M Salut has put the “Wembley and safe” series to bed, leaving me to come up with a different way of passing on my thoughts about the season. So here’s the plot for a play with ten acts, one for each month. You could use alternative titles such as “Much ado about nothing“, “The tempest”, A comedy of errors, or even “A man for all seasons” but I don’t think there’ll be many takers for “As you like it”
Me: Exiled since 1975, now retired and able to sub for Ed.
Ed: My season ticket holding brother-in-law.
Anthony: Our French, so more horse-munching than horse-punching, Mag nephew. Though a regular at the O3 and away games such as Southampton (lost 4-0) and Chelsea (lost 3-0) he’s never been able to get an away derby ticket.
Susan, my sister, Anthony’s mam. You may have appreciated her French accent in the Gateshead Little Theatre production of “Allo, Allo”
Helen: My daughter. Has chosen to live among heathens in the south.
Will: Helen’s boyfriend, a Spurs season ticket holder.
Peter: My son-in-law. A Blackburn supporter, he has a shirt from 1995 but never mentions Alan Shearer. Has kept his season ticket following relegation.
Plus Gus and the rest of the company, the home crowd and the away youth element, whose chorus is magnificent throughout.
After an interesting pre-season we start slowly, losing to Fulham on the opening day and then getting pinned back by Southampton after a midget’s gem. As I’m about to leave for a holiday I read that Sess has been breathalized and wonder how the manager will react. I head to John Lennon airport, Sess heads to WBA and after a weird comeback against one London club, the MK Dons, the team fall apart against another.
Ed has gone on holiday leaving his season ticket behind so I head north and stay with Susan. The next day, after a couple of pints with Malcolm, I watch a loss against Arsenal. I am encouraged by the overall performance, thinking the manager is on the right lines and Fletcher and Altidore will combine well. It turns out I’m wrong – very wrong. A week later, after another debacle, at WBA (see Sessignon, above), Fletcher is out injured, we are in the bottom three and the manager is gone.
Two losses later Gus Poyet is appointed. He loses his first game, at Swansea, and we are stuck at the bottom of the table. One point from 7 games
I’ve won two tickets for the derby, thanks to Barclay’s bank, and I travel north warm in the knowledge I have become Anthony’s favourite uncle. A good weekend with the family is capped by our first win, which features Borini the Magpie slayer. Anthony winces but recovers and applauds the winning goal like a true gentleman. Ha!
Ed’s away again and I sub for him against Man City. It brings our second win and our first clean sheet. The goal comes from Bardsley, pardoned when many thought he was beyond redemption.
Will’s up over Christmas. I ask Helen if he fancies Goodison. Waiting for a reply almost costs me a ticket but Sixer comes to the rescue.
With no public transport on Boxing Day Peter drops me off on his way to Blackburn. In the car he tells me tales of his recent trip to Yeovil. I like Bridgwater but Yeovil does not sound good.
A very convivial session with Sixer, Sobs and M Salut is followed by a very convivial first away win and second clean sheet of the season, thanks to two goalkeepers. Nevertheless we remain bottom, well bottom.
On reading my post-match report Helen confesses. Will said he’d come but she forgot to ring us back.
So we start the year bottom but make it to Wembley after a penalty miss competition. I do not know how, even if, I’ll get a ticket but book the train anyway. Then we put a little run together and get a few points. We’re out of the bottom and the weaker teams are coming.
Anthony watches as we beat the Mags at the O3 arena. I trust he applauded Borini and the win. Ha!
But then we lose a horror show home game to Hull. A cup win against Southampton hardly lifts our spirits before we get hammered by Arsenal. We’re back in the mire and Sixer sends a text predicting relegation. I reply “Cardiff, Fulham, Norwich. Watching Porridge and hoping for Fletcher”. Will he get us out of jail?
Despite these losses the month ends well for me as I get a ticket! Wemberley, Wemberley….
A peaceful invasion of one fine capital for the Capital One final. We fight hard but Man City edge it. Back home I look up the price of flights from Alicante to London in May, hoping for a repeat. It is not to be. Hull do us in a week later.
Plus, our league form slumps and we fail to win the must win games, including against Palace, although we get another clean sheet. It’s a precious point but was the game worth the train fare? It was dire.
The month ends with more league defeats and the good work in January is undone as we slide towards the bottom. Some lose faith; me, I look up trains to Wigan, Bolton and Huddersfield.
We fall apart at Spurs and some say Gus should go. I disagree, thinking he’ll lead a fightback. We do improve against Everton but an unlucky Wes Brown own goal leaves us seven points adrift. Games are running out, although they’re running out faster for some other teams. Gus says we need a miracle.
As we play Man City I’m off to Waterloo for the last chess match of the season. On the way back I find we’ve drawn. It transpires that Connor the barbarian, returned from the wasteland, is the new Fletcher. After two goals at the Etihad he scores against the special one, the chosen one, the messiah, the bad loser that is Jose Mourinho. He follows that with a brace against Cardiff for a win which moves us off the bottom. And not only off the bottom. We are out of the bottom three. Gus has his miracle and hope is rekindled!
On to Old Trafford, where the barbarian and a Viking warrior put a Celtic veteran to the sword as other results leave our fate back in our own hands.
But it’s locally grown ginger that spices things up against West Brom and a lacklustre Sessignon before Borini guarantees safety. And with the pressure off in the final game Borini strikes again as everyone tries to score in a match that doesn’t matter.
I only made it to six games but saw us beat the eventual champions and the Mags at home, get our first away win, play at Wemberley and keep three clean sheets. That’s not a bad record, but if you want some more:
- We became only the second team to be bottom at Christmas and stay up, and we did it with a game and five points to spare.
- Five of our former players were relegated, including three forwards and a defender who have represented their countries.
- We beat Chelsea twice, once on our way to Wemberley and once at Stamford Bridge, where we ended a record of 77 unbeaten games under Mourinho.
- We beat Man Utd at Old Trafford for the first time in 46 years, or 4.6 months, take your pick.
- We kept ten clean sheets including the O3 arena, Old Trafford and Goodison, where we spoiled Everton’s record – they had been unbeaten at home throughout 2013.
- We spent 108 of the 268 days of the Premier season in bottom place. We spent another 106 in the bottom three. We were out of the relegation places for just 54 of the 268 days. Yet we finished 14th – three places better (though one point worse) than the previous season. In contrast, Norwich spent about 30 days in the bottom three and were never lower than 18th
- We played 13 of our home games in the relegation zone and 8 of those in bottom place yet we averaged gates of 41,000
- And we did the double over the Mags for the first time since 1968.
In Shakespeare’s plays the epilogue is usually a final speech by someone who walks on to the stage at the end. If it’s good enough for Shakespeare it’s good enough for me:
Enter Bjørge Lillelien.
“We stayed in the Premier League! We stayed in the Premier League! We have beaten Chelsea 2-1 in football!! It is completely unbelievable! We have beaten Man United. We won at Newcastle, birthplace of red and white legends. “Lord Nelson, Sir Winston Churchill, Mike Ashley, Alan Pardew, Steven Taylor, Alan Shearer, Mary Poppins – we have beaten you all. We have beaten you all! “Geordie Downsouth, can you hear me? Smoggie, I have a message for you in a season when we went to Wembley. I have a message for you: We did the double on you and then we stayed up. “Mike Ashley, as they say in foul language in Bigg Market bars in Newcastle city: Your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating!”
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