United 100%
By Ian Cusack
Monday 06 Aug 2012 18:21:00
Browse all Ian Cusack articles


I’m writing this the day after I witnessed Hatem Ben Arfa scoring our first against Bolton, which was undoubtedly one of the ten best goals ever seen at St. James’ Park. Unfortunately the tight deadline for this issue means I have to jot these thoughts when there are still 5 games to play, so in many ways, what I’ve got to say is pure speculation. Having won five on the bounce at the time of writing, the unnatural blind optimist within me says we could very well continue on with that glorious form in the remaining fixtures and reach the Champions’ League at season’s end, though the natural pessimist in my head gloomily concludes we could very well blow up, lose the lot and limp home in 6th spot, without the consolation of even Europa League Thursdays to look forward to next season. However, I really don’t think it matters all that much where we end up, bearing in the context of what I’m going to say.

Despite the fact, I simply don’t trust the so-called owners of my club on any level; this has been a wonderful season, made all the more glorious by the utterly unexpected heights we’ve reached on the pitch. That said, a football club isn’t just about the results on the field of play; it’s about culture, mood, and ambience; and in Newcastle United’s sake, being the unifying fulcrum for our city and the region as a whole. Unlike certain others among our support, who’ve allowed a day’s work experience to turn their heads, consequently enabling them to shift their opinions 180 degrees regarding Ashley and Llambias without batting an eyelid, I’m not convinced there won’t be another public relations fiasco or a flurry of big money departures this summer.

Those of us with decent short term memories won’t readily accept the worth of those men who have overseen the dispersal of the Level 7 singing section and the subsequent, vindictive hassle these fans got in their new berths and boltholes, not to mention the sacrilegious denial of 120 years of history over the ground’s name, as well as the mean, petty minded removal of the St. James’ Park signs and the unnecessary plastering of tacky, tawdry adverts all over the stands. Do not be fooled; this club should belong 100% to the fans. One day it will; until then, it is beholden to us all to remain in a state of high vigilance as regards the conduct of these faceless, unaccountable men in suits. Our love for our club must compel them to be accountable.

However, on the pitch, things simply could not be better. Last August, I simply could not have believed I would have written such a sentence without a whole barrowful of irony ladled on top. The departures of Carroll, Nolan, Barton and Enrique, other than in the case of the last named, have not weakened the club’s playing staff at all. Indeed their departures, as well as the disappearance of Smith and Harper, with presumably Lovenkrands as well, has enabled the club to move on upwards and onwards at a greater pace and with a higher trajectory than any of us could ever have dared hope.

While the culling of a whole generation of fringe and reserve players is a troubling indictment of exactly what has gone on regarding the youth development policy at the club, there is absolutely no doubt that Ben Arfa’s wizardry, Cisse’s goals and workrate, Ba’s astonishing scoring burst, Cabaye’s artistry, Tiote’s strength, Colo’s assured and masterful defending, Jonas’s spirit, Tim’s reflexes, Ryan Taylor over the wall, Danny Simpson off the line, Steven Taylor before his injury, Shola versus Spurs and the Mackems (not to mention that cross for Cisse versus Bolton; how good?), even Danny Guthrie’s understated professionalism and the glorious late flowering of Perchino, as well as Santon’s assured cameos, have all contributed to the best season in a decade. All of these lads have been utterly and completely outstanding for Newcastle United at various points of this season. This is why, when you’re asked who your player of the season is, I strongly urge every single one of you to state, without equivocation, “all of them.” The whole lot of them have been heroes for almost all the time; sure the level of form and fitness has dropped at times, with Colo and Tiote having stinkers home to WBA and Demba Ba’s season being bookended by frustrating inconsistency for instance, but the great and glorious thing about this current squad is that every single one of them have been prepared to pick up the baton when required. They have all rolled up their sleeves and grafted whenever it has been necessary and that is as great a compliment to them, to Alan Pardew, his coaching team and the genius Graham Carr, assisted by his squad of scouts, as I could possibly pay.

Of course, the irony is that this club had to touch bottom 3 years ago for such progress to have been made possible at all. Never mind the relegation at Villa Park, that was only the start of the problems; once dross like Viduka, Owen, Martins and the rest of the mercenary prima donnas had been cleared from the decks, it took the 6-1 savaging at Orient in July 2009 to finally make them stand up and be counted. Chris Hughton is a good man and I sincerely hope he gets Birmingham, a club I’ve never previously had any time for, promoted, at the expense of West Ham, a club I’ve gone off very rapidly since they appointed the charlatan with the Blue Tooth headset as their boss. What Hughton oversaw at Newcastle United should never be forgotten; the fabulous promotion season and some stunning, morally cleansing wins at SJP over Villa and the Mackems will stay with us all forever. However, and this isn’t a criticism, while he managed the club, he didn’t really lead us forward once we’d been promoted. We didn’t stagnate as such, but there wasn’t the momentum surrounding the squad that is easily discerned now.

It was a harsh decision and a sad day when Chris Hughton was let go, but hindsight shows us it was both necessary and beneficial for the greater good of Newcastle United. Alan Pardew arrived on Tyneside with an atrocious reputation and an utter lack of goodwill. However, and I speak as someone who found him initially to be a smarmy, glib egotist, he has proved 50,000 matchgoers and every single armchair fan across the nation, to be completely wrong. While Chris Hughton was the shop steward promoted from the ranks who embraced principles of democratic centralism to bring the club back from the precipice in a superb example of teamwork, Pardew is a tactical genius and above all, the boss; unequivocally so.

In short, the “group of lads” who played for us from 2009 to 2011worked for Chris Hughton as they admired him and didn’t want to let anyone down, whereas the current squad believe in Alan Pardew and have been inspired by him to strive to produce more and more quality in their performances. We can only speculate as to where this will lead us, but I’ve never felt this good about our team since the 5-1 thrashing we handed out to Blackburn (managed by Souness of course) in March 2003. A note of caution should be sounded here; the next home game saw Man United clatter us 6-2 and we never again hit those heights under Sir Bobby.

Like you, I’d never heard of any of the players we’ve brought in over the past couple of seasons, certainly since promotion. However, in Carr and in Pardew I trust; while we may see some leave, I truly believe we will see those of equal ability arrive. It is with this in mind and with full gratitude for all we’ve seen in 2011/2012 that I again urge you to nominate every single one of the first team squad as our player of the season.

Ian Cusack

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