Intermittently during the football season, Newcastle United supporters will log onto social media and let out a defeated sigh of exasperation. What are they seeing is usually the latest unchallenged comments purporting to understand how they feel and what they expect from their football club, isolated and shared widely across various platforms. It feels like the process is deliberate; to spark outrage and conversation to the benefit of the broadcasters who host the different shows
It isn’t difficult to see the pattern; these opinions more often than not come from an ex-pro or manager who hasn’t made a position as a pundit their permanent home and therefore looked in detail at something they are being asked to talk about. Research into situations to back up their views seems to fall by the wayside, as does context; neither of those things matter, as long as it gets people talking and riles the target.
Although Newcastle fans feel like they are the only ones in the firing line, the truth is that it is a wider problem. Generally, these comments are made in response to supporters unhappy at the current state of their club, whether that is because of an owner who won’t spend enough money or a manager who picks the wrong players and has an undesirable approach to the tactical side of the game.
The argument is, more often than not, that complainants should be more grateful for what they have, regardless of what may or may not be being deprived of them. Fans of clubs like Everton, Aston Villa and West Ham United who, much like Newcastle harbour ambitions of pushing on and challenging, have at different times, in effect, been told to stay in their lane.
Given the outcry against proposals to rubber-stamp the current status quo by affording the ‘top six’ clubs more financial and political power within the English football, and the subsequent suggestion that they could break away for the creation of the ‘European Premier League’, pundits who are making certain comments should be aware of their hypocrisy.
Because of their 13-year long civil war with Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s followers are in the firing line more often than not. But the latest example was among the most mystifying and anger-inducing. Tim Sherwood has become a more regular fixture on Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday this season and was the latest man to be asked by host Jeff Stelling for his opinion on the current chapter of unrest on Tyneside, which features dismay at a failed takeover bid and considerable frustration aimed towards Steve Bruce for his strategy. Passive aggression has been commonplace between the critics and Bruce himself when responding.
Sherwood is a known culprit for this sort of thing, having offered similar insight on other platforms. Stelling is also used to asking the question; the reaction this time was different. The opinion was brushed aside as another poorly-formed argument about Newcastle and their fans. Stelling, though, as a proud north easterner who hasn’t hidden his affection for the club or the city in the past, should have stepped in to challenge Sherwood more in the eyes of those who couldn’t offer a reply. That is probably unfair, given his response wasn’t actually circulated.
What really irks the fans is the use of stereotypes of cliches to hide the true lack of sensible and insightful opinion. In Sherwood’s case, it came across as patronising. The two minute clip began with Stelling asking about Wolves, their opponents the following day, and how supporters look at Nuno Espirito Santo’s side and believe they should be challenging them. Sherwood acknowledged the frustration with the caveat that it had been around for more than a decade, as if that made it any less relevant.
Comparisons between Bruce, who is a popular figure on the football circuit and a very pleasant man, and Rafael Benitez, who was loved by supporters, have been peddled by the media since one took over from the other in the summer of 2019. This is another way to get supporters’ backs up, but Sherwood continued by pointing out Benitez got Newcastle promoted with ‘the best squad in the Championship’ before spending two years complaining about a lack of support from Ashley. Bruce, he says, hasn’t done that.
Perhaps because there is a more cordial manager-owner relationship now, Bruce has been backed much more than his predecessor, who was regularly swimming against the tide in the transfer market.
In his next breath, Sherwood mentions Andy Carroll being a ‘battering ram’ up front with Callum Wilson and flanked by Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin and how everyone wants to play attacking football. A cursory glance at what has been said around Newcastle this season would show the strength of feeling against this precise tactic. According to Sherwood, Bruce doesn’t get enough credit for the way he sets his team up, either, while Benitez got lots for doing the same thing.
There was no mention of constant snipes from pundits at Benitez for his style and a subsequent relaxation of those qualms with Bruce. Again, though, Sherwood took a simplistic view of the true situation; Benitez was often called out for negativity, but the feeling is that at least he brought a coherent plan to the table. Newcastle were organised and took their chances going forward; too often now, they sit tight and hope not to be beaten without the same confidence at the back. That was case in point at Wolves; Newcastle rode their luck and snatched a late equaliser on Sunday. It was a better performance than against Tottenham recently, but a rerun of exactly what happened there. Last season, it was a common theme too.
It was rich for Sherwood to then suggest that Newcastle fans have short memories, given their consistent support for and devotion to a club who haven’t won anything since 1969 and have seemingly decided to cease being competitive to the best of their ability for over ten years. The assertion that ‘we know what they want’ and that Bruce has ‘stood on the Gallowgate and knows what it means to be a supporter’ brought one of the most infuriating, lazy monologues of its type, which is really saying something, to a close.
Bruce isn’t the main problem at Newcastle, everybody knows that. The grasp of the Ashley issue is getting better, but for those supporters who feel that the manager’s friendliness is winning him more plaudits than his approach is critics, the latest patronising, ill-informed take on their club was a bitter pill to swallow.
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