Newcastle’s 3-0 victory over Wigan has ended a barren run of four straight defeats, lifted the club five points clear of the drop zone and, as an added bonus, provided them with only a second clean sheet of the league season.
But if you think it has ‘chased the wolves from the door’ or ‘bought Alan Pardew some time with the most demanding fans in football’, then you don’t know enough Newcastle supporters.
They were not howling at the moon in readiness, they were not daubing slogans on bedsheets in preparation and they are nowhere near as mad as people make out.
Some of them are, obviously. Some Newcastle fans are as mad as a sack full of cats. You see them on Sky Sports News every now and then, topless in the snow and hooting excitedly down the camera. But this is not because Newcastle is populated exclusively by topless, hooting Geordies. This is because Sky Sports News like screening topless, hooting Geordies. It fits the narrative, like poetic, pensive Scousers and chirpy cockneys.
But, as an Essex boy who spent over two years living in the North-East, I can assure you that the majority of supporters up there, of both persuasions, are as hinged as a well-maintained garden gate.
Here’s a secret from the North. Even last season, most fans knew that Newcastle weren’t actually that good. Oh, they were well-organised and coached to within an inch of their lives. They were unfancied, underestimated and they played to the very limit of their potential. They were a tribute to their manager and to themselves, but they really weren’t actually that good. With wage budgets and transfer kittys that made Mike Ashley’s ‘war chest’ look like a little girl’s pocket money, the Premier League’s elite were always too far away to be caught. Newcastle were excellent last term, but they exist in a different world to the really big boys.
Newcastle fans knew this. Outside of the crazies and the arch-optimists that you’ll find at every club, they knew that this season would be ‘The Second Coming’ to their eponymous debut album. They knew that the Europa League would drain the stamina of a small squad and leave them ill-prepared for the grind of the domestic game. They knew that key players would have their heads turned by agents. Of the Newcastle fans I spoke to, most agreed that a top ten finish would be absolutely acceptable, all things considered. Well, they’re now just four points away.
This odd reputation that they are demanding comes most recently from their reaction to Mike Ashley’s early machinations, but if you think they behaved irrationally there, I invite you to welcome Joe Kinnear to your club at the expense of a beloved hero. Go on, tell me you wouldn’t boo.
They lost their temper in the past as well, but that’s hardly surprising either. Newcastle have squandered, not just one chance to cement themselves in as one of England’s most powerful clubs, but two. Post-Keegan and post-Robson, the Shepherd administration erred. There have been poor appointments, poor signings and poor business practices. And, lest we forget, for a while pretty much every major decision that Mike Ashley made was the wrong one. Who wouldn’t be angry?
These days, however, Ashley is a little more astute. A good manager has been tied down to a long term contract and a decent squad has been assembled. It’s not a big enough squad, that much is obvious, but it’s a start. Money has been allocated for an overhaul of the youth system, the stadium has its name back and the future looks as bright as it can for a club without a sugar daddy. Strange really. To listen to some, you’d assume that ‘the most demanding fans in football’ were on the brink of marching up the hill with pitchforks.
They have different accents up there, but they don’t have a different idea of what constitutes progress. On the day when loathsome toad Kelvin Mackenzine launched his plans for the south to break away from the north, you can understand why the north sometimes feels slightly aggrieved that they didn’t have the idea first.