Who are you? We’re the Mags (2)


Paul McMillan would call it an abuse of executive power. To me, it was a routine exchange between newspaper pros. Dec 4 2008, as all Sunderland fans know and Newcastle fans pretend to have forgotten, was the eve of a momentous occasion: the 100th anniversary of our 9-1 win at St James’ Park in what was a Toon championship season.
I had written a restrained, objective piece about the centenary for the sports pages of The National, and was second into the office that morning. Paul, who works for the online edition, was first. Noticing that my article seemed to be nowhere on The National’s website, I made my first decision of the day and asked Paul to put it there. My request, of course, had no more to do with partisan sentiment than his compliance smacked of cap-doffing by a downtrodden worker. I acted for the greater good of the paper.
And in time, whatever he felt, Paul forgave me. When I asked him to write about the coming weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby, he agreed like a shot. It was his chance for revenge.
You saw the first instalment here; here’s the second, his answers to our questions……

What on earth do you make of events at St James’ Park this season? Fun for Sunderland, a mystery to neutrals, but must be humiliating for Mags…

Watching Newcastle has always been compared to a soap opera. But this season we’ve been more Crossroads than Coronation Street.

It’s been clueless from top to bottom.
I did not have high hopes at the start of the season and have had to lower my expectations with almost every game. For the first since we came into the Premier League I would be happy with a 17th place finish.
I think appointing a headstrong manager like Keegan and then, effectively, making him a puppet while Dennis Wise buys players was idiotic to the extreme. We are now stuck with a squad of players who are not motivated on the pitch or trying to move on.
I welcomed the appointment of Joe Kinnear – as a stopgap – but it’s not looking as good now with the transfer window about to close and (at the time of writing) no signings to get excited about.
In fact, it sums up our season that Kinnear was appointed to steady the ship but instead rocked the boat with an impressive 52 expletives in his first press conference.
Personally, I think he could have increased the transfer kitty by releasing a festive cover of John Cooper Clarke’s spoken-word classic Evidently Chickentown” (look it up on YouTube).

Had you expected a good season? How good?

My hopes peaked after the first game of the season, a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. These are the sort of results that take a mid-table team into Europe!
However, normal service soon resumed and things really imploded with Keegan’s walkout, calls for Ashley’s head and perfectly good bed linen defaced to make protest banners.
If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting much this season – perhaps a cup run or two – but when the final whistle went at Old Trafford in August, I never thought things would be this bad going into February.

Do you now fear relegation, or are you too good for that? What about Sunderland?

I think the phrase “too good to go down” should be used only in the presence of Leeds fans (and also Mr Wise).
The worrying thing for both Newcastle and Sunderland this season has been the form of the newly promoted sides.
Hull have been the success story of the season when many pundits saw them as nailed on certainties for relegation but Phil Brown has, like Martin O’Neill before him, shown how a manager who has served an apprenticeship in the lower leagues can motivate a side.

Stoke City have also been picking up points when they need to, which is a concern.
West Brom look doomed but Blackburn, with the swashbuckling Sam Allardyce at the helm, could climb out of it.
The biggest problem is this season there is no bottom three, more a bottom seven as it is so tight.
Given their respective form during the season, both Newcastle and Sunderland could still be relegated.
Our big problem has been holding onto a lead. We’ve simply drawn too many games we should have won.

Mike Ashley. Misunderstood saviour, or an embarrassing misfit? What did you make of his “interview” for Salut! Sunderland before the first game?


I was working for the Newcastle Evening Chronicle when Mike Ashley took over and, initially, in every story he was prefixed as “the reclusive billionaire”. We thought we were getting the Howard Hughes of football.
However, that was perhaps unfair on Mr Hughes as he at least managed to get his Spruce Goose off the ground.
Under Ashley’s stewardship, a once proud club – admittedly on the wane – has deflated into a laughing stock.
Things started well for him as he squeezed into a black and white top, hit the Bigg Market and bought drinks for the fans. His man of the people image rose further as he famously sat with the fans at away grounds, including the Stadium of Light.
But Ashley’s acumen for running sports shops does not seem to have transferred to his football club.
Sam Allardyce’s dismissal was hardly mourned and there was genuine excitement when Kevin Keegan returned (yet again) but this now looks like a PR stunt.
In the aftermath of Keegan’s departure the structure of the club came under the microscope. Fans’ groups were not impressed to learn The Messiah had to play with transfer targets allegedly approved by Dennis Wise – who even as a player was not well liked by the Toon Army.
Ashley’s response to the protests was to put the club up for sale, which immediately left us rudderless. He had problems attracting managers before appointing Kinnear on a temporary basis that did not fill fans with confidence.
Although he inherited a large debts from the previous regime, questions have been raised about his efforts to sell. A trip to Dubai in September proved fruitless and led to suggestions the club was overvalued, especially during a worldwide recession.
The club was taken off the market hours before the home tie against Liverpool and the team quickly responded by crashing to a 5-1 defeat.
It remains to be seen how much money will be spent on transfers although with previously loyal players such as Shay Given speaking out, the future looks grim.
On a personal level, Ashley has said he can no longer sit in the stands with his daughters because of threats to his safety. I would never condone this, but it would be na

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