Geordie and lifelong Toon fan, Nick Donaldson* was one of Monsieur Salut’s colleagues in London and is now following, long after M Salut’s departure, in his footsteps to Abu Dhabi. But while sorting out visas, medicals, accommodation and other formalities, he thought he’d squeeze one more derby before heading east, though he’s having to settle for a pub telly and mixed Mag/Mackem company. Rise above prejudice and stand by for another gem of a Who are You? I forgot to ask him whether 1-9 had a nice ring to it aa a Tyne-Wear score in December …
Newcastle fans were screaming for Pardew’s blood only a few weeks ago and doubtless planning to get those “buoycott”‘ banners out again. Is he now your super-hero?
No… Pardew has gifts as a manager, but he suffers for being seen as Mike Ashley’s mouthpiece and lickspittle. Add to that the fact that he’s a bit of a classless, slimy get and you end up with a character who isn’t easy to warm to. He also lets his passion spill over too much and a drama can very quickly become a crisis. Not dissimilar to Sunderland, two defeats on the trot can quickly turn to five. When things are going well he’s good, when they aren’t he can be awful.
If not explained in your first answer, what has gone right (pre the defeat at Arsenal)?
He is a capable manager in many respects, he does his homework and tends to get the players onside. Tactically he can be astute but has a stubborn streak that sees him slow to change things that are obviously wrong. The first team is strong but the squad isn’t the best, but he has managed recently to bring young players into the team and given them responsibility that over the last month or two has proved successful. We have been lucky in-so-far-as injuries have been manageable (until last week) and he has taken full advantage.
Cisse’s a natural goalscorer by the look of it and Colback has hit a good run of form but where are the other great strengths in the team?
Ayoze Perez is a gem, a real find. Quick with great feet and a natural eye for goal. He also plays with a lack of fear and isn’t afraid to try the unusual. The strength of the team is, however, built on the spine of Sissoko and Colback playing in front of an in-form Coloccini (plus either Taylor or Dummet). Janmaat is also an improvement on Debuchy, calm and capable with a good cross on him. We seem stable at the back after a long period of being hapless and are quick on the break.
And which positions still need strengthening?
Left-back is still a position that no one has really claimed and like every other club we could do with another striker and a commanding centre half. Lack of depth of squad is a problem too easily uncovered by injury and Taylor’s stupidity.
Despite all those claims that you’re everyone’s second team (SAFC fans excepted), there was a lot of neutral gloating when you went down. What do you reckon lost Newcastle its popularity and have you now won it back?
I think that ‘Second-favourite team’ sh*** was a media driven thing that lasted for a couple of years after we were promoted. We had been in Division 2 for a long time and were a bit of a new toy to the media. We played exciting football, had a charismatic manager and were the first of the promoted teams to have large gates and a big, noisy away following. As a media professional Monsieur Salut knows how this works, one minute you’re Rick Astley and Top of the Pops, next minute you’re Rick Astley, standing joke. When we went down I was actually surprised at the reaction, especially from the Villa fans. I can’t really see either of our clubs going to the bother of making banners to see Villa go down, but it was kind of understood. We were the biggest (I know, stupid term…. try High-Profile) club to be relegated in a long time, had been in Europe for a fair chunk of the preceding 15 years yet had shot ourselves in both feet and head. We were there to be laughed at.
Wear-Tyne rivalry stretches from good-nature banter to sheer, poisonous malice. Where do you fit into that range and how did you take the successive 0-3 home defeats?
I think our relationship with Sunderland fans is coloured by our upbringing. I’m from Benwell in Newcastle’s West End and never met a Sunderland fan until I had left school and started work. I think that gives a different perspective to some-one who comes from a mixed area such as South Shields or Washington. It’s easier to hate something you don’t know and I hated Sunderland. I’ve scrambled through gardens in Seaburn after jumping off the football specials, been stood on by police horses in Central Station riots and was never shy of shouting the odds. But things change, you grow up and the world moves on. I have since broadened my horizons a touch and can honestly say that I have never met a Mackem I didn’t like, I’ve grown to realise that we actually have a whole lot more in common than we have differences. Face it, bar your need to say ‘skeuel’ we are peas-in-a-pod (For Pea Pod recipes see page 16 in your ‘cuekery beuk’).
The 0-3 defeats were met with different reactions, I was foaming after the first one but the second was shake-of-the-head disappointing. Both were thoroughly deserved good hidings. Pardew winds the team too much for these games, he knows what it means but ends up scaring the hell out of the players.
You’ve lived away from the North East a lot, I believe. What’s your impression of how others see this rivalry – if they think about it at all?
Nearly 30 years away now and all I have ever witnessed is mild interest bordering on couldn’t-give-a-tossment. It’s only a big deal in the North East, but that doesn’t diminish it. It’s our derby, not theirs.
Again if not already dealt with in the previous answer, what are your honest feelings about Sunderland – the club, the fans, the city, Poyet?
I have a closer relationship to Sunderland now as I have so many friends that are Sunderland fans. It’s still the second club I look for and still enjoy a wry smile when you lose (go on, you do the same to us). I was pleased for my mates when they got to Wembley last season and wanted them to see the joy of taking your kids up Wembley Way and enjoying the day, but I would have been gutted if Sunderland had won. I think that Sunderland have phenomenal support seeing as over the last few decades you have had very little to shout about. Amazing and utterly took for granted. As an interested outsider my take on the current plight of the club is that it is hamstrung by an owner that is now scared of spending money after the largesse of Keane, Bruce and diCanio. He seems a cautious man. The other is the lack of firepower. Altidore is sh*** and you desperately need to get someone who knows where the goal is or it will be another ongoing struggle. Draws aren’t enough to keep you out of a relegation fight.
I don’t know that much about Sunderland, from what I’ve seen of the city it seems to suffer from the chronic underfunding, a too comfortable council and lack of long-term planning. Other than the match, I wouldn’t really have a reason to go there. As for Poyet, I’m undecided. He has your defence playing well but there isn’t a lot of forward drive. He may keep you up but it looks as boring as hell.
What have been your highs and lows of supporting the Mags?
Loads of both… I was at the humbling of Barcelona, had trips to Camp Nou, San Siro as well as umpteen other European jaunts to watch my team. The 5-0 thrashing of Manchester United, The 5 (and 4) : 1 victories over you lot. The times when the crowd synch with the team, especially away and you look back on the whole days experience and not just the match. Football wise the undoubted high would be Bellamy putting us into the last stages of the Champions League in the last minute at Feyenoord and, of course, Liam O’Brian over the wall. Lows are just as numerous. The good hidings you have given us, from Gary Rowell to the 0-3s (the League cup on penalties in 1979 was a particular stinker), cup final defeats were disappointing though not unexpected. Semi-final exits are worst… And I still have nightmares over 1996. I let myself think ‘We are actually going to do this!’ for about ten minutes in February though to-be-honest we were out of it by April. I’m still undecided whether it was better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all.
What do you make of Mike Ashley and his apparently incessant squabbles with the press – a power-mad but immature hothead or a man with justified grievances about his treatment by the media?
Ashely’s a complex character. I think his relationship with the press goes back to his dealing with City hacks long before he bought Newcastle. He isn’t the average City high-flier and refused to play the comfy institutionalised game that both the City and City hacks seem most comfortable with. He certainly isn’t the market trader he seems (Grammar School boy, County racquet sport champ), though is absolutely lacking in any kind of class.
Stating that the sole ambition of the club to be 8th and actually not try in cups didn’t do him any favours. That and the tat he plasters over the hallowed ground. Also his constant griping about giving the club a £100m loan. He considers us little-more than a marketing tool for Sports Direct and used us to open markets in the far east that has seen Sports Direct’s profits hit the stratosphere, you buy from the club shop the money goes to Sports Direct, not Newcastle United. To my mind, he has got a lot more out of us than he lets on. That said there is just the twinkling that his realistic spending and investment in the Academy might just be beginning to pay off. We now actually make money and the team has the highest percentage of players that have come through the club than it has for decades. For me, it may well be better the devil you know. The spectre of Leeds and Portsmouth still loom large.
Guess the Score in NUFC vs SAFC: you may win a framed dressing room photo of Sunderland (or N**ca*t** if you support them): https://safc.blog/2014/12/the-grand-newcastle-vs-safc-guess-the-score-fun-and-framed-pitchas/
Who are the greatest players you’ve seen – or wish you’d been around to see – in black and white?
Malcolm McDonald was the greatest striker I’ve ever seen, a proper childhood hero. You have to fast forward a while to come up with others, Along with Keegan, Beardsley, Waddle and of course Gascoigne were unbelievable footballers. During the days that we actually challenged for stuff Andy Cole, Ginola, Robert Lee and Ferdinand were favourites. Then there was Shearer, he may seem a bit of a dick but he was a hell of a footballer. More recently, Coloccini and Tim Krul have hit the mark, but not many others. Would have loved to have seen the Cup winning teams of the 50s… the team of 51 being the pick of the bunch.
Who should have been allowed nowhere near St James’ Park?
We’ve had some stinkers…. loads of shoddy South Americans bought to keep agents happy. Marcelino, the centre half who missed most of a season with a sore finger but the king would be Michael Owen. The chicken-hearted boy-man who had as much feel for Newcastle as Niall Quinn.
And the best and worst managers?
Keegan was the best manager by a country mile. Imagine your superstar ex-player coming back, saving you from relegation to Division 3, the next season taking you up, the season after that qualifying for Europe and then going on to seriously threaten the actual championship for a couple of years… Amazing. It says it all that Pardew is the next best. The worst award would be a straight toss-up between Souness and Allardyce. Club-wreckers. Kinnear doesn’t actually count as a manager.
Shack, Moncur, Waddle, Lee Clark/Jeff Carke, Stan Anderson, Colback, Chopra, Guthrie, Bracewell, .. there’s a fair old list of men who’ve played for both clubs. Do any stick out for you?
I think the ones that stick out are the ones that don’t have an immediate association with just one of the clubs. Shackleton and Clarke will be forever associated with Sunderland more than Newcastle, as Moncur, Clarkie and Waddle will be seen as Newcastle players. Bracewell and Venison were great for us during Keegan’s time and even through they are still probably considered a bit more you than us, they would be the stand out movers. Until Colback of course, who is having a fantastic season, if he could score he’d have the lot.
What will be this season’s top four and bottom three?
You will be two places above the bottom three and we’ll be 10th.
Diving: so prevalent me may as well give up and write it, and other forms of cheating, into coaching manuals – or still worth trying to stamp out (and if so, how)?
It’s worth persevering with trying to disgrace divers, it may be a pointless exercise but moving the decision slightly nearer the suspicion that they have actually dived would help. I would also stamp right down on the imaginary card-wavers…. they’d be right off.
One step the club or football authorities generally should take to improve the lot of supporters.
Bring back safe-standing with reasonable pricing. Do it properly and the whole game would gain.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
No, watching it in London in mixed company! Loser buys the champagne. I say champagne… It’ll be lager. I was at the last two so hopefully without my jinxing presence we might not capitulate as easily. Score? hard to call but I’ll go with 1-1 (which Nick later changed to a 2-0 win for Sunderland; see Comments at Guess the Score – Ed)
* Nick Donaldson on himself: From Newcastle. Started going to games in the mid-70s aged 11 generally with mates as we lived near enough to St James’ Park to walk to it. I was a builder when I left school but now design newspapers for a living. I’ve seen my history of supporting Newcastle move from hope to expectation, back to hope, spent a while in despair but I’m edging back to hope… though with the caveat that I am completely resigned to the fact I’ll never see them win owt. Howay the Lads!
Interview: Colin Randall
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