By Ian Cusack
Monday 09 Jan 2012 10:17:00
Browse all Ian Cusack articles



Well, here goes with the last instalment of the Rock & Dole Years. This is a project that has occupied me since 2004 and the Editor has been gracious enough to support my endeavours by publishing the last 16 instalments of the series, from 95/96 in players inc #13 to 10/11 in Toon Talk #7. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

I began the series by writing about 74/75, which ended up being Joe Harvey’s last campaign in charge. Joe was a gentleman and we’ve had precious few of those in the hot seat at St. James Park over the years; obviously Sir Bobby and KK fit in to that category, while decent, honourable club servants like Willie McFaul and Glenn Roeder shouldn’t be scorned either, despite the manner of their departures. In a season that was every bit as tumultuous as the36 previous ones I’ve written about, Chris Hughton was denied the chance to join the hallowed triumvirate of loved Magpie bosses (Harvey, Keegan and Robson) and must remain in the respected second tier with McFaul and Roeder, when he was unceremoniously sacked on the flimsiest of footballing pretexts.

2010/2011 kicked off less than 16 months ago, but looking at the side that began the campaign on a hot Monday night with a 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford, it seems a lifetime ago. Of the 13 players who were involved then, 5 have been sold (Carroll, Nolan, Barton, Enrique and Routledge), 4 appear to have no future at the club (Harper, Perch, Smith and the permanently out on loan Xisco), while the 4 others are: Williamson, who is injured, Gutierrez and Coloccini, who are essential to the team and Shola, who is famous for scoring against the Mackems and for being Sammy’s brother.  The Man United defeat was entirely expected and bar one half chance for Carroll, we created nothing all night, showing that insistent supporter worries about a lack of investment in the team seemed well founded. Other than the journeyman Perch who’d arrived from Forest, the only other signings we’d made were Dan Gosling, who was a long-term injury victim and Sol Campbell, who was on honeymoon!!

A sense of impending dread accompanied the first home game against Villa, who had gloried in our demotion back in May 2009. The foreboding intensified when Carew put the ball on the spot after 9 minutes; thankfully he almost hit the penalty out the ground and minutes later we took the lead with a thunderbolt from moustachioed Joey Barton, when Whees Keyse Louise in the Grauniad tried to suggest he performed a Nazi salute celebration. Ludicrous, but not as ludicrous as the pre match thought of us winning 6-0, but we did, with a Carroll hat trick and a Nolan brace. We followed this up with a 3-2 at Accrington in the League Cup, when Ryan Taylor scored a beauty and took a point from Wolves, when Karl Henry kicked everything below throat height, to end August on an even keel.

At the end of the transfer window, we bucked our usual trend by signing players; the unknown Cheik Tiote arrived from FC Twente and the equally unheralded Hatem Ben Arfa came from Marseille. They made their debuts in a 2-0 home loss to Blackpool, where we had 40 shots on target but couldn’t find the net, before Ben Arfa showed why we’d bought him with a stunning winner at Goodison against a thuggish Everton side who should have finished with 8 players on the pitch. The only downer was Harper’s shoulder injury that kept him out for 4 months. In midweek, we had an insane 4-3 win at Chelsea in the League Cup, with Shola grabbing a fabulous last minute headed winner, before James Perch’s needless own goal meant we turned victory in to defeat at SJP against horrible Stoke. Thus we ended September with 7 points and in 10th place.

October started badly with De Jong’s disgusting leg break lunge on Ben Arfa that wasn’t even called a foul; in a game we undeservedly lost 2-1. It seemed to be getting worse when Charles N’Zogbia came back to haunt us with an early double to seemingly win it for Wigan the week after. Thankfully, we didn’t give up and Colo’s 90th minute equaliser could have been the springboard that saved the season and set us up, ready to progress. Firstly, we went to West Ham and played them off the park to win 2-1 after going a goal down, before the Halloween extravaganza. The Mackems had been boasting just what they were going to do to us; their messageboards and fanzines predicted 3 and 4 goal victory margins; right score, wrong side. Nolan 26. Nolan 34. Ameobi 45 (penalty). Ameobi 70. Ameobi 75. We crucified them, on and off the pitch, as the Geordies ruled the unwashed with a rod of iron. How I would have loved to have seen Steve Brewse’s dial as 50,000 Mags launched in to a special version of “Daydream Believer,” especially for him.

Anyway, the week after this we won 1-0 at the Emirates, with a Carroll header; it seemed almost like after the Lord Mayor’s show, but it made up for the Gunners possing us 4-0 at SJP in the League Cup I suppose. Up to 5th place now, we decided to be shit again; a Williamson howler let a dreadful Blackburn side win 2-1 at St. James, before Fulham stifled us in another home game 4 days later; it ended 0-0 without any chances of note. It got worse as we went to Bolton and were murdered 5-1, with Colo and Williamson (retrospectively) seeing red. A good point at home to Chelsea on a snowy Sunday was followed by a poor 3-1 thumping at The Hawthorns which, utterly undeservedly, saw Hughton get his cards on the Monday.

Scarcely believably the replacement was Alan Pardew, which is when things get seriously daft as his first game at home to Liverpool, saw us clout them 3-1 when appalling weather kept pre match protestors in the pub and not on Barrack Lane. Following the intervention of the weather, we had a predictably bleak Festive period, losing 3-1 at home to Man City, 2-0 away to Spurs and 3-1 at Stevenage (of all teams!) in the FA Cup. We did stroll past West Ham by the unflattering margin of 5-0, with a Leon Best hat trick. Allegedly that game was what persuaded Ashley to sell Carroll and replace him with Shefki Kuqi and Stephen Ireland, another crock who made 1 substitute appearance in 5 months.

I’m getting ahead of myself as we drew 1-1 at SOS, when they bagged an injury time fluke after another Kevin Nolan funky chicken dance and home to Spurs, when they scored at the same time with a Lennon beauty. Post Carroll, we lost 1-0 at Fulham when Sidwell’s elbow did Shola’s cheekbone. The next game was Arsenal at home; words simply can’t describe that second half. I defy you to watch Tiote’s equaliser and not punch the ceiling even now. Simply amazing; imagine if Nolan’s last minute effort had skidded in and not a foot wide?

From there a dull 0-0 at Blackburn, an easy 2-0 win at St Andrews and a safe 1-1 home to Bolton seemed to suggest things were petering out for the season. Just to keep us on our toes, the team were crucified 4-0 at Stoke and lost at home to Everton, before a decent run-in. We brushed Wolves aside 4-1 with Jonas scoring his usual beauty against them, drew 0-0 home to Man Utd, when Owen got dogs abuse and got a point at Blackpool, to make up for losses at Villa and Liverpool, when Carroll got some stick; undeservedly in my opinion.

We saw the season out with a 2-1 home win over Birmingham, a plucky 2-2 at Chelsea and the 3-3 versus West Brom, when if we’d won, it would have meant an 8th place finish; instead we ended up 12th. Considering we’d lost a £35m striker and our manager mid-season, this was probably more than we’d dared hope, though it still wasn’t enough to suggest the owners were serious about the club.

Thanks for reading this series; all the best to you and Newcastle United for the next 37 years and more.

Ian Cusack

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