Sunday saw the one-month anniversary of the infamous Jonathan Liew headline, ‘Newcastle have had a narrow escape and may realise that in the fullness of time.’
Now, I appreciate that one month is probably not what he had in mind when talking about ‘the fullness of time’ but one month in COVID-19 world feels pretty full. It’s all very well taking the socially-distanced view on the subject, when you have no personal attachment keeping you close to it. It’s easy to take those several steps back and take a measured breath of perspective, before offering a longer-term outlook, when you aren’t emerged in the here and now.
However, when your daily life is Newcastle United and your news feeds and friendship groups have been meticulously developed into black and white echo chambers, the fullness of time is a difficult concept to grasp. When you watch your club drag its broken limbs in a slow zombie walk towards the season’s start, there is little reassurance to be taken from the knowledge that we will eventually have new owners.
‘What of the fans, who we are often told with a breath-taking absence of perspective are the real victims in all this?’
Well, since Jonathan’s article, the noise around our wee club in the North East has settled and those with a temporary interest in our future have predictably left us to deal with the aftermath of the aborted takeover. Fans have experienced one month of no communication from Newcastle United, to add to the previous one hundred and fifty-six. One month of being linked with every loanee and free agent in the world of football, yet being told that reinforcements are still ‘bubbling away’ rather than training with teammates. One month of our record signing nowhere to be seen, our best striker injured again, our player of the season joining him in the treatment room and our expensive Japanese import seemingly with missing parts. One month of seeing our valuable, fragile Imperial Ming vase of a forward banging in goals, knowing he’s one twist away from shattering into a thousand worthless pieces. One month of worrying which one of our assets will be sold to a club we used to compete with. One month of fellow fans losing hope, losing interest and losing their collective mind. One month of, 'What ifs?'
‘To be a Newcastle fan for most of the past few decades has been to drink liberally from the keg of suffering.’
I’ve been a Newcastle supporter for almost thirty years and I’ve had a few sips from this particular keg over that time as a Premier League title slipped from our grasp and two successive FA Cup Finals were lost. These were measured sips, though, as the suffering always felt temporary and there was no need to liberally drown my sorrows. Although I would ultimately be proven wrong, no matter how much it hurt at the time I always had an attitude of, ‘There’s always next season.’ Even relegations were instantly followed by enjoyable and winning seasons, culminating in promotion. Everything seemed temporary.
The eternal optimism and blind faith of the football fan negated the need to drink liberally from this condescending metaphor, as each new season brought a new opportunity. Ultimately, I wanted my team to win something but was realistic enough to know that so did everyone else and I settled for seeing ambition and improvement. When the new season started, anything (however unlikely) was possible. However disappointing the previous season had been, we all turned up on weekend one with freshly-wiped memories and a hope that this could be our year.
I never had a Saudi flag in my bio and I never had an Mbappé poster on my wall. I wasn't expecting Koulibaly, Götze and Coutinho but Jeff Hendrick and Mark Gillespie signing as free transfers as Rob Elliott, Danny Rose, Nabil Bentaleb and Valentino Lazaro leave the club is not ambition and it is not improvement. The season starts in eleven days and our squad is smaller than it was when the longest season in history ended just over five weeks ago. My memory hasn't been wiped, I have no hope, no optimism and no blind faith. Pass the keg.
‘Only then, you suspect, will Newcastle fans realise how big a bullet they’ve just dodged.’
We have dodged investment in the training ground, investment in the academy, investment in the city and investment in the squad. We have dodged an injection of ambition, of hope and of optimism. We have dodged leaving the bargain basement and shopping in the same department as a team that hasn’t been in the Premier League for seventeen years. We have dodged resulting to part-exchange deals with relegated clubs. We have dodged the end of a deafening silence from an absent owner, more detached and distant than ever. We have dodged looking forward to the new season and the one after that and the one after that.
Eleven days. How's the bullet, did ye say?