Football is back and despite the relatively short break, it certainly hasn't been dull. There has still been talk of the T word and the plane spotters made a return, Newcastle United even paid money for players! It's time to concentrate on the football now.
Though, our beloved beautiful game is no longer the same. Our seats inside St James' Park haven't seen our backsides since February 29th, a drab 0-0 against Burnley. Football without supporters isn't the same, the resumption of the Premier League in June showed just how important football supporters are. Soulless in a way, no wall of noise or a sea of black and white to roar the player on to victory, instead just eerie silence.
The raging spit that would land on the person in front now lands on our television screens. The life and soul of football locked away in their homes, the new normal, for now. At least Mike Ashley dusted the cobwebs off his wallet and gave Steve Bruce some much-needed reinforcements. With the surprising spending spree comes excitement. That little kid inside me comes alive again, itching to see our new signings in our famous church. We can finally focus on the football, no more takeo... Let's not finish that, we don't want to open those war wounds.
A team that's arguably more wounded and more damaged than Newcastle await on Saturday, West Ham United. We can go back to arguing about expected goals and whether Joelinton is a striker or not, the good stuff. Not researching piracy law and worrying about geo-politics. Real football talk is beautiful and a welcome sight.
Bruce's favourite phrase isn't "How's the bacon did ye say?" But "I'm not everyone's cup of tea." Once again he will have to try and silence his many, many critics. Bruce has somehow managed to go toe-to-toe with Ashley and win, five new signings in total so far and an appetite for more. It isn't just the signings that have been a bit of a surprise, it is the type of signings that Bruce has been allowed to bring to the football club. Premier League proven players instead of bargain-basement signings from abroad, hoping and praying they'll be a Hatem Ben Arfa or Yohan Cabaye and not a Facundo Ferreyra or a Seydou Doumbia.
The excitement for the new season is still there, however, it's lessened by not being able to attend games. The thought of my backside continuing to leave a dent in the sofa, and not be greeted by those grey plastic seats, sickens me. That's the beauty of this game, no matter how disillusioned or angry you can feel, come a new season it grabs a hold of you and takes over your life again.
Has there ever been a post-season/pre-season quite like this one? The 2020/21 season will begin just as the 2019/20 season ended, with kicks of the football met by empty echoes rather than raucous roars. Fans accustomed to lifetimes of matchday tradition remain on furlough from their tenured careers as perennial incumbents of hard, plastic seats as sofas and flat screens continue their role as the temporary cathedral on the hill.
Fixture release day, usually a time for booking in annual leave requests and convincing the wife that Liverpool is the ideal anniversary destination, was the dampest of squibs. Knowing I couldn’t attend a game dulled every sensation, usually ignited by the excitement of domestic day trips, Scotch Corner and cans in the Corsa. Even the local traditions of the ‘berry by noon and post-match in the toon just wouldn’t be the same, so how could I get that pre-season feeling?
Cue the most intriguing and exciting transfer window since we signed Wijnaldum, Mitrovic, Thauvin and Mbemba and, erm, got relegated. But, yeah, that was an unexpected couple of days (sorry Jeff, you don’t fit in that micro-timeline) as Newcastle signed three players who all address obvious squad needs and instantly improve the starting eleven. The embers of my extinguished enthusiasm were suddenly reignited and I was lost in a blur of ideal line-ups versus West Ham and making last minute adjustments to my fantasy league team.
You see, the thing about being a football supporter is that you have to press the reset button. It’s the only way to continue week after week, season after season, without losing your interest and love for the game. Four days before Tino banged in a hat-trick against Barcelona, Newcastle lost 1-3 at home against bottom-of-the-table Wimbledon.
Things change quickly in the world of football and the positive belief that you might win the next game or that next season might be your season results in the negative belief that you might miss out. My Dad decided to boycott Micky Quinn’s debut and hasn’t missed a game since, scarred by the memory of the moustachioed menace bagging four in his absence.
That’s what makes boycotting and walking away so hard for so many and that’s what makes the prospect of Wilson, Saint-Maximin, Almiron and Fraser putting Viagra (new £20m signing from Santos) into a flaccid attack so hard, also. Pun intended.
However unlikely, the fear of missing out is real and if we beat West Ham on Saturday night it simply won’t be the same with none of us there to witness it in person. The atmosphere above the capital skies will not echo to the sound of, ‘Who’s that team we call United?’ and that hurts but it’s better than nowt, eh?
Howay the lads!