Newcastle fans must remember their own words when supporting the team
For years, Newcastle United fans have been repeating themselves so much that one line has become like Party Political Broadcast in the bitter war against club owner Mike Ashley: “We don’t demand a team that wins, we demand a team that tries.”
There are many misconceptions about Newcastle supporters; that they hate being warm to anyone who doesn’t hail from the banks of the Tyne, especially if they come from London, and that they demand success every single year, no matter the circumstances befalling the club at that time.
Evidence to the contrary is not in short supply either; Kevin Keegan was born in Doncaster, Chris Hughton, Les Ferdinand and Rob Lee come from the capital. All four men would never have to buy a drink in the area again because they’re adored. And why would 52,000 people turn up to St James’ Park week in, week out to watch a team that has not won a trophy since 1969 if they refuse to accept substandard football?
Making generalisations about any fan base is a dangerous game. Some clubs have a reputation as a home for hooliganism, others for their arrogance and, like Newcastle, their expectations. Like with anything, different people have different opinions, but the response after the 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth on Saturday only served to fuel those sweeping statements about the ‘Toon Army’.
Boos rang out at the final whistle; Steve Cook’s stoppage-time header compounded a miserable week for the Magpies with two almost identical defeats leaving them in the bottom half of the table.
Knowing how Newcastle are going to set up under Rafa Benitez means whether they win or lose, the cause will be easy to detect. Every game this season has been on a knife-edge where either a mistake has cost them or a goal has saved them.
Failing to strengthen the squad in attacking areas in the summer was always going to prove costly over the course of the campaign and it has so again. But the mantra of only demanding a team of triers, who give their all for the black and white shirt, is compromised when they are ‘thanked’ in a way such as that after a defeat.
It was Ashley and the board who passed up the opportunity to strengthen the squad in the summer, not Benitez and certainly not the players. Team spirit and organisation is what their great start has been built upon but that is not enough to sustain an entire season. Quality going forward which, on current showing, Newcastle don’t have, is needed. That is not the fault of anyone who received such derision from the stands at the weekend.
Of course, they are not immune from criticism. Some of Benitez’s substitutions have been questionable and he may not have been reactive enough in attacking situations. But his hands are tied behind his back and he has worked wonders at Newcastle so far.
Ashley has stifled phase two of his project to turn the club into a Europa League-challenger and it may be his last if the owner doesn’t sell up as he promised. Perspective buyer Amanda Staveley seems to be the club’s only hope but the reality of the current situation is biting after the Bournemouth defeat.
Previous teams, from not so long ago, could be accused of not giving their all in every game and that is why the club floundered for so many years before. Moussa Sissoko and Gini Wijnaldum are playing in the Champions League this year, for Tottenham and Liverpool respectively, yet they couldn’t dig Newcastle out of a hole when Benitez arrived. The problem was bigger than them but they were certainly a symptom because they were perceived not to care.
It has been said before and it will be said again, Benitez is so popular with the majority of Newcastle fans not because he has won the Champions League and so many other titles, but because he understands what the club and the city mean and makes sure the players do too.
Jamaal Lascelles has had his critics, but for such a young player to be thriving as a captain and a leader shows he gets it, too. In fact, he has a right to feel aggrieved having not yet been given an England call-up.
Turning up to games shows people care but it doesn’t give them a divine right to react to a defeat like that, much less when complaining about treatment from outside media. Newcastle will have targeted the Bournemouth match as an opportunity for three points but the way the Premier League is, coupled with the lack of firepower in the Magpies squad, means nothing is guaranteed.
The glory days may not have returned to Newcastle yet and everyone, from the fans, to Rafa Benitez and the players, is frustrated at the situation. This isn’t a call for perspective, even though the team is 11th and in much better shape than many expected, it is a call to say fans should understand the situation, just as they call for others to understand them. This is a young team of triers, growing together, and they will only succeed with everyone onside.