At The Spectator’s View, we encourage all types of articles, even if they don’t necessarily conform to the popular view. Yesterday, I was sent a piece by a Watford fan who had traveled up from London to see the game at the weekend. Though I wouldn’t normally publish an article that is so critical of the club (or rather its fans), I think it raises a few interesting points.
As a disclaimer, I should probably mention, it is not pretty reading for Newcastle fans; it makes for a sobering read. Nevertheless, if anything, it provides an interesting perspective on the Newcastle fanbase from an external point of view.
Comments below are readily encouraged!
Written by Alex Keating (@alexkeats)
It could have been my ginger hair. However, I am fairly confident that the smirks and sniggers that were apparent all over Tyneside before Saturday afternoon’s kick off were, instead, because I was a Watford fan. From the train up, to the pub, to the burger van outside of the ground, chippy comments, condescending ‘banter’ and patronising giggles were frequent enough to persuade anyone who didn’t know, that Newcastle were a “big club”, ready to smash a hapless new-boy in their 50,000 seater fortress. This lack of self-awareness could not have been more alarming; unless of course you had followed the hapless new boys into said fortress.
Newcastle were in fact a team who had not scored a Premier League goal since the opening day and, in spite of a hearty point-earning performance at Old Trafford, had failed to display anything worthy of such arrogance. All of the pre-game assumptions suggested a cultural cockiness amongst the fan-base, people who were living in the days of Alan Shearer and Laurent Robert, and even the near-miss 2011-12 season. Shockingly for some Newcastle fans, it seems those days are very much in the past. This Newcastle team is unrecognisable from the backbone it once had, with Jack Colback, Daryl Janmaat and Moussa Sissoko providing the only glimpse of quality. Moreover, to make matters worse, having only survived last term by the skin of their teeth, they are now managed by a man who just last season, took Derby County from the top of the Championship to an 8th place finish in just 3 months.
This cultural arrogance that I am talking about, can be neatly summarised by a local paper; the Newcastle Chronicle. In their midweek preview of Newcastle’s Saturday fixture against Watford, they suggested that the latter “are pygmies living in a land of giants” and that “clubs like Newcastle, with 50,000 fans bellowing them on, ought to sweep them contemptuously aside”. This may well be true, perhaps Newcastle “ought” to have swept Watford aside, but that is not quite how the Premier League works; every team deserves their place.
Watford for example, took Everton to the wire on the first day, and have been more than competent against everyone else that they have faced since, bar arguably Man City. This, I would argue has been a total surprise to everyone except for Watford fans themselves, who have seen their team transform under the Pozzo’s ownership to one which is both solid at the back, good on the counter attack, and spearheaded most recently by Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, who both managed 20 goals last season. This then, presents a stark contrast between the two sets of supporters. Watford fans are enjoying the ride, every goal, every attack, every tackle is a captivating part of their journey, whereas any Newcastle performance which doesn’t see Alan Shearer run on and score another 260 league goals is seemingly a comparative disappointment for an expectant bunch of Geordies.
It is important to note, that I do not blame the Newcastle fans, nor am I trying to paint Watford as a perfect example of anything. Obviously as the bookies nailed-on favourite for 20th place, Watford have been widely regarded as Premier League fodder, which any self-respecting team would expect to beat. Equally, I honestly believe that had the 50,000 Newcastle fans (as the Chronicle suggests) bellowed their team on, instead of the silent angst and apparent sense of shock that “this shouldn’t be happening to us”, the result could have been quite different; which brings me neatly onto the match itself.
Throughout the ninety-minutes Watford fans were in full voice on their ‘big day out’ whilst Newcastle fans were quiet, expectant and by the 11th minute; angry. Despite Papiss Cisse missing a guilt-edged chance and Florian Thauvin showing a shade of potential, Newcastle were turgid and gave the ball away far too often for a home side.
Watford on the other hand, were happy to sit back, pass it around and grow into the game. By the half hour mark, it was 2-0 Watford, as they outworked their Newcastle opponents seemingly all over the field. Although Jack Colback cut the ball out well throughout, United seemed to lack leadership, especially as Coloccini was bullied throughout by Deeney, who despite still not having scored himself, was instrumental in everything good about Watford’s attacking play, assisting Ighalo’s second, and laying off Capoue to assist his first.
Accordingly, the Watford faithful continued to sing, and the Geordies to moan, which was understandable given the dreadful first half display, but also surprising considering how much the team could have done with firing up. Even when Daryl Janmaat brought one back just after the hour mark, Newcastle fans continued to have a quiet, dismal afternoon, and to an extent, I could not blame them; there was nothing on the pitch to be excited about. That said, getting properly behind the team at this stage would have had a significantly more positive impact than simply questioning how they had got to be 2-1 down to a promoted side in the first place.
Upon reflection of this whole match day experience, I would happily conclude that the arrogance around the ground before kick off stank of a club who is too self-assured with just being in the Premier League and consequently could learn a lot from the likes of Watford; a club whose fans create an atmosphere at both home and away matches which facilitates committed performances through unwavering and highly appreciative support.
This has been wholeheartedly evidenced in various interviews with Watford players who regularly cite the fans as a motivational presence, including recent acquisition Adlene Guediora, who turned down other Premier League offers to return to the fans who gave him so much appreciation in the Championship last season. When every kick matters as much as it seems to for newly promoted clubs, due to the tangible uncertainty as to how the season will look come May, there is much to be excited about, be loud about, and to encourage the team for.
Note that Newcastle really do have great fans, and a hell of a lot of them, who could make an unbelievable difference at St James’ Park. If Newcastle are genuinely striving for Europe and the sort of league finish they would have been accustomed to at the start of the century, then amidst the turmoil of their ownership and in my opinion unambitious managerial appointment, the fans can have a huge part to play.
By removing the sense of assurance that Newcastle are such a ‘great’ and ‘massive’ club amongst the terraces and instead focusing everyone’s energy towards driving what they do have forward, lots could be achieved. You only need to see Florian Thauvin turning up in black-tie to see the arrogance and frankly blasé attitude of a club that is well and truly living in the past.
Newcastle fans: ditch the backhanded comments to away fans about how mistaken their journey to your prestigious, ‘legendary’ club is and get some humility. You are not the massive club you once were. That’s not to say that you could be; lots of the foundations are already there, certainly there is some talent in the squad, with lots of fantastic, passionate people to support them. Additionally note that being out-sung by an away side is no embarrassment, however it is embarrassing if you fail to sing a song all match, even after scoring, due to the impudence of your fans that your team just should be ‘doing better’.
You are only as good as your last performance, and I for one would love to see Newcastle United back to their brilliant best. However, I genuinely believe that that atmosphere of positivity starts in the stands. Get behind the team from the outset of every game, not just the derby and I am sure you will see a significant reaction from a group of players who currently don’t know where to look, and are unfortunately seeking somewhere to hide.
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