match represent the benighted, if lightly-meant, actions of an extremist few, there have also recently been signs of a more constructive, less macho and hot-headed, form of folk-opposition beginning to take root in the north east, with football at its centre. As Mark Fisher has written:

Football has been at the forefront of the total re-engineering of English culture, society and economy wrought by neoliberalism over the last thirty years.

This is self-evidently true, and Toon supporters know better than most what it is like to be on the forgotten fringes of an aggressive, market-driven regime. Neoliberal English football culture has not been kind to the north east. (This fact is reflected in the current England team, which consists almost entirely of players from West London’s Chelsea and clubs within commuting distance of Cheshire like Man United and Liverpool. Contrast this with the Italia ’90 north-east main artery of Bobby Robson – Bryan Robson – Waddle – Beardsley – Gazza. Added to this, the region’s main teams – Newcastle, Sunderland, and Middlesbrough – are all now firmly entrenched on the inferior “second tier” of club football.)

However, after years of muddled acquiescence to all manner of “inevitable” corporate encroachments (inevitable because “investment” is ultimately “for the good of the team”), the actions of the NUFC power-elite reached such an extreme of absurdity and anarchic ridiculousness in the past few years, that the support base has arguably taken the first steps towards radicalization, or at least to something resembling old-fashioned-style collective representation. The Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) is hardly the Fifth International, but the establishment of this independent body (and one that has a genuinely popular base) represents a significant milestone. The efficacy of organizations like this has not yet been proven, but their very existence is a testament to a more hopeful, less-fatalistic climate, and to ways in which the folk-sentiment that found an unfortunate outlet in the Moat debacle can be put to more positive use.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that football is the battleground on which many of the most vital political and cultural debates of the next few years will take place. Indeed, the growing popular discontent with the Premier League and the F.A. might represent first signs of a thaw in the neoliberal winter, the first chinks in the armour of an adversary hitherto regarded as unbeatable. With this in mind, it is encouraging that certain sectors of the Labour Party have sought to establish links with organizations like the NUST, in this crucial (to put it mildly) period of ideological renewal. Chi Onwurah, who represents Newcastle Central, is one of a handful of newly elected Labour MPs notable for being archetypically Labour in a way that has become increasingly rare over the past couple of decades. As an individual Onwurah offers a reminder that, for all the invidiousness of Blair and New Labour, there are still sizeable and numerous individuals and enclaves wholly resistant to being incorporated into the new centrist/centre-right political orthodoxy. Onwurah both symbolically and actually represents a constituency that is something close to the antithesis of David Cameron in almost every sense, so it came as no surprise when she recently announced her membership of, and support for, the NUST. Hers is a constituency that encompasses the extreme fringes of pro-Moat sentiment, but it is also the constituency of Newcastle United supporters who have finally exchanged apathy for a semblance of organized resistance.

Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central

In these sorts of oppositional matrixes, and these sorts of allegiances, there is an ocean of potential for the British left. Tragically, it seems that the only Labour leadership candidate who understands this is the otherwise arch-Blairite Andy Burnham, who was a member of the Football Taskforce in the late-nineties, and who makes great show of his role in opening the dossier on the Hillsborough disaster last year. For all his New Labour odiousness in other areas, Burnham at least has the prescience to recognize that a renewed British left must re-engage with its grassroots on the sort of “folk” territories of which football is by far the most prominent and pithy example. The Moat narrative underlines just how vital it is that the sort of folk heroism so disdained by Tatlock and Cameron, should not become the province of the far-right, that it should be re-channeled and re-directed to become a major bastion of its historical home, the Labour Party. Unfortunately, this a truth that will probably always evade the technocratic, mandarin, classically neoliberal sensibilities of the Miliband brothers (both of them), who appear most likely to shape Labour policy for the next few years. Meanwhile there are millions of Britons – and not just in the north east, of course – who hate the establishment, hate David Cameron, hate the media, who hate what was happened to football, and who hate neoliberalism, even if they couldn’t put a name to it. All they are lacking is someone better than Raoul Moat to speak for them.

screenshot from the NUST website

Where do they find these people?

13 Aug

Fulsome shite from the Guardian. Reads like a David Cameron speech.

Elsewhere in today’s issue, Alexis Petridis on why the new Hoosiers album is “surprisingly not that bad”.

You. Could. Not. Make. This. Shit. Up.