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.