An Interview With: Matthew Raisbeck: Part Two

The second and final part of my interview with BBC Radio Newcastle's, Matthew Raisbeck.

How difficult was it to commentate in empty stadiums, and how happy are you to see supporters back?

The first few minutes against West Ham, the build up to kick off when Joe Willock came out, and for a couple of minutes after Callum Wilson scored... I think you just felt alive! It was brilliant, and I won't forget the reaction to the Wilson goal in a hurry. It was a great goal, Saint-Maximin - He was like watching Tino Asprilla again, when he bamboozled the defenders and put the ball in. Wilson, he's a proper centre forward, brilliant. Just the noise, that's what we'd been waiting for... We'd been waiting far too long for it because actually the last goal in front of a full St James' Park was Isaac Hayden's last minute winner against Chelsea, in January 2020. They played on for another six or seven weeks, but there were a few goalless draws at home, there were some away wins in that time and other results, but we'd been waiting so long! It almost felt like they (Supporters) hadn't been away because it just felt like you were back to normal. We have missed it.

In terms of radio, it's about sounds, noise and you can't have silence. During the period, playing in empty stadiums, we'd all have our microphones on... I don't know how clearly it came across through the microphones, the shouts from pitch side, and the noise from the players - I could hear bits, but I don't know if it was carried through. We also played in some generic crowd noise just to give it something. There's nothing like having a noisy crowd, a packed St James' Park crowd, and we obviously sit close to fans as well. It's part of the experience of a match day for everyone, it's part of the sights and sounds of a game... It's great that they're back, and I hope they're back for good now.

It depends on what stadium you're in or where you're sat, but some commentators have loud voices! Some stations that have lots of teams, like Radio London, don't always provide commentary. Sometimes there'd be nobody there, there'd be National radio obviously, but you could hear people near you. People around you, can hear you shouting... And it's always weird going to an empty football ground and shouting! Quite often, we would have video analysts sitting next to us, and they won't like the perspective that we're giving because their agenda is different, they're watching it from the away team's side of things but having the crowd there, you react to them, and I always refer to the crowd in commentary... Whether they're chanting about the manager, the owner, the players, and you might mention it if it's a funny chant or a new one.

What are your thoughts on VAR, and how well do you think it's been implemented?

I was really keen for VAR to come in, maybe that's because I had been to a lot of games in recent years, particularly when Rafael Benitez was still here, when big decisions went against Newcastle. We could probably list a lot of them! There was that ridiculous statistic of going so many years without getting an opponent sent off. Benitez would come out and talk about the decisions, his demeanour was noticeably different if there had been a controversial incident. Some managers don't go into detail about decisions after a game, but Benitez did.

I supported it, on the basis that you just want the right decision. Newcastle will commit fouls, they will give away penalties, they will have players booked and sent off... That's part of football, and you accept that side of it, but you just want the right decision. I was pleased when it came, and for a few months Newcastle weren't really effected by it at all, really. I can't remember a referee going to the monitor and stick with a decision from VAR or not give a big decision. I think the communication is better now inside the grounds, the message goes up a lot sooner on the screen, and they replay it now as well.

They are not supposed to penalise trivial things this season, you look at the Lascelles' handball against Aston Villa - Think of his arm in relation to his body, his leg was up in the air as Steve Bruce rightly said. The Callum Wilson offside in the same game, marginal offsides... I think they've been unlucky, very unlucky. I hope Newcastle aren't unlucky too many more times this season, there are still some more improvements for VAR, but I still support it as a concept, definitely.

Are you sad to see this version of Newcastle United?

I think we all know, and we definitely all feel that Newcastle is capable of so much more. We all want that potential to be realised, and we also want someone at the top of the club who is willing to enable that. The takeover situation has been so hard for the fans, look, I'm sick of talking about it, but for the supporters to feel so close to something that would be transformative whatever the issues surrounding it are, and there are some serious issues surrounding it. To be so close to the change that would potentially give the fans the kind of club they want, for the delays and the problems, that's really difficult.

Newcastle is still a great club, and we know why it's important to stay in the Premier League, but you want it to be about more than just staying in the Premier League every season. There are some clubs that would love to be in the Premier League every season, but there's nothing wrong with wanting more. The people in the media following Newcastle all want the club to succeed, they genuinely do, it's better for them and their job. Those of us in the media who are fans, have the added factor of caring about the club, and having done so all their lives. You want to see the club succeed and do well, and be more than a team in the bottom third every year. We all know the club is capable of so much more than that, at times it's hard and it's frustrating, sometimes you feel like... "Oh here we go again." After the end of last season, finishing so well, you saw what this team is capable of... Then this season starts off badly. I just think there's a lot of emotion around the club, whether it's on social media, whether it's in the stands... There's been a lot of pain for supporters for a long time. That's going to take a lot of getting over when the time actually comes. In the meantime, we all want the club to do the best that it can because going out of the Premier League could be catastrophic, as it has been for some clubs. We've come back up twice through brilliant management from Chris Hughton and Rafael Benitez, and the efforts of two fantastic teams full of the types of characters the club needed at that time.

What frustrates me is the portrayal of the fans in the National media. I don't think it takes too much for people to research this situation, and see why the supporters are unhappy. I often find that when it's Newcastle, it's often dismissed nationally. We know the thing about expectations, which is aggravating for people because that's not the case. This is a club that hasn't won anything domestically for 66 years, so why would the fans expect success? They don't. We've had two great teams in the Premier League era, we've had a lot of fantastic players, and we've threatened to be really good again on a few occasions. We've had Europe, and we've had some cup runs, but no trophies. There is nothing wrong with wanting a return to European nights, and to competing in the cups and in the league. That's what every fan wants for their club, but when it's Newcastle... Some people, who have a platform, seem to have a problem with, and I just think that's an unfair, and unrealistic betrayal of the fans. That saddens me, fans of every club... Whether it's Norwich who've just come back up, Wolves, who have got good infrastructure, spent well, and have been in the Premier League a few years, Leicester who have been sensational, and have shown everyone else how it should be done or Manchester City… You're fans, you have dreams, and there's nothing wrong with that.

We know Newcastle is capable of more, and hopefully we will see that at some point soon because at times in the last decade and a half, it's been really, really difficult.

To end on a happier note, who is your favourite Newcastle player past and present?

I would love to say John Anderson, but that was before my time! I would like to mention John because he was at the club for ten years, and had to retire because of an injury that you could probably get over now. He's been in the media ever since, and he has been a great help to me.

In terms of my favourite past player, you'd have to look at Kevin Keegan's great team. Les Ferdinand was just unbelievable, especially in that first season he had... It saddens me that he only had two seasons here, and when he was sold in 1997 - It was a big part of the reason we struggled for a while. I just wish he stayed for longer.

The great Gary Speed as well, how can you think about Newcastle from the late 90s - early 2000s and not think about Gary Speed? What an incredible player.

Alan Shearer is probably number one for everyone! I often like the players that maybe aren't as appreciated, like Aaron Hughes... I think we realised after he left, just how great he was.

In terms of the current side, when Allan Saint-Maximin is in full flight, and on his game it's a glorious sight. The one thing I'll say is because of the pandemic we've not really had the access, but this team - A lot of it still around from the Championship season... They've all been great to speak to, and that's because they're all great lads.


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