In Joe Kinnear’s “Talk Sport” interview just over a week ago with Richard Keys and Andy Gray, besides being touched as Kinnear recalled the awful series of events which befell him after his reign at Newcastle, not just the heart episode which forced him into retirement but also the loss of his only son Elliott to multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow), and then Kinnear himself contracting Septicaemia (blood poisoning), it also reminded me of the complete and utter of contempt shown to Kinnear by the media and many of Newcastle United’s fans when he was manager, a contempt which still remains seemingly after seeing some of the responses to it. So in this piece, I thought I would examine his record at the club, and attempt to explore some aspects of why this might be.
Getting to the interview itself, which is still available in full on the Talk Sport website, Keys remarked at the beginning of the interview on Kinnear’s time at St James’ Park:
“You slipped away so quietly after that time at Newcastle as a result of illness. we never really got the opportunity, I’m sure all Geordie fans would like to say ‘well done.’ You didn’t get quite the credit you deserve for laying the foundation stones to sorting that mess out. It was quite a period, wasn’t it?”
To which Kinnear responded:
“It was, yes. The point was, as you rightly say, if it wasn’t for ill health I honestly believe I’d still be there to this day. But I went in at a difficult time. We were lying third from bottom, and of course, after I sorted alot of the problems out, Mike Ashley who was owner at the time was in the process of selling it, or trying to sell it. So the problem was, as soon as I was there I realised that we could do with extra players coming in, as they have done today. But I never got the opportunity to do that so therefore I had to work with what I had, even though it was a half decent side, and I thought I was doing exceptionally well. We got up to twelfth place, and of course, we were playing West Brom away and I had my second heart attack and was taken into hospital in Birmingham. I think I was only there less than six months. My contract was a year, with a possibility of another three providing I kept the team up, and I was really really disappointed that never occurred.”
Taking a look at Kinnear’s record at Newcastle, he was very slightly incorrect. Newcastle were actually one place lower (19th) when he took over as manager, and they were 13th (not 12th) after defeating West Brom 3-2 on that fateful day for Kinnear when his Newcastle United career ended. Nonetheless, it is indeed correct that he did manage to raise the club by six places under the most difficult and turbulent circumstances. To put this into context, this was at a time of chaos in the boardroom, uncertainty in the dressing room, being second bottom of the Premiership after four successive defeats and finally, the club also suffered very badly with injuries during much of Kinnear’s time too, far more than the injuries which have been blamed many times for the club’s current 16th place. At one stage the club had a whole team out (11 first team players were unavailable), so many that Kinnear had to cancel training at the club’s Benton training ground. As he rightly pointed out at one point in the interview, there was no huge influx of French talent to shore things up either as there has been in Alan Pardew’s current crisis. Whilst he did make three first team signings in his six months at the club (Peter Lovenkrands, Kevin Nolan and Ryan Taylor), he also lost two of Newcastle’s most important players of the time (Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia).
Despite all this though, he managed to stop the run of defeats in his first games in charge. Even before that Kinnear seemed to have some kind of effect. After initially taking a watching brief for Newcastle United’s sixth Premiership game against Blackburn, he saw a very poor first half performance, where a broken spirited Toon found themselves two goals down at the break. On that he insisted on making the half time team talk and though they still lost, Newcastle were a far better team in second half, pulling one goal back and generally looking like a team who might have even won if they’d played the whole game as they played that final 45 minutes. He then started his account with a 2-2 draw against Everton, following it up with the same result against Manchester City. By the time he left, his Premiership record record was Played 19, Won 5, Drawn 8 and Lost 6, winning a total of 23 points. If these results were extrapolated to cover a whole Premiership season of 38 games (or simply doubled in other words), the club would have won 46 points that season and wouldn’t have even been close to being relegated.
However, getting back to Keys’ question, even after all this time, the response to Kinnear’s rather interview was still more derision than “well done.” One rather egregious example was this piece, written by someone calling herself “Jackie Smithfield” for fan website “The Mag,” had no sympathy whatsoever for Kinnear, pompously proclaiming that he felt was his “public duty” to paint Kinnear as some kind of delusional madman.
But to get to the main point of this piece, what exactly is behind all the steaming ordure that he has received from some fans? Personally, I can think of several possibilities:
1. The “Cockney Mafia” factor.
The one usually put forward by Kinnear himself was the fallacy that Joe Kinnear is a “Cockney,” despite the fact that he was born in Dublin. Keys raised this one fairly early in the interview, remarking “But they don’t like a Cockney spiv up there, do they,” to which Kinnear responded:
“No. That is the problem. That was always my contention when I saw alot of the media headlines. I wondered what I did actually to upset them. That was prior to me going there, the ‘Cockney Spiv’ takes over. Now we’ve got two Cockney Spivs. We’ve got the owner and now the manager.”
I think that this is one area where Kinnear’s contention might just be a little wide of the mark, or not, it’s hard to say. He also hasn’t done himself any favours with Newcastle United fans by prosecuting his case as strongly as he has in the way he has, as it can seem as if he has tarred all fans with the same brush. It’s a strange one as like Kinnear, Mike Ashley isn’t a “Cockney” either (he was born in Walsall and raised on the Herts / Bucks borders where he still lives). However, it is beyond doubt that Ashley was indeed referred to as a Cockney Spiv / Barrow boy / whatever on many occaisions by many fans. Actually, the closest thing to a “Cockney Spiv” at the club in those days was Chris Hughton from Stratford in the East End of London. Prejudice is a strange animal though and strangely, Hughton was one of the few who avoided the “Cockney Spiv” tag from fans back in those days.
2. Media ambush.
As suggested just above, Kinnear is not exactly an emollient silver tongued charmer when there’s a mic in front of him. A manager for the media age he most certainly wasn’t. His very first TV interview as Newcastle United manager on “Football Focus” gave a clue of what was to come when he used the word “s**t” on the daytime family show. Soon after came Simon Bird (the Mirror’s North East football correspondent) and “****gate” of course, when Kinnear went into a potty mouthed tirade at the media, starting with Bird and the “c” word. It was tabloid gold at the time. However, Kinnear isn’t the only manager to have done this by any means. Alex Ferguson has made similar tirades against journalists off the record at Old Trafford, and even modest, mild mannered Jose Mourinho recently told one Spanish journalist:
“In the world of football, me and my staff are ‘top’ and in the world of journalism, you are a s**t!”
If Kinnear was correct about Bird, then perhaps even he wasn’t quite as big a **** as his fellow piece of sociopathic hack trash from the Mirror, Brian McNally, who later wrote a story proudly bragging about the part he claims to have played in Kinnear’s second heart attack. Alas, Newcastle United aren’t Manchester United or Real Madrid, and the naive Kinnear walked straight into a media ambush. In hindsight, discretion might well have been the better part of valour for Kinnear on that occaision as it certainly didn’t help. Even in the talk sport interview I have been referencing above, Kinnear didn’t do himself any favours in some parts. Describing the pressure of managing Newcastle United, he said at one point:
“It is an area, and it’s equally vibrant daily, so it’s consistent pressure. What we have up there is you can’t walk out in Newcastle without seeing somebody with a Newcastle shirt. It’s like about 200,000 penguins walking around the city, even the women! They go to work with black and white shirts on.”
He meant it as a testament to the region’s passion for football, something which he has expressed far more eloquently in am interview last year when he said of Newcastle United fans:
“I loved every minute of it. I loved the supporters, they were fantastic. The away suporters, I don’t think I’ve had better away supporters in my whole career. Wherever we went, nine times out of ten they were noisier than the home supporters.”
In the more recent instance though he could perhaps have put it a little better, though I must confess that I’ve even had the same thought myself when I’ve been back in Newcastle in recent years, and I was born in Gosforth. Judging by some of the reactions to that part, it did seem to inspire the umbrage of quite a few fans. However I also think it had as much to do with who said it as what he actually said. I wonder if those same fans would have been as angry if Yohan Cabaye or Hatem Ben Arfa said it? Indeed, some of the recent imports to St James’ Park have said similar things and they received a entirely different response.
3. His abilty was underestimated and his tactics were misunderstood.
When Kinnear was named as manager, many younger fans, as well as those who just don’t really know a great deal about football didn’t seem to understand how good a manager Joe Kinnear actually was, or what his tactical approach to the game actually was either. Like Pardew, he was a winner of the LMA “Manager of the Year” award during his 7 1/2 year spell spell with the tiny Premiership club. It was an amazing feat to keep them in the Premiership for so long, never mind as a regular top ten side, and the club were relegated the season after his departure. However, because Wimbledon were also associated with Dave “route one” Bassett and the FA Cup winning Bobby “long balls” Gould, both of whom managed Wimbledon before Kinnear, his association the South London club was actually seen as a negative in the eyes of some Newcastle fans. This was because they mistakenly lumped Kinnear into the same basket as a “route one” manager. Indeed, one of the most common pieces of verbal ordure hurled at Kinnear when he was Newcastle manager was that he was a “long ball dinosaur,” which said more about their woeful ignorance of football than it did about Kinnear himself as actually, nothing could have been further from the truth. Kinnear’s grounding in coaching came from his time as a Tottenham player under Bill “push and run” Nicholson, the greatest of all Tottenham managers, a manager who was known for his innovative passing football. It was actually Kinnear who took Wimbledon away from their previous route one style and taught them how to play the game in a far more elegant fashion. I remember watching Kinnear’s Wimbledon playing Tottenham many years ago and they completely passed them off the park, winning 3-1. Hence, all that “long ball dinosaur” stuff was just plain wrong.
4. The martyrdom of St.Kevin and the assumption of St.Alan.
Kinnear was the manager who was appointed by Mike Ashley directly after Kevin Keegan walked out, That was a crime on it’s own for the hardcore militant fundamentalists of the K.K. Martyrs Brigades, but the similarly fundamentalist Al Sheera faction were also gagging for that other messiah in the wings to take over. Of course, he would be the man who would finally lead Newcastle United into the abyss after FIVE managerial changes in one season. It was double trouble.
Personally, I think that it is probably a combination of more than one of the above, all of which coalesced into a perfect storm for the hapless Kinnear. His rather blunt and ill considered way of putting things at times certainly did him no favours, but I really don’t think he deserved the open hostility he received for that alone. His wobbler with the media apart, his words were occaisionally clumsy, not spiteful or malicious like some of the comments which have been aimed at him. Though his record was hardly earth shattering, it must be seen in the context of that terrible and unstable chapter in the club’s history and if his health hadn’t have failed him, I genuinely believe that the club wouldn’t have been relegeted in 2009.
One thing I am sure of though is that his abilties were underestimated and he wasn’t treated with the respect he deserved.