Late Tackle


It wez one-wa traffic at Aad Trafford,
The forst win will hev te wait,
It wez men against boys,
An it cud hev been seven or aaiyt.

Against Villa it wez time fre revenge,
A dish best served with panache,
Wi gis 110% and were canny good leik,
An off went wor Joey’s tash.

It wez an ill-tempered affair at the Molineux,
A footie game almost broke oot,
Karl Henry’s neet tha type of playor,
So me an Gary laughed when Barton’s leg kept connecting wi his boot.

Some bairn caal’d Ben Arthur scored a screamer at Everton,
I’d nivvor heard of him mesel,
If a Brazilian had scored it we’d be gannin mad leik,
Ah think he’ll dee well.

Tha wez until a player caal’d de Jong,
Literally cut him in horf,
He’s not that type of playor,
But this time ah divvnae laugh.

Coloccini scored a last gasp equaliser against Wigan,
After the baal wez put into the mix,
Ah want curly hair tee,
Instead I’ve got Weetabix.

Howay the Mackem-slayers,
Ah laughed at Petor Reid,
5-1 te the Toon,
An a song te annoy aad tattyheed.

Wor Hughton wez given the axe affta a defeat te West Brom,
One o the greatest mistakes,
The idiot bheend this wez Mike Ashley,
A man who’s eaten tee many steak bakes.

After wor Hughton’s sacking,
Ah wez angry an sad,
Until Carroll scored a screamer against Liverpool,
He’s got canny good feet fre a big lad.

Gareth Bale ran riot against us at the Lane,
He’s a player I adore,
If ernly he wez English,
We’d be betta than the Dutch in 74′.

Stevenage wez always gannin to be a potential banana skin,
but on pyeppor wi had the betta team,
But that’s the magic o the FA Cup,
It was leik a bad dream.

Four doon to Arsenal at half-time,
and it divvnae look good,
But football’s a game of two halves,
An Tiote volleyed it in wi a thud

Stoke’s never an easy place te gan,
Even Messi wouldn’t score,
So it wez ne surprise te me,
Tha the hyem team won bi four.

A game against Villa at the business end o the season,
Who are surely tee good te gan doon ,
They won comfortably,
An affta a loss, it wa a long way hyem .

It’s been an unpredictable season,
An thor’s ne easy games in this league,
The lads hev run thor socks off,
An are noo battling fatigue.

By Alan Shearer.


“He’s a real character, Jonas. He’s a maverick”.
Alan Pardew, 2011.

With 93 minutes on the clock, El Galgo [The Greyhound] bounds down on goal. His distinctive and unorthodox run is in full motion, looking like he’ll tumble over his own gangly legs at any second. With nothing in his head other than to bear down on goal, he steps inside and nonchalantly directs the ball into the corner of the goal with a paw. He wheels away in celebration towards his trainer, Alan. Good dog. Have a biscuit.

Jonás Gutiérrez’s goal at the weekend was met with jubilation and a slight hint of astonishment. It’s a rarity he gets on the scoresheet. It’s a rarity he is so decisive. It’s a rarity he is so clinical. Yet, at the same time, everyone knew he was capable of such things. When he does score, they’re belters – he just doesn’t do it enough. Within seconds he can evoke feelings of joy, amazement, excitement, anticipation, frustration and despair – usually in that order – but rarely does he evoke the feeling of euphoria. He remains an enigma on Tyneside. A Rubik’s Cube with a thousand sides.

Gutiérrez scarcely ever misses a game, playing a part in every league game so far this season. Defensively, Gutiérrez is very adept (although not enough to be played out of position in an Argentinian World Cup team) and reads the game well – anticipating attackers moves and intercepting the ball superbly. Additional to this, Gutiérrez’s awkward, quick dribbling is a constant threat and twists the minds of defenders, often getting past them or leading them to bring him down. He has won 64 fouls this season – the sixth highest for a player in the Premier League – and many goals have resulted from free-kicks whipped in by Joey Barton, even more so when Andy Carroll was about.

El Galgo’s stamina, determination and effort cannot be faulted. He runs and runs and runs and runs and runs and runs and runs and runs and runs and runs and runs and runs and runs and runs and runs.  At a fast pace. With a football. But the pitch doesn’t extend into infinity, and if you keep running with a ball towards your opponents goal you soon reach the final third. This is where the problems begin.

A typical Newcastle move down the left wing involves Gutiérrez carrying the ball out of defence and bursting down the line at pace with excellent close control. He then holds off an opponent with good strength and either cuts back and exchanges short, sharp passes with José Enrique – a method which has proved very successful at times, but at others has slowed down attacks – or he attempts to cross (in which the majority of cases is an incredibly poor one, especially if it’s from the byline).

It is this lack of an end product which Gutiérrez gets criticised for. This season he has a pass completion percentage of 79.74% – a reasonably high figure. His short passes with Enrique are a huge factor in this. At the weekend with Enrique missing, Gutiérrez had the lowest pass completion percentage he’s had all season by some way (46.9%, the previous lowest being 61% against Man City). In the final third he is far more unsuccessful with his passing, and many attacks break down as a result of his indecisiveness and underhit or stray passing.

This lack of an end product can be seen in his incredibly low assist and goal tally. This season he has assisted four goals and scored just two. In his Newcastle career he has scored just 6 goals in 98 league appearances – that’s an average of a goal every 16.33 games. Not exactly brilliant, especially when Steven Taylor scores on average a goal every 18.5 games.

Despite his flaws, Gutiérrez is a key player both offensively and defensively, and it’s difficult to dislike such a gentle, quirky character even when he turns your face blue. He has steadily improved since his arrival in England and this seems to be continuing under  the stewardship of Pardew. Against Birmingham, he had one of, if not the, best performance of his Newcastle career by assisting  two goals. Since the new manager’s arrival, Gutiérrez has been directly involved in six of the 24 league goals scored and his passing in the final third, if not always the final ball, has improved visibly.

An old dog may not be able to learn new tricks, but Gutiérrez is giving it a pretty good go.




The German economy is growing faster than any other in Europe. At the centre of this growth is the city of Frankfurt; the largest financial centre in continental Europe. However, such positive growth is not occurring in the forest towards the south of the city centre. With one point in six games and no goals in as many, Eintracht Frankfurt are in deep recession.

After a poor start, Die Adler (The Eagles) went on to record a seven game unbeaten run and were as high as fourth after their win against Wolfsburg at the start of November. They finished superbly at the end of the first half of the season too, beating both high-flying Mainz and Borussia Dortmund. With Frankfurt sitting in seventh place, helped massively by Theofanis Gekas’s fourteen goals, the Bundesliga closed for the winter break. The manager, Michael Skibbe, was given a contract extension after the first game back, and all was well at Eintracht.

However, Frankfurt have begun to return to the status as the Launische Diva (Moody Diva), a nickname which has been associated with the club due to a history of inconsistency. Since the winter break, Eintracht Frankfurt have gained one point out of an available eighteen, including losses against Borussia Mönchengladbach and FC Nuremberg. They have not scored in 544 minutes of football and are now just four points above a relegation place. Officially the worst team since the winter break and the league’s lowest scorers, Eintracht Frankfurt are dropping faster than Justin Bieber’s testicles.

“Eintracht” is German for “harmony”, but there’s no such thing at Eintracht Frankfurt. A breakdown had been coming for some time, when in November, ex-captain Ioannis Amanatidis, criticised Michael Skibbe for not picking players based on their performances in training. He was subsequently warned and everything appeared well, but the tension began to build once more after Frankfurt’s poor start to 2011.

At the start of February, Amanatidis publically accused Skibbe of creating excuses in order not to pick him. Skibbe repeatedly claimed Amanatidis was suffering from a back injury, however the player stated he was fit and ready to play. No stranger to disputes with players as Thomas Hassler found out at Borussia Dortmund, Skibbe dropped Amanatidis from the squad.

Skibbe and Amanatidis recently made up, and after exchanging a few words in training he was named in the squad for the game against Nuremburg last Friday, in which he amazingly came on as a substitute and captained the side for a period of time. Nevertheless, the damage was already done. The coach no longer had the full support of the players or the fans and it’s more than questionable how long the Eintracht will last.

There have been growing calls for Skibbe’s head in recent weeks, with the squabbles being just one problem. In the first half of the season, Skibbe didn’t have to worry about having only Gekas as the only player to have scored more than two goals as he was scoring so regularly. However, the burden on Gekas has led to him becoming increasingly anxious, and due to a lack of confidence and chances being created, he is struggling to find the net.

The goal drought has led to calls for Skibbe to play a 4-4-2, rather than the current 4-5-1. Yet, Skibbe is an incredibly stubborn manager who seems neither to know of, nor be willing to try, a plan B. Even once Skibbe put three strikers on the field in the second half against Nuremberg, he was criticised for making them too late in the game. The fans are growing increasingly frustrated with such negative tactics and his methods are seen to have been exhausted.

However, a change of coach would be expensive (although relegation more so), and with the frugal Heribert Bruchhagen as chairman, it seems unlikely for the time being. If Skibbe was to be fired it would also show that the players were more powerful than the coach, meaning attracting a competent manager would be difficult, especially under such tough circumstances.

The next two weeks will be crucial to Eintracht Frankfurt’s season. On Sunday they play 17th placed Stuttgart; a team they beat 2-1 in October, but one which they have failed to beat on the last six occasions at home in the league. The following weekend they meet Kaiserslautern, currently 16th and also in poor form. After scoring only nine goals at home all season, the lowest in the league, these two games at the Commerzbank-Arena are hugely important.

However, if they didn’t have enough problems, midfielder Sebastian Rode, the top performer against Nuremburg, is a serious doubt with a knee injury, and Oki Nikolov, the goalkeeper, is out for the next six weeks.

With Eintracht Frankfurt yet to play Bayern Munich (3rd), Mainz (5th) and Borussia Dortmund (1st) in the second half of the season, it’s going to be tough for Michael Skibbe, a manager who has never experienced a relegation fight before. The fans, however, are more than aware of the troubles of relegation battles, after Eintracht Frankfurt were relegated in 1996, 2001 and 2004, and narrowly escaped in 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007 and 2009.

The sands of time are falling, as are Eintracht Frankfurt.



“A little country who won’t achieve anything”
Pelé, pre-World Cup (2002).

In this instance, Pelé was wrong. Along with South Korea and Turkey, Senegal were the great overachievers of the 2002 World Cup. In their first ever World Cup finals match, Senegal beat former colonial ruler and then World and European champions, France. They followed up this historical result by drawing against Denmark – a team who had not lost a competitive game in two years – and then completed the group stage by drawing against Uruguay. The lowest ranked team in the competition had made the knockout stages. Sweden awaited, a team who had finished top of a group consisting of Argentina, England and Nigeria. Henri Camara scored a golden goal and Les Lions de la Teranga were through to play Turkey.

After a tight 90 minutes this tie also went to extra time.  Shortly into the first period, Turkey hit Senegal on the break and İlhan Mansız neatly finished a cross. The Turkish bench ran on to the pitch and the Senegalese were defeated. They failed to get past the quarter-finals – just as Cameroon had in the past and Ghana would in the future – in cruel circumstances. However, although their dreams had been mercilessly dashed, this had been anything but a failure. Pelé’s prediction was wrong, this was an enormous achievement and the greatest in the history of the Senegal national team.

Nevertheless, Pelé would have been correct any other time. Senegal are regarded as one, if not the underachievers of the African continent. They have failed to collect a single title winning medal in their history, with their best achievement coming just three and a half months before the win against France.

The final of the African Cup of Nations in 2002 went to penalties and Senegal were in the ascendancy after Pierre Womé had seen his attempt saved. This was until Amdy Faye and El Hadji Diouf missed. However, at 3-2, Rigobert Song missed for The Indomitable Lions and gifted Senegal’s captain, Aliou Cissé, a chance to take the penalty shootout into sudden death. He missed. Fourteen million people slumped in their seats in disappointment.

Following the achievements in Japan and South Korea, the manager, Bruno Metsu, left for the United Arab Emirates for a higher wage. His tactical astuteness and open and friendly approach would be missed and Guy Stephan, former France assistant at the time of their loss against Senegal, took charge. Despite this change Senegal remained unbeaten in qualification for the 2004 African Cup of Nations, and also during the group stages. They were to meet the hosts Tunisia in the quarter-finals.

However, just as the fog descended on the pitch in Radès, this was the point it also descended on the Senegal national team. El Hadji Diouf was targeted all game by the Tunisians. Elbows and tackles flew in, and he even had to leave the pitch on a stretcher at one point. Tunisia scored in the 65th minute and the Senegalese squad went crazy. They believed Diouf had been fouled in the build-up to the goal and the game was stopped for ten minutes as members of the Senegalese bench invaded the pitch and protested. Flares made the vision even more impaired and a red mist descended on Diouf and his teammates. They lost their heads, lost the game, and the decline was about to begin.

After this, Senegal failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2006, losing out to Togo. In the African Cup of Nations in 2006, Senegal qualified for the quarter-finals through goal difference by beating Guinea, but in the following game history repeated itself and Senegal were defeated  by the hosts. It was an improvement but yet again Senegal had fallen short in the eyes of their fans. Still, they remained calm, keeping faith in their “golden generation”.

They bounced back from this disappointment with a number of wins, but were then defeated by minnows Burkino Faso and later drew with Mozambique. Despite these setbacks they qualified for the 2008 African Cup of Nations and were in great form under new manager Henryk Kasperczak and they went into the tournament as one of the favourites. It didn’t go well though, and after failing to win the first two matches Kasperczak resigned. Senegalese senior players, Tony Sylva and Ousmane N’Doye, and team captain El Hadji Diouf, all partied until the early hours during the competition. Ultimately, they failed to win the final group game and did not qualify for the knockout stage. A huge embarrassment.

Despite such failures, Senegal’s starting eleven had not changed much since 2002. Under yet another new manager, Lamine N’Diaye, they finished third in a tight qualifying group for the African Cup of Nations, losing out on goal difference. In their last game against Gambia they were five minutes away from qualification to the next round, but Gambia equalised and Senegal subsequently lost out.

Enough was enough for the Senegalese fans, they expected much more from their golden generation. Fans threw stones, sticks and bottles on to the pitch and tore down publicity boards and fencing. Fires were lit, windows smashed and the players tunnel damaged. The violence spewed outside on to the streets too, and the Senegalese FA headquarters were attacked and a bus torched, as riot police fought with the fans and used tear gas. Senegal had failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, the first held on African soil, and the 2010 African Cup of Nations. They would not play another competitive match for almost two years. A defining day.

““We weren’t a team – there wasn’t a sense of us working together. Relationships were strained to such an extent that eventually everything came crashing down around us.” – Mamadou Niang , 2010.

Photograph by Edward Morgan

A vast overhaul of the Senegal national team was needed. For far too long they had rested on their laurels and relied too much on their “golden generation”, thus irresponsibly neglecting the future. Someone was needed to tame Les Lions de la Teranga and put an end to the internal quarrels, selfishness, arrogance and lack of motivation and professionalism. Someone was needed to put an end to the circus. Amara Traore; former Senegalese forward. Le Dompteur De Lions: The Lion Tamer.

Traore had experienced the problems throughout the decade firsthand and knew exactly what to do. The golden generation were largely swept aside or had retired, so many of the talented youngsters were given a chance. A number of veterans remained, in order to provide some experience to the side and warn the youngsters not to make the same mistakes as they did; but largely, this was a completely fresh start. Senegal entered a period of much needed transition.

Traore has brought back the phenomenal team spirit that Senegal had under Metsu. Selfish individualism has been replaced by a positive, team ethic, and arrogance towards other teams has been replaced with respect. Traore’s football philosophy reflects him as a person; positive. His team selections have been incredibly attack-minded, often fielding three forwards, sometimes four, at a single time.

This is no surprise considering the huge amount of striking talent Senegal currently has. One quick glance across Europe’s top goalscorer charts tells you everything. Moussa Sow, top goalscorer in France with sixteen goals and 9th in the golden shoe, has been a revelation since joining Lille in the summer, firing them to the top of the league. Papiss Demba Cissé; 15 goals in 18 appearances and the second highest scorer in the Bundesliga. Also, Mamadou Niang, captain of the current Senegal national team has scored 12 goals in 18 appearances in Turkey and is second in their domestic scoring charts. Also leading a scoring chart; Dame N’Doye for F.C Copenhagen. With 13 goals in the league, he has also helped the team into their first ever Champions League knockout tie. Finally, Baye Djibi Fall, who finished top of the Tippeligaen last season with 16 goals. Add these strikers to Demba Ba, Mame Biriam Diouf, Diomansy Kamara and Souleymane Camara and you have an incredibly impressive set of forwards. Such a selection has resulted in Traore experimenting with different variations.

Photograph by Enrico.

Not only have the forwards been playing well for their clubs, they have been playing well for Senegal too. In Traore’s first game they beat a lacklustre Greece 2-0, Niang finishing off a wonderfully crafted move and later scored an absolute screamer of a free kick. However, after this, they lost to tough opposition; Mexico and Denmark.

It has been their African Cup of Nations qualification performances that have been most impressive though, scoring 11 goals in two games. Senegal beat Congo DR, 4-2, with Sow scoring from a cross and Niang scoring a hat-trick. This was followed by Senegal recording their biggest ever win in their fifty year history, beating Mauritius, 7-0 Papiss Demba Cissé scoring a hat-trick, Niang scoring twice and Sow also scoring again, with an own-goal making it seven.

Suddenly, the future looks bright for Senegalese international football. However, next up in qualification are Cameroon, the first real test for Amara Traore. It will be the first time the two sides have met competitively since the 2002 African Cup of Nations penalty shootout. Additional to this, Senegal have recently failed to reach the knockout stages in the African Championship of Nations.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but it keeps flickering.

Photograph by James S.



The fog of the Tyne has descended and Newcastle fans have been left trying to make sense of  a complicated situation. To some degree, we all feared it may happen at some point, but we never really expected it too either, especially so soon.

The use of a question mark followed by an exclamation mark, or an interrobang,  and the caps lock key would be the simplest method of summing up Monday’s events. In the morning I awoke with a sense of naive optimism and hope. PERHAPS WE’LL SIGN LEFT-BACK COVER FOR JOSE ENRIQUE?!?!?!  PERHAPS WE’LL SIGN SOMEONE BETTER THAN ANTOINE SIBIERSKI, XISCO, IGNACIO GONZALEZ OR LEON BEST ON THIS TRANSFER DEADLINE DAY?!?!?! These sentiments were shortly followed by the news that Liverpool had bid thirty million pounds for Carroll, which was shortly upped to thirty five million. MIKE ASHLEY IS NOT GOING TO ACCEPT THAT IS HE?!?!?! He apparently didn’t, which was followed by Carroll apparently handing in a transfer request. WHY ANDY, YOU COMPLETE TWAT?!?! The deal was imminent and Newcastle looked for a player they could spend the money on. Up popped the yellow ticker on Sky Sports News: ‘Newcastle bid ten million pounds for Charles N’Zogbia’. CHARLES N’ZOGBIA?!?!?! ARE YOU PULLING MY LEG?!?!?! This was followed soon after by TWELVE MILLION POUNDS FOR CHARLES N’ZOGBIA?!?!?! TODAY HAS BEEN A MASSIVE PRANK, RIGHT?!?!?! Then, as Jim White counted down from three although the clock in the corner was on 23 seconds, the day was over. The transition from hope to surprise to worry to anger to confusion to sadness to apathy. I was more hormonal than a fifteen year old boy.

Not for the first time, Newcastle fans have been left with more questions than answers. The main question from fans has been: ‘Did Carroll jump or was he pushed?’ The truth is, the situation seems far too complicated to just simply resort to a dichotomy, and with both sides blaming each other, there’s no concrete answer forthcoming.

Who was driving the deal is unknown, although I personally suspect both. Carroll was sat on Mike Ashley’s lap, moving the steering wheel towards Anfield, whilst Mike Ashley applied his foot to the pedal to accelerate the deal, straight to the pot of gold. All this whilst Pardew the nodding dog sat on the dashboard overlooking the deal.

If neither, or even just one, of the parties didn’t want the deal to happen, it wouldn’t have. The text messages Carroll sent mention that he was ‘kind of pushed out the door’ and ‘practically told to go’. In his first interview with LFCTV he said: ‘When I knew it was real and that there was a chance for me to come here I knew it was a great opportunity and I had to take it’. He didn’t seem to put up much of a fight to stay, just as Mike Ashley et al didn’t to keep him by flying him to Melwood via his helicopter.

Ironically, the general feeling is that it is Liverpool and their fans, even some thinking it themselves, who have been taken for a ride. Thirty five million pounds for an unproven striker, renown for his off the field problems, is a heck of a lot of money. The feeling that it was a no brainer to accept thirty five million pounds by the media and other fans, hasn’t been the reaction of most Newcastle fans.

If Andy Carroll wasn’t a local lad, and it wasn’t the day of the deadline so there was time to find a replacement, and if Mike Ashley wasn’t in charge of my football club, I wouldn’t think twice about accepting 35 million pounds. He’s a brilliant player, and one with a lot of potential, but even then he isn’t worth thirty five million pounds. But as it happens, Carroll was the bearer of the Newcastle number nine shirt and born in Gateshead, we are now stuck with a strike force of Peter Lovenkrands, Leon Best, Shola Ameobi, Nile Ranger and Phil Airey for the remainder of the season, and there’s a good chance Mike Ashley will spend a significant amount of the money on red on a roulette wheel.

Despite this, Alan Pardew stated Tuesday that the entire thirty five million pounds will be reinvested in the club. However, Alan Pardew also said the following:

“Andy’s career path is here. He just has to keep working hard. We have to have a big-club mentality and hold on to our best players”. 21st December, 2010

Carroll has also gone back on his word:

“All I have ever wanted to do is play for Newcastle United…Every time I pull on the black and white shirt – and even more so now that I have No9 on my back – it means the world to me”. – 8th October, 2010.

As has managing director, Derek Llambias:

“Players like Andy are the future of this club”.8th, October, 2010.

This is modern day football. Promises are broken regularly and lies are spouted often. If the number nine shirt at Carroll’s boyhood club “meant the world”, the world costs 50k a week more in wages. From the perspective of Carroll financially, 50k a week more in wages, in a job which usually ends in your mid-thirties, makes perfect sense.  It also makes perfect sense to Mike Ashley collecting £35 million pounds for Carroll. Carroll is not the first player to be disloyal, and he won’t be the last. Like it or loathe it, this is modern day football.

Will I miss him? Of course. Despite the ending to his Newcastle career, especially due to the ambiguity of who the blame is on, I’ll always remember him fondly. Carroll was a fantastic player for Newcastle, helping massively to get the club back into the Premier League and then scoring regularly this season. Liverpool, if they use him in the right way and nurture him, have an absolute gem. He’ll never be a world-beater, but if he continues as he has he’ll be a great, great player.

Will Newcastle miss him? Of course. His eleven league goals have been crucial to Newcastle’s league position this season and our play has relied, at times, heavily on him. Countless goals have been scored between the interchange of a Barton cross onto Carroll’s head, and then either headed in by Andy himself or flicked on to Nolan to score. It would be foolish, bitter and naive to claim Carroll’s departure isn’t an enormous loss, especially with no replacement arriving.

Despite this, Newcastle have been unbeaten in the league since Carroll’s injury. In the four league games Newcastle have played without him since his injury, they have won two and drew two, scoring eight goals and conceding two late equalisers. This statistic alone shows life will go on after Carroll. This is Newcastle United, not Andrew Carroll FC.

I’m sceptical, but if, and it is a big if, all the money gets reinvested in the club, and on the right players, this could be a very, very good piece of business. However, promises get broken.



“Most of the people from Manchester are Manchester City fans”.
Edin Dzeko, 11th January 2011.

I’m an oddball. I wasn’t born in Newcastle. I’ve never lived in Newcastle. None of my family were born, or have lived in Newcastle. Yet, guess who I decided to support when I was seven? I know what you’re thinking, I’m not a ‘real supporter’, am I?

Most people choose a team based on a geographical or family connection. The local top sides in my area are Wolves, Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, Stoke City, Walsall, Tamworth and Burton Albion, but they are at least a thirty minute drive away. The true local teams are Hednesford Town and Chasetown (famed for reaching the first round of the FA Cup in 2005 and taking Oldham to a replay and then being the lowest ranked team ever to make the FA Cup third round in 2008). Despite this, I’ve never felt a deep connection to my local area – or Birmingham. My parents have never been interested in football so I wasn’t ever pressured into supporting a club, or football in general, it was through my own interest. Like most, I began playing football in the playground and I had a choice. For me, without any perceived ‘constraints’, it was a choice of any club in the world. A completely free choice.

When geography and family aren’t factors in the choice of team it’s usually strange or small things that are the reason. Kit colour, style of football, a favourite player, success. For me it was style. Everyone said Newcastle were the neutral’s favourite during the 90’s. I was a neutral, yet to determine an allegiance, but then swayed into an allegiance by the entertaining, attacking football. I’d found my team.

My earliest memory of Newcastle is one which has been erased from the minds of all the other fans. The night Newcastle’s chance of the title slipped (I guess I’m also a glory hunter in this respect too). I never watched the game as it was a school night and I was in bed but my aunt was babysitting me and she kept running up and down the stairs to tell me the score. 4-3 it ended, but in truth, at the time I didn’t really understand just how significant this was for the club and the fans, but I did understand to some extent that it was a dent to our title chances. My earliest Newcastle memory; a monumental loss for the fans, the “Match of the Decade” for neutrals and a game I experienced second-hand by my aunt running up and down stairs as I nodded off under a Fireman Sam quilt. I told you, oddball.

After being taken in by Shearer during Euro 1996 I soon began to take a closer interest, so when he signed for a world record fee in July 1996 my ears pricked up and my eyes lit up. This was the beginning of the love affair.

The first Newcastle game I went to was at Villa Park (I’m not sure which year it was, but lets say it was a while back as Lee Hendrie was playing and he was seen as the next big thing…) My first home game? Wednesday 10th November 2010. Plastic fan? Due to my parents disinterest in football and the distance to travel, an opportunity never arose. My brother joined the university in September and suddenly I had the chance. Walking up the steps into the Gallowgate End to overlook the pitch. Words fail me.

To support your local team is one of the unwritten laws of football (Howard Webb giving a penalty at Old Trafford is another). For me, the phrase “support your local team” is only behind “it’s only a game” as the most infuriating things you can say to me regarding football. I can understand the concept of supporting the club of your city, not only the sense of pride and attachment but also the practicality of being able to see them often and supporting the community financially too. It must be a wonderful thing and I can only imagine the feelings it invokes.

Yet, we live in a global world. Communications and travel now allow everywhere to be local. Without cars and televisions, supporting your local team used to be the only viable option for a football fan but this has now changed (although in Sunderland the main mode of transport is still horse and cart and televisions are yet to be discovered, but more on this later). For supporters of smaller teams many still don’t get the chance to catch them on TV, so going to the stadium is still the best option, however sometimes games are shown on TV or via internet streaming. Never the same as the stadium though.

I’ve never been able to partake in the pre-match ritual of going to the pub to discuss tactics before walking to the stadium for the game (or even talk to fellow fans in person about my team, apart from my younger brother and those at away games). Now Twitter allows me to do it, 24/7.

In far gone years people used to be restricted to moving within the same few miles. This is no longer the case, and our already small island has been made smaller by improvement in transport. People now rarely stay in the same location during their lives. If someone moved from Manchester to Liverpool you wouldn’t expect them to change to their new local team, that would be ridiculous.

Despite advances in transport, travelling still takes large amounts time, energy and money out of peoples hectic lives. I can never understand Manchester United fans travelling from the south being criticised for being ‘plastic fans’. Surely by travelling such distances it shows they are dedicated to their team? If a team is successful of course this will attract other fans. The bigger a club is, the further away you live, the more you feel you have to justify your choice.

The global market no longer allows a team to be successful if truly local. Large clubs now rely on finances from a fan base which is much further afield than a few miles surrounding the stadium. I may not buy many tickets, due to financial and time restraints (I’ve bought one home game and two away this season), but I’ve bought a printed shirt. This is enough money for Mike Ashley’s pies for a game so he’ll be happy with my financial contribution.

This financial gain by big clubs is at the expense of of smaller ones. By me buying a Newcastle shirt, Chasetown miss out. Football is a game of winners and losers and the harsh truth is that in a fluid, individualized world with a focus on choice everyone supporting their local team is idealistic. I’d hate to live in a society which imposed the law that you had to support your local team, although for many their local team is their choice.

Another aspect of globalisation is a fluidity in identity. Your mind can feel attached to a place your not physically in, or have ever been in for that matter. I feel a strong sense of attachment to Newcastle due to supporting the city’s football team. I feel a strong sense of attachment to Berlin as it is my favourite city and I have fond memories of my visits. I feel attached to the Netherlands through their football team, although I have never visited the country and I wasn’t even alive during the era of football I love most about them. Identities are fluid and multiple (although I am against people supporting lots of teams in the same country and changing allegiances).

Does this mean local identity is no longer important? Of course not. Tell that the fans of Birmingham, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Everton, Schalke, Hamburg, Sunderland and Newcastle this weekend and they’d rightly look at you in a weird way. Local derbies mean everything.

As a Newcastle fan who has never lived in Newcastle, you’d presume the Tyne-Wear derby was like any other game to me. You’d be wrong. It’s the biggest game in the fixture list. I have no geographical connection but I support Newcastle and this is part of that. Trust me, if we beat them on Sunday I’ll be out drinking on the night.

Despite this, I’ll never be able to completely understand the meaning of the derby. I’ve never been able to experience the buzz around town a week or two before. I’ve never been able to experience the derby atmosphere inside the stadium. I’ve never been able to experience the bragging rights afterwards; the giving and receiving of abuse. For this is one of the weaknesses of not being a local fan, I am worse off and can only imagine.

I’m of the opinion you can support who you want, for whatever reason you want, to the extent you want. But once you’ve chosen, you have to stick with them. So, just as I didn’t understand the full meaning behind my first Newcastle memory I won’t, but for other reasons, understand the full meaning of  the upcoming derby, as I never have. My body isn’t physically in Newcastle, but my mind and heart certainly are. I had none of the perceived ‘constraints’ on me when choosing a football team. I chose Newcastle. Do I wish I chose a local team in order to see them more at a stadium, and have I ever thought about changing my team because of this? Well, would you ever see a Mackem in Milan?



Newcastle’s loss at Broadhall Way on Saturday has been met by many Magpies developing a superstitious theory. They say the blue kit is cursed.

The number thirteen. Knocking on wood. Walking under ladders. These superstitions have been followed by many people for many years. Superstition is essentially the belief that a certain object or ritual can alter the outcome of a future event. Nowhere is it more prevalent than in the world of sport. Just ask Paul the Octopus.

To the individual their superstitious idiosyncrasy is usually seen as perfectly normal and rational, but for those looking upon them it often seems ridiculous. Take Malvin Kamara, currently playing for Stafford Rangers. Before every game he has to watch Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. A twenty-seven-year-old man who believes the future of his teams football match rests on seeing a multi-directional glass elevator fly through a ceiling. Yet for him, this makes sense. He may think it’s irrational and silly too, but I bet he won’t risk not watching it before a game. Why risk it? His team may lose. All because of him, a few green-haired men and Gene Wilder

These superstitions can relate to performance. If you believe by doing a specific ritual it will make you perform better, you usually will. Sports stars are incredibly competitive and under a huge level of pressure to succeed. This combination means many look for any edge possible.

It is no surprise superstition is so prevalent in football as it is a game which involves a fair amount of ‘luck’. The best team doesn’t always win and games can be decided on lucky deflections. However, players aren’t paid thousands pounds a week due to their ability to get the best out of a lucky sock, and these ‘magical influences’ are largely a mix up between cause and effect. They’re talented individuals and by ascribing magical properties to objects and rituals they’re undermining their own gift and hard work. Not only does it show they lack faith in their own ability but also their other teammates. However in a job with so much uncertainty and pressure it is not surprising superstition is so prevalent, as it is in the fishing and gambling industries.

For fans, they are helpless. The only way they can influence what happens on the pitch is by economic means (ticket sales, shirt sales etc.) meaning better players can be bought, and by shouting at a match, although this has a minimal effect as an individual and will rely on others to shout too, especially for larger clubs.

Despite this, most fans have superstitions and feel by following them they can affect a game, or future game, which is taking place miles away. I wouldn’t classify myself as superstitious at all yet at times this season, in the back of my head,  I’ve felt personally responsible to some extent for Newcastle’s results and ill fortune. The only games I’ve had tickets for this season have been Blackburn and West Brom (our two worst performances this season) and Birmingham (cancelled due to the snow). I know this is due to no fault of my own and that the universe does not revolve around me but there’s always that small, aching feeling it’s your fault.

Superstitions involving items of clothing are the most popular, especially in football. Many managers have worn ‘lucky’ items of clothing. Ties worn by Carlos Bilardo and Felix Magath,  Schellas Hyndman’s jacket, suits worn by Don Revie and Chris Hughton, and more recently Avram Grant’s scarf. Players have also made the connection between clothing and success. For instance,  John Terry and his shinpads and Gary Neville and his boots.

The kit is the most important item of clothing in football so it is no surprise that they are seen to hold magical powers. Stripy and green shirts are usually seen as unlucky, whilst red shirts are seen as lucky. I have a mate who believes strongly in the theory that if a team wears white socks, they will win.

Many kits throughout history have been deemed unlucky. When Brazil lost the World Cup final against Uruguay in 1950, many people blamed it on their all white kit. A competition was held to design a new strip and it was eventually, strangely, won by a Uruguayan. It was the birth of Brazil’s yellow, blue, green and white kit. They’ve since gone on to win five World Cups…

In 1996, it was the turn for Manchester United’s grey kit to be cursed. They’d picked up one point in their last twelve wearing it and then found themselves 3-0 down against Southampton at half-time with their title winning chances slipping away. Lee Sharp recently said that the first words out of Alex Ferguson when they returned to the dressing room was, “get that kit off, you’re getting changed”. Makes a difference to the hair dryer I guess… They did change kit, and although they didn’t turn it around that day, they pipped Newcastle to the league title. Fergie has claimed that it wasn’t dropped due to ‘being unlucky’, but that the players couldn’t see one another when they lifted their heads to pass. Only he knows if this is what he really believed.

Last season it was Wigan’s orange away kit. They never won a single game wearing it, including a heavy 9-1 defeat to Tottenham. After the defeat, Wigan manager Roberto Martinez wanted to get rid of it but Premier League rules didn’t allow him to. They then lost 8-0 to Chelsea on the final day of the season. Speaking at the beginning of  the 2010/2011 season about the kit Martinez said:

“I guarantee with our new black kit, we will never repeat the experiences of  the orange one”.

This is all of course nonsense as, despite the significant meaning of shirts, ultimately they are  just cloth. They hold the same amount of supernatural power as a scarf, a pair of socks or a suit; none.

Superstitions are not 100% reliable so each time they fail they must be adapted to explain the failings and successes. That’s how they get weirder and more idiosyncratic. At first it’s just your ‘lucky socks’. It works for a while, maybe, but then your team loses. Something must be wrong. Something must have been done differently to usual. I washed them the other day didn’t I? I’ve never done that before. It must be that.

There is another solution to adaptation. When the superstition doesn’t work it must be ignored or forgotten. That’s the thing with superstitions, you only remember them when they work.  English philosopher Francis Bacon once said; ‘the root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses’. This is very true.

England’s red away shirt is seen as lucky, they won the World Cup wearing it after all. But they also wore red against Germany in their 4-1 loss in this years World Cup. Which result will be remembered? The positive emotions of the World Cup final win over West Germany, or the negative emotions of a last sixteen trouncing by the same opponent? You believe what you want to believe when superstition is concerned, in order for it to fit into your theory.

Currently it is Newcastle’s blue kit which is deemed to be unlucky, after losing games against Norwich, Bolton, West Brom, Tottenham and Stevenage. If you compare the percentage of games won in the black and white kit (42.85%) to the blue kit (16.66%) it looks unlucky. Yet, they won at Accrington Stanley in the Carling Cup wearing it. This shows the theory is faulty, but this victory will be ignored. If you look closer, all the games in the blue kit have been away from home, which is not the case for the home kit. Usually fewer away games are won than home games and this is the case for Newcastle. Football games are decided on a range of factors, for example; the quality of players, tactics, fitness, desire and luck. Never colour of football shirts. Everyone knows this, but that doesn’t stop you from believing in superstitious objects and rituals.

In an advanced society it is surprising such superstition exists. However, studies have showed in times of uncertainty, especially economically, superstition increases. The use of superstition is essentially an attempt to control the uncontrollable. A method to manage anxiety. There’s no bigger time to feel anxious as a Newcastle fan because this weekend we play Sunderland and, although we will probably play in black and white, there is fear of the possibility we may play in blue. Superstition is rife before the Magpies and Black Cats meet once more.

Image by Matt Dawson.

Thank-you to @NUFCfans for the fixtures played in the blue kit and @ComingHomeNUFC for the heads up on Schellas Hyndman’s lucky jacket.




Newcastle United Football Club. Even in periods of success and stability you always have the sense that self-destruction isn’t far away, only to be followed by success and stability again, but not for long. Always unpredictable and forever under the media spotlight. The back page of newspapers, and sometimes the front, are made for them. Expect the unexpected, but still be surprised. Predictably unpredictable. Consistently inconsistent.

Newcastle have had an incredibly chaotic week (*enter ‘ week in football is a long time’ cliché here*), even for a Premier League season which has been its most unpredictable in years. Newcastle have played a big part in this. They’ve beaten Aston Villa by six, Sunderland 5-1, Arsenal at the Emirates, Liverpool 3-1 and drawn against Chelsea. These unlikely scorelines have been counterbalanced by gaining just three points out of twenty one against Wolves, Blackpool, Stoke, Wigan, Blackburn, Fulham and West Brom. Add a 5-1 thumping by Bolton and Hughton’s sacking and it’s difficult to make sense of it all. A thousand piece jigsaw puzzle with the pieces scattered all over the room.

Last Sunday, having never won at the DW Stadium before, Newcastle won 1-0 with a Shola Ameobi goal. This was a surprise. This was a great win.

On the Wednesday, West Ham came to St. James and were trounced 5-0, with the help of a Leon Best hat-trick in his first Premier League start for Newcastle. A Leon Best hat-trick. Leon Best. This was a miracle. This was the greatest night of the Leon Best fan club.

On the Saturday, Newcastle were outplayed by Stevenage, 75 places below the Premier League club in the league structure and lost 3-1.  This was one of the greatest FA Cup shocks in its long history. This, all in seven days.

If you had a treble on Newcastle beating Wigan 1-0, Leon Best scoring a hat-trick and Stevenage winning 3-1, the odds were 35,113-1. Even if you just had the double on the hat-trick and the Stevenage correct score you’d have had odds of 4,132-1. Stevenage were 3500-1 to win the FA Cup even before a ball had been kicked against Newcastle. Not even Nostradamus would have predicted this series of events.

As the week developed the events became more and more surreal (I’m not even going to mention the Ronaldinho to Blackburn rumours or Carroll having a ‘bender’ and ‘perking up like a meerkat’). By the time of writing, I feel like I’ve walked into a Christopher Nolan film. The further into the week I’ve gone, and the deeper into the dream, the less like real life it has become. Tiote’s lunge was the kick and I missed it. Where’s my totem?

Yet, it is real life. I have a totem, it’s Alan Smith. He picked up a yellow card against Stevenage. If he didn’t, I knew I’d be dreaming.

But even as I established this was actually happening, I feared the apocalypse was nigh. It had turned the new year. It was now 2011. The Mayan calender was a year out. Thousands of blackbirds had dropped out of the sky. Millions of fish had died. Leon Best grabbed a hat-trick. The end was nigh. Time to crawl into the bunker. Only cockroaches and Cheick Tiote will survive. Heck, Liverpool had even brought in the Messiah. The second coming. This was it. The game against Stevenage wouldn’t even go ahead. If only…

After Leon Best put humanity at threat by kicking the ball between a pair of posts three times I didn’t think I’d ever be surprised at anything ever again. Less than 72 hours later and I was rubbing my face more vigorously than Roy Hodgson, shell-shocked on my sofa and hurling abuse at a medium for transmitting and receiving moving (red and white) and stationary (all blue) images. Outplayed by League Two opposition. Guess who the Ronnie Radford award is going to this year?

Newcastle lost the game due to a number of reasons, concerning both the players and the manager. Ultimately, it was a combination of overconfidence, tactics, team selection and a lack of desire. Not ‘luck’, because we played in blue or conceded another deflection. Not ‘fatigue’, as Pardew bemoaned. These are Premier League footballers against League Two footballers, they have much higher fitness levels. Many of the players hadn’t played many games recently, and Stevenage had played a couple of games in a short period of time too. Not the pitch (it was of a brilliant standard), as Pardew bemoaned too. He’d seen the pitch and he knew the dimensions. Adapt. Pardew’s ability to motivate the players against ‘lesser opposition’ has to be questioned, as does his preparation, a team selection which had players he claimed were unfit, his poor substitutions (Tiote on for Smith when two-nil down? Yes, we are losing the midfield but a more attacking option would have made more sense)  and his poor interviews afterwards. The players can be criticised rightly for being overconfident and lacking desire. There should be no excuses. Our fault and Stevenage’s superiority in all aspects of the game. A throughly deserved win for them. I wish them well.

As far as where it went wrong on the pitch. Simply? Everywhere. For me, no players came out with any credit. Why Newcastle resorted to the long ball against League Two opponents I have no idea, especially beings Carroll wasn’t playing but even when he does it’s a rarity. So many balls were lumped forward to nobody. Insanity.

The defence lacked concentration, were poor positionally and were second to the ball, as were the midfielders. Routledge, after a promising start, ended up running into dead ends (I hope he doesn’t cross roads as poorly as he does footballs). Barton, on the left and out of position, drifted inside and Perch didn’t go forward therefore we had no width that side of the pitch. The front two offered very little and were outmuscled on the ground and in the air.

Tiote’s red was of great discussion. For me, it was a definite red card. Although one leg was tucked inside, both feet were off the ground and he jumped in from miles away and his body was thus out of control. That is dangerous play. Those are the rules. It comes as some surprise to see Graham Poll deem it as a fair challenge. Newcastle are now appealing it but it is a waste of time in my view (although I hope it does get rescinded). I suspect he’ll miss the game against Sunderland. A huge loss.

Similarly to Ronnie Radford’s goal, the fans will be tortured by the Stevenage goals for decades. Despite this, the fans and the players cannot dwell on the result. It is difficult but necessary to move on. We cannot let it affect the rest of the season. Next up Sunderland. The totem wobbles.


The term ‘crisis club’ gets thrown around more often than one of Andy Carroll’s flailing arms, however VfB Stuttgart are currently firmly in the Bundesliga relegation zone after their worst ever start to a season and already on manager number three. This from a team who won the Bundesliga in 2007. Crisis? Make your own mind up.

Crisis or no crisis the fans aren’t happy. After Stuttgart’s 5-3 loss at home to Bayern Munich on Sunday around 300 fans protested outside the VIP box. “You do not deserve our colours”, they chanted.

They’re right to feel angry. Stuttgart’s board are renown for being ruthless. Joachim Löw was denied a contract extension despite achieving a domestic cup win and reaching a European final in the late 90s. Add him to Rangnick, Sammer, Trapattoni ,and now Gross, and you find a number of managers who were perhaps unjustly fired.

Many English football fans may remember Gross as manager at Tottenham. The man who turned up to his first press conference late and, taking out a London underground ticket, he said,’I want this to become my ticket to dreams’. He was roundly ridiculed thereafter.

Christian Gross was fired earlier this season after a poor set of results, winning just once in seven games. Last season Gross lifted Stuttgart to a European spot after taking over in December when they found themselves at 16th, a similar tale to this year. Ten months after his appointment the axe came down over Gross’s head. An unnecessary sacking, much like his former assistant at Tottenham, Chris Hughton, also suffered recently.

In came Jens Keller. The poor results continued and he was sacked after just 60 days, gaining nine out of the twenty seven points available. The topsy-turvy period included losses against clubs Stuttgart were expected to beat and even a 6-0 win against fellow struggler’s Werder Bremen was not enough. The axe fell again.

In came Bruno Labbadia, formerly of Leverkusen and Hamburg. He is famed for starting well then becoming increasingly unapproachable and there are rumours he’s had fun with some of his former players wives. The Bundesliga’s Alan Pardew you may say.

This so called “Labbadia effect”, claimed by Bayern Munich’s goalkeeper Hans-Jörg Butt, is claimed to breathe life into his teams and motivate the players due to the new start. This has occurred in the past and looked set to this time around when Stuttgart beat Odenske 5-1 in the Europa League (despite Stuttgart’s poor domestic form they’ve lost just one of their ten games in Europe). Then they played Bayern Munich twice in four days. If there was ever a honeymoon period it was over.

The two games epitomised Stuttgart’s season. In two games they conceded eleven but scored six.  They score a lot of goals but also concede a lot. Only Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen (currently first and third respectively) have scored more than them, whilst only Borussia Monchengladbach (18th) have conceded more. In the whole of last season Stuttgart conceded 41 league goals. In as half as many games this season they’ve conceded 35. They are woefully poor and sloppy at the back and have had a series of comedy errors. The young goalkeeper Ulreich is finding it difficult to fit into Lehmann’s gloves.

It’s not just managerial changes and a lack of results which the fans are upset about. Stuttgart has the fourth highest wages total in the Bundesliga. Added to this the fans are growing completely disillusioned by the board who have sold Mario Gomez, Kevin Kurányi, Alexander Hleb and Sami Khedira. As you would expect, the selling of these big names has frustrated the Stuttgart fans greatly.

Labbadia has a huge task of bringing this group of players, in which there’s rumours of unrest between the young and old ones, back up the league and away from the relegation zone. Stuttgart are typically poor in the first half of the season and, despite defending poorly, they have been scoring goals and have being fairly unlucky regarding refereeing decisions. The first task is to sort the defence out, the second is to record their first away win of the season. When the Bundesliga restarts Labbadia has the easy task of playing Mainz (2nd) then Borussia Dortmund (1st) in his first league games. For the Swabian’s it won’t be a happy Christmas.

Labbadia: hardest job in the Bundesliga.


At the time of writing, many football fans are disillusioned by Fifa and it’s associated official tournament. The Unofficial Football World Championships provides a novel alternative. Paul Brown takes you on a fascinating journey through its 138-year history.

The idea is simple. On the 30th November 1872 the first international football match kicked off between England and Scotland. The winner of this match could declare themselves unofficial world football champions. Incidentally nobody won, however England were soon to get the ball rolling by beating Scotland in the next international match.

It it thus a continuous international football competition in a boxing style format decided by title matches. It has been fought and won by international footballing heavyweights and flyweights during so called alledged ‘meaningless friendlies’ and official World Cup finals. Every Unofficial Football World Championship title fight is a official World Cup final. Why wait four years?

Brown traces the entire 138-year history of the Unofficial Football World Championships chronologically, covering over 100 of the 838 title fights. With such vast amounts of information it would have been easy to bore readers, however Browns entertaining style manages to keep the reader gripped throughout. The balance between knowledge and humour is perfectly weighted, with an abundance of both.

There will be facts you’ve already stumbled across but due to the inclusion of forgotten matches and giving a new perspective on the game even the most hardcore of football fans will become more knowledgeable as a result of reading the book. Some thing’s you’ll read and learn about are:

• The English referee you could call a Bastard and get away with it.

• How the Netherlands Antilles produced a truly giant killing performance to become the unofficial football world    champions.

• Why winning was a matter of life and death for Germany’s international football players during the Second World War.

• Which country were the first outside of Europe to become the unofficial football world champions in unbelievable circumstances, and the tragic tale of the winning goalscorer.

• How the Unofficial Football World Championship avoided having two holders of the title.

• Discover why the first game between the unofficial and official world champions is known as the ‘Battle of Highbury’.

• Learn why the unofficial champions during the 1930s couldn’t have become the official champions.

The book is designed in a way which it is easy to pick up and put down as you wish. However, once you begin reading the book it’s easy to to lose yourself and before you know it you’ve travelled through 138 years of international football. A refreshing and informative, yet incredibly entertaining read.

Unofficial Football World Champions by Paul Brown is on sale from for just £7.99 or from on January 4th 2011.

Unofficial Football World Champions - Paul Brown.