Picture credit: Entertainment One
It is one o’clock in the morning, the year is 2022 and the city of Newcastle is entering Tier 27 of regional COVID-19 restrictions, announced at 10:34pm the previous night via a drunken Tweet by Boris Johnson. The majority of the population no longer owns a phone so do not receive the update but even the privileged few can not interpret what the new restrictions mean, as households no longer exist and all pubs have been turned into soup kitchens and nightingale wards.
As only the wealthiest few can now afford personal internet, Twitter lies dormant and Nick De Marco’s breadmaking goes unseen by the masses. Steve Wraith has taken on the form of a Fagin character and rumours of the Saudi-Mandy takeover are spread by his loyal band of street urchins around the city. Every night is now ladies night.
The Athletic is no longer online, despite 1p per month subscription fees, and articles are now sent via carrier pigeons from the back yards of Chris Waugh and George Caulkin. The exact figure is unknown but it is estimated that 1000 pigeons have been lost due to being unable to sustain flight with the excess weight of their lengthy musings tied to their legs.
Meanwhile, Luke Edwards wanders aimlessly around the city centre with a sandwich board, scrawled with Bruce’s P-W-D-L numbers, strapped to his torso. A Henry hoover, chained to his ankles by a vigilante gang, trails behind him as a constant reminder of his infamous story.
It is an unseasonably warm night in March and Mike Ashley sits alone in the Director’s Box, frothing with delight at the money saved on floodlights, as a red sky illuminates St. James’ Park from the large fires raging across the derelict city.
Sky and BT Sport’s pay-per-view empire has just completed its first 11 pm kick-off to a global television audience of twelve people and Newcastle United have picked up their tenth 1-1 of the season, after VAR awarded them a penalty in the 102nd minute. This was their first shot on target, after facing 54 from the opposition.
A plane flies over the city, trawling an illuminated banner with a message to the fans gazing up at the night sky:
"Newcastle United tells you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It is our final, most essential command."
The game saw Newcastle fans raise another £25,000 for the NUFC fans foodbank, now the wealthiest organisation in the world in terms of revenue since pay-per-view was initially announced. This latest donation made even more remarkable by the fact that 90% of the city’s population is now unemployed and relying on handouts from the 10% working in Wetherspoon's.
Inside a barricaded St. James' Park, the players, dangerously dehydrated on the inside, are resplendent in black and white hazmat suits as Steve Bruce, whose contract is up at the end of the season, is about to give his post-match interview via Zoom from his isolation bubble in Benton:
“I'll keep trying to improve us and try and make us play better and that will take a bit of time unfortunately because we're trying to implement change. The lads are used to playing in a back five that sits deep and it’s a work in progress. I'm not Rafa and we’ve had to go back to basics and roll our sleeves up. Just judge me over a period of time, that’s all I ask for.”
This evening marked a special occasion for the Corbridge Clough, as the draw was Bruce’s 100th Premier League game in charge of Newcastle and took his overall record to 27 wins, 35 draws and 38 losses. Dismissing his record as 'fake news', Bruce continues on the defensive:
“Look, it’s been two years since we’ve had the fans here at home and the players need time to adjust to it...”
The interview is cut short as Mike Ashley exits St. James’ Park via military extraction from the centre circle. The presenters are now unable to hear Bruce, as the Newcastle owner is winched into a chinook for his daily bleach infusion before being hermetically sealed into a Lonsdale gym bag until the next fixture. Lee Charnley is unavailable for comment.
Away from the pitch, Newcastle United continues to take direct debit payments from its absent fans and has recently claimed that the refunds for the previous two seasons have been lost in a rogue Microsoft Excel column and cannot be recovered. The NUST implodes with impotent rage as Alex Hurst cries from the top of The Monument:
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which Mike Ashley and Steve Bruce are always right.”
NUFC360 then climbs to the top of the monument and cries the same thing, word for word. A verbal repeat now the only available alternative to a retweet in this post-Twitter dystopia.
A stone's throw from The Monument, Rich Oliver, now a multi-millionaire due to the 2020 success of his viral video, has just finished hosting his weekly big screen event on Hippy Green. Here, the impoverished population is able to gather and laugh over his pronunciation of 'James' and 'Cowpen' as he hands out free Chinese takeaways. As ever, he ends his philanthropic extravaganza with the timeless Steve Bruce thought process sketch and, for just one moment, people forget about the abject misery that is their life and unite in comedic appreciation.
Families and individuals go their separate ways as they leave the city centre and walk by podcaster after podcaster, now sitting on street corners talking into the echoing emptiness of the night sky. Drug dealers roam the suburbs, shouting into megaphones that they are willing to accept food vouchers as payment for their goods in a scheme affectionately known as 'Feed for Weed'. These vouchers now surplus to requirements for many families, having learned how to feed their four kids for £3.50 per month via a printout of an old Twitter post from a Tory patriot.
Toon Polls, now responsible for the city census, goes door to door around the quarantine zone to check people's gender, sexual orientation and preference between Joelinton and Ivan Toney. A thankless task made all the more challenging as he reaches Burnsie's bunker and has to wait on the doorstep as all five of his personalities take their turn to come to the entrance.
The streets echo to the sound of relentless hooves as Tim Sherwood rides shirtless and bareback, shouting to the people of 'Noo-carsul' that they've never had it so good:
"You've got short memories, you mugs!"
Just then, Barry Rogerson appears from the shadows and punches Sherwood from his horse with one deadly blow - his black and white scarf masking a kind, knowing smile towards his equine friend. As Barry mounts the horse and rides off into the night, the Sports Direct Jumbotron switches on and shines its screen into the sky like a gaudy bat signal as Steve Bruce fulfills his weekly propaganda slot:
"I understand we have not played well enough but, for goodness sake, let's have a little bit of balance to it. We can't play like 1971 Ajax! Do you not understand what we're trying to do? Look, it'll be a really tough game next week, it's a tough place to go and they're a tough side that roll their sleeves up and do the basics well. We'll try to move away from the deep-lying back five but it's only been 100 games and these things take time. We're a work in progress."
The message ends with an advert for Qatar 2022, still going ahead as-planned in November, as Richard Keys sings (and raps) World in Motion over footage of a desert filled with brown envelopes. 'For the game...for the world', scrolls across the screen as the lights go out and the city falls silent but for the faint sound of the podcasters still echoing against the cold concrete of the Blackett Street concourse:
"I'm Emil Franchi...Franchi...Franch...Fran...Fra..."