“The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score” Nick Hornby in Fever Pitch
Here we are at the start of a new football season and as a Gateshead and Newcastle fan, this would usually mean 9 months of constant disappointment… but for once I feel a little more optimistic. Its all because the 2011/12 football season wasn’t as bad as usual in fact it was very good.
The first match I ever went to was a Gateshead match sometime in the late 70’s. I was around 9 or 10. I cant remember who we were playing, but I remember the cold whipping off the Tyne into a half built stadium, I remember feeling far away from the action and the distant voices shouting in the dark. Most of all I remember the crisps and Bovril at half time. Years later I still love going to see my hometown team play for the same experience. The family club feeling, the songs of the Heed Army, and the friendly witty quips of the fans. Usually the football came secondary, which was quite good because Gateshead were quite bad for a number of years.
After being voted out of the football league on the 28th May 1960, Gateshead downward spiraled through non league divisions, only interrupted by bouts of non-business. This continued till about 7-8 years ago, where a new interest, brave chairmen and a consistent management team have lead Gateshead back to the top division of the Non-league structure. From there gradual progress has continued. In 2009/10, a last day of the season regelation battle saw us finish 20th . In 2010/11 a steady season meant mid table security of 14th. So when last season started, I was hoping for this same safe spot. But much to our surprise they started extraordinary well, going on a crazy unbeaten run, leaving them top of the league (highest position in my lifetime – 93rd best team in the country)… John Shaw scored 28 goals that was more than many previous whole Gateshead teams had managed in a season. Wheels fell off in the last two months. A valiant battle to stop the gentle glide out of playoff places lead to an incredible 8th place. So now another season (this time with no Shaw) where do I think they will finish…. How about 8th.
Lets now move across the water to an amazing story worthy of a film. “Imagine a well supported underachieving team who find a scouting system of finding players that nobody else wants. Players with injuries, been out of form, have massive indiscipline issues or simply been forgotten about. These drop-outs would be cheap but have the potential when put together to win matches. A ‘charismatic’ manager moulds them into a formidable unit that overachieves almost breaking into the top echelons of the sport”. What do you mean this has already been done… I had Brad Pitt penciled in as starring as Alan Pardew.
I started going to see Newcastle in the mid 80’s, usually behind the caged confines of the Gallowgate end. I saw them when they were great (Keegan era) and when they weren’t (spiraling towards old 3rd division obscurity). Ive seen matches where they were amazing (in the Champions league) and not so good (Sunderland apocalyptic rain match). Ive seen great players (Beardsley, Ginola, Gascoigne) and some real terrible buys (Marceleno). At one point I owned a ¼ of a season ticket. Then one day I got sick of the overall angst, the aggressiveness of the crowd, the lack of sportsmanship on the pitch and the self centered dictorial management of the club. I made the conscious effort not to go (I missed that family home grown Bovril/crisps of Gateshead). This doesn’t mean I turned my back on the club (just refused to line the pockets of those at the top). I still suffered the loses, emotionally sat through near successes and lived in that constant disappointment of what became year on year trophiless midtable obscurity. It got to the point when I had to make a prediction of our position, I would always pick the inevitable 12th or 13th. The cartoon below I drew in 1996 in one of those dark moments we do not talk about
The watershed happened in 2008/09 when the unthinkable happened. Newcastle was relegated from the Premier League and with it a change in focus and expectation. The lowering of the latter was crucial. The realisation that we weren’t a top 4-5 team, that we were still a long way off winning a trophy or even could be considered as a big team was an adjustment for not only the club but more importantly the fans. With understatement, Newcastle returned to the Championship the following season. A lot of loyalty was shown by players who seriously underplayed the previous season and without the pressure they improved immeasurably leading Newcastle to promotion and the championship itself. The following year, back in the Premiership with a far more cautious approach and a safe finish in our customary 12th place (yet again). This time instead of calls of failing team , the position was met with a sense of relief. So as 2011/12 season arrived, expectations were still in check and I started in my usual half-empty approach to where Newcastle would finish, 12th place…. But priorites would change as the year went on
Newcastle had an excellent start to the season, unbeaten in 11 matches till end of November eventually being beaten by the eventual champions Manchester City. At this point we rarely dipped out of the top 6 in the league, but my number one expectation was….
Priority 1 : To avoid relegation. Every year we look towards the 36 point mark and this was achieved in late February. The things that had let us down in the past, mainly the defence had become a strength. Players like Coloccini become heroes where in the past they were liabilities.
Priority 2 : Finish above Sunderland. I work in Sunderland and the idea of going into the office on the losing side after a derby match is not good. The home derby match on March 3rd was a key game. Newcastle were in the middle of a dip of form, Sunderland were in a O’Neill honeymoon and the points gap was closing. A deserved Sunderland goal looked like it had won the game, until Ameobi’s last minute bundled in equalizer simultaneously spurred on Newcastle season and deflated Sunderlands. Virtually guaranteeing a top half finish.
Priority 3: Finish above Liverpool. Partly this is about a finish in top 6 but also I grew up with the Liverpool sides of the 70’s/80’s and they are still my yardstick for greatness. This Liverpool are far from great, both in play and attitude. Central to this was the raiding of Newcastle players over that year, the loss of Enrique (wanted to move to a top 6 club) and Caroll (more trouble than hes worth) was meant to hurt. Both returned to St James on 1st April, Caroll looked destroyed at being booed by his previous adoring fans. As much as I don’t agree with this usually, he deserved everything he got for a blatant dive. Two goals for our new number 9, sealed the game and a top 6 finish (but more about him next).
Priority 4: Finish in a European spot. Unthinkable at the start they entered the final three weeks with not only the potential for 5th (Europa League) but 4th (potential Champions League). So on the 2nd May Newcastle faced Chelsea in a virtual shoot out for 5th. Two stunning goals by our Cisse won the match. The second was so shocking, a long range effort that swirled from the angle of the box almost from the touchline, spiraling over a stranded Petr Cech in Goal. A certain goal of the season with possibly Ben Arfa’s amazing individual goal against Blackburn and Cabayes freekick against Man Utd in 2nd and 3rd. A goal of such beauty was the crowning moment for Newcastle season. The final 2 defeats didn’t matter, 5th place was more than all of us could imagine.
A year of stunning team and individual performances. Krul masterful in goal. A solid defence with Coloccini leading from the front with Williamson backing him up. A world class midfield of Tiote, Gutierrez, Arfa & Cabaye. And then the forwards all had their time in the limelight, Best, Ba, Ameobi and Cisse all made important contributions. Pardew the manager showed great tactical genius and his backroom staff was supportive. Special shout out for Graham Carr, scout extraordinaire. And as much as Ashley tried to spoil the party with the stadium name debacle, he even has allegedly balanced the books.
So am I getting carried away for this year, no I’m hoping for a top 8 finish but as always I will be happy when we get 36 points.
The pop-up I made for this long piece ‘Cisse of the United’ was of Cisse’s goal vs Chelsea. The stunning beauty of the goal that felt like it had appeared on the pages of Roy of the Rovers. On dark green card, 3 photographs were cut out of Cisse, Cech and the football. I tried incorporating defenders but it made the design too cluttered. A simple spiral mechanism gives the exaggerated trajectory of the ball from Cisse’s boot to the Goal. Easy to do, cut out a spiral of card, stick the centre of the spiral on one side and the tip of the spiral arm on the other. I tried to convey the power of the shot, with some star design around the foot area. Finally adding a basic white line drawing for the pitch and goal.