For this week’s Sermon on the Mount, I had been intending to discuss either the complex and challenging emotional journey that attending Felling versus Tynemouth in the NEPL would have involved, where my childhood demons faced off against my middle aged contentment, or the mental anguish of my Gimblett meets Trescothick preparations for Stobswood 2nds against Monkseaton 3rds. Instead, I had a lost weekend; heavy overnight rain put paid to lengthy introspective musings on the midweek anxiety I’d endured while on-line shopping for whites (XXXXXXXL size, natch) that gave way to Friday evening insomnia and Kafkaesque night terrors. The Felling v Tynemouth game looked an unlikely prospect when I had to make my Saturday sporting choice, so I cycled to Blyth AFC v Benfield, while the Croons stormed to a stirring 7-wicket win after starting at 2.45, then caught a smidgeon of Monkseaton 2nds narrow 226 run loss to Whitley Bay 2nds in the natural amphitheatre on Hillheads Road, before several great pints in the Left Luggage Room and The Lodge, predictably enough.
I was glad of the trip out to Blyth; good to get the sun on your face and wind on your back. So far this season, I’ve seen 2 Benfield friendlies and learned nothing from them, other than Joe Hailes, the lad we signed from Chester, looks more than decent. First up, it should have been Blyth Spartans on 4th July; unfortunately the usual summer downpour meant the pitch was a lake and so the game didn’t go ahead, which was a shame. Instead, we kicked off against Esh Winning on the 4G at the school in 30 degree heat on Saturday 8th, where the main source of excitement was their jumpy jack ex referee manager Jackie Traynor; considering he used to wield a whistle, he doesn’t have a lot of time for officials. We beat them 3-2; up 2-0 early on, changed the whole team at the break, pegged back to 2-2, then Dylan McEvoy curled a delicious free kick for the winner. Still Jackie chuntered on about our first being offside, berating poor old Tony Cash from pillar to post for not raising his flag. There was another kickabout against Forest Hall on the Thursday, which we won 6-1; I didn’t bother with this one, but apparently it was played on a school grass pitch as several of our lot had pet lips on about carpet burns from the astro turf. Soft as shite the lot of them.
No such problems at South Newsham on Saturday; plenty of grass on the pitch, which actually looked like it could do with a trim in all honesty. Apparently the Northern League Division 2 side using this facility are now known as Blyth AFC, not to be confused with Blyth Town (who also play at South Newsham and used to be Blyth Town Reserves) or Blyth FC (who play at Cowpen) from the Alliance second division. Further attempts at elucidation as to the state of relations between these competing entities were unsuccessful; it’s a great squad they’ve got and a great facility too, but is it only a team rather than a club? Time will tell. Anyway, the game itself was your typical pre-season farce; ended 4-4 with a trio of soft penalties, two for them and one for us. It went 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, 3-3, 4-3 and finally 4-4. The last goal was a lovely finish by Ollie Leedham; nice to see him returning to fitness. Next up we’ve got Killingworth YPC from the Alliance, at Amberley Park, before a trip to Durham City on Saturday 22nd. Hopefully that game will allow me to tick off a couple of nearby NEPL Division 1 grounds, with Willington hosting Mainsforth and Brandon facing Sacriston.
Luckily, I did get to see some Tynemouth cricket on Sunday. I arrived at Preston Avenue to find the Academy carrying on the brave and noble Croons tradition of horrific batting collapses; they were 2/4 and then 9/5, before a promising young fella by the name of Hallam Major made it a contest by contributing 35 not out from a total of 84. When Washington were 42/5 in reply, it looked incredibly well balanced, but they managed to dig in and win without further mishap. Interesting game and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but not enough there for a full article, alas. Though, as Saturday’s first team run-out hero Martin Pollard pointed out, while attempting to contain his exuberant toddler offspring and explaining the minutiae of the ideological chasm that separates Eppleton’s Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks from Hetton Lyons, I was bound to think of something and, surprisingly, I have….
Ladies and Gentleman; the winter it has passed and the summer’s come at last, which means the football season is back! Whoop! Whoop! Alleluia! Sing hosannas to the glorious silver jubilee of the Premier League. Give footballers Phillip Hammond’s wages. Sort Rafa out with a 3XL Slazenger polo and set him to work on the tills in the new SD where Boyers used to be on Sráid Tuaisceart Iarla; he can have every penny he earns from his shift for new players. Yes folks, the big news is not that Newcastle United have so far only completed the permanent transfers of former loanee Christian Atsu and the acquisition of Florian Lejeune, with Jacob Murphy apparently imminent, or that the squad has been bolstered by the return of the prodigals De Jong, Riviere, Saivet and the charlatan Krul, but that 100 lucky punters with Willie Wonka style wristbands get to see the manager and the players for some gladhanding merch launch at Ashley’s kip on Da Nort Soide. Who knows, if it goes well enough, we won’t just be able to get some more bodies over the line, but we might raise the €60m needed to buy Carton House, where straight the team have repaired, as it’s there we’ll find tidings of our dears. Mind, experience lets me know that Kildare supporters’ hearts are full of woe after the Jackeens took their strides down in the Leinster final. We’ll return to the GAA and League of Ireland later in the summer, despite the fact there won’t be a state visit this year, leaving me stuck on 31 of 32 counties and 17 of 20 grounds…
However, I know you’re actually yearning to read about my take on Newcastle United, so here goes. As ever, the situation is a complex and multifaceted one that seems to elude the grasp of many of the support whose default position, regardless of circumstance, is self-righteous fury. Transfer dealings are a major bugbear; rather typically it isn’t just a case of complaining we’ve not signed enough, but the immoderate response to those we are linked with, on whatever tenuous pretext, or the potential sales of certain squad members. Frankly, if everyone just took a deep breath and stepped back from their smartphones and tablets, they’d see just how silly they all look, endlessly pontificating about the state of Newcastle United.
For many of the Twitterati, and I’m not just talking about the self-selected south Tyneside uberfan Brains’ Trust here by any means, it is almost as if the travails of the club are of greater magnitude than any other event. The unstoppable rise of Corbyn’s Labour Party, the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the situation regarding Trump and Russia: none of these things matter. If it isn’t specifically related to Newcastle United, or how the deficiencies of local public transport negatively impacts on their day, they aren’t interested. Some of this lot were more concerned with the outcome of the Fans’ Forum composition than the General election; it really is nuts.
The situation is this; if we accept the Jacob Murphy deal will be completed soon, then Newcastle United will still have 3 players out on loan, in the shape of Matz Sels at Anderlecht, Alex Gilliead at Bradford and Tom Heardman who’s with Bury. Yoan Gouffran is out of contract and appears ready to turn down the offer of another year on reduced terms, which is a shame as he did well in The Championship; Turkey is his apparent destination. Best of luck to the lad; him and Vurnon Anita were steady, sensible footballers who endured endless tirades of intemperate abuse by those with without faith who didn’t accept the truth. Of those still on Tyneside, Mbemba has some Visa problem, Adam Armstrong is still in Milburn reception with his suitcase and a packed lunch, waiting to go out on loan, the returning, worthless loanees Riviere and Krul appear to be finished at NUFC, while Achraf Lazaar, whose debut against Wolves in the League Cup last season was as awful as Fumaca’s legendary sub appearance against West Ham on January 2nd 2000, is hopefully on his way too. Goodness knows where though…
There are 27 players training at Carton House, including the apparently expendable Darlow, Hanley and Daryl Murphy, so if we add Mbemba to those still required at SJP and count no chickens about the latest potential Norfolk turkey, we have 25 players realistically in with a shout of the first team: Rob Elliot, Freddie Woodman, Ciaran Clark, Paul Dummett, Jesus Gamez, Massadio Haidara, Jamaal Lascelles, Florian Lejeune, Jamie Sterry, DeAndre Yedlin, Rolando Aarons, Christian Atsu, Jack Colback, Mo Diame, Victor Fernandez, Isaac Hayden, Matt Ritchie, Henri Saivet, Jonjo Shelvey, Callum Roberts, Siem De Jong, Dwight Gayle, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Ayoze Perez and Chancel Mbemba. Being brutally honest Gamez and Haidara don’t look like they’re that bothered about playing football, while Sterry, Roberts and Fernandez are presumably there for experience. So, we’re down to 20 players now; obviously as it’s a squad game, we need 18 for a team and the full bench, which could look something like this -:
Elliott – solid & dependable
Yedlin – fast, exciting & keen to improve
Clark – assured & classy
Lejeune – great pedigree
Dummett – there is no-one more reliable at the club
Hayden – potentially a great player
Shelvey – the main creative force
Ritchie – passionate & creative
Atsu – grew in confidence as the last season went on
Perez – the most instinctive player at the club; capable of moments of sheer quality
Gayle – his goals record speaks for itself
Woodman – a World Cup winner
Lascelles – huge heart
Mbemba – steady performer
Aarons – unpredictable, but talented
Mitrovic – Serbian Whitehurst
There are still 2 bench places to fill, presumably in the midfield, with 4 potential candidates. The front runners may be assumed to be those in possession of Championship medals, namely Colback and Diame, though the former was woeful last season and the latter, seen as a Championship specialist, didn’t exactly set the heather blazing either.
However, this is precisely where Rafa and his apparently impressive coaching skills should come into play; what about De Jong and Saivet? I realise they weren’t Benitez buys, though neither were 4 of the first eleven or any of the other benchwarmers. Surely Rafa has the guile, experience and nous to coax something from the two of them; De Jong, rather than Diame, is the only realistic option to Perez for a number 10 and Saivet could hardly be less effective than Wearside Jack. Could he? Newcastle’s first friendly was away up in Gorgie at Tynecastle Park last Friday night; it wasn’t on the Saturday as the Leith San Siro was holding the capital’s bigger game of the weekend when Hibs trounced Montrose in a Scottish League cup group game. That said, Newcastle played quite well, with the outstanding performer, even outstripping Gayle’s brace in a 2-1 win, was Siem De Jong. I know it’s not the Champions League, but his rehabilitation has to start somewhere. I’d warrant Benitez ought to spend the week in Kildare trying to get the best out of De Jong and Saivet, as they could make the cliché real and be like two new signings.
Yes I’ll freely admit there are gaps in the squad; a reliable full back if Gamez and Haidara (as well as Lazaar) aren’t up to the task, someone creative in midfield and a lethal striker would be nice. However, as appears to be the case, either Ashley’s obstinate intransigence or Charnley’s pettifogging parsimony are acting as spokes in the wheel of progress, Benitez needs to show his strength of character. This doesn’t mean flouncing out the club, nor does it necessarily mean doing a double shift in the Shirebrook warehouse to curry favour with the owner. It means getting on with the job, grafting and getting the best out of players who, if they have any dignity, will want to show what they are capable of.
With the squad out of the country this week, I’m expecting no deals other than Murphy to be concluded before the Preston game and possibly not before Bradford on 26th July. Such apparent inaction will probably require the Twitterati to be placed in induced comas for their own safety. I’m not naïve enough to suggest that 31st August is when we should look at the squad, as we’ll be 3 games into the season by then, but the Verona friendly on 6th August is looming pretty large in terms of signposting I feel, as one week before the season starts, you’d expect to see the first choice eleven in position. Here’s hoping eh?