The Newcastle ‘Who Are You?’: sense & folly, passion & poison

Michael Hudson* is the man behind the Accidental Groundhopper blog on non-league football and also our guest Mag ahead of Saturday’s game. And he is already a contributor to Salut! Sunderland. Before his excitable co-supporters cry treason, let it be said that his scholarly but also entertaining piece on the first Wear-Tyne derby – 1644, reputedly a narrow Sunderland win – appeared at our request. Today, he talks of Mike Ashley’s mixture of sense and nonsense, the despair he’d feel if Newcastle were taken over by super-rich owners and his belief that the battle between Cattermole and Tiote could decide the match …

You promised to be a model of politeness unless I asked about Mike Ashley. Sorry, but what do you really think about him?

Firstly, you have to put Ashley into his proper context. Newcastle United have rarely, if ever, been a properly run football club and Ashley’s no worse than Shepherd, McKeag or, back in my dad’s youth, Lord Westwood. I actually think Ashley has some sensible ideas – ending the ruinous expense on the likes of Michael Owen, for instance, or this season’s introduction £100 season tickets for under-16s, but, overall, I don’t think he understands enough about the way football works to run a club effectively. The fact he bought Newcastle without bothering to do due diligence tells you everything you need to know.

We would say this, I suppose, but it has seemed a bit of a mess at St James’ Park this summer. Is there reason behind the apparent madness?

There’s definitely a cause to the madness, which is the abysmal level of communication from the club to its fans and the media. Most people in Ashley’s position would have employed a chief executive with experience of running a football club. With Ashley you get Derek Llambias, whose rare public pronouncements usually amount to verbal attacks on the press, players or fans. The furore over Barton’s Twitter account and the uncertainty over how the Carroll transfer fee has been spent are symptomatic of the communication problem. The problem with Tiote’s visa reveals a lack of organisation at the club, which ultimately goes back to Llambias too. Behind all that we’ve actually bought quite well this summer. Cabaye and Tiote will be one of the top five or six midfield pairings in the Premier League this season, and Ba and Ben Arfa will get 25 goals between them if they stay fit long enough. The squad size is still a worry – we needed another forward before we sold Carroll, and the continuing lack of one could be the difference between us struggling or finishing comfortably in mid-table.

And just our luck, you’ll come charging off the blocks and put it behind you for the derby! You walloped us once and were unlucky not to win the second time last season. How will it go this time?

Like last season, the game will be won and lost in midfield. We annihilated you there in both games last season. A lot will depend on the battle between Cattermole and Tiote. Neither side is particularly potent up front at the moment so I’m going for a 1-1 draw with Shola Ameobi scoring his customary goal.

Buy me at the Salut! Sunderland Shop

Wear-Tyne rivalries arouse deep passion, producing much amusing banter and some poison. What, for you, are the acceptable limits of competition and mutual mockery between us?

The rivalry too often descends into petty point scoring over titles like North East Top Dogs and which city has the best shopping facilities (Newcastle, clearly). I grew up in South Tyneside so I’ve always had friends who supported Sunderland. It’s great that there’s genuine passion behind the derby but there’s been no excuse for violence between the two cities since Parliament won the Civil War.

Opposing supporters answering these questions often talk negatively about Newcastle, expressing a preference for us. Are they just being polite or was there an arrogance and level of expectation about Toon, certainly up to the relegation the season before last, that others reasonably found off-putting?

Newcastle fans are unfairly maligned. Like every club we have embarrassing elements to our support, but we’re the only one that’s defined by them. You get fans at every club claiming they’re the best in the world and expecting to win every game. Look at Liverpool, for instance. The only expectation most Newcastle fans I know have is for continuing disappointment. Apart from 34 seconds against Everton in August 1988 and about five or six years under Kevin Keegan and Bobby Robson when we genuinely were title challengers, expectations have been low since I started watching the club in the mid-1980s.

Of the players you have left, who will serve you best this season?

Tiote, Cabaye and Coloccini. Of the younger players, I think this could be the season when Sammy Ameobi and Haris Vuckic break into the first team.

Who are the greatest players you have seen, or would have liked to see, in black and white and who should have been allowed nowhere near the shirt?

The greatest players I’ve seen in black and white are Alan Shearer, David Ginola and Tino Asprilla, with the teenage Paul Gascoigne not very far behind. Thanks to money from selling fanzines and the generosity of the old student grant system, I didn’t miss a single game home or away for over three seasons in the mid to late 1990s (including the last ever derby at Roker Park, which away supporters were officially banned from). I don’t think there’ll ever be a better period to be a Newcastle fan. I always wanted us to sign Blackburn’s Colin Hendry as a dominant centre back to play alongside Philippe Albert. The other player I always regret missing out on is Gianfranco Zola, who would have been the perfect replacement when Beardsley’s legs stopped working as quickly as his brain. The list of players who shouldn’t have been allowed near the club is far too long to list in its entirety. If you pushed me for one I’d say ‘Disco’ Des Hamilton, who Dalglish laughably signed to replace Ginola.

And what have been the high and low points of your time as a supporter?

The whole of the 1992-93 promotion season. I doubt football will ever be so much fun again. Beating Barcelona at St James’, the 5-0 win over Manchester United and seeing the perfect cross from David Ginola despatched by the head of Les Ferdinand at Burnden Park. More recently, last season’s 5-1 win was absolutely glorious, particularly as Sunderland fans had been getting so cocky beforehand. The low points? The end of Ossie Ardiles’ reign was pretty grim. Watching Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness wantonly tear apart two great teams are probably the lowest points, though. Apart from the FA Cup run, that whole last season under Dalglish was just about the worst football I’ve ever seen.

Is there anyone from Sunderland’s team that you’d welcome at Newcastle?

I was disappointed we didn’t try and sign Connor Wickham, who fits Ashley’s stated transfer policy to a tee. If Ji Dong-won adapts to living in England better than he did at Reading, he’ll be a fantastic signing too.

Who will be this season ls top four, in order, and who will go down?

A predictable answer for a predictable situation: the top three will be Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, with Arsenal way back in fourth. QPR, Norwich and either Blackburn or Wigan will fill the relegation places.

The Barton Question: which form of cheating in football troubles you most, who is/are the main culprit/s and what would you do about it?

I’m not going to excuse what Barton did against Arsenal. His tumble was every bit as bad as Gervinho’s, though I think his anger was a direct, and to a large extent understandable, result of Song’s stamp going unpunished. Diving to win penalties or get players sent off has never been confined to foreign players alone. If you dive and a player gets sent off, you should be suspended for the same length of time he was. Diving to win penalties should be an automatic one-match ban.

What do you love most about the North East and what do you like least?

The countryside, though most of my friends don’t make it any further out of town than Whitley Bay. I’ve lived in eight different countries and the Northumberland coastline is as beautiful a part of the world as any. The worst is the insularity of a lot of people.

How does the Premier league experience compare with what you find in the non-league football that is one of your passions?

There’s no comparison, the Premier League is the antithesis of everything I like about football, sanitised, ridiculously overpriced and, more often than not, incredibly dull. I haven’t paid to see a top-flight game in England since 2002. For me, going to non-league is akin to attending a punk concert in the mid-1970s while everyone else was still bored off their tits on prog rock.

Would you jump for joy, or feel a shudder if despair, if Newcastle suddenly acquired fabulously rich owners a la Man City or PSG?

A shudder of despair, definitely. I really don’t see how Manchester City or Chelsea fans can take a genuine delight in their achievements. I once tried playing a football management game with a cheat that gave all my players maximum attributes. Gave up after half an hour, bored. All clubs should be owned by their fans. Full stop.

Will you be at our game? If not how will you keep tabs and what will be the score?

If I’m not on my way to a FA Cup extra preliminary round game – in which case, it’ll be Twitter and the radio – I’ll track down a live stream on the internet and try my best to live with Niall Quinn’s hatred.

Michael Hudson on Michael Hudson:
That is it save for the paragraph describing who you are, what you do, your history of supporting Newcastle .
Michael Hudson first Newcastle United game was a 1-0 home defeat to Coventry City four days after Paul Gascoigne’s debut in the team. Contributor to fanzines and blogs including ‘Half Mag Half Biscuit’, and In Bed With Maradona, since moving abroad in 1999 he’s inflicted Northern vowel sounds on impressionable students of English in eight different countries, adopting staggeringly unsuccessful football teams from the Czech Republic to Japan.

Interview: Colin Randall

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5 thoughts on “The Newcastle ‘Who Are You?’: sense & folly, passion & poison”

  1. Jeremy, I disagree with you on two points. I’ve heard just as many Sunderland fans proclaim themselves “the best supporters” in the country. Where else did all the sentimental nonsense about the Roker Roar come from? Same with Liverpool or Manchester City and their “massive crowds”. I agree there’s been a backlash from the Entertainers period, but that was more to do with Sky’s marketing than anything Newcastle fans did. Our fans are no better or worse than any other set of supporters in the Premier League.

    Secondly, if saying Ashley is only as bad as Freddie Shepherd counts as a positive opinion then I finally understand why Jordan Henderson was so highly rated at the Stadium of Light!

  2. If Newcastle supporters have been “maligned” in recent times, then this is surely just a backlash to when they were regarded as “everyone’s second favourite club” as they were frequently referred to by the media during the second coming of Keegan (and not that they were my favourite anything btw).

    Self proclaim as being the nation’s best supporters has come to haunt them. They brought the current theme of being maligned upon themselves.

    This is the first time I’ve heard a Mag say anything positive about Ashley. Are you related in some way, or on the payroll perhaps?

  3. diddla: it may have escaped your notice but there’s a game on this weekend. We always try to find a literate opposing supporter to answer questions before each game. This one happens to be against Newcastle Untied. Quite easy to grasp, really.

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