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The Sublime and the Ridiculous: Another Afternoon with Newcastle United

January 22, 2012

A member of the Toon Army, possibly at Wembley, FA Cup Final, May 1998, before the inevitable defeat

I'm pleased, really, that I had my epiphany during the semi-final defeat to Chelsea (as discussed here) and can now enjoy watching Newcastle matches secure in the knowledge that they really don't matter, ultimately, because we're never going to win anything during my lifetime. Certainly it's the only way to cope with afternoons like yesterday, where Newcastle managed to condense elements of the best and the worst of the last ten years into two starkly contrasting 45-minute sessions of play. If I cared as much as I used to I'd be really upset today: but really, it was pretty funny.

All the way through my life and knowledge/awareness of the club, Newcastle have always been predictably obtuse. All Newcaslte fans are sick of seeing Ronnie Bleedin' Radford's goal every January, rubbing salt into a wound that's been picked fresh again following more recent FA Cup humiliations at the hands of plucky giant-killers, but what most people either forget, or don't know, is that the same team in 1972 went to Old Trafford in their next league match and won. We've not beaten Manchester United away in the league since (pundits always roll out the year of the last win, but rarely mention its proximity to the Hereford match). 

This season, though, seemed to be the one where some sort of spiritual corner had been turned. For a start, we've got a defence that's worthy of the name, despite including a player who joined the club as a right-winger playing at left back and with one of the country's best centre backs out for the rest of the campaign. We won a match 1-0 by just taking control and not letting nerves get the better of us: this is something Newcastle teams for years have simply never looked like they would be able to do. The manager nobody wanted has worked wonders, the owner has (the not inconsiderable matter of attempting to change the name of the stadium notwithstanding) kept out of the headlines, and the players have shown grit, character and resolve, as well as more than a few flashes of inspiration. 

Yet still the old Newcastle problem refuses to die. We've always been a side you'd not be entirely surprised to come away from a tough fixture with a plucky three points, but put us in a match we're supposed to win and all bets are off. We'll look bereft at Anfield then give the champions the sort of walloping more normally dished out by Barcelona; we'll dig deep to come back from behind to win a cup tie against Blackburn, then a fortnight later let a game we're in total control of not so much slip through our fingers as throw it to the floor, attack it with a mallet and grind the pieces into a fine powder.

The only thing that's consistent is the lack of consistency, The players, the management, the directors and the board, even the name of the sodding stadium change, but the essential inherent character of the club survives all. You've got to laugh, really.





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