Despite falling short as Keegan had done back in the ’90s, with his wealth of experience, Robson played a brand of football that the supporters could once again get behind. And the football wasn’t just good to watch but effective as we flirted with European and domestic success. But of course, the end of his reign was somewhat soured by it’s nature as many fans welcomed the decision feeling he’d lost the dressing room, and he was unceremoniously dumped by Freddy Shepherd.
2000 actually saw Robson get rid of one of our most infamous and old-fashioned bad-boys, Duncan Ferguson, but the new millenium brought the advent of a new type of bad-boy. The ‘noughties’ became the decade of the ‘naughties’ as Robson built his side around ‘bling boys’, such as the likes of Keiron Dyer, Jermaine Jenas, Titus Bramble and Craig Bellamy. Footballers have always lived the life of Riley but for some reason the sudden increase to obscene and unjustifiable salaries made it all the more unpalatable. We picked up headlines for the wrong reasons as regularly as we did for the right reasons.
Following the end of Robson’s tenure, we then had to put up with Souness’ drab style of football and some ridiculously poor but astronomically-priced players, step forward Jean-Alain Boumsong, Albert Luque to name two of the more unpopular recent wastes of money. And of course Souness’ tenure witnessed one of the most embarrassing episodes in our proud history, as Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer went toe-to-toe at a packed St James’ against Aston Villa.
And it wasn’t long before Souness was shown the door and Glen Roeder stepped forward to take the reigns, with a little help from a certain Mr Shearer along the way. Despite a spirited end to the 2006/2007 campaign, Roeder failed to build and he too was shown the exit, to make way for Sam Allardyce having been relatively successful with his long ball efforts across at Bolton Wanderers.
Some introspection at the time, seemed to have led Newcastle fans to accept that following the swift departures of Souness and Roeder, that Allardyce should be afforded some time to build from the bottom. With promises of doing just that, and his high-tech approach to solving our persistent injury woes, it seemed like the right way to go.
Having put up with Shepherd’s reign, which had involved the pre-millenium News of the World scandal, the poor treatment of Sir Bobby, the continual poor management of NUFC’s finances and his general arrogant and dislikable personality around the games and in the media, Newcastle fans were overjoyed when the club was surprisingly bought by at-the-time billionaire recluse in the Spring of 2007. Mike Ashley was here to rescue Newcastle from mediocrity and the rest you could say is history, if only we weren’t still living the current nightmare.
But with what appeared to be some shrewd buys, most of which were sanctioned by Shepherd before the full takeover in the summer, most fans were optimistic for the coming season. But try as we might the majority of Newcastle fans couldn’t stomach his brand of football and when it became ineffective it was unbearable. Mike Ashley obviously thought so and no doubt influenced by his decision to mix with the fans before, during and after games, where detractors voiced their opinions, he made a bold move.
So it probably shouldn’t have come as any surprise that fans having waxed lyrical about the days of ‘The Entertainers’, that Ashley would try to resurrect that era, given his claim that he was ‘here to have fun’. And yet, it was a decision that shocked the world as Keegan returned to St James’ for the third time, no doubt with a feeling of unfinished business after walking away the first time round as manager.
Even some of the most cynical of fans were excited by the proposition of capturing even a small element of that first Keegan era. But the doubters warned that he would walk at some point. And he did, but not before securing Premiership safety after a difficult return. And not before he was undermined and effectively managed out of the club by an ill-advised new owner who quickly went from hero to villain, as one indiscretion led to another.
From swilling beer in the stands, to the unpopular appointments of Dennis Wise and Joe Kinnear, Derek Llambias. From the poor communication to the conceited behaviour. From the obvious inexperienced and irresponsible way he took over the club and misunderstood and disrespected it so unforgiveably and ultimately to the unforgiveable way he messed around and tried to disparage Keegan. From the false promises of a club sale to the farce of bringing Shearer so late in the day that he inevitably hung him out to dry and then left him to rot back in the BBC studios, Ashley became the villain of the entire decade’s pantomine.
And there are other more recent villains who deserve a mention – Joey Barton a locked-up, let out, lashed out liability who still has the audacity to put his head above the parapet and slate his fellow professionals, even though he’s absolutely spot-on. Keegan himself for the £25m he attempted to claim back from the club, something even I find difficult to accept. Andy Carroll more recently for his off-the-field misdemeanours that bring unwanted attention.
But for all the crap we’ve put up with in recent years, and for all the uncertainty that pervades St James’ Park, can we hope for a new decade to bring some good fortune?
2009 was a year to forget really – it involved all the ‘Rs’. Redundancy, Robbery and Rip-offs for some of us. Recession for all of us. And humiliatingly, Relegation for all of us as Newcastle fans, the one thing we thought was a distant fear as we entered 2000 with Robson leading the way. But the other villains I haven’t mentioned yet, are the highly-paid misfits who weren’t good enough or bothered enough to fight for survival last season and jumped ship at the first opporutunity. Who could blame them, you could say? Reverence also for all Newcastle fans as a hero and legend was laid to rest after a brave battle against cancer.
Well there are heroes of the pantomine that now deserve a mention, relatively speaking that is. The players that stuck around following the drop into the Championship and those have since joined, are heroes almost to a man, having knuckled down and found some honesty, some decency and thankfully some form. And the man right at the front and in charge of it all is Chris Hughton, charged with the job of caretaker manager and ultimately now our permanent gaffer. He is reserved and unassuming and inevitably labelled a ‘yes man’ to Ashley, following the turbulence of ‘Keegangate’.
And yet, we are top of the league and Hughton has come in and got on with it, without any fuss, and so too have his players. They are gradually earning the respect of the football world as the club seeks to find it’s soul. 2010 is likely to be as unpredictable as the last few years, but for now there is a glimmer of hope that we are becoming a proper football club again, even if the way in which it has happened is far from ideal. Who knows what Ashley will do? Who knows who we’ll buy in the January transfer window but for the sake of our promotion push let’s hope they’re more successful than Diego Gavilan. Whatever happens, it’s sure to be anything but boring because this is Newcastle United after all.
Here’s to a brighter future for our belove club and all supporters in and away from St Jame’s Park –
Happy New Year and all the best from the Bowburn branch of .org and the rest of the crew!