This week at Newcastle United was sensationally dramatic, even by the standards of a football club that has become increasingly infamous for off-field issues, rather than famous for on-field performances. More Eastenders than Entertainers, the club has descended further into soap opera storyline territory with each passing season under its absent director-producer team of Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley.
With tales of civil war within the squad and the manager speaking of treason, there is a historical theme around this old club but, rather than heads, the only thing being taken off is time from the training ground. Of course, this extended FIFA recreation time for the Premier League's most underperforming squad of players was advised weeks ago by scientists and medical professionals and is therefore out of the head coach's control.
Like a mildly unwell patient taking their GP's advice to "take it easy and get some rest" to the extreme, you can imagine Bruce and the players tucked up in bed with a little bell to ring to their partners to let them know that their chicken soup needs another 30 seconds in the microwave.
I'm not a sports scientist, nor a doctor, but I find it highly unlikely that the data analysis meticulously collected on the players over the course of the season advised that coming into the training ground for a tactical meeting or two would result in pulled hamstrings. Days off, if you love the Toon!
Self-absolution of blame has become a staple of Bruce's tenure and this latest passing of the buck to the medical team once again ignores his role as the ultimate decision-maker. The support staff are there to give advice and it is up to him what to do with it. That is the line that was offered in his defence regarding Graeme Jones' influence over the team and therefore must be applied equally in reverse. Perhaps Bruce has simply spent too many teatimes watching government press briefings and been inspired by ministers parroting of, "We followed the science" as things went tits up.
Amidst the medieval drama, you could be forgiven for forgetting that there is a rather important football game to be played on Sunday. Despite Bruce playing down the widely-accepted magnitude of the game, fans and media alike are viewing Sunday's midday kick-off as the biggest game of the season to-date. After all, if a game isn't 'must-win' when you are playing one of only three teams below you, in an attempt to maintain your one-win advantage over the drop zone, then when is it? If you can't beat West Brom, who can you beat? Not Sheffield United or Fulham, apparently.
Perhaps Sunday hasn't earned this description from Bruce because there are other things he sees as higher on the 'must-win' scale, such as his battles with Craig Hope and the insider mole. This dynamic duo of deceit has the manager vowing to try his upmost to identify and plug the leak in club communication, more vehemently than he has ever vowed to solve the leaks in his porous team that has kept just four clean sheets all season.
Hope, the 'so-called journalist', has certainly riled our so-called head coach by accurately reporting events that definitely happened. How dare he! To the outsider, it would make sense for a false and damaging story to be punished by banishment from the Kingdom but to be dealt this fate for sharing the truth? However, to those familiar with Newcastle United, it is known that ours is a Kingdom built - and now crumbling - on misinformation and disinformation.
"As long as you run around and put that effort in, then that is all they ask. If you don’t run for him, you’re not playing next week. I’m going to bust my balls off working for him."
A staunch defence of Steve Bruce and his demand for work ethic, from a player who generally finishes games more sweat-free than a post-Falklands Prince Andrew. This bizarre post-truth interview from Newcastle's languid luxury finally justified his 'Hollywood' descriptor, inaccurately used for his passing, as his future in acting became clear. The comparisons with a hostage video were perhaps too far but Stockholm Syndrome does appear to have taken hold of Jonjo, as he rivalled North Korean news anchors for propaganda points.
"He is the best man manager I have worked under. The way he manages people, like individuals, he knows how to speak to certain individuals."
These comments were already set to a backdrop of Matty Longstaff having been convinced to stay, presumably with assurances of a path to the first team, before disappearing from the first team in the 77th minute of the 3-0 defeat at Arsenal. Perhaps he has joined his brother, who was last spotted a week prior, in a reorientation room - legal under the Club Civil War Convention (2021) - filled only with televisions showing Talk Sport clips and Shelvey's interview until they emerge as loyal followers to the supreme leader.
Ignoring this possibly-fictitious background, to praise Bruce's man management skills in a week when Karl Darlow learned of his fate after every Newcastle fan with social media had already discussed it, as well as Matt Ritchie being involved in a training ground altercation with his manager, simply added fuel to the fire burning away at this fantasy.
For what it's worth, I don't particularly care about the Ritchie story. Bruce is right - it does happen at training grounds up and down the country and, yeah, Twitter is also right - you probably would be in shit if you barged into an employee at your job but since when was professional football equivalent to the real world? If you sprinted across the office towards the geeky lad who always carries a flag around to scream in his face, "F*ck off, man! You f*cking speccy c*nt! Are you f*cking blind?!" then you'd likely be dismissed. Footballers might get a throw-in.
Back to the interview and, if it wasn't already clear which side of the civil war Shelvey was fighting on, he removed his jumper to reveal a 'Team Bruce' t-shirt as he proclaimed, “He’s big on the stats side of it." That Bruce himself has already scoffed at tactics and statistics on multiple occasions matters not to Kim Jonjo-un, whose loyalty to the man who picks him every week knows no bounds. In fairness, perhaps Shelvey was referring to this golden nugget of a quote:
“I’ve said it many times, it’s the accumulation of points. Last year, we got to a certain area where we were probably safe with five games to go. I hope that’s the case this year, that we can pick up enough points believe me, but I still think it’s your accumulation of points."
Yes, that must be it. Step aside, Tom Worville. There's a new statistical analyst sheriff in town! You can shove your xG, pal. I think it's about how many points you accumulate, you know, over the season and that. To say that Steve Bruce is big on stats is akin to saying that Joelinton is big on scoring goals. As I type this, I can already feel a thousand teenagers stir from their stiff sheets in anger to furiously Tweet that I know nothing because I'm old, racist and never studied Rapid Wien's 2016-17 season and that's why I don't appreciate him.
"We've played very well over the last few weeks – it's gone unnoticed."
It's probably gone unnoticed because in the last few weeks - let's call it February - Newcastle United won one game out of five. Maybe Steve Bruce is on Twitter and runs all of these 'JOELINTON9xxx' accounts because the language and message is almost the same. If you ignore that he doesn't score any goals, provide any assists or generally make the goalkeeper dive then he's played very well in that attacking role. Excellent, in fact, and yeah I know we've only won one out of five but if you ignore the descent towards relegation then it's been really promising.
Of course, that can't be true because Steve doesn't look at social media, never mind engage with it. He just hears about all the mean things the fans say about him via carrier pigeon and smoke signals. This baseless positivity and claims of success and improvement must therefore be a wider issue with Newcastle United and all who sail in this sinking ship. The expertly-timed distraction - sorry, release - of a club official statement on their legal proceedings provided more examples of some people's refusal to see what is not only staring but punching them right in the face.
NCSL, who have spent the last few months stating that it is the club who have been delayed by the Premier League from start to finish and not the other way round, were left with zebra pie on their collective face as the statement confirmed that the club's legal team had tried to change X, Y and possibly even Z prior to arbitration proceedings commencing. However, Nick de Marco, the man who never loses, went 0-2 down in his warm-up match with the Premier League. Of course, this did not stop the positivity from those whose media spotlight runs solely on takeover-powered batteries, as well as those who have become blinded by staring into it for too long.
So, briefly to the football! Thursday provided a huge boost for North East legend Steve Bruce as North East legends Jordan Pickford and Moussa Sissoko denied fellow North East legends Sam Allardyce and Scott Parker in the relegation twelve-pointer. This maintained Newcastle's three-point lead over Fulham, although did minimal damage to their superior goal difference.
With Newcastle playing at midday, by full-time we could be six points clear with a game in hand. Or we could be nervously awaiting events at Anfield, as Liverpool continue the worst post-title performance since the years following Robert Mugabe's knighthood. As the curtain closes on this chaotic act, the drama will no doubt continue to unfold regardless of the result. Win this particular battle and the civil war may ease but lose and treason may become mutiny.
Sunday, high noon. Hope or no hope? That is the question.
The mole has already told me the team news.