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Mar 27 / Jamie Hardesty

Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments.

February 4th 2006. I’m 15. Football and NUFC mean more to me than anything else. It’s all I talk about amongst friends, it’s what I do after school each day and it’s what makes weekends worth waking up to. Why? Because I live in Newcastle and unlike most places, all I care about and all anyone cares about is NUFC.

To provide you with some context, this day in particular was Glenn Roeder’s first game as Newcastle’s Caretaker Manager. Going in to the game we were hovering precariously above the relegation zone, having taken just 1 point from the past 18 available. Souness had just been sacked, despite having been given £50 million to spend just 6 months prior. Up until this point in my life as a toon fan I’d only ever known us challenging at the top end of the table and fighting hard in the cups, domestically and abroad I might add. Bobby hadn’t been gone too long and everyone still talked about the Keegan days. But now, things were different.

I was sat in my seat in the Gallowgate, shivering next to my dad, feeling nervous about our game with Portsmouth. Pompey were, as they like to say, playing up and showing good league form under Harry Redknapp. The atmosphere at the game was tense. Nobody really thought Roeder offered much, despite his ‘nice guy’ persona.  We’d been absolutely awful all season and we had so many first team players injured, most notably of course our record signing Mr Michael ‘glass legs’ Owen.

The first half an hour was as nervous as I’d ever seen Newcastle. Despite Roeder’s touchline presence, Souness football prevailed. In other words, it seemed nobody in a black and white shirt actually wanted the ball. Then, around 30/35 minutes in to the game something happened which provided more entertainment than the season’s previous 23 games put together. A very well dressed lady a few rows down from us, a stand out poshy amongst us, was literally whacked in the back of the head by a mince pie. A hot, messy missile of disastrous proportions, it must have been launched from about fifty rows up! It exploded on the back of her bonce and sent a good section of the Gallowgate off in hoots. ‘That’s the best shot you’ll see all afternoon son’, remarked my dad in true dad fashion.

Anyway, as soon as the laughter seemed to subside a scrawny looking Charles N’Zogbia managed to send the whole stadium in to raptures when he scored just before half time. A precious goal to give us all a much needed cheer. However, in comparison to what we would witness in the second half, this was nothing.

Uncharacteristically fluffing a close range effort in the FA Cup, away to Cheltenham, the week prior, Alan Shearer missed the chance to make history and surpass the great Jackie Milburn’s all time goal record for Newcastle. Shearer, who had seriously contemplated retirement after last season, gave Newcastle one final year and we were all dying to see if he could break the record. In the ‘64th minute our hometown hero did just that. Shola Ameobi stylishly flicked a long ball through the legs of a defender, setting Shearer up to run on to the ball and fire past a helpless David James. Euphoria.

To this day I’ve never known anything like it. And I mean anywhere, not just at St. James’. It seemed as though all unlikelihoods of the universe had somehow managed to cross paths within seconds of each other. First of all Shola providing such an assist, when he’s spent half of his Toon career using his second touch as a slide in tackle, and then the image of Shearer scoring such a meaningful goal in true striker fashion. Had I actually witnessed this? It wasn’t a sitter by any means. Shearer had to work for it. He wanted it. He gave his all to run past the defender when his running days were a far cry gone.

As my grandad and my dad were always keen to remind me, this wasn’t the true Alan Shearer, this was the old, end of career Shearer with legs long gone. However, in that moment it really was the Shearer of old. How befitting to break the record with a true striker’s goal rather than an ugly tap in or penalty. Especially after missing that sitter the week before, it was as though it was meant to be.

Scoring in front of his beloved Gallowgate, celebrating with the iconic hand in the air and look of delight, it was magic. This was what football meant. And I was standing there, clinging on to my dad, witnessing history in the making. Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments. This was my moment as a Newcastle fan that I’d go home to tell my grandad about in every fine detail and the moment that I’ll tell my children and grandchildren – I was there.

Beneath the money, the ego’s and all things that come with being a modern day footballer, a player’s career begins with a passion for kicking a football soon after they learn to walk. Our hero, a man who was one of our own, scored a goal it seemed he was destined to score since kicking his first ball against a wall in the part of Newcastle where we both grew up.

A lot of fans are used to seeing their teams win trophies, Newcastle fans don’t have that luxury. You have to go back to 1969 for that! What we seem to do instead is champion certain players. A culture has developed. We love our strikers, our flair players, those lovable gems who entertain us. So when one of the greatest English strikers of all time, the Premier League’s all-time highest goal scorer, creates history in front of your eyes, you feel on top of the world.

When the ball hit the back of the net that day it provided a catalyst for the rest of our season. Newcastle, unimaginably before the game, went on to win 9 of their last 14 games and qualified for Europe in the process. Shearer would go on to score his final goal for Newcastle against Sunderland.

What a send off. You couldn’t write it. A mystical presence descended on Tyneside and gave us something to believe in. Nobody can ever take that away. At present Newcastle are in limbo, simply existing under the Ashley regime in an ambitionless nightmare. However there are moments that define us, that bring us together and that remind us what it is truly like to be part of Newcastle United. To this day my dad and I still laugh about the posh, mince pie soaked woman waving her wig in the air and celebrating Shearer just like the rest of us. You only get to experience unbridled joy and unity like that in the constructs of watching the team you love. Eight years ago I witnessed my greatest footballing moment, a moment so beautiful that it’s easy to understand why we call it the ‘beautiful game’.

After Shearer scored and play resumed that day, I couldn’t hear myself think. I was simply a young boy in love with what I’d seen, joining in a chorus of 52,000 fanatical Geordies singing ‘Walking in a Shearer Wonderland’. We don’t have much to celebrate here at Newcastle United but for a club with such a culture that only those inside seem to understand, that moment was our Nirvana. Things just made sense. Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments. That was my greatest moment in football.

Visit www.camporetro.com and get involved with #BlogToLisbon on Twitter!

 

Mar 18 / Jamie Hardesty

Campo Retro: Shirt Review

So last week the good people at Campo Retro were kind enough to send me one of their shirts to review. Admittedly, I knew very little of Campo Retro before they got in touch. However, having been initially pleasantly surprised by the wide range of retro football shirts they have to offer on their website, I was even more impressed at the quality and style of the shirt I received. 

 

Campo Retro, for those who are unaware, market themselves as the future of retro football clothing. However, you don’t have to be a collector to appreciate what the guys behind it are doing. Take their Newcastle United collection for example. It’s brilliant. They offer both home and away shirts from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, some of which can be bought for as cheap as £20. What may interest you even more is the fact that all of the shirts they offer can be bought with a name and number too. The Gascoigne ’84 is the one currently tempting me; it’s an absolute steal for £30. You can have a look at the range for yourself here.

The top I received will perhaps appeal more to the mature Newcastle fan. Its beauty is in its simplicity. The classic black and white stripes lie uncontaminated by sponsors or added colours or patterns. Adult supporters will especially appreciate being able to wear a top that shows Geordie allegiance without having to simultaneously endorse an abhorrent, electric blue, payday loan sponsor!

Soft to the touch, the shirt is 100% cotton providing a lot of comfort and the collar gives it an added sophisticated appearance. To put it simply, it really is a smart shirt. Even the packaging is impressive and well presented!

 

NUFC reacted to the widespread discontent fans had of having our beloved black and white shirts tarnished by the Wonga logo, releasing a limited series of retro tops available for fans to buy from the club shop. This was a great marketing scheme from Mr Ashley knowing that fans would seek an alternative to the Wonga tops and money could be still made by providing an alternative. Not only do Campo Retro have a larger selection than the club do, owning a top like the one featured in the picture below gets fans and parents out of the vicious cycle of paying over the odds for a replica shirt every season. It’s a timeless classic.

Verdict:

Campo Retro really know what they’re doing and are a seller who genuinely provide a quality buying experience. This shirt has a simple design, made from good quality material. This range in particular is quite a tight fitting, as found with many retro shirts like this, so for someone like myself who is usually a small or medium mens size, the medium was the preferred fit. I also really enjoy the collar as we’ve not had a decent home top with a collar for too many years now…

If I’m going out for a few drinks the match,I’m usually put off my wearing a football top because it’s not really a smart look. However, whilst I’m no Gok Wan, I think its fair to say a top like this could be worn both to the match, or with a jacket in a decent boozer afterwards. Again, its chief effect is in its subtlety. Plus, for those of you who fancy yourselves as a bit of a Hatem ben Arfa, its comfortable enough to have a good kickaround in too.

I’m over the moon with Campo Retro for getting in touch, now I quite fancy taking a closer look at that Gazza shirt…

Feb 2 / Jamie Hardesty

Newcastle United: The Disappointment That Just Keeps On Giving

I’m told that writing is therapeutic. Whilst this may be true, I think I’d have to keep writing until I’m old and grey to get over what I witnessed yesterday! I can’t yet face trying to pull my thoughts together. Frankly I’m exhausted. However, we do have an excellent article for your reading pleasure by Birmingham based mag Aidan Fittis. To contribute like Aidan, feel free to get in touch. All submissions are welcomed. 

Currently living in Birmingham, just a stone’s throw away from where Newcastle United suffered their darkest hour in recent times, I am often reminded by the Villa ‘faithful’ of that day and teased with the question “So remind me again, just how is it Newcastle are a big club?” I’m fast running out of answers.

 

In years previous United fans could have responded with tales from Barcelona, Milan and Turin.  Because although under the stewardships of King Kev and Sir Bobby we never actually won anything, Newcastle United competed with the very best and put the city on the map alongside Europe’s footballing elite. The departure of Yohan Cabaye however, once again underlines just how much of a giant step back the club has taken over the last decade or so, and makes the job of myself and all Toon fans alike that much more difficult when posed with the ‘big club question’.

 

The time has finally come to accept that so long as Ashley and his cronies are running the club, Newcastle United will remain in a constant state of mediocrity and will achieve no more than, and be no better than the likes of Villa, Southampton and dare I even say it, Sunderland.

 

Cabaye My Lover, Cabaye My Friend

The breaking of last week’s news that Paris Saint German had managed to get the Cabaye deal ‘over the line’ within a matter of hours came as no great surprise to any United fan.  Yohan has wanted a move from away Tyneside for 6 months now and can anyone really blame him?

 

In his first season United narrowly missed out a Champions League spot but instead of strengthening the squad at the opportune moment, messrs Ashley and Co were quite happy to take their foot off the gas and see if the same squad could replicate their achievements the following year. As it turned out, that same core of players more than flirted with relegation, and had it not been for a few signings solely aimed at keeping the team afloat could well have went down. All in all, from the moment Yohan arrived at the club, never have the hierarchy indicated that they would be willing to invest so as to keep our star player and really push for the greatest stage in European football.

 

Instead, season after season, transfer window after transfer window, fans are force fed the same shite about ‘players needing to be right for Newcastle United’ and finding it difficult to get that signing ‘over the line’. For us fans it is infuriating, but for a top class player like Cabaye watching this unfold from the inside, it must be just as bad. Looking around the dressing room and seeing yourself surrounded by run of the mill players like Sissoko, Cisse and Ameobi is hardly a major pull to stay put when a team boasting the talents of Ibrahimovich, Cavani and Thiago Silva is knocking at your door.

 

Now I’m not for one minute suggesting that United could ever attract players of that caliber, but when teams such as Southampton and Sunderland are spending 20 million plus in transfer windows, how is it acceptable that Newcastle United invariably manages to spend next to nothing. Instead, a policy of ‘every player has their price’, leads to a situation where our best players are forever leaving for a brighter future. This suits Ashley perfectly. So long as the team is strong enough to stay in the top flight and fulfill its role as an advertising board for Sports Direct, everyone upstairs at the club is happy. Having a player amongst the ranks such as Cabaye who has the ability and hunger to threaten this state of mediocrity is a dangerous game in Ashley’s eyes. His mentality tells him to sell quick and put an end to any chances of challenging for Europe, rather than invest and build a talented squad around a player such as Cabaye.

 

The Blame Game

Obviously, much of the blame for this mess must lie at the door or Ashley, but the problem runs much further. Joe Kinnear, director of f***all has to shoulder much of the blame, as does Alan Pardew.

 

The first two culprits require little explanation, whilst the third is slightly more controversial in the eyes of some Toon fans.

 

Ashley and Kinnear are seemingly on a mission to ruin the club, selling players and replacing them with rubbish, or nothing at all as is more often than not the case. When given the role as director of f***all Kinnear claimed that fans should judge him on his signings and not on what had gone before. Well Joe, we are judging you on your signings, and you’re doing a pretty shite job. In his short time at the club in his current capacity we have seen decent squad players such as Perch leave, while more drastically our best player Cabaye has departed. In terms of arrivals we have seen Loic Remy and more recently Luuk De Jong sign on loan. Remy however, looks almost certain to take his money driven career elsewhere come summer, whilst De Jong is only here due to a less than impressive stint in Germany.

 

As for Ashley, his transfer policy is nothing short of a shambles. Although it is true that such a policy led to the arrival of Cabaye in the first place, the unearthing of Yohan’s talents was simply a one off. Players such as Obertan and Marveaux more accurately reflect the fruits of Ashley’s policy, whilst I am still far from convinced by the likes of Sissoko and Yanga. Selling United’s finest asset was simply another shining example of Ashley’s total lack of ambition. The sad reality is that whereas for the fans, Newcastle United represents a sense of belonging and pride, for Ashley it symbolises nothing more than another money making venture.

 

As for Pardew, I for one am sick of him playing Ashley’s puppet and doing as instructed. Only the other day he gave a press conference claiming to be positive about the prospects of United getting the Grenier deal ‘over the line’, only for it to become clear hours later that the player would not be heading to St. James’. A manager with any respect for football and their profession would have walked away from this job a long time ago. In fact, I seem to recall a certain Kevin Keegan doing just that. Pardew, however, is more than content to do Ashley’s dirty work for him, acting as the middle man between upstairs and then fans. Feeding us constant lies from a rehearsed script, his job is simply to mask the reality of what Newcastle United has become. Hopefully this latest saga will open the fans’ eyes to the reality that Pardew cares about Newcastle no more than Ashley or Kinnear. Like his superiors, Pards is in it for himself and goes about his day to day business fully aware of the fact that so long as he obeys orders from above, regardless of results on the pitch, his job at United is under no threat.

 

Put simply, Newcastle United is a club crippled by negativity and a lack of understanding as to what football means to the city and its people. The 11 players on the pitch represent no more than money making assets, and the powers that be are of the view that so long as they are good enough to keep the team in the top flight, nothing else matters. Pride and ambition took a back seat at United the moment Ashley took charge, and so long as he remains they show no signs of making a comeback any time soon.

 

Aidan Fittis

Jan 28 / Jamie Hardesty

I Just Don’t Think You Understand

It is a universally acknowledged truth that Newcastle United Football Club have no ambition. The decision to sell Yohan Cabaye to PSG, 3 days before the transfer window ends, will come as no surprise to Newcastle fans who are more than familiar with Mike Ashley’s approach to running the club.

Prepare for the doom and gloom toon fans

Cabaye is currently with the Newcastle squad in Norwich although he will say his goodbyes to fellow team mates in the morning before jetting off straight to Paris to finalise personal terms. The departing dreamboats exit seems 6 months overdue, with Arsenal coming close to brokering a deal back in the summer. However, despite the transfer failing to materialise, Cabaye’s days on Tyneside have since been numbered.

Cabaye has been exceptional for Newcastle on the pitch this season. Looking past the raw statistics of 7 goals and 2 assists in 19 appearances, the greatest benefits brought about by Cabaye on the pitch is his ability to raise the performance level of the Newcastle United team as a whole. Simply put, when Yohan is playing well, Newcastle are generally playing well.

I could wax lyrical about Cabaye for thousands upon thousands of words. We all know how good he is, I can’t begrudge him a move. I mean, what would you rather do: battle for 8th in the Premier League or compete in the Champions League, a league title and domestic cups for years to come?

Let’s look at how Cabaye’s imminent move affects all those involved with the club.

The fans

We have a culture here at Newcastle United whereby we champion attacking players. You could argue this was expedited by Keegan’s entertainers, with the likes of Ginola dazzling the terraces. Since Bobby’s time at the club ended,  one of the biggest things we’ve enjoyed have been the talents of individual players. Cabaye has fitted in to that category because he’s a gifted player and a special talent. He can pass, he can shoot and he can be a horrible little so and so from time to time which you can’t help but love seeing when a player like that is in your side. He could have become a cult hero rather than just a favourite player.

Fans will be saddened by his exit for two reasons. One, as I’ve mentioned he is one of our better players and two, the reality is that its unlikely that Newcastle will bring in a replacement before the window slams shut!

Personally I’m not angry with Yohan going. Not with him anyway. I, like many, have a soft spot for him. I think anger is best diverted elsewhere.

Pardew

Should we blame Pardew for Cabaye’s departure? I think not. Once again Pardew will be left to pick up the pieces. The manager will have to face the media, face the playing squad and face the fans, desperately trying to explain and appease all those who will be disheartened by Yohan leaving. Decisions like this are not made by Pards, he can only spectate like the rest of us.

Kinnear & Ashley

When Joe Kinnear recently revealed that no big player would be leaving, this sent alarm bells ringing with many of us. True to the nature of the Ashley transfer policy, Cabaye’s story fits in perfectly with the club narrative; spend low, sell big. However, will the profits be adequately reinvested in to the playing squad? There’s more chance of Joe Kinnear becoming an Ambassador for Peace in the Middle East(or has he done that already, I forget…).

Ashley doesn't care as long as profits are there

The Club

Newcastle will go on. No one man is bigger than the club. What now needs to happen is some activity in the transfer market. However, I believe Vernon Anita is Yohan Cabaye’s replacement. That is why Vern was signed.

Food for thought

Players have left Newcastle in the past in search of pastures anew and dreams of furthering their careers, only to find themselves in a worse position than when they were at Newcastle. Cabaye will most probably be a hit at PSG, he’s a great player and Blanc has a good relationship with him. However, Cabaye’s rich vein of form has coincided with Anita’s inclusion in the central midfield three, allowing Cabaye the freedom to roam further forward as he did in his Lille days (and in the second half of Newcastle’s 5th place finish season).

If Blanc is to play Cabaye in a deep lying playmaker role in the PSG side, surrounded by an array of big name players, he could very well ‘go missing’ in the side. Jonas Gutierrez made Jose Enrique look far better than he was when they played together at Newcastle. Perhaps Cabaye will not be given the license and freedom to dictate his own game so much when he enters a PSG side full of stars and egos. Of course I wish Cabaye the best as he is a player I’ve loved watching in the black and white but it is far from guaranteed that he will be a hit at PSG. I can’t help but think he could have had another few months at Newcastle until the summer; he certainly would have shone more in this side.

Similarly, Loic Remy seems to want away from Newcastle, but ask yourself this: Would Remy have enjoyed as good a season playing for a better club than Newcastle? Certainly he wouldn’t have had the time or patience he’s received on Tyneside in a more pressured environment.

Au revoir

Will Cabaye be a success at PSG? Will NUFC get a replacement? Will Joe Kinnear get a new kebab?

Who knows? Nobody ever knows anything when it comes to Newcastle United, just ask Alan Pardew!

We all expected Yohan to leave and we knew this day would come. Its hard. I don’t want to dress it up or lean on clichés that we will rise again and move forward – I don’t think we will. What’s happened here is we have been given another punch to the guts and reminded where we are under the Ashley regime – floating in the abyss.

No cups. No investment. No Champions League chance. No ambition and now no Cabaye. I’d say it couldn’t get any worse but then the mackems could beat us on Saturday and lift a trophy in March…

Although perhaps we’ll paper over the cracks with a derby win and a deadline day signing but think about it, in the grand scheme of it all, is there really any difference?

Aug 19 / Jamie Hardesty

What Won’t Happen Tonight: Newcastle v Manchester Ctiy

Well it’s finally here, Newcastle play their first game of the new Premier League season away to Manchester City at The Etihad tonight. Much has been written about our lack of signings, City’s glamorous recruitment and our woeful record against City in recent years. But remember, this is football and anything can happen!

What frame of mind will Cabaye be in, followign Arsenal’s approach?

That being said, the pessimism felt by fans before the game is indeed understandable. Usually I do my best to throw a bit of optimism in to the ring but realistically speaking, Newcastle will do very, very well to get anything from tonight’s game.

I’m not particularly bothered if we lose tonight, this game will not define our season. However I am very bothered about our performance. As long as the lads turn out a committed display and try to produce some moments of positivity whilst keeping things as tight as possible at the back, I can have no complaints.

However I don’t want to see what we saw last season; I don’t think I’ll be able to put up with the constant, repeated mistakes we were so often subjected to. So I’m hoping Newcastle will surprise me tonight. How confident of that am I? Well let’s just see how many ticks I have on my checklist after the game…

Carrying Coals’ City Checklist:

  1. Cheick Tiote to get booked
  2. Papiss Cisse to miss a sitter
  3. Papiss Cisse to be offside 3 times
  4. Debuchy to give away a penalty
  5.  Shola to come on in the last 10 minutes and do nowt
  6. Obertan to replace Ben Arfa with 20 minutes to go because Benny is overweight and can’t do 90 minutes, even though Pardew has apparently given his most rigorous pre-season ever
  7. Newcastle to concede at least 2 goals
  8. Pardew to mention ‘not being able to compete’ with bigger clubs because of finances in his post match interview
  9. Zabaleta and Clichy to put more balls in to the Newcastle box than Newcastle’s wingers put in to the city box
  10. Cabaye to have an absolute shocker because his head has been turned.

Hopefully of course, none of this happens, Cisse gets off the mark and we pull off a shock result. However I won’t hold my breath…

Good luck lads.

Aug 15 / Jamie Hardesty

Carrying Coals invites Arsenal supremo Naz Haque to discuss the upcoming season

With the return of the Premier League now less than 48 hours away, the cure to our withdrawal symptoms is almost in our grasp and finally, sanity can soon be restored! Newcastle fans however will have to wait a little longer of course, as our season kicks off at the Etihad Stadium, against Manchester City, at 8pm Monday night.

The Premier League is almost back…

In the meantime, Carrying Coals will be bringing you a season preview this weekend but before that we have a little treat to get your Premier League, anticipation juices flowing! Until the recent loan signing of Loic Remy, Newcastle United were yet to make a summer transfer signing and are still yet to pay a transfer fee to bring in a new recruit. However, we aren’t the only Premier League side yet to spend some capital outlay…

I caught up with a man gaining a growing reputation in the Northern Twittersphere, despite his wannabe Southern disposition, who not only knows has a wealth of Premier League knowledge but also provides expert opinion on his own club, Arsenal.

I’d have liked to introduce this in an ode to ‘Lunch with the Financial Times’, conjuring some sort of guise that Naz and I wined and dined in a glitzy Highbury restaurant, discussing the beautiful game over Mongolian lamb and steamed turbot (don’t worry, I don’t know what it is either!) although, who would I fool?!

We’re just two normal guys who share a passion for talking and writing about football. It’s really that simple. Not that we’d look out of place wining and dining in a glitzy Highbury restaurant… Anyway, sit back, enjoy the views shared and join our uncontained excitement for the recommencing of the greatest sports competition on Earth!

Hi Naz, we might as well start by diving in at the deep end! On the final day of last season we saw Arsenal snatch a 1-0 win against Newcastle at St. James’, securing 4th place. Freddie Ljungberg and Thierry Henry later criticised the players’ post-match celebrations. Does this criticism hold merit or was it unfair?

Times have changed drastically since the likes of Freddie and Thierry were in an Arsenal shirt. They were used to premier league titles and we have been inconsistently off the pace for a few years now. I understand why they would say what they did, 4th place isn’t a trophy and “if your not first,  your last” but securing champions league is the difference that’s  keeping distance between us and the likes of Liverpool, not to mention the ugly sister on the other side of North London. Without Champions league we would be a far less appealing team to transfer to. To be heralded a “top 4 team” is imperative to reputation and mentality at the club. Arsene deserves a great deal of credit for doing the business year in year out with the clear lack of signing quality players over the last five years.

In terms of signings, are you surprised at the recruitment made by Newcastle of late? The likes of Cabaye, Sissoko and Mbiwa all hail from France and were signed cheaply. Very ‘Arsene Wengerish’ you might say?!

 

Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye was once linked with a move to Arsenal

 

It really is. It leads back to the point I was saying before about Arsene not signing much in the way of quality. Yanga and Cabaye were linked with us for a long time, but these sorts of signings are really reminiscent of signings like Flamini et al, I would say Vieria or Petit but let’s not get carried away. Pards clearly had an approach and stuck with it and it looked like it had worked a treat for a while. I wouldn’t say I was surprised by the signings as they are mostly players that will make a big impact at Newcastle, but I couldn’t have been the only one surprised at how in intense the rush on the French market was.

Would, in your opinion, any Newcastle players get in your team or at least make the Arsenal bench?

Definitely, there are a few players who would fit in nicely at Arsenal. I think HBA would at least make the bench for all the top 4 clubs, if Newcastle can get him fit and spurn advances from other clubs he will be a very important player. Cabaye has a clear class about him too, really composed. Santon was a great buy and has been improving ever since, if he keeps getting better it will be hard thwarting any potential suitors.

Another Frenchman, PSG defender Mamadou Sakho, has been linked with both Arsenal and Newcastle this summer. How confident are you that Arsene Wenger can make the right signings before the window slams shut?

All Football Manager enthusiasts should remember how good of a player Mamadou Sakho was on the game. (we both laugh in unison, knocking back another top dollar Merlot…) But he has shown glimpses of in reality of being a top class centre half. My faith in Arsene’s transfer policy has slowly deteriorated as he hasn’t pulled out a classic Wenger diamond since Eduardo. I have all faith in him as a manager but in terms of transfers I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t sign anyone of real pedigree this season, let alone before this Saturday’s season return. We are linked with every Joe Blog going, then have apparently wrapped up the deal, then watch helplessly as they sign for another team.

(Of course it must be frustrating for Naz, after all Arsenal only spent the best part of £40 million on the talents of Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski last year. The toon signed Vernon Anita to sit on the bench all year!) How far off the title are Arsenal?

Genuinely, I would say one or two world class players away, easier said than done, I know. If we hadn’t lost you know whose goals last season then we might have even been…..actually I don’t want to think about it, it’s too depressing!

Pellegrini could become the Premier League’s newest master tactician

With Fergie retiring and other rivals, Mourinho and Pellegrini, taking control of new teams, would you argue that Wenger’s experience could be more valuable than ever or are you losing faith?

There’s a gaping chasm in the Premier League with a host of managers and teams looking to capitalise after SAF’s retirement. Wenger will know better than anyone that this is the year he can take it back. Jose has experience in the league so will know what to expect and I really like Pellegrini’s management style, not to mention he has bought some exceptional talents in Navas and Jovetic. But for Arsene, Fergie became his Moby Dick in the latter years. Never able to recapture the days where it was a two horse race. The revolutionary management theories and style Arsene bought with him from Japan has a sense of becoming outdated, I still have all the faith in his man management and see no one else in a better position to take the club forward, but clubs like Borussia Dortmund remind me every day of the team Wenger was building before they didn’t share the same ambition and decided to jump ship.

(I nod in agreement as we mull over which champagne looks the poshest…) It seems Newcastle are making a conscious effort to improve our academy, having recently gained Category 1 status at last. Are there any emerging Arsenal youngsters we should be made aware of?

There does seem to have been a real push on youth development and signing of young players at Newcastle. The category 1 status has worked wonders for us in the past; Cesc could be a catalyst to prove that. Like the transfers though, it’s been a few years since a young player developed at the the club has burst on the scene. But hopefully that will change with players like Chuba Akpom, Serge Gnabry who played in the next gen series for us. Chuba is a powerful centre forward with great striking instinct and expect to see Srge Gnabry get much more of a run out this year.

The two other players I would recommend keeping a look out for is Borrusia Dortmund snatched midfielder Thomas Eisfield and a real talent that is exciting everyone at Arsenal is Gedion Zelalem. Remember the name Gedion Zelalem because at 16 he was invited to the pre season tour and his ability on the ball looks frightening! Arsene has already shown huge faith in him and if he is going develop and succeed anywhere, Arsenal is the place to do it.

Arsenal fans seem disgruntled with the board, with Gazidis in particular gaining the nickname of ‘Ivan the Terrible’. Although this seems bleak in comparison to Newcastle fans’ views of Mike Ashley. What are your views on Ashley’s running of the club?

I said from the day David Dein left the club, we will struggle with transfers and it has only been cemented with the loss of exceptional talents like Juan Mata for a supposed few million and apparent poor transfer negotiating. There are some similarities in Gazidis and Ashley in my opinion as I think they both see the football clubs as businesses. That isn’t the worst thing since that is there job, to make money, but sometimes there are inexcusable episodes that tip fans over the edge. Ashley has had his fair share of episodes and just when you think hes got the clubs interest at heart, he takes 3 steps back. This Joe Kinnear appointment is a clear case in point.

Kinnear’s reputation seemingly knows no limits…

 Would you say that for a club of Newcastle’s size and potential that the fans deserve better?

Being an Arsenal fan and being born and bred in Newcastle its interesting being able to take a neutral approach on what’s been happening at the club. Football is sovereign in these parts, whether you’re interested in Newcastle United or not. The fans deserve stability, I think that’s all they ever wanted. The yo-yo style Ashley has brought hasn’t gone down well at all and it has gone from being humorous in seeing the demise to just feeling sorry for the fans who pay the season tickets and continue to support the club 1000%.

(I beam with pride as I yearn for a return from Highbury to Byker) Moving back to Arsenal, is there a worry that with Spurs strengthening significantly, Arsenal could fall behind and fail to reach the top four this year? What about the Bale factor?

It’s really hard having a man crush on AVB since hes in charge of the enemy. I really like him as a manager, I always have. I think he got a raw deal at Chelsea and was always destined to be edged out by the superstars. In the end, they ended up implementing his style and signing his transfer targets, without him at the helm. Now he’s had a season at Spurs, he will have had bedding in time, and has bought in some talented players. Soldado and Paulinho are two signings in the upper echelons. Bale is going to make a huge difference to their outcome, there’s no denying there pretty flat and boring without him, I guess that’s why AVB has strengthened so well. Regardless of the talent and style of play AVB brings and the mercurial factor Bale has, Tottenham are still a few years behind us. I am more than confident we have enough quality to leave them embarrassed again. (Naz knocks back more wine and asks to be shown the dessert menu before admitting that he has to stay positive or the creeping reality may dawn on him.)

If you had the chance, would you take RVP back?

I’m going to say not in a million years. (‘‘Lies’’ I retort, not being able to control myself. It must be the fourth bottle of Vino talking…) That Judas, dishonourable, ungrateful,  ^&$*”%^ can go and enjoy his time in Manchester. The years we spent getting him fit after the well documented injury issues he had, not to mention the publicised “court case” he had pending when he joined, made it an even bigger kick in the teeth when he left. I understand about ambition but we ended up becoming a feeder club. A real embarrassing situation. (Although I silently nod, I feel a chilling sense of understanding and empathy, being no stranger to embarrassment with my own beloved club)

But at the end of the day, were not being offered him back, so therefore no comment as I don’t like to speculate on other players.

Speaking of great strikers, we have both witnessed the Premier League’s greatest. So I’ve got to ask, Shearer or Henry?

Its got to be Thierry for me. After watching this skinny winger come to the club, then blossom into one of the greatest strikers the premier league ever had was a real treat. Another player that owes Arsene a hell of a lot. Some of the things he did in the premier league and in the champions league were flabbergasting. Obviously a biased opinion but it was always going to be va va voom over flailing elbows and brute force.

(I keep my elbows firmly attached to the table…) Favourite Arsenal player of all time?

Not actually Thierry, as much as I held him in high esteem, there was only one man for me. Dennis Bergkamp. Had feet that could pick locks, oozed class like no one else the Prem will ever see. I would run out of superlatives to describe him, I mean the way he dispatched Nicos Dabizas that day, it will be a while before people forget that piece of genuine artistry. I will never tire from watching that skill, his perfect hat trick against Leicester and his goal for the Netherlands where he plucks the ball out of the air, bamboozles Roberto Ayala and scores one of the greatest international goals ever.

Current favourite?

Little Jack. Reminds me very much of Dennis. Composure and creative thinking on the ball just like Dennis used to have. They both have a ruthless streak in them as well, pit bullish winning mentality. He has had his injury problems but hopefully they were just teething issues. Once we get him fit and in a smooth run of games, the real Jack Wilshere will be dropping jaws. Anyone that claims he is overrated needs to watch him for more than five minutes. Steven Gerrard doesn’t just ear mark anybody for future England captaincy. To top it all off he bleeds Arsenal. Super Jack will become the focal point of our team. Im excited for what lies ahead in his career.

Finally, Where will Arsenal and Newcastle finish this season?

If we get either Suarez or Gustavo it will boost the club as a whole, if we don’t I’m still quietly confident of securing top 4. This is the season though that all clubs will be looking to take charge of dominating the league. I would like to think there could be some first season blues for someone in the top 4 so we can sneak in a 3rd place finish banking on Arsene’s experience.

Who knows where Newcastle could end up????  In all seriousness, if star players stay fit, and I think there is a chance of that without the distraction of Europa League, a top half finish could easily be feasible. Remy has shown in the brief stint at QPR that he’s a talent and there is a good first team. The behind the scenes action could be where the distractions come from, especially if Joe Kinnear is going to be giving press conferences again. I think 10th is the position they will finish, but I know there will be many people with opposing views.

Thanks Naz, good luck with the new season, I’ll be keeping an eye for the Arsenal results as I’m sure you will Newcastle.

(With the waiter’s back turned, we make a hasty dash for the exit. A bit like Gabby Obertan however, our initial turn of pace is let down by our inability to cross the street… Next time it’ll be pints and a packet of crisps in The Strawberry!)

You can follow Naz on Twitter (@NHAQUE13) and can see his stuff at thesefootballtimes.net, which is a brilliant website that I’ve featured on myself. Naz also co-hosts the very on the point and impressive, ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ football podcast, which can be followed on Twitter (@IDLMFP).

Look out for more Carrying Coals fan interviews throughout the season. We also welcome submissions, so feel free to get in touch.

Jul 17 / Jamie Hardesty

On Papiss’ Predicament: Is Cisse in the Right or in the Wronga?

One story circulating in the press at present is the situation existing between our number 9, Papiss Cisse, and his apparent refusal to wear the Newcastle United shirt, branded by pay day loan lenders Wonga.

Could this be the last Newcastle shirt Cisse wears?

BBC Football have today given more substance to the speculation surrounding Cisse, by revealing that the Senegalese forward has in fact now pulled out of the club’s pre-season tour of Portugal, following a failure between the player and the club to reach a compromise.

Personally I find this to be another bit of negativity the club desperately doesn’t need but we have to appreciate that this is a delicate issue and we, the fans, would be wise to take as much as an understanding stance as we can throughout what is a confusing and worrying issue.

Why won’t Cisse simply wear the shirt?

The reason Cisse has chosen not to wear the Wonga branded shirt is because he objects, on ‘religious grounds’, to promoting a pay day lender. He is said to be protesting in relation to the ethics, or lack of, of the company. Many Muslims adhere to Sharia Law in their faith, with part of the belief asserting that a Muslim is not to benefit from receiving or lending money from another. So to put it in to perspective, for those who are unaware, Wonga make their money by lending money to individuals only to receive payment plus interest. Therefore we can understand Cisse’s qualms with the company as Wonga operate by benefiting astronomically from loaning out money.  In comparison to Virgin or Northern Rock for example, Wonga are far more damaging in the short term due to their uncompromising nature and have had a lot more negative publicity nationally than accredited banks.

But…but… aren’t the likes of Sissoko, Tiote and Ben Arfa Muslim?

It’s true that Cisse’s Newcastle team mates, and recognised first team stars, are also practising Muslims however it would be a very sweeping and generalised statement to group all Muslims as holding the same exact and identical beliefs. For example, Christianity is a religion however it would be wrong to assert that every Christian within the faith share the exact same attitudes and values. Cisse is an individual in his own right and whether we are talking about football or not, the fact remains is that he has his own personal beliefs irrelevant of his peers.

So, what next? Can a compromise be reached?

From what the media are telling us, it seems that Cisse is eager to reach a compromise and bring about a return to normalcy. It’s been suggested that Cisse would be open to the idea of wearing an unbranded shirt or a shirt that promotes a more ethically acceptable logo, such as a charity.

Famously, Freddie Kanoute refused to wear a shirt that advertised the gambling site 888.com a few years ago during his Sevilla days, resulting in him wearing an unbranded shirt for some time. He did eventually wear a shirt with the logo on, however an agreement was reached whereby he was exempt from promoting the gambling company during events off field.

Could Cisse follow Kanoute’s example?

Are Wonga really worth protesting?

In short – yes.

I’ve written many an article and argued in many blogs that I find it appalling Newcastle United are representatives of Wonga. Wonga are a pay day loan lending company and in theory, their business model makes sense; you lend some money when you need it and then when you pay back the fee, you also pay for the service they provide by paying back interest on top of what you’ve owed. However the practicalities can be horrifying and people must be made aware of this.

A lot of people who choose to lend from the likes of Wonga do so out of necessity. Therefore when they need to pay the money back they owe, they then get in debt again because the interest is too high. It can be crippling in fact and there is a prevalent argument that these sort of lenders should be watchdogged by the government or some sort of regulatory body. Pay day lenders can prey on the needy and the naïve, as many people genuinely don’t know what they are getting themselves in for, having been enticed by what appears to be an open and friendly marketing campaign.

To summarise, once people get involved with these companies they can become engulfed in a never ending spiral of debt. It’s no coincidence that during economic recession the industries that experience a boom are pay day lenders and gambling establishments. People are forced in to looking for quick fixes and the reality is, these services are more trouble than they are worth.

Therefore for a club like Newcastle United, a club which for most is the heart and life beat of a predominantly working class city, promotes something as potentially damaging to people’s lives as Wonga, then I think morality and ethics inevitably comes in to the question. For many this is a massive stain on the image of not only the club, but on the city and the fan base.

Opinion: Is Cisse in the right or is he in the wrong?

I could spend all day writing about the ins and outs of Wonga and so on but I’m digressing, where does Cisse fit in to all of this?

Perhaps you could say that I’m biased because I already have a negative pre-conceived view of Wonga however I do think we should show some compassion for Cisse’s situation, especially at a time when Muslims in general are blindly and wrongly receiving a lot of bad publicity in this country following what happened in Woolwich last month.

I’d argue that the issue is very complex and must be handled delicately, Cisse’s views as an individual must be respected, though he has an obligation as an employee of the club to perform in the role of which he is being paid for.

What I don’t think is right is for people to generally say, ‘we’re paying him, he should wear the shirt whatever it has on it’. Rather the issue needs to be handled well without any party taking things to extremes.

Cisse’s Future?

Cisse must now continue to liaise with the club and an agreement must be reached about how to move forward together. Let’s not forget, despite the man setting a record for being guilty of 10, 000 offsides last season, he is our number 9 and a big terrace favourite as well as being a genuinely good personality within the group.

I for one hope that some sort of compromise can be reached but in the mean time I can only hope that people will respect Papiss and show some support during what is yet another uncomfortable and tumultuous time at our beloved club.

Support Papiss. Support NUFC.

Comments are encouraged…

Jun 7 / Jamie Hardesty

CarryingCoals’ NUFC Player of the Season Award

Before I become engrossed in the off season, wondering and hoping what signings, or lack of, Newcastle will recruit this summer, it seems an appropriate time to look back and assess Newcastle United’s season of discontent. I’ll try not to dig up too many painful memories and instead, to borrow a Roberto Martinez phrase, I’ll ‘take the positives’. So, who was Newcastle’s best player in a season that left me close to admittance to the RVI’s Critical Cardiac Care Unit…

It’s the question we’ve awaited all season: Who carried the most coals?!

Contenders:

A lot has contributed to Newcastle’s fall from grace this season. We are all aware of the lack of investment in to the playing squad last summer, the injuries we’ve suffered, coaching failures, the effect playing in Europe on a Thursday night, before a weekend Premier League game… I could go on. The players themselves can’t escape blame either. The season’s disappointment has been a resulted from a combination of all factors listed above.

However, despite the playing squad generally performing inadequately throughout the campaign, it would be a mistake to say that every player has played badly in every game. There have been some good performances, even some great performances amongst the dross in fact. Don’t believe me? Well let’s look at the contenders for the CarryingCoals: NUFC Player of the Season Award and see if I can jog your memory…

Demba Ba

Did somebody say strawberry syrup?!

Well, I know many won’t be fond of an ex Newcastle player being a candidate for the title, but how can we ignore the contribution of the man who finished as our highest goal-scorer?! I suppose Ba’s inclusion is a testament to just how poor of a season we’ve endured.

Ba netted 13 of our 45 Premier League goals, so to put it in perspective; he was responsible for 29% – almost a third! A third of our goals from half a season, it really does say it all!

Davide Santon

Santon shone especially in the first half of the season

Santon’s place in the side has come under threat from the emergence of Haidara in the second half of the season, although we mustn’t forget that for the first half of our campaign, Santon was our standout player. His ability to get up and down the left flank at pace and the improvements to his all round game stunned us at the start of the season, as he showed us how much he’d grown and gained on last season.

Santon however remains far from the finished article of course. Defensive slip ups cost us dearly in the second half of the season, particularly in the Europa League. He is still young though and still learning his trade. What’s more is he genuinely seems to be enjoying life on Tyneside amidst never ending rumours, circulating around him leaving the club to return to Italy.

Perhaps our most improved player rather than player of the season, although it’s certain to say he has shone brighter than some of his team-mates with bigger names this season!

Jonas Gutierrez

Jonas has regularly worked tirelessly in the Newcastle midfield

Ok, here’s the controversial one for you! This year, Jonas has seemed to split fan opinion like no other. Is he a reliable work horse who gives you that needed 100% every week, or he is an absolute donkey who can’t get a ball in the box?

For what it’s worth, I’ll give my opinion. I’ve always liked Jonas, he has flair which we love here and he stayed loyal to us by helping us win and get out of the championship. He has lost a yard (or two) of pace and doesn’t threaten enough as a winger should. After all, that his primary duty and role for the team. I firmly believe he is a good squad player to have, due to his commitment and versatility but I certainly wouldn’t unquestionably start him week in week out as our left winger.

I do not dispute the fact Jonas has been poor this season although this might be interesting to know… he won more tackles, more ground duels and more free kicks than any other toon player last season, and by the way. What’s an even bigger shock is that his crosses, statistically, were more effective than Ben Arfa’s (21% vs 18%). Now there’s something for you to think about!

Yohan Cabaye

After a long season and summer, Cabaye began the campaign jaded before emerging as a standout performer

Cabaye’s season has been out of sorts, much like the majority of Newcastle’s squad in fact. However there is no questioning the influence he has on the team when included, especially in the build up of attacking play.

He began the campaign very much out of sorts, citing burnout as the reason. He’d never played so much footballing in his life, going from an arduous Premier League campaign, straight in to the European Championships and then back in to the demands of the new season without much rest or recuperation. Many thought his head had been turned, maybe it had, but Cabaye did emerge as an important player as the season went on.

Despite being missing from the middle of November to the beginning of January, the stand in captain for Coloccini did go on to make 35 appearances for Newcastle this year, scoring 6 goals. Perhaps his best game was in the crucial away win at Aston Villa whereby he scored a cracking goal, one of few memorable highlights for toon fans this season!

To put things further in to perspective, Cabaye has played as a deep lying play maker this season, for me, he has been nowhere near high enough up the pitch, yet he’s till managed 6 goals from his 26 Premier league appearances. Our number 9 and striker Papiss Cisse got 2 more goals but by playing in 10 more games (8 /36). People mustn’t forget the contribution Yohan has made to the side, that’s for sure.

Cabaye has summered from fatigue, injury, loss of form and arguably poor positional placement from the coaching staff this season. However he remains a quality player and one of Newcastle’s most important first team presences.

Rob Elliot

Rob Elliot: An unlikely hero for Newcastle last season

I’ve put the Rob Elliot, AKA The Dilsh, in here because I genuinely believed he has provided some heroics for us this season. Not a big name by any means but he has actually really surprised me this season. I remember writing a piece about him when Krul first got injured and I was more than sceptical about having him in between the sticks, but to his fairness, he hasn’t done much wrong at all. He’s even claimed a few man of the match ratings as he’s gone on.

Look at the established big names players at Newcastle, Elliot has certainly outshone the likes of Cisse and Tiote for example. I think he deserves praise under immense pressure and he deserves a place on this world famous shortlist no doubt!

With Newcastle’s Premier League safety far from secure at the season’s end, Elliot gained his side a vital point, performing heroically at West Ham in the penultimate away game of the season. One of few players who can undisputably come out of this season with his head held high.

Still  far off ousting Tim Krul from the number 1 slot, Elliot has certainly emerged and shown us he’s more than a podgy kid in net that’s there because nobody else fancys it!

Fabricio Coloccini

When he’s not throwing house parties, he’s saving the toon from relegation

Colo has spent a lot of the season on the sidelines and he could very well have left the club in January. However, our captain remained and Newcastle benefited from it.

Injured at the beginning of march with a back injury, having attempted a gravity defying overhead kick clearance, Colo missed a crucial part of the season. Newcastle were without him for 8 Premier League games during the period and he also missed the Europa games with Anzhi and Benefica.

It’s worth arguing that had Colo been in the side, Newcastle would probably have endured a far less worrying end to the Premier League season and perhaps could even have snatched a result against Benefica, with defensive ill-discipline being the team’s downfall during the tie, especially in Portugal.

Colo brings an aura of certainty to the team. He has calm and commanding presence, soothing an erratic backline which features incredibly attacking fullbacks, the Premier League inexperience of Mbiwa and the sometimes manic Steven Taylor. Unlike most centre halves known for their physical brutality and ability to be strong in the tackle and comfortable in the air, Colo plays the game completely in his own way.

It’s his anticipation, his marking, his awareness and positional class that shows him to be our standout defender. He’s a defender’s Roger Federer, someone who can elegantly sweep the ball up, use their class and experience and make the whole routine look overwhelmingly easy.

When Colo returned to the side at the end of the season he instantly stood out, fans and pundits alike were all quick to comment. Imagine what it would have been like if he wasn’t there – bearing in mind Mbiwa had to play LB with Haidara and Santon being injured. Had Colo not come in to the side, Mr Mike Williamson probably would have…

And The Winner Is…

Well, you might have guessed it… I’m giving the title to Coloccini. Yes, granted, he only played 22 Premier League games this season (Perch played in 27!) but when he has, most of the time, he’s been the difference. 

This season Newcastle were woefully dumped out of domestic cups, got to a Europa league quarter final and finished 16th in the Premier League. At the end of the season, we had to play for our Premier League survival. It was an ending nobody wanted and an ending that many thought would end in disaster. Coloccini’s return kept Newcastle in the league.

You can’t underestimate how important he is.

Final Note

In a season of few highlights for Newcastle fans, a few individual performances have stood out. A very select few that is. My personal favourite would be Coloccini’s defensive performance away to Sunderland, but how long ago was that?! Sissoko’s brace against Chelsea and leaving Ashley Cole for dust instantly springs to mind too. Although after a promising start from the Premier League’s ‘new Vieira/Yaya Toure’, he faded in to obscurity with an anonymous end to the campaign. Cisse’s last minute goals in a string of games got fans off their feet but they can’t exactly atone for Papiss earning a football league record of being offside 74637263462 times in a single season!

Unfortunately, we didn’t see enough of Ben Arfa, Cabaye has been out of sorts, Jonas looks a shadow of his former self, Colo has been missing, Krul has been missing, we haven’t had a consistent flat back four, we lost our top scorer in January and it’s just all been a bit of a mess to be honest.

It’s been a year of turmoil. A year of hope flickering but then fading. Thankfully, Newcastle will be playing Premier League football next year. That’s, erm, something.. isn’t it? Plus as drastically bad as it all was, we still managed to finish above the mackems…

Anyway well done Colo, can we forget last season now?!

May 10 / Jamie Hardesty

When Newcastle United Got The Better Of Fergie

They’re calling it football’s equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to retire this week has shocked the footballing world, with paper after paper producing a plethora of articles, commemorating the unrivaled achievements of British football’s most successful manager. 

Please don’t make me have to face Newcastle United again…

Though rather than add to the eulogies of Fergie’s footballing passing, I instead want to do a smaller study and look at how Sir Alex and Newcastle United have enjoyed (or struggled to enjoy) a relationship during his 26 years as Manchester United manager.

Since Fergie’s appointment in November 1986, Newcastle have played Manchester United a grand total of 50 times, drawing 14 and losing 29. So of the 50 clashes with the great gum-chewer, Newcastle have managed 7 victories. Yes, a measly, meagre 7 wins. That’s it!

When I found this out, I could only name 3 from memory. Like any avid Newcastle follower the first game which sprung to mind was of course the 5-0 (20 Oct 1996), Philippe Albert chipping, Kevin Keegan celebrating, St. James’ Park walloping, rout dished out to the Red Devils in 1996.

Another game fresh in mind is last season’s 3-0 (4 Jan 2012) destruction at St. James’ Park, a game which seems longer ago than it actually was, having been subjected to this season’s long and miserable slog. That game was the first time we’d beaten the Red Devils in over 10 years. So what else could I remember? We always lose against Man U…

There was however a rip-roaring classic back in 2001, when Alan Shearer scored the winner, to put Newcastle 4-3 (15 Sep 2001) up, in Sir Bobby Robson’s 100th game in charge of the toon. The game is also remembered for a certain Roy ‘dog walking’ Keane attempting to punch Big Al, only for the disgruntled Irishman to see red, making the defeat all the worse for Ferguson.

Alan Shearer was ne of few Newcastle players to enjoy repeated success against Fergie’s Man Utd side

But what else? 4 more wins in 26 years, any ideas? There is another 21st Century triumph in there, a 3-0 (12 Feb 2000) demolition over one of Fergie’s greatest sides, a team who in only the season prior had completed the famous treble. Goals from Shearer and Big Dunc sealed the win in a game which also saw another NUFC legend, Gary Speed, making his 100th game for the club. This was at a time where Sir Bobby was building a team firmly in the ascendancy and boy do we miss those times on Tyneside. It really was fantastic stuff!

Surprisingly, we did record another victory of Sir Alex’s men during my lifetime, a 2-1 (26 Oct 1994) League Cup win, although you will have to forgive me from failing to remember it – I was only 3 years old! Paul Kitson and Albert scored for the toon that day, in a line-up consisting of 8 English players, a far cry from circumstances today! Albert the Belgian, popular ‘keeper Pav Srnicek the Czech and Swiss defender Marc Hottiger were the 3 foreign players to help crash Sir Alex ‘s side out of the cup. Surprisingly however, Newcastle didn’t lift the trophy…

The other two victories against Fergie came in his first full year in charge, 1987, before the Premier League era. A 1-0 (26 Dec 1987) and a 2-1 (18 Apr 1987), with both wins coming at home. In fact, during Fergie’s tenure, Newcastle have never gone to Old Trafford and picked up a win. Never. The last time Old Trafford witness a black and white victory on their doorstep was as far back as February 1972. Sigh.

The great Scot has consistently got the better of us, there’s no doubt about that. Though on some occasions, we have managed to frustrate and even humiliate one of simply the best managers the game has ever seen.

The thing is however, I’ve grown up not expecting to beat Man U, but instead to be on the end of a thrashing, even when they’re not at their best. So when we do get a result and we do manage to beat them, it’s extra special and feels more than just a 3 points picked up for the table. Perhaps that’s a little sad but it’s just how it is. If you’re a Newcastle fan and you’ve seen the lads beat the team who have dominated English football for the past 20 years, you enjoy it. You remember it.

Former Newcastle manager and club legend, Sir Bobby Robson, enjoyed a relationship with Sir Alex

As I said at the beginning of the article, the media have understandably been relentless in the Sir Alex retirement testaments, for me however, I’ll remember him as an enemy in battle, a tormentor and begrudgingly – a winner. There are however battles to reminisce, the times when we did manage to get the better of Fergie.

So you can snatch titles from us, you can call us a wee club, you can beat us time and time again and you can burden us with Gabriel Obertan! But the Premier League won’t be the same without you that’s for sure. So long Fergie, maybe it’ll be Manchester United who will only record 7 wins over the toon in the next 50 games… Ok, I won’t hold my breath!

May 7 / Jamie Hardesty

Alan Pardew Now In A Lose/Lose Situation This Weekend

With Newcastle gaining a much needed point at West Ham this weekend and perhaps more importantly, Swansea City managing to spectacularly stage a 3-2 comeback win at Wigan this evening, Newcastle now hold the fate of their Premier League future in their own hands. Although whether Alan Pardew’s side are capable of gaining the vital points required remains far from certain…

The league table now looks like this:

The bottom half of the Premier League is tighter than Mike Ashley’s summer purse strings!

Because Wigan can still gain a potential 6 points, no team in the bottom half of the table are technically yet safe. Wigan might be known as the Premier League’s perennial great escape artists but with their remaining fixtures being against Champions League chasing Arsenal and Paul Lambert’s resurgent Aston Villa side, few will back Wigan to do the impossible once again. Tonight truly was a ‘must win’ game for Wigan tonight and whilst they still have hope, it’s certainly fading fast.

Anyway I digress, back to more important matters – What do Newcastle United now have to do?

Whilst Wigan’s defeat tonight will most probably be the result that condemned the little rugby club to an 18th place finish and Championship football next season, Newcastle still need points of their own to ensure we keep our place in the division.

Pardew Problems Piling

So just what does Pardew do in light of Wigan’s defeat and in preparation for the QPR game on Saturday? If Newcastle can get a point from the next match and Wigan fail to beat Arsenal next Tuesday, following their FA Cup final game this weekend, Newcastle will survive and Wigan will go down.

Although can Pardew afford to go to QPR and play for a draw? I mean in all probability he will do exactly that. Looking at our recent away games at West Ham and West Brom, both games were very similar in the sense that Newcastle played a good first half of football, only to find themselves frantically hanging on for a point in the second half, offering little to nothing going forward.

If this trend continues and Newcastle again ride their luck, rather than maintaining an attacking and game winning intent, against a team already relegated and set to finish bottom of the league, then what kind of message does that send to fans?

Each week, more and more of us lose patience with Pardew. I’ve never been a big Pardew critic and I still applaud the fact that I genuinely believe he understands what football means to the area and that he has immersed himself in our unique footballing city culture in Newcastle, but the fact remains – his tactics, team selections, substitutes and mentality installed in to the first team have been simply baffling and not at all good enough. Admittedly, Pardew’s passion cannot account for his failure to manage a talented group of players to the required standard.

So what I’m saying is, if Pards continues to approach away games in the same vein as the displays at West Ham and West Brom, playing for a point rather than a win, he will not only be lamented by frustrated  and disillusioned supporters, he will also then have to hope Wigan slip up. Paradoxically, the safe option of being conservative is in fact a risk itself!

Shola Ameobi bagged the goal in the 1-0 victory over QPR earlier this season

The reason I’m calling it a lose/lose situation though is because if Pardew does go all out in winning the game and QPR come away with all the points, Pardew will get berated for not playing for a point when Wigan are likely to get nothing from the Emirates! Catch 22 Monsieur Pardieu!

That is the difference between being a manager and a fan of course. Whatever the manager does, he will be criticised by the fan who is pressure free. There is a possibility that Pardew could go all out for the win on Saturday and indeed bring the 3 points back to St. James’ but if recent results are anything to go by, I’m not too confident of that at all – yes, even against a side set to finish bottom of the league!

What ifs…

This is all speculation of course, fans will eternally dispute what is best for their team and for many, whatever Pardew does is irrelevant now, having already lost the faith of many of the club’s supporters.

What is more certain is the fact that Swansea City did Newcastle a colossal favour in managing to beat Wigan tonight, I think most of us are in agreement that this is the result that probably keeps Newcastle up.

Of course Wigan could lose to Arsenal and beat Villa on the final day of the season, meaning Newcastle would need a point from QPR to stay up. The possibilities are almost endless; it could even be a team seemingly safe in the bottom half who could yet slip. Norwich, Sunderland, Southampton, Aston Villa, Fulham and even Stoke could all face the Premier League trap door, every team is still in desperate need of picking up points…

I don’t know what is going to happen but I know I wouldn’t want to be in Alan’s shoes right now. I can only hope he picks the right team to go to QPR and get a positive result. Swansea gave us a lifeline tonight, let’s not let it go to waste.

The relegation rollercoaster continues to twist and turn, I just pray there are no unexpected drops for Newcastle around the corner…

What do you think, should Pardew play for a draw on Saturday or should he play a more risqué strategy of going for a win no matter what? Are Newcastle even capable of winning their second away game of the season? Will our dismal goal difference play a part? Will Remy come back to haunt us? Can Sunderland get another point without their three top scorers? Can Wigan be their typical selves and beat Arsenal away?! Will Tony Pulis ever look like he hasn’t been dragged through Sports Direct backwards and thrown in to the dugout?! Have the toon got the bottle to beat the league’s bottom side? Will my rhetorical questions ever be answered?!

Until the weekend, that is if my heart can take anymore…