It is often said the fans can act as a twelfth man for their team; as an incentive, as a drive, as a motivation. Fans have the power to dictate the dynamics of a game. Fans can transmit their thoughts onto the pitch, for good or for worse, and the fans have the ability to change the momentum of a match.
As the Geordies of Newcastle travelled down to Watford for the Third Round F.A. Cup tie, you carried with you a reputation; one of passion, noise, and force regardless of numbers. On Saturday you also carried expectation. An idea of how your side should be performing.
Dear Fans of Newcastle United
Such weight on a fan’s back would tire even the most hardcore of supporters, and it is evidently taking its toll on the fans and players alike.
As the second-half wore on at a cold and wet Vicarage Road Stadium on Saturday, you, the Newcastle fans grew restless. Your club trailed 1-0 following a wayward Wijnaldum backpass that was capitalised on by Watford’s captain Troy Deeney. Deeney rounded the keeper and gave the Hornets something to hold on to. It was anything but a vintage Watford performance we have come to expect, however your Newcastle side, for all their want and effort, could not find the goal their football deserved.
Newcastle showed desire, showed determination, and showed up a Watford side missing six first-team regulars. Steve McClaren’s side were well organised and showed ambition. Sissoko and Collocini provided flair and stability in equal measure but were undoubtedly let down and restrained by Mitrovic and Perez who, for all their talent and skill, didn’t want to be there. More than anything, it was evident that this Newcastle side don’t like each other. But that is not what this article is about because the performances of players and side get enough air time. Instead I wish to focus on you, the fans.
With Newcastle pouring forward and showing endeavour, you, the fans, decided the second half would be an appropriate time to voice your discontent. With chants of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” aimed at 22 year-old, Florian Thauvin; “You’re getting sacked in the morning” towards Steve McClaren; “We want our money back” to anyone that would care to listen; and constant references of being a “s**t” team but that you would continue to sing, Watford fans were left in no doubt as to what the problem with Newcastle football club is: the fans.
To say you, the Newcastle fans, are your own worst enemy would be an understatement. It was embarrassing for the club and for football to see nearly all of the 2,809 away support partake in one of the above songs at some point in the second half.
In terms of numbers, the Geordies are a force to be reckoned with and all clubs outside of the North-East look forward to welcoming you to their stadium, but what took place Saturday brought shame to a once proud institution and it had nothing to do with what was on the pitch.
It is well known how Newcastle football club is more than a pastime for supporters in the North-East of England. It is a religion, an identity, a belonging. St James’ Park is the cathedral, the beacon of hope, the home of North-East sport. But surely this should only serve to foster camaraderie and support, not hostility and negativity.
You may argue that you know best, that you have been through it all and will continue to follow your side through the highs and lows. You may argue that when all is said and done, fans are the only thing that sustains a football club. You are the only aspect of football that makes it what it is. All of which are true to an extent. Yet, with such responsibility and power, is it not also your duty to get behind your team and to support them regardless of the situation?
What makes Newcastle United special is the passion of the fans and the place it holds in all supporters hearts. However, since the days of Bobby Robson and Alan Shearer, Newcastle have been in slow decline. Understandably you are angry.
Mike Ashley’s reign has conveniently tied in with this downfall bar a rare fifth placed Premier League finish in 2011/12 which provided respite for a support based growing ever restless. In 2009, Ashley’s Newcastle United were relegated to the Championship but bounced back at the first attempt. But of course you know all this. What you may not realise is that Ashley does care about the club. The end is nigh and he wishes to finish with success, trophies and European football. His signings have further demonstrated his ambition and drive, splashing out on Mbemba for £8.4 million, Thauvin for £12.85 million, Mitrovic for £12.95 million, and Wijnaldum for £14 million all prior to this season. Add the acquisition of Jonjo Shelvey for £12 million yesterday and Ashley can be said to mean business this season. Perhaps this display of intent and subsequent poor performances are reason enough to provoke such animosity towards ones own team. But who is it helping? You may find expressing such emotion cathartic and rewarding, yet to the players it is nothing but obstructive. The players appear constrained; unable to take a risk for fear of reprimand. They play for you and if you show little gratitude for their effort it is no wonder the effort deteriorates.
Take last night for example. You got behind your team and they showed resilience and defiance in a strong and structured display that saw 14 shots against Manchester United’s 12, and Newcastle retained 54% possession in the thrilling 3-3 draw. Do not for one minute believe that you had no impact on this result. Your positivity and support was reflected by the players on the pitch and certainly showed in the final equaliser.
McClaren has a mammoth task on his hands but with your support Newcastle United can fulfil their potential on and off the pitch. With McClaren at the helm, you now have a manager who understands and appreciates the sleeping-giant status of Newcastle. He knows the history, he knows the expectation, he knows what he wants. With your backing, Newcastle United can return to their place in the higher reaches of the Premier League.
Nevertheless, the irony is that Newcastle played just as well on Saturday as they did last night and deserved a replay against Watford at the very least.
But it was you, the fans, that weren’t fit to wear the shirt. Last night, however, was a different matter altogether.