While we were vying with Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, this article appeared at Salut! Sunderland: “Beat Boro, overhaul Newcastle but cling to regional common ground.” I invited a prominent NUFC blogger to respond and his reply, which I hope reflected pressure of work and nothing else, was “not really”. Our Newcastle United “Who are You?” volunteer, Peter “Exiled Geordie” Mann*, a sports writer and football historian whose many interests include writing for the Toon Talk fanzine, knows all about the nuances of North-eastern loyalties and was willing to discuss them. He wasn’t at the glorious 1908 game mentioned in the headline but has no doubt what went wrong for the Mags …
Salut! Sunderland: At the start of the season, Newcastle United looked in complete disarray, having got rid of a good manager and become stuck with a deeply unpopular owner and possibly looking at a battle against relegation. Explain what has happened to take you to the heights you have subsequently reached?
Having got rid of Hughton everyone thought it was game over for the club. The subsequent appointment of Pardew didn’t go down to well either. There has been off the field problems, more than there should be as well. However Pardew has done a great job and, against all the odds, the team has gelled together well. Yes, I would say we are punching above our weight in the league but it’s the feel good factor on the field that has helped the club along. Players have stuck together and there are no, individual, egos tearing the team apart from within. As we are now saying – In Pardew We Trust. It’s Ashley and his cohorts at the top that have a lot to answer for. Relegation really does seem to be the last thing on our minds now, more European football.
And how do you now feel about Ashley, and indeed about the name of the stadium and what needs to happen next?
You really don’t want to know the thoughts and feelings of Newcastle United supporters regarding Mike Ashley and what he’s done to the club. The stadium renaming has only just rubbed salt into some very open wounds. It’s been one thing after another since he took over the club – the sales of Nolan, Barton and Carroll hurt, then there was the sacking of Hughton for no apparent reason and hiring of Pardew, which no United fan wanted at the time (granted that has now turned into a masterstroke). It just seems that as soon as Ashley gets the fans calmed down he stabs them again. But when is that last straw? The renaming of our beloved ground is just another sore point to add to the list. I honestly don’t care what he, or anyone else renames it as it is and always will be ST. JAMES’ PARK, 120 years worth of history says that and no true Newcastle United, or football, supporter, should ever forget that.
Ba and Cabaye are among the players who have attracted praise. Who do you think have been key to your progress?
It will always be hard to compare any modern day squad to Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers and the same can be said of the current crop of players at the club. Yes the present squad is good, with some talented individuals within it – Cabaye, Gutierrez, Guthrie, and Tiote. However, with the January signing of Demba Cisse and his impending partnership with international colleague, Demba Ba; many Geordies, me included, have the right to be optimistic. However, only time will tell whether it does work or not.
A Toon fan in this hot seat last season said Newcastle fans deserved a team of the quality of Barcelona. Fair comment, or dangerously close to conforming to the stereotype of Mags as expecting success as of right?
Wouldn’t anyone want to have their club being of the same calibre as the Barcelona’s, Madrid’s and Milan’s of this world? However, stereotyping, as you said, can be dangerous. High expectations more often than not lead to big failures and that is something nobody can afford to have. And that amount of success comes at a cost. Highly doubt that Newcastle can afford the likes of Allessandro Pato, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi no matter how much we would love them. But I do honestly think as well that we Newcastle fans deserve such a high quality of footballer and style at St James’ Park. Success for the club is very much long overdue.
Whatever your answer to the last question, there was some evidence of national glee – certainly not restricted to Sunderland supporters – when you went down in 2009. And yet we’re often told Newcastle fans believe you’re everyone’s second favourite team. What is, or was, going on?
What was going on when we got relegated? That is anybody’s guess to be honest. On the field there just seemed to be one problem after another and the star players we had just didn’t seem to click from the off. You could point the finger at a number of things; the third of coming of Keegan, Kinnear’s health problems, the arrival of Ashley, Xisco, Bassong, Owen, having to blood so many reserve and fringe players. The team was erratic throughout and it showed. By the end of the season there was no fight left in the club and the inevitable happened. All we needed was a point, a goalless draw even, and we would have stayed up. It’s history now though. It happened and we recovered, quite well as it so happens.
And does being North-eastern top dog matter a huge amount to you, or do you prefer to think in terms of how you rate against the Manchesters, Chelsea and Arsenal?
Yes and no is the answer here. Yes it is good to beat your derby rivals (Sunderland or Middlesbrough), as well as finishing above them in the league. But it is also preferential to compare yourself with those at the top of their game as it shows what standard you need to reach.
I’ve delayed it as long as I can. How acutely do you feel the Wear-Tyne rivalry and is it healthy when it changes from passionate but good-natured banter to pure hatred?
It depends on the individual to be honest. Some people take it too far though which can’t really be good in anyone’s eyes. That is when it becomes pure hatred, when they take things too far and start mouthing off too much. With me I suppose it’s different because I’m the only Magpie in my family. Mother and father are both Mackems, brother was Leeds, and grandfather was Ipswich so I look for their results out of habit. It only becomes, to a point, an issue, when we face each other.
In your recent account at Toon Talk of Tyne Wear derby games at the start of the century, you mentioned the 9-1 Sunderland win at St James Park on 1908. Hand on heart, have you ever delved into old references to see what went so wrong for you on the day, in a championship-winning season at that?
I probably have to be honest as I have a lot of Newcastle United paraphernalia and research from over the years (I’m a bit of a history buff). Sunderland actually beat Newcastle home and away that season as well! As for the 9-1 defeat, eight were scored in the in the second half and due to injury Newcastle played most of the game with nine men. And back in those days, substitutions weren’t about so it was a case of carry on regardless.
Where will each of our sides finish this season, what will be the top four in order and who will the major trophies that remain?
This season’s title race has probably been one of the most open in a few years. I don’t think Manchester City will last the pace though. Top four will be Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. Newcastle are in a battle for fifth place with several clubs, including Liverpool and Arsenal. Sunderland will finish in the top ten and could possibly make a late challenge for a top six spot. Trophy wise, and this is under the assumption Liverpool have won the Carling Cup, then the FA Cup final will be contested as a re-run of the 1992 final; Liverpool v Sunderland. I would like to see Sunderland win the trophy if only for the fact they are a north-east club. And they deserve it, honestly.
And who will go down?
Can I pass on this one? Seriously, it’s hard to call at the bottom of the Premiership this season. It can be any from QPR, Blackburn, Wolverhampton, Bolton and Wigan; and if they’re not careful Aston Villa, West Brom and the collection of clubs on 30 points can be sucked into the dog-fight as well. If I was to pick three from those then it would have to be Wolverhampton, Blackburn and Wigan.
What have been your high and low points as a Newcastle supporter?
High points will be the 1992 Promotion season under Kevin Keegan and in 2009 under Chris Hughton, those Champions League campaigns were amazing (Barcelona anyone), and the return to European Football with the aggregate win over Royal Antwerp in 1994.
Low points would be the recent relegation season (that hurt) along with several heavy defeats down the years. The defeat to Manchester United (5-2) back in November 2002 hurt for more reasons than the result.
Who are the greatest players you have seen, or wished you’d seen, in black and white stripes and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
Ah, dream team time. I would have loved to have seen either the FA Cup heroes of the fifties, or the Fairs Cup winners of 1969. Those days that you long to happen again but fear that they won’t in your lifetime. As for players that should never have pulled on our famous jersey, there’s been a few – Marcelinho, Tomasson, Xisco, Fumaca, Boumsong and on and on!!
And what are your impressions of Martin O’Neill and Niall Quinn?
Martin O’Neill is a well respected manager and individual who should do well as Sunderland manager, more so given the right backing. He did the job at Celtic, before then at Leicester City, and to a point at Aston Villa. It was a surprise appointment when he signed on at the Stadium of light, but I think it’ll be the perfect hand in glove fit. As for Niall Quinn, he has been a legend for Sunderland both as a player and in the boardroom. He was a predatory striker of a high calibre. He and Kevin Phillips were a dream duo.
Salut! Sunderland claims consistency on criticising all cheats. What form of cheating – diving, feigning injury, wrestling at corners etc – most annoys who, what do you feel when one of your own players (eg Barton, self-confessed, v Arsenal) does it and what would you do about it?
Think it all depends on the seriousness of it to be honest. Yes any form of cheating has no right of presence but there are some things that can be just laughed at as well. Concerning Newcastle players, I’d feel the same way as I would with other clubs. If they have cheated and it’s intentional then it’s an embarrassment to the club, the wage-payers, the supporters, and football in general. As for what I would do about it I don’t really know what could be done on top of what already is or should be done when it happens.
Club v country. Who comes first for you and why?
That’s a hard one really. Country should always come first but it’s the club that pays your wages. There have been a lot of great players at club level down the years that never really turned it on at international level. Seriously though, who wouldn’t want to play for their national team?
What single step should NUFC or the football authorities take to improve the matchday experience of ordinary supporters?
Do more for the younger, next generation of supporters, as well as families. Also, does it really have to be so expensive to follow the club you love? Times are changing too much and becoming too expensive for the little people.
Will you be at our game, do you regard a repeat of last season as possible and what, if not, will be the score?
Unfortunately I will not be in attendance but I will be keeping a close eye on proceedings from somewhere no doubt. As for the result, last season’s 5-1 Halloween Massacre was amazing for every Newcastle United supporter (sorry!), but this, no, I don’t think it will happen, for either side. Don’t get your hopes up Sunderland fans; we had our heavy defeat in the embarrassment at White Hart Lane. I really think this will be a close affair, but with plenty of goals though – actually told someone recently it will be a proper, red-blooded derby and that it would be a 3-3 draw with a couple of red cards thrown in for good measure, So I’ll go with that prediction.
* Peter Mann on Peter Mann
I’m a 34 year old sports writer and football historian. As well as being in my third year at Teesside University, where I’m studying for a degree in Sport & Exercise Psychology, I write for Toon Talk fanzine and website at http://www.fansonline.net/newcastleunited/cats.php?cat=27 (where you will find my Tyne-Wear Derby Chronicles) and also cover NUFC and Gateshead FC’s respective histories. I cover the North East’s non-league scene for my own website www.thespiritofthenorth.co.uk as well as having done the same for the BBC’s Non-League website. My website contains interviews, articles, match reports, results and previews from around the region. I am also writing regular boxing articles for American-based website – Real Combat Media at http://www.realcombatmedia.com/peter-mann-boxing-writer/
I aspire to be a sports journalist and have written a book on the past decade of success at Whitley Bay FC called Rising From The Ashes (awaiting publication), as well as thinking of numerous other book possibilities. I am also due to start writing about the Northern League First Division side, Sunderland RCA for SAFC’s SeventyThree fanzine. My history as a Newcastle United supporter sees me taking more of a back seat and doing the historical research having not attended many matches. My first game was the home win against Coventry City in 1996, when Ferdinand, Ginola and co made their debuts. With all the books on the club, though, I think another one is out of the question although I would love to do one or two. The same goes for any of the region’s clubs to be honest, including Sunderland (would make my dad proud).
Interview: Colin Randall