Business as usual for poster boys of chaos
Published 10/12/2010 | 05:00
There is no solution to the problem of Newcastle United, at least not short of pattern bombing or fumigation. But there is a question to be asked of all those devoted fans who are probably the closest thing in the Northern hemisphere to the cargo worshippers of the south Pacific.
The question is why do they do it? Why do they go along to lend support and pay money to an organisation which makes quite sickening decisions affecting decent, and in the latest case relatively successful, human beings and generally behaves in a way that in most other walks of life would probably trigger riots.
They do it because they have had their values shot away, piece by piece, leaving them with no concept of a reason to support a football club other than the most basic tribal loyalty.
They remind you of the cargo cult because of the absolute irrationality of their belief that under the Mike Ashley regime, one day their boat will come in.
The cargo worshippers were excited by the sight of vast amounts of military hardware being moved around by America and Japan in the Second World War and the belief that if enough magic was made, enough rituals completed, somehow all the power and the wealth would be transferred to the islanders.
This seems pretty much the hope of most Newcastle fans, at least the astonishingly large number of them who are not sick to their stomachs by the manner of Chris Hughton's dismissal.
Every football club, and even one as perniciously dysfunctional as Newcastle, has the right to change their manager, but the way it has been so arbitrarily abused by Ashley and his predecessors is surely an embarrassment, even in a league where most anything goes.
The fact that many believe Hughton's crude dismissal may also have facilitated a betting coup in circles close to the ownership is a mere detail, an appalling one no doubt, but then it is a long time since anyone had the nerve or the instinct to believe anything but the worst of a club that can still, like some pet monster, command affection, even passion among so many of its supporters.
There is nothing that can be done by anyone, but a sufficient number of fans who are prepared to say that that they have been taken for fools one last gratuitous time and that whoever replaces Hughton, whoever is lined up for the lingering death handed to a man who did so wonderfully well to make something of a football disaster zone, cannot expect any further investment of their faith.
Of course, it will not happen. Newcastle fans have long displayed a morbid interest in masochism. They seem to embrace the pain. Maybe they think they're getting through their purgatory on earth, which of course, they are if football has a truly significant influence on their lives. But then they have probably made another decision. It is that Newcastle are not strictly a football club, but a troubling state of mind and that if the results have been more or less consistently catastrophic, it is their life, their drama, their futility.
This means that a succession of managers, some of them the biggest names in football, have known their fate from the moment they signed up to the cause. Or at least they should have done.
The process has long been routine. They take the money and inherit the nightmare and then move on -- or out of football for good. The list is staggering: Kevin Keegan, Ruud Gullit, Kenny Dalglish, Bobby Robson, Graeme Souness, Alan Shearer. The bigger they are, the more certain they'll fall.
Robson took it hard because of his native son status, his romanticism, his belief that even Newcastle could be redeemed.
The great man, touchingly as it turned out, thought all he had done, all he believed in, might protect him from the worst of humiliations. None of it meant a thing.
Newcastle, like an unprogammed missile, must hurtle on, taking down hopes and decencies.
The reaction to the reports that Alan Pardew was the new man was as instructive as the firing of Hughton. Outrage over the latter's fate was only fuelled by the fact that his replacement might be from outside the elite of manage-ment, a man who, indeed, was recently fired by Southampton.
No doubt Pardew was not without ability and knowledge, but his stature was not really up to the challenge of making Newcastle a big club again.
Such are the illusions and the splintered moralities of the Newcastle football culture.
Fire Hughton, a man patently dedicated and devoted to his players, even the most troublesome of them, one who had produced such memorable results as the slaughter of Sunderland and the defeat of Arsenal at the Emirates, who had won promotion and had to be given a reasonable chance of checking a mini-slide, and you are committing outrage.
Replace him with some fancy name, however, and the reaction is somewhat different, perhaps even, "March On, bonnie lads."
It is a hopeless, self-defeating spiral and it seems there is no way out, not this side of a sale by Ashley, a large hosepipe and an entirely new set of values. Not as long as the fans happily endure a kind of blissful martyrdom.
Not as long as the League Managers Association treat such events as the occupational hazards of a man like Hughton and do not demand tougher safeguards for members who are treated, over a long period, with such contempt.
Hughton's achievements at Newcastle should have protected him from the worst of his treatment by the club for whom he did so much, so quickly.
That they did not was just another random blow aimed at the image of football. In terms of reputation, Newcastle, of course, have nothing to defend. They just sit on their bleak shore, watching the flotsam float by.
It is their version of black and white magic -- ineffective and shameless to the same degree.