Many journalists have been quick to stick the knife in Newcastle United following their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester United on Monday evening. As a newly promoted side, Newcastle were always facing an uphill challenge to compete with one of the Premier League’s elite teams and so it proved. Newcastle’s task this season is to stay in the Premier League and losing to Manchester United is not an indictment on their chances of Premier League survival. But why are the media so critical of Newcastle? You maybe have to look at events off the pitch rather than on it to find the answers.
The Mike Ashley era at Newcastle has been mired in controversy and discontent despite initial optimism over his acquisition of the club. Ashley struck a conspicuous figure at the beginning of his tenure at Newcastle, choosing to watch the games from the stands and don the team shirt. The Newcastle owner was also caught on TV downing a pint of beer while attending an away match against Arsenal. The public image of club owner Ashley as a beer-swilling lad did little to enhance his reputation amongst the British media.
However, his next act as Newcastle owner was to be far more damaging to his reputation. Ashley attempted to install a continental style of club management at St. James’s Park, appointing Dennis Wise as director of football. Ashley’s experiment quickly turned sour as it became clear that Wise was interfering with manager Kevin Keegan’s plans. Wise sanctioned the sale of James Milner despite Keegan expressly a desire to keep the England international and also signed Xisco and Ignacio Gonzalez behind Keegan’s back after seeing youtube videos of the pair. The lack of control over team affairs proved to be unbearable for Keegan and he promptly resigned from his post. The fans heaped the blame for Keegan’s resignation squarely at Ashley’s feet and his popularity at the club sunk to a new nadir.
The treatment of such a popular figure on Tyneside caused consternation amongst supporters and the media alike with Ashley and Wise being dubbed “the Cockney mafia” in the aftermath of Keegan’s resignation. Ashley has since tried to find a buyer for the club only to come up empty on every occasion.
While the ownership of the club has brought much negative attention to the club, the players themselves have also done their bit in bringing controversy to the club. First there was Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer’s extraordinary fight after Dyer decided to not pass to Bowyer earlier in the game and then towards the end of last season, fisticuffs ensued between Andy Carroll and Steven Taylor following an argument over an ex-girlfriend. The brawl left Taylor with a broken jaw and Carroll with a broken fist.
Due to their large and passionate fan base, Newcastle United have long been seen as a “big club” and as a result, the media seems to have some kind of morbid obsession of putting down Newcastle owing to their standing as a “big club”.
The beginning of the Premier League era saw Newcastle emerge as a domestic power under the leadership of Kevin Keegan who installed an attacking flair to Tyneside which saw his team labelled “The Entertainers”. Newcastle’s attacking style coincided with a succession of high placed league finishes in the mid-90’s with the Magpies finishing 3rd in 1993-1994 and 2nd 1995-1996 and 1996-1997.
Newcastle’s historically high league position and their experience in European competition has formed the basis of their reputation as a “big club”. However, the club has failed to win a major honour for over 50 years since the FA Cup victory over Manchester City in 1955. For many people, the aura of Newcastle is based upon the nostalgic recollection of the club’s Premier League successes of the 90s and early 00s.
Newcastle’s relegation to the Championship two seasons ago did a lot to redress the perception of the club but their immediate return to the Premier League has pored much scrutiny over Newcastle’s ability to compete at the highest level of English football.