Pardew's lonely planet
'Humble' Newcastle boss left to take heat alone as Ashley sidesteps his unveiling
The joke doing the rounds on Tyneside is that of the underwhelming 14 votes that Alan Pardew attracted out of more than 1,000 cast in a local newspaper poll to assess the fans' feelings about the next Newcastle United manager, two came from Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias, his right-hand man. The other 12 votes were from Sunderland supporters.
Gallows humour on the Gallowgate.
Entering a chamber packed with so many memories of adopted and local heroes, Pardew must have felt he had walked into an ambush.
After signing a five-and-a-half year contract, Pardew sat in the room where Bobby Robson used to hold court, where the words of Kevin Keegan once had audiences spellbound, and where Alan Shearer articulated the dreams of a Geordie nation. It was a room where the popular Chris Hughton detailed Newcastle's steady progress under him until he was so callously dismissed.
Brutally, he sat here alone. Neither the Newcastle chairman, Mike Ashley, nor the managing director Derek Llambias, bothered to ride shotgun for their controversial new appointment. They left Pardew to take the heat. Alone.
Having overseen 527 games, the 49-year-old is no ingenue, but rarely can a member of his trade have stepped into a dug-out that so resembles a bunker. The former manager of Reading, West Ham, Charlton and Southampton has no chance of succeeding on Tyneside unless he first gets a resentful squad onside.
Knowing the players mourn for Hughton, Pardew has already phoned captain Kevin Nolan and will address the players this morning. "It's very important I calm their fears down," said Pardew. "I'd like to think the players will grow to respect me."
Players are professionals, employees on lucrative contracts and their anger over the treatment of Hughton will eventually subside, especially if Pardew handles dressing-room sensitivities adroitly. Mispronouncing his predecessor's name as "Houghton" drew sotto voce sighs from the small band gathered in the room.
"Chris is a gentleman," said Pardew, tackling head-on Geordie Grievance No 1. "I've not spoken to Chris, but I probably will put a call in. I'll give it some time because he will be hurting. I know he would have been genuinely well liked in the dressing room. I have to follow that. But there's a different personality in that dressing-room now. I wouldn't say I am more confident. I just have a manner that can sometimes upset people. I've upset players in the past."
Usually a self-assured character, Pardew was almost deliberately humble. He understood the supporters' anger just as he did the players'. "If there are protests for Chris on Saturday against Liverpool, I have no problem with that -- that's the fans' right. Fans probably thought they had stability with Chris and that's gone. I hope any protest doesn't last too long. It's not about me, after all, it's about the club. We're going to need a lot of help against Liverpool."
As with all managers here, Pardew enthused about Gallowgate's grip on a region. "It's such a brilliantly supported club. It's a working-class club and I can relate to that. I'm a working-class guy. I've worked in West Ham, another working-class club. That passion, that excitement they bring to a stadium, is special. I had some special nights at Upton Park and I hope to have special nights and days here when the stadium is fizzing.
"But I'm very aware the fans will be looking at me, saying 'come on'. I would be lying if I said there wasn't some hesitation when I was travelling up on Tuesday. It's a town I'm not familiar with. I want to embrace it."
Compared to the messianic fervour that greeted most past coronations at the court of St James', this inauguration was incredibly low-key.
A few curious fans mingled outside, a few more ambled through the club shop, looking at the "Carroll for England" t-shirts, the £25 photograph of Hughton holding the Championship trophy aloft and enjoying the TVs showing the £9.99 "Demolition Derby Newcastle 5 Sunderland 1" DVD. It was selling like hot Stottie cakes.
A couple of fans smiled yesterday as the DVD moved towards the end, the cameras zeroing in on Steve Bruce, his pride crushed, his ears burning to chants of "you're getting sacked in the morning." Bruce remains, and rightly so. Hughton has gone, disgracefully so. "Things change quickly round here," remarked a Newcastle fan before continuing with his Christmas shopping.
As the images rolled, Nolan was interviewed with the match-ball, expressing his "delight for Chris with what he's been through."
Always dignified, Hughton had lived with constant speculation about his future. Nolan's sentiments were echoed in an editorial in 'The Mag' fanzine, calling on Ashley to build on the "current feelgood factor" by tying Hughton to a new deal. Now we know why he hadn't. Ashley wanted Hughton out.
Not altogether convincingly, Pardew tried to dispel the suspicion that he has known Llambias and Ashley in London circles some time, that the club's interest in him had been building since November.
"I was surprised at that link," Pardew said. "It started the slide on betting. I've met Derek at eight or nine charity does and other events. I've bumped into Mike two or three times and had small conversations -- nothing to do with football. It's a shame this London connection is thrown at me. I do not consider myself 'London'. I managed last at Southampton and I live in Surrey."
When Hughton was sacked on Monday, Pardew's agent was contacted by Llambias to find out whether his client was interested. Naturally. Pardew had been kicking his heels since being dismissed by Southampton in August.
"It is horrible for people out of work," continued Pardew. "The only way to get back in is when people get the sack. I can't say I was completely shocked about Chris because there were rumours about his contract. I'd kept my eye on situations."
Negotiations intensified over the phone and then in person at Slaley Hall after Pardew had voyaged north. Ashley's trigger-happy reputation ensured that Pardew demanded a long deal. "I'd be foolish to say it (Ashley's reputation) wasn't a concern," said Pardew. "I got a lot of texts from managers who say 'you must be mad'; it's such a tough agenda, the history of the ownership with managers. They have had five managers in a short period of time.
"I'm not foolish. I've had Geordie friends like Kevin Dillon (the ex-Newcastle captain) text me and say 'you have got to earn the right to be an honorary Geordie, so you had better start working hard'."
And start winning. Until then, Pardew will cut a lonely figure in Newcastle. (© Daily Telegraph, London)