Archive | January, 2011

Andy Carroll: Another Messianic Ascension?

31 Jan

"Yeah, man. 'Course you'll look class with cornrows"


Back down in the gutter again. After the serene reaffirmation of loyalty from the last article, the club go and do something like sell Carroll and I’m right back to resenting them with impotent frustration.

A more generic account of the sheer insanity of the January transfer window needs to be done (£50 million for Torres, £35 million for Carroll, £30 million for Giuseppi Rossi): all this money spent in one day, supposedly in the midst of cutbacks and the (enforced) tightening of purse strings for us plebs, does not serve to enhance to reputation of the Premier League as a representational, tangible, meaningful, entity. Grant: I’m back on your side!

But my mind, predictably, is focused on one of these 11th hour deals in particular; ‘Wor Andy’: The Great Gateshead Hope. I’m going to endeavour to keep this as pragmatic and down to earth as possible. Here are a few of the pragmatic reasons why this deal may not be so bad after all.

Firstly, £35 million is an incredible amount of money…. well, actually, in the world of the Premier League, it actually doesn’t seem to be. But for a forward with less than half a season of top flight experience, for a young man with a serious history of off-field violence (not wishing to go down the Louise Taylor route of uninformed sensationalism, but let’s not apologise for the lad; for all his goal scoring prowess, he’s a bit of a thug) it seems like a fairly big gamble of Liverpool’s part.

Secondly, and having said the above, I do think Carroll is destined to be (i.e. is far from being now) a very good striker. I think he has much more footballing talent than he is given credit for (the recent chants that greeted Crouch at the game against Spurs of “you’re just a shit Andy Carroll” were made all the funnier by the fact that its true; while the two players share a similar game type, Carroll’s touch, technique and awareness are vastly superior to that of Mr. Roboto) and I think he is destined to become a regular in the England national team (whatever value that particular accolade has left). That he is destined for a ‘bigger club’ is not surprising (though I think Liverpool are some years off winning a trophy again). That NUFC are selling him should not be too much of a surprise either. We have previous history off selling off the family silver and cashing in our chips early (an apt metaphor, given that a sizable portion of the transfer money may find its way onto the poker table at one of our owner’s soirées). Beardsley, Waddle, Gazza: all were, being totally objective, ‘too good’ for NUFC, all were sold on. So that we managed to hold out for an extra £15 million over Spurs’ initial bid[1] seems pretty good.

Thirdly, perhaps we have nipped in the bud another burgeoning ‘Messiah’; or more precisely have stopped the accusation of parochialism and ‘messiah complex’ those in the football media like to level at NUFC fans. The comparisons to Shearer can stop. He’s not the messiah, he’s a Liverpool player. Al, in an article below, did a great job of talking about this very subject, so I will point the reader in that direction[2]. I will just add this little vignette.

On the way to the game against Spurs the other day, me and my brother walked past a gentleman that could, even conservatively, only be described as ‘extremely obese’ hawking spurious looking and shoddily made wares. Among his assorted goods – and modelled on his own rotund personage – was a t-shirt with Andy Carroll celebrating, fist clenched. Underneath read the words “If he doesn’t score, he’ll break your jaw”. A lovely present for all the family, available – or so it would seem from the proprietor’s own shirt – in sizes up to XXXL (though a sizable portion of his gut was left naked in the space between t-shirt end and stained tracksuit bottoms). Now if the only good that comes from this whole sorry farce is that that man is left with a box of t-shirts that he won’t even be able to give away, then there will at least be a silver lining!

But here are the bad, infuriating, depressing, aggravating, points. Actually; they are not any of these adjectives. All I have left for the present custodians of this club is disappointment, coloured by crushing inevitability.

Firstly, if it’s about money (and it’s always about money) why make such a show of insisting that he was not for sale? And why not wait until the summer? Give him a full season, ensure that we survive – who knows, maybe even get a top-half finish – let Carroll finish with a 20-plus goal tally, get a couple more impressive international caps to his name; all that would boost the price, then we could cash in. It’s not like he’s coming to the end of a contract, or that he has insisted on leaving.

Secondly, and I know this is going to sound like hero-worshiping and irrational jumping of the gun, but relegation is back on the cards again now, mainly because we are left pondering Hansen’s old maxim ‘who’s going to score the goals?’ Are we really going to invest all our hopes in Shola, Leon Best, Ranger and Lovenkrands? A risk to say the least. But also, importantly, what will this do to the club morale; perhaps our strongest asset this season. As saliently pointed out, what will the likes of Enrique and Barton, both of whom are re-negotiating long-term contracts, think of the clubs ambition? What is to stop them stalling on talks, before having their heads turned in the summer?

Thirdly, this transfer provides yet more proof, as if it were needed, for the fact that Mike Ashley is running this club as a plutocracy that can have only one prominent figure: himself. I think he learned the lesson of the dangers of having populist figures at St. James’ with the whole Keegan debacle. It was only when Hughton began to get constant requests from the ‘Toon Ultras’ for waves (something he always seems strangely reticent to do), and when the national media began to garner praise that his job was threatened. Now Ashley has ousted another fan favourite. It seems the F.C.B. can put up with being despised, as long as there is no-one to take his limelight. As my dad just put it; “for a supposed recluse, he seems to love attention”!

But here is the worst thing – it’s been the leitmotif of Ashley’s whole tenure it seems – it’s the almost wilful stream of misinformation and duplicitous doublespeak leading up to a major event, then almost total silence from the club immediately following it. If someone – anyone – from the club gave a press statement saying ‘look, this is the reasoning behind the deal’ tomorrow, then at least there would be a reason, there would be some concession to at least informing the fans. Any of the following would do: ‘this money will be invested in youth development, this money can be used to ensure the contracts of other big players, this money will be used to bring in two or three young players in the summer, the amount offered was simply too much to turn down’. But I know we will hear nothing. Pardew, having said that Carroll was going nowhere from the moment he took over, will (be told to) keep schtum. The result will be more frustration and bafflement on the terraces; this will manifest in (yet more) ill-feeling towards Ashley, and could turn destructive if results start going against us.

So, who knows what ‘I remembers’ this latest dip in the emotional rollercoaster will spark in the future. NUFC… FFS!      

[1] Just as a little aside – and I know that the effects of inflation over 15 years make this point slightly redundant – Alan Shearer cost £15 million! Alan Shearer at the height of his power cost the amount more that Liverpool offered above Spurs’ £20 million! How far we’ve come!   


Where Are We At?

29 Jan

Since Edge’s post on the anachronism of notions such as ‘romanticism’ and ‘passion’ in Premier League football, and the incongruity of multi-million pound global franchises with local communities (see below), I have been suffering from something of a detached existentialist ennui concerning football. This has not been helped by Mike Ashley’s continued campaign to morally bankrupt NUFC.

I have joked a number of times that if a person put you through the emotional rollercoaster – made you feel as hopeless, powerless and impotent, before offering you just a glimmer of hope to draw you, like a moth back to the flame – as much as NUFC have, you would be told by all those who love you to leave them; that they were a bad influence on you, and you should save yourself the heartache. But there is a seriousness behind such a statement. I have been shown, in no uncertain terms, time and time and time again, that I mean nothing to Newcastle United Football Club. Even my money is of little consequence to them. Sure, we the fans could stage a mass walk out, we could (and I have) voice our support for noble causes such as the Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST); maybe we could organise a boycott for one game. But could it really force Ashley to sell? Who would buy? As I mentioned below, unscrupulous bastards come from all over the country, so a(nother) ‘Geordie Messiah’ (or even ‘Geordie Abramovich’) doesn’t look likely. Pragmatism forces us to accept that football now is dominated by the mega-rich. To exists even as a mid-level Premier League club, we need it; and those who have a lot of it (without starting to sing ‘The Internationale’) tend not to be very pleasant people; or at least not so altruistic that they would run a football club as a not-for-profit enterprise with only the wishes of the supporters in mind. Football is a big business.

Yet despite this, I still love my club. I do still feel a passion for it, a romanticism for it, a deep connection to it. I love NUFC. Why?

I think I stumbled upon some semblance of an answer the other day. I don’t love NUFC, I love what they have afforded me over the years. Irrespective of the veridicality the club’s actual position as a representation of ‘localness’ or ‘working class culture’ or any of the other things it is ‘supposed’ to be, so many of my key memories growing up have been expressed through the paradigm of football, and specifically NUFC. I have experienced great joy, profound despair and excruciating frustration (lots of that) because of NUFC, and I continue to do so, irrespective of the financial dealings of our esteemed owner. Therein lies the ‘passion’ in English football.  

Does that make me an emotionally stunted person? Maybe, but I don’t think I am the only one. Many social scientists have pointed to the fact that men (in particular) use their football club as a metaphor to express their emotions. I have had conversations with many people – close friends, casual acquaintances, strangers, my dad, my old boss, pupils of mine – and whilst on the surface they have been exclusively ‘about football’, the tacit subtext has always been understood and often profound.

Maybe this sounds too apologist. I do abhor the encroaching (already fully encroached?) ethos of globalised industry in football. I hate the insularity of the Premier League purview that excises all else as, at best, mild curiosity; actually even this twenty-team world has, arguably, been downsized to ‘the big four’ – always pre-empted by the conciliatory ‘so-called’, always so called.

But I can divorce this cynical face of football from the personal vignettes, the emotions, the love, the wilfully (destructively) nostalgic remembrances. NUFC: I’ll support you ever more. I have no choice. I fucking love you.  

I Remember… NUFC

With all due respect (and apologies) to Joe Brainard. I would love any (non-NUFC-related) additions to this list.

I remember the first toon game I ever went to. 0-0 against Brighton and Hove Albion.

I remember laughing as someone in the crowd at that game shouted “are your shirts made out of deckchairs?!” at the garish Brighton and Hove away shirts.

I remember Phillipe Albert chipping Schmeichel to make it 5-0.

I remember, in the sensationalist early sky Premier league days, watching cheerleaders freezing in late October drizzle, and four burly men wrestling to tether down the inflatable brown ale bottle in the centre circle against arctic winds.

I remember berating a young Arsenal fan from South-East London for ‘not knowing the meaning of supporting a real club’ after a fairly harmless jibe at the fortunes of the relegation-bound NUFC. I was his music teacher.

I remember staring out of the window across a desolate playground the day I heard Keegan was back (again). I remember thinking ‘the wheels will inevitable come off… in spectacular fashion, but at least we’ll see some entertaining football.’

I remember the ‘Newcastle Shiny’ Panini sticker. I never owned it.

I remember, to my chagrin now, that I didn’t listen to the last 15 minutes of the game against Villa, when we were relegated. I couldn’t bear it. I went to bed instead.

I remember ‘Bic’, the guy who had the season ticket next to my dad. He was never happy. Ever.

I remember getting to an evening game late, in the days before season tickets (in the days before seats). My brother and I had to climb up a wire mesh fence to get even a partial view of the pitch. It was raining and almost unbearably cold, but throughout the game I was kept warm by the unassailable knowledge that ‘this makes me a true fan’.

I remember Alex Mathie’s overhead kick from outside the box in that game – a 4-2 victory over Sheffield Wednesday. In the second before the ball hit the back of the net, a fat man below my feet shouted ‘good effort, young’un’ before erupting into unbridled cheering.

I remember being so proud of Shearer joining us, and not Man. U.

I remember the summer we signed Les Ferdinand, Warren Barton, and David Ginola.

I remember after beating Man. U. 5-0, in the crushing crowd exiting the ground, through the chants, laughter, and general hubbub, overhearing someone say ‘if only we’d done that last year, we’d have won the league’.

I remember agreeing with Keegan; I would have loved it if we’d beaten them, too.

I remember putting one of my milk teeth into the plot of old St. James’ turf my dad had bought, then telling my brother that it must have been Malcolm Allen’s tooth.

I remember the first time I heard my dad shouting at a match. I was about six, I was sitting on his knee. It was loud and terrifying.

I remember watching my dad remove Brian Kilcline’s ingrown toenail in the medical room in the bowels of St. James’. Pavel Srnicek walked past, saying ‘see ya, Killer’. Without thinking I shouted after him “see ya, Pav!”. I think he said ‘see ya’ back.

I remember the sheer euphoria which met Shearer’s thunderbolt strike against Everton in the dying minutes of a game it looked certain we would lose.

I remember I missed our 3-2 victory over Barcelona as I went to see Oasis live. Liam Gallagher wore a toon shirt and informed the crowd ‘your man Tino’s just scored!’

I remember just standing still, unable to process the magnificence, as Ginola first chested, then deftly manoeuvred the ball before fiercely striking it into the top corner against Ferencvaros.

I remember the gravelly voiced woman who sat behind us calling some forgotten player (possibly even one of Newcastle’s own) ‘a useless, black bastard’. Bic, to his infinite credit, turned around and told her to shut the fuck up.

I remember watching us lose 6-1 in a pre-season friendly against Leyton Orient. It represents one of the lowest points in my 26 year relationship with this football club.

I remember the excitement welling up as the announcer would say “the teams are in the tunnels!”

I remember when me and my brother had to sit on concrete crash barriers at games. My dad would bring foam squares for us to sit on, and hot chocolate in a flask for half time.

I remember when my brother fell off the crash barrier when Newcastle scored. Everyone around us stopped celebrating until he was safely returned to his makeshift seat.

I remember listening to ‘Home Newcastle’ by Busker on my dad’s record player. I thought then, and still think now, that it’s one of the most sincere songs ever written.

I remember the tacit confidence that filled the stadium every time Beardsley was on the ball.

I remember Rob Lee’s audacious shot from his own half – predating the flamboyance of Beckham’s against Wimbledon – against Brentford. The referee disallowed it for some unexplained reason.

I remember when Mike Ashley first bought the club. I really thought that it might be a new dawn for the club.

I remember Paul Kitson, Clarence Acuña, Daniel Cordone, Michael Owen, and Jon Dahl Tomasson. I wish I didn’t.  

I remember going down to Wembley to see us get beaten by Arsenal. My brother got heat stroke, and my view of the pitch was almost entirely blocked by a fat man in a black-and-white jester’s hat.

I remember that our team song was written by Sting, and that Arsenal’s was a re-working of ‘Hot Stuff’ by Donna Summer. And that Arsenal’s song was better than ours. Which says something about Sting’s effort!

I remember going to see a reserves game, and Lee Clark was sitting immediately behind me. All game, I wanted to turn around, but I didn’t dare to.