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Out of Toon

The soap opera known as Newcastle United rolls into London today when Graeme Souness’s team open their season with a visit to Highbury. It kicks off year 50 of the quest to bring glory and silverware back to the North-East. Eternally optimistic Geordie fans will hope that skipper and talisman Alan Shearer’s valedictory campaign will end in a first domestic trophy since the 1955 FA Cup. But a disappointing fourteenth position last term and the now inevitable summer rumblings of discontent that have caused Lauren Robert and Craig Bellamy to leave suggest another year of frustration.

‘When you look up at the crowd at St James’ Park it’s like looking at 30,000 baying zebras,’ says United supporter and BBC darts commentator, Sid Waddell. ‘The fans are fanatical. It should be regarded as like going to the ballet. It’s working-class theatre. It gets in the blood. It’s part of the cultural tapestry of the North-East.’

Newcastle have won four league titles, six FA Cups and the Fairs Cup. But the championships were between the two World Wars and the defunct Fairs competition (now Uefa Cup) was won 36 years ago. The club of Jackie Milburn, Huey Gallagher and Malcolm Macdonald may teem with black friday 2013 canada goose sale tradition and passion, but it just cannot take that final step. ‘You don’t realise how difficult it is to win the Premiership. For us to have won it would have been massive for that club. It is a massive, massive regret of mine, ‘ says Robert Lee, a member of the Kevin Keegan side that in 1996 famously capitulated when leading the Premiership by 12 points.

Lee, at least, starred in the scintillating attacking football of King Kev’s reign that was a result, says Waddell, of Keegan leaving defending off the training schedule. Since 1996, United have managed one more second place and lost two FA Cup finals, in 1998 and 1999. Ultimately, Keegan and successors Kenny Dalglish, Ruud Gullit and Sir Bobby Robson have found dealing with the massive expectation and internal politics impossible. It is a role Souness, the current incumbent, likened to ‘working in a Latin country’ when last December a run of one league victory in eight games left him under pressure just three months into the job.

‘It was the crest of a wave for five years,’ says Lee, who joined at the beginning of the Keegan years in 1992, left a decade later and buy canada goose parka ottawa is now at Wycombe. ‘They were in the Championship [old Second Division]. When I joined, the club grew and grew. But when it should’ve really pushed on I don’t believe the club did. They’ve certainly backed their managers. They’ve spent a lot of money. Sometimes the managers just haven’t bought wisely.’

There have been some questionable buys – Marcelino, anyone? – but every club has those. It would seem relations throughout the club and, on occasion, with their undying support, is a bigger problem. There have been too many episodes to document exhaustively here, but in the past two seasons alone notable debacles include accusations of roasting, a stand-up fight between Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer in front of 53,000 fans at St James’ Park and Craig Bellamy calling Souness a ‘liar’ on Sky TV.

And there was also, agonisingly for anyone who cares about the club, the infamous tabloid sting of seven years ago. Freddy Shepherd, the club chairman, and director Douglas Hall memorably aired their views while knee-deep in a Spanish brothel. They were selling, they boasted, thousands of replica shirts that cost a fiver to make in China for £50 each. Tyneside legend Shearer was like ‘Mary Poppins’. And Newcastle’s women were all ‘dogs’.

Both resigned, then gradually eased their way back in. Souness may just have underestimated his challenge. ‘It’s terrible what’s happened there over the last couple of years. The manager falling out with players, players falling out with the directors,’ says Waddell. ‘It’s like being the President of America having to take into account the border of Mexico black friday, the question of free trade with Canada. You’ve got to have a diplomat but [a manager who is] also as impassioned as Keegan and Bobby Robson. The problems of the last few years have not been at director level but finding a replacement for Keegan. He did it all – was the player who scored goals and then returned as the manager.’

Keegan is, indeed, a god on Tyneside, but he is the immortal who won nothing even while being bankrolled by Sir John Hall, the now retired local businessman who took control of the club in 1991 and whose millions were enough to make Newcastle a true factor in the transfer market.

Times have changed. ‘As an outside person I don’t see Newcastle as a joke. I see them as a club that will never achieve what their fans want them to. That’s down to the advent of [billionaire Chelsea owner] Roman Abramovich, not the running of the club,’ says the Crystal Palace chairman, Simon Jordan. ‘I don’t think some of the headlines help the outside perception, and they’ve had a succession of managers in the past who haven’t quite done it. But they’re a huge club – close to being the best supported in the country by a community that eats and sleeps football.’

It is understandable why the club believe they should attract big-name players. But is it realistic? In his autobiography, Robson talks of Shepherd’s belief that Newcastle were genuine contenders to sign Wayne Rooney.

He chose Manchester United. ‘It’s to do with the money. Rooney has the prestige and obviously Man U is more popular than Newcastle. I didn’t think we stood a chance,’ says 16-year-old Toon Army member Paul King, outside the club shop in the city centre. ‘The Manchester Uniteds and Arsenals are in a slightly different league, money-wise.’ So when Shepherd talks of a ‘Geordie Abramovich’ is that the real solution? ‘Unfortunately, yeah. I wouldn’t like it to be that way, but I think that’s the way we’ve probably got to go.’

Police officer Gary Wilson is a season-ticket holder. ‘Rooney wouldn’t come here at the minute. We need more success,’ he says. For Rooney, read England strike partner Michael Owen – this summer’s stellar name who is surely destined not to choose the North-East over Champions League football and Real Madrid. Will Newcastle, then, ever win the title? ‘In time, we will. In the next two or three seasons. I firmly believe that. We are a massive club. Everyone in the town thinks of Newcastle like that,’ says Wilson.

As Lee says, some signings have not always seemed prudent. Last season, Patrick Kluivert’s unconvincing stay – on £60,000 a week – ended with his moving to Valencia, and it would be interesting to see how prospective buy, and rather wayward striker, Nicolas Anelka found strict disciplinarian Souness.

Scoring has been Shearer’s job since he joined nine years ago. Then, Newcastle may have been big enough to attract England’s star striker, but Shearer is a Geordie and that was surely a deciding factor in his turning down Sir Alex Ferguson and the great team of Scholes, Giggs and Beckham who won the Treble in 1999.

Shearer can safely be called a god on Tyneside. It is his managers who have been mortal. Following the rain-soaked defeat to local rivals Sunderland in August 1999, out went Gullit for dropping Shearer to the bench. The Dutchman just did not understand how much it mattered to the Toon Army that one of their own was the club’s leader.

Robson, whose father took him to watch United, must have believed that canada goose coat 1000 calorie meal plans as a fellow son of the region, the fans would understand why he had dropped Shearer for a the game against Aston Villa last August. But no. Robson walked just five games into the season, having provided a legitimate reason for Shepherd to sack the 72-year-old in what was to be his last campaign anyway.

Does Shearer, then, have too much influence? ‘He should be manager,’ says Debbie Shepherd, who is having a drink on the strip of bars in the town centre known as Bigg Market. ‘Souness is no good for the team’s morale. People outside Newcastle canada goose coat 1000 bulbs led just don’t understand how important the club is to the town. We love the club. Why are the colours black and white? Because of the pit. They went in white best canada goose jacket for skiing and come out black.’ And what of Shepherd’s comments about the town’s womenfolk? ‘It’s terrible and disgusting. I’m not a slag. He’s from Newcastle himself and his daughters are. So if we’re slags, his daughters are slags.’ Is he popular in the town? ‘Yes.’ Even following his comments? ‘Because he owns Newcastle United.’

Some, though, judge success differently. Alan Oliver has covered the club since 1980 for the Newcastle Evening Chronicle . ‘I’ve seen defeats at Cambridge, Southend and Shrewsbury. Look at where they buy canada goose coat uk are now. They have a fantastic stadium and training facilities. I’m distraught for the town, the club and the newspaper that they are out of Europe this season. But I’ve been to 30 different countries with them.’

Is there a problem, though, with Shepherd’s stewardship of the club? ‘I don’t know what more he could do,’ says Oliver. ‘Fans think if he was to go, trophies would fall out of the sky. Once they cross that white line, it’s up to the players. The problem has been that managers can’t take that last step. Bobby [Robson] was so close.’ Is geography an issue in attracting top players? ‘It shouldn’t matter. Gullit could be in Amsterdam in an hour by plane. Before we knew it Patrick Kluivert was in the newspapers clubbing in London.’

Oliver also believes that question marks over Souness, who took the club to the semi-finals of the FA and Uefa Cups last season, are unfair. ‘They played 19 games in cup competitions alone last year. That’s half a [Premiership] season! Too many fans are against him. I don’t know why. Being the manager here is the hardest job in football.’

Whatever the reasons for the current situation, change would seem to be inevitable with Shearer retiring and talk of a takeover, although who is interested now that local racehorse owner Graham Wylie has ruled himself out is unclear. ‘They’re in a transitional period at the moment,’ says Lee, who does not believe his former club are even in the band of clubs behind Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal chasing the final Champions League place.

‘They should’ve chucked out Shearer a year ago,’ reckons Waddell. ‘Bless their hearts, they’ve relied on him too long. The focus of our attack should’ve been Bellamy. He was the only guy who could get you 20 goals a season. Play him with a Lauren Robert and a Lee Clark. The player they should’ve got was Lampard. But Is he going to come Newcastle? Is he hell.’

While Bellamy and Robert went, local lad and lifelong supporter Clark is back on Tyneside at the age of 33. He is registered as a player and helping with training. ‘Even players who come here for a while don’t realise the impact the club has on the fans’ lives. It’s the be-all and end-all for them,’ says the midfielder who began eight years at the club as a 17-year-old. What, then, would success mean? ‘Whichever team and manager finally wins a domestic trophy will get the freedom of the city. It’s been too long.’

It does seem an buy canada goose jacket edmonton age for a club Newcastle’s size. Yet again, the cup competitions would seem to provide their best chance of honours in the near future. ‘People wonder why we’ve done nowt,’ says Waddell. ‘When we beat Barcelona [3-2 in 1997 Champions League], the fans were singing: “Are you watching Sunderland?” It is tribal and local. They could sell out the season tickets to the year 2050 because they do not need success. Newcastle United are a crusade not a football club.’

The black and white movement continues today.

Comedy Club? Newcastle’s headlines since Keegan resigned in ’97

March 1998 ‘I like blondes, big bust, good legs. I want a lesbian show with handcuffs,’ Chairman Freddy Shepherd tells an undercover reporter. ‘Newcastle girls are all dogs.’ Shepherd and vice chairman Doug Hall are also recorded bragging about selling replica kits for £50 when they cost £5 to make. ‘These comments,’ said a statement from black friday 2013 canada goose sale their representative, ‘do not represent their true views.’

April 1998 Alan Shearer – dubbed ‘Mary Poppins’ by Hall and Shepherd in the same sting – kicks Leicester’s Neil Lennon in the face. ‘I don’t care whether you’re Alan Shearer or the Pope,’ says Martin O’Neill, ‘you don’t do that.’

August 1999 Having taken over from Kenny Dalgish a year earlier, Ruud Gullit has to be dragged away from confronting referee Uriah Rennie. ‘You can fine me whatever you want,’ said Gullit. ‘I’m right and I know I’m right.’ Later launches tirade against his own players, and is sacked after dropping Shearer. Bobby Robson appointed.

December 1999 Robson’s new signing Kieron Dyer has ‘furious bust-up’ at the club Christmas party – the latest in a series of incidents. Robson gives Dyer a final warning to stay off the front pages. Two weeks later, Dyer’s caught in a porn scandal with Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard. Robson offers Dyer last chance and bans him from alcohol.

June 2001 Dyer smashes Mercedes while travelling to the club’s training ground. The following month he’s banned from driving for two months for speeding.

November 2001 Dyer is one of four players sent home from a club trip to Spain for refusing to attend a dinner for Sir John Hall. Fined two weeks’ wages.

February 2002 Craig Bellamy cautioned for assaulting a female student outside a Newcastle nightclub after she jokingly pretended to hitch a lift in Dyer’s £50,000 Mercedes.

November 2002 Bellamy sent off as Inter beat Newcastle 4-1 in the Champions League. Shearer also banned after video evidence proved he’d elbowed Paulo Cannavaro in the head.

July 2003 Bellamy charged with racially aggravated harassment outside a nightclub. Denies calling an Asian man a ‘f*****g Paki’ and a doorman a ‘gypo’. Newcastle, meanwhile, sign Lee Bowyer, who issues statement to angry fans assuring them he is ‘no racist’.

March 2004 Bellamy involved in punch-up with coach John Carver at Newcastle airport.

August 2004 Like Gullit, Robson sacked after dropping Shearer. Bellamy abuses new boss Graeme Souness after being substituted at The Valley. Later four Newcastle players are involved in ‘an incident’ at the Ritz in London.

December 2004 Souness cancels Christmas party to avoid possible trouble.

January 2005 Bellamy refuses to play in a wide position, just as Dyer had early in the season. ‘I won’t apologise – I’ve done nothing wrong. There’s no doubt about it: I’m out of here.’ Quits for Celtic on loan.

April 2005 Bowyer and Dyer indulge in on-pitch punch-up after Bowyer calls Dyer a ‘f*****g c**t’. Bowyer fined a record six best fake canada goose jacket weeks wages – £210,000 – but Newcastle can’t sell him, and Bowyer pledges to stay.

May 2005 best ideas about canada goose outlet on pinterest Freddy Shepherd reveals he’s producing a rule book for his players. ‘If they don’t live up to the standards we expect,’ says Shepherd, ‘they’ll be punished by the club.’