Only at Newcastle United could the eighteen-month self-appraisal of an employee contain the infamous line of, "I'm going to do it my way now" as a grand statement of intent. The obvious question of whose way the team had been following for the previous fifty-plus games could perhaps be answered by imagining Steve Bruce as Ed Norton, crippled by insomnia for seventeen months and then suddenly befriending an imaginary Pep Guardiola, inexplicably played by Brad Pitt. Expect Bruce to appear on the touchline in loafers and a turtle neck at the weekend. The first rule of bacon club is, "You do not talk about bacon!"
If I'm being kind, it was encouraging to hear that this revolutionary idea of taking off the kid gloves and getting the team 20-30 yards higher up the pitch was finally being discussed at mid-January's meeting of Steves. 'Stevanuary', as the hipster section of the internet would have no doubt termed it, had it been real, was no doubt a dryer event than its teetotal namesake. As Steve One turned the first page of his flip chart to reveal the words "TWO DEEP" scrawled in faded red marker, Steve Three resisted the urge to correct the spelling while Steve Two thought he was receiving a compliment about his wisdom.
Whatever else was discussed in the Mensa meeting remains a mystery but the outcome was a 3-0 defeat with 1 shot on target, followed by a 2-0 defeat with 1 shot on target. Gloves off, indeed. No removal of an item of clothing has disappointed quite so dramatically since Katie Hopkins seductively peeled off her Klan hood during her pole dance routine at Mar-a-Lago's annual gathering of Goebbels fanatics, to reveal her wizened spiteful visage. Put it back on, pet.
If Newcastle United was an episode of The Office, you could imagine Bruce as the incompetent boss but canny bloke, bumbling and mismanaging his way through the working week. Despite managing a regional branch of a paper company, he would be one of those people who is unable to change the paper in the printer, despite working there for twenty years. In fact, scratch that, he would be using the printer as a footstool as he spent the day handwriting motivational letters to future Steve, before mailing them to himself with a 'Do not open until 2030' note scrawled across the back of the envelope.
That a failure to impose himself on the job and establish 'his way' after eighteen months was met not with dismissal but with the appointment of Graeme Jones as the assistant to the regional manager, is sitcom gold. I know none of us want to come off as impatient or unrealistic with our expectations but what were we actually doing before this watershed moment that Bruce needed help – trying to give relegation a sporting chance? Presumably, Jones will now be manager in all but title while Bruce chips in with a cheerleading role akin to Ray Lewington at Crystal Palace. The empty stadia echoing with faux-Geordie cries of, "Nice one!" and "Go on, son!"
The second half 'performance' against newly-promoted and out of form Leeds was fussed over by the sort of pundits who have covered Newcastle all season by wanking on about fan expectations and points tallies - completely missing (ignoring) what we were all screaming at them. Suffice to say that the slightest reference to this season's alarming statistics and trends really has been the switching on of the twat signal, instantly summoning those with screenshots of the mid-season league table from the previous two seasons. Bruce himself referencing the Mighty Rafa, like a jealous and inadequate new boyfriend still intimidated by the hunky ex.
And so it is that we have to listen to people such as Danny Mills and Simon Jordan posturing that Rafa was this, Bruce is that and Newcastle fans are something. Except that we don't have to listen to any of it - the mute and block options on Twitter were designed for stains like TalkSport and leaves them barking at the moon while we carry on with our lives. Come to think of it, what is Simon Jordan even doing talking repeatedly about Newcastle United in a studio that I assume smells of stale wine and Lynx? He should be sitting by a pool, adjusting a foil reflector under his perma-tanned jowls with one hand, holding an oversized phone with the other, while an androgynous Swede named Ulrich combs peroxide through his greying locks. El Doradouche.
Despite rolling sleeves up and dusting each other off (that's what she said), the players continue to resemble strangers meeting for the first time. Just smile and say hello. Such has been the lack of cohesive play, that the COVID-19 virus remains the only thing the Newcastle squad has been able to pass between itself this season. Although numbers and 'tactics and stuff' are dismissed by the old school, the analytics show that pass completion percentages and possession stats have consistently refused to reach the dizzy heights of the median average. We can't use mean anymore, otherwise we'll be banned from asking questions by our hypersensitive, hypoactive football club.
A man who applied for a job managing a football club he was reportedly warned away from by close friends, while being paid £1,000,000 a year to do so, is feeling unfairly treated by fans and journalists alike. That he hasn't encountered fans for almost a year has apparently provided little respite for the 'supporter, just like us'. Rather than tell Bruce to put his big boy pants on or provide backup by removing Lee Charnley from his hermetically-sealed hibernation sack - presumably made by Donnay and bought from Sports Direct for 70% off - the club has banned questions from the written media. The equivalent to a toddler sticking fingers in their ears and yelling, "I can't hear you!" while their Mam is asking why they've shat the bed again.
Speaking of toddlers, clearly young Steve's nursery was missing a shape sorter during his important developmental years. It is at this stage that young children learn that you must put a square-shaped object into a square-shaped hole, otherwise it won't fit into the bucket. This gap in preschool learning has led to the tactics-averse manager repeatedly attempting to shoehorn the wrong player into the wrong position. Leaving four wingers on the bench at Aston Villa saw Steve moved into the B group, but the support worker was allocated for 1:1 sessions following the Leeds game, as the befuddled shape-shifter left two right backs on the bench while asking Isaac Hayden to stop being a star and try to be a triangle for the day. Just please don't make Steve repeat the year.
Once history has repeated itself once, what excuse can be made for not learning sufficiently to prevent a third time? Like small children watching a Zoom pantomime from their suburban homes, every fan has been virtually screaming at apparently nonplussed recipients that Newcastle are in danger of relegation. "IT’S BEHIND YOU!" Coming right up behind you, in fact. This, of course, is an utterly predictable development that they are apparently determined to see through by leaving Bruce in charge for the entirety of the more favourable-looking run of fixtures that has already seen no wins from games against Fulham, Sheffield United, Aston Villa and Leeds.
That Steve One is, at least publicly, in charge for part of the upcoming trio of games against Everton, Crystal Palace and Southampton is borderline corporate negligence. That's it, Mike, give the new guy (we'll pretend we don't already know that it's Graeme Jones) Chelsea and Man Utd as his opening two games. I think Ashley and Charnley must get off on it - maybe even sexually - as Newcastle United allows itself to become a hostage to football fortune so frequently that it must be the first club to have been certified with chronic Stockholm syndrome.
There is a very distinct familiarity to the middle-to-end section of this Premier League season and, as so often with Mike Ashley's tenure, it feels like we’ve all been here before, yet are somehow experiencing it all for the first time. Forever finding new ways to make the same old mistakes. The cast changes slightly but the pantomime repeats. Can déjà vu have déjà vu? Mon dieu!
At least this time, as Newcastle continues its winless and largely goalless descent into the abyss, we can take comfort that the regional manager and the assistant to the regional manager were both fans - just like us - and had our best interests driving their every move. It always feels better when a family member drives you off a cliff because they just get you, you know? Better than having one of those shifty outsiders behind the wheel. We are a local club, for local people: leaving the league, gentlemen.