Playing In The Hole
By Neil Mitchell
Monday 31 Oct 2011 07:26:00
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For reasons known only to himself, Steve has asked me to start sharing the random corners of my mind with you all in what I hope will be a semi regular update/blog type thing, taking a look at the world of football from an unashamed black and white perspective.  It’s been a while since I’ve done owt like this so bear with be if it’s a bit crap.  It will get better.  Honest.

Let’s start with the result against Wigan.  Not the greatest performance by any means but another result and we just keep on going.  Another clean sheet too, but it has to be said as much to do with Wigan’s ineptitude as our defensive strength, but Tim Krul yet again showing he is maintaining his progress into one of the top ‘keepers in the Premiership.  I thought it was another example of Alan Pardew showing his ability to change things from the touchline.  Unlike under previous one-dimensional managers in recent times, we saw evidence of a Plan B and a Plan C to try and create something from somewhere.  Even without the Shola option.  Shola looks reborn of late and it’s a pity his fragile hamstrings seem to be hindering him again.  My opinion is that watching his younger brother come through the ranks like a meteor has woken him up to just what HE could do and long may it continue.  Shola has had his critics, and at times his body language really doesn’t help, but his emergence as a new cult hero, hats and all, puts a smile on my face.  Speaking of criticism the only disappointing thing about the Wigan game for me was hearing the reaction by some to Gabriel Obertan’s substitution.  Yes by all means point out when someone has had a stinker.  But getting at them on the pitch never helps and sticking to getting behind the lads when the ball is in play and sorting out our dirty washing in private afterwards always seems a better way to do it to me.  That said we seem as a fan base, contrary to media reports, staying level headed and realistic about where we are at right now.  I don't know anyone who isn't doing anything other than looking at hitting 40 points as objective one and then, just then, we may let ourselves get a bit carried away!

Monday then saw the announcement by the club of the 50% season tickets deal.  A very interesting move, a spur of the moment one it has been suggested, and recognition, in my opinion, that something had to be done about the “missing 10,000”.  If you look at crowds there is no doubt they are down and remain down.  Season ticket renewals were not as good as expected I am sure looking at the figures and that was in spite of various deals and price freeze options in the close season.  I personally know a few lads that just simply won’t return and know many more who, rather than renew, would come match by match as it suited.  Yes economics plays its part, we are all being selective on what we spend our hard earned on these days, but there is something much deeper than that based on the simple lack of trust that still exists between the fan base and the club above the playing level.  And even what is essentially a fabulous idea like this seems to have upset some who shelled out full price before the season began.  In that respect I suppose you can’t win, but there are still ways that this could have been done better.  Even communication within the club seems at odds these days; I have heard from someone who went and queued for two hours that the staff in the ticket office had “only had this dropped on us yesterday” and were “struggling to cope” all while trying to sell cup tickets, single match league tickets and other things they seem to struggle to cope with at normal times (especially as the website seems to be random at the moment too). 

Speaking of cup tickets we went to Blackburn in great numbers and with great heart and hope off the pitch, I only wish work commitments hadn’t stopped me getting down to join the Darwen End Disco.  And in spite of typically lazy journalism trying to suggest there was much more to Cabaye’s comments about drinking culture in English football we were in good heart on the pitch too.  This is of course the same very lazy and stereotyping journalism that would give us a hard time as supporters had we protested the way Blackburn fans have recently against their manager.  Though it has to be said the “Keen out” greyhound did have a degree of panache that was lacking amongst the “boycoutters” at SJP.  It did of course turn out to be a game too far but the spirit showed and all-out effort was a credit to the team and manager and as ever all we ask is that when a player pulls on the shirt he gives us his all and we will give him ours.  This is something this squad and Alan Pardew seem to be able to bring out in each other.  Some would say in spite of anything transpiring against them at times and most certainly one thing that the Blackburn game did expose for me is that the squad is indeed in some areas thin and we remain one or two key injuries away from near crisis.

But let’s not dwell on the negative and try and keep positive with regards to matters on pitch.  And the open training day at SJP was yet another success and in particular one for the manager.  Alan Pardew increasingly impresses me in how he handles himself in the public eye. He may have arrived, rightly or wrongly, with a degree of scepticism over his appointment and with a suggestion that he was a puppet. Whilst I don’t think he has won everyone over and share a degree of wariness at times, I do believe the longer he has been here the penny is dropping with him just what he has on his hands, just what the job of manager of NUFC comes with and is showing his understanding of the rare symbiotic relationship club, city, community, region and supporters share.  His media savvy handling of certain situations, his apparent frankness and his willingness to engage where he can is something I think other high placed individuals at NUFC would do well to learn from.

So what else is going on in the football world this week?  Well racism has sadly reared its ugly head yet again as not only is the Evra/Suarez incident simmering away still but John Terry managed to get himself in a bit of hot water with some very serious accusations levelled against him.   Like many observers I’m no lip reader but I’m sure I know what I think was said. It’s a sad fact that there are still undesirable elements in the game that really belong confined to history and this is very much one of them.  Two of our own players, Danny Simpson and Sammy Ameobi, have even suffered disgusting racial slurs via twitter this week.  My message to anyone who wants to continue this archaic Neanderthal behaviour: NUFC is black and white in every way and there is no place for you here is you think or act this way.  Take your feeble mind elsewhere.

On a lighter not wasn’t it weird to see Kevin Nolan, in an undersized West Ham shirt, blasting the winner past Steve Harper, in a vastly oversized Brighton shirt, in a championship game with the self-styled “Big Sam” chewing away on the side-lines?  This may be harsh but the words “found their level” sprang to mind.  Seeing Allardyce and then hearing of Sven Goran Ericsson’s sacking having spent millions at Leicester makes me think is football the only workplace where you are repeatedly rewarded for failure? How much have these men taken from the game for failing to deliver?  Then again in a week where Arsenal fans have questioned the legal fees paid by the club for share dealings involving a sitting board member which were well in excess of the industry norm and FIFA have awarded broadcasting rights worth hundreds of millions to a company whose president happens to be Sepp Blatter’s nephew should I really be so surprised?

Good luck to Michael Chopra in his battle against gambling addiction.  Going public with something like this must have been hard but it can only help in coming to terms with it and helping to start the process of change to get him over what can’t be something unique in an industry where young men are thrust thousands of pounds without necessarily the support they need to actually learn how to deal with it.  He won’t be alone I’m sure but it sounds like he will get lots of backing from his club and manager and I wish him well.

Finally, and possibly of interest to Shola if his MTV Cribs appearance was owt to go by,  it would appear in the world of professional sports we are not totally alone.  Writers at www.grantland.com have been pairing NBA teams with football teams.  Apparently they reckon fans of Portland Trail Blazers would be well suited to the NUFC roller coaster.  They write:

“You have a nasty case of Blazermania — a love so blind it compels you to bellow for your team, whatever the result. As one of the most rabid fan bases in pro sports, you are born to be a NEWCASTLE UNITED fan. Few teams mean more to their fans, despite giving them so little in return. In the same vein as Portland’s “Jail Blazers,” the law has often presented more of a challenge for Newcastle than opposing teams. But an injection of talent has transformed results, and Geordie fans, fuelled by multiple pints of Newcastle Brown Ale, are living proof that few acts are more joyous than cheering for your local team.”

For the record the Makems were paired with the Indiana Pacers:

“Your team is located in the sport’s heartland. Instead of dazzling the local population, it treats them to one flaccid display after another. The installation of a local legend as General Manager was a romantic gesture. But for purpose and strategy, not so much. Prepare for the perverse pleasure of being a SUNDERLAND fan. Lower your expectations. Your new club’s finest moment already happened … in 1973.”

I wonder if Agent Bruce read this before he opened his lop-sided gob about expectations?

You can keep up with my daily ramblings by following me on Twitter @geordiedentist and get involved with the desire to improve communication between the fanbase of NUFC and the club atwww.nufcfansutd.com and on Twitter @NUFCFansUtd.



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