Ten-year-old Timmy Thompson walked excitedly out of St. James’ Park, clutching his father’s hand. He couldn’t wait to get home, wolf down his tea, and then head out with his mates to the local park to emulate his Newcastle United heroes.
For hours and hours the young lads would defend in numbers, close down the wings and keep two banks of four packed tightly together. Nobody wanted to be a striker – let alone a number 10 – that was for losers. Arguments would rage on and on with “No, I wanna be Gouffran! I was Ben Arfa last week!” and “Stop passing it short, you’re spoiling it man!” being the most common outcries.
“You should have seen me, Dad! I played mint today – I made 14 clearances and won 5 tackles! And I had the highest percentage of aerial duels won too!” enthused Timmy, happily rushing through the front door covered in mud. It had been a fantastic day. The Toon had been involved in a breath-taking 0-0 draw against the tricky 16th placed side in the Premier League, and then he had the best game of his life down at the park. This is the stuff that a young boy’s footballing dreams are made of.
Whilst the above demonstrates more sarcasm than your average Alexander Pope anthology, it’s a sort of Mad Max-style look into Newcastle United’s future. Look into the crystal ball while a certain Alan Pardew prowls his technical area every weekend and you would not see young kids in the stands being bowled over by the promise of skilful, exciting and technically gifted players. Those days of being raised in the North-East – with iconic number nines, a number eight shirt almost dripping with flair, plus unpredictability, pace, precision and guile throughout the rest of the side – are but a distant memory.
There’s not much at all to pique the interest within our current bland, archaic and downright unsuccessful attempt at playing football; the club is not only rapidly losing supporters but also missing out on potential new ones too. Newcastle United are simply not an interesting team to watch anymore. Even calling the style of football “functional” would be generous. “Functional” tends to imply a no-frills approach, which might actually get some form of result or return. Pardew supplies functional football without fulfilling the function; quite apt really – when you take the “function out of “functional”, what are you left with? “Al”, of course…
Wordsworth wrote in Tintern Abbey that “The dreary intercourse of daily life shall ever prevail against us… therefore let the moon shine on thee.” Without crossing into a realm of pretentiousness that could cause physical pain to the average reader, Alan Pardew has kept a tight grasp on the “moonlight players”. We don’t get to see them very often, we’re frequently reminded that they’re unreliable, and we’re constantly told that they are mavericks who can cause huge problems within the dressing room and be a detriment to the general dynamic of the team.
If you enjoy the notion of not giving much away, being cautious and refusing to take risks, then I can gladly recommend chess. Don’t get me wrong – a game of chess is sophisticated and often exhilarating; yet it is supposed to be played with caution and consideration. Football is defined by what chairmen and managers like to call “bums on seats” sort of players. If Pardew’s Newcastle side was represented on a chessboard, they would make the first move (central pawn moved two squares ahead – the lone, isolated centre forward) and then simply refuse to move again. Two rows of pieces packed together, with the queen and the rooks kept firmly in reserve. It is a metaphor that is a little less pretentious than the Wordsworth one, but is still strikingly accurate; the only difference being that 52,000 people would never pay good money to watch an actual chess match once a fortnight.
To return to the problem of the support once more; we live in an era where a “fast-food culture” of instant gratification means that it is all too easy for an inexperienced young fan to glance at the top of the league and pick a side that promises instant success with that magical winning feeling every week. I ask you; what is there in a Pardew team in order to prevent this sort of thing from happening? The alternate reality of Timmy Thompson aside, why on earth would anyone want to support a team which strangles the merest hint of creativity by pouring blame and scorn on the efforts of the “moonlight players” who attempt to provide it? When the loyal old-timers gradually fade away, year-by-year, what will be left of our once great football club? For the answer, I will unflatteringly misquote Wordsworth – “the dreary intercourse of Pardew football”.