A Month Of Saturdays: October 2012
First came the announcement that we'd cut short the quick-fix shirt sponsorship deal with Virgin Money, with Llambiarse frothing excitedly about having "a new sponsorship partner" already lined up and that it would be "an excellent commercial deal for both parties". And then came the revelation of the identity of said sponsorship partner: Wonga, a payday loan company who stand accused of at very least making money from the vulnerable and at the worst actively and unscrupulously exploit them for financial gain. Any funds we receive will be automatically tainted, their provenance quite clear. Another instance of ingloriously tarnishing our own reputation to add to the already lengthy list.
Some fans airily dismissed any ethical considerations, as is often disappointingly the case in these situations, and it's true that we could perhaps have hardly expected any better knowing that the club will do pretty much anything for a bit of cash - including attempting to flog an embarrassingly awful range of fancy dress outfits. But Paul and I clung to principles and each voiced our distaste for the deal separately, while the developments spurred NUST into a flurry of activity. It was cynical of them to capitalise on disaffection, some might say, but that doesn't detract from the fact that fan representation remains a noble aim, one worth pursuing, and I was robust in my defence of the Trust and its work.
One thing about which the Trust and its members can't really complain is the cost of visiting the ground once again officially known as St James' Park. The results of the BBC's annual Price of Football survey made for fascinating reading, revealing that we provide the cheapest day out of any club in the top tier, and one cheaper than many teams at lower levels. The club should be commended for offering significantly reduced prices for home games in the Europa League - there were two in October, both of which gave good value for money.
The first foreign visitors were in-form Bordeaux. The French outfit may have been unbeaten in their previous 17 matches, but from the kick-off they were no match for even a sub-strength Newcastle side, who emerged as 3-0 victors. Papiss Cisse notched his second goal of the campaign, but equally pleasing was the display of Obertan Kenobi, his best in black and white, which included a lovely assist for the two-yard tap-in with which Big Lad gave us the lead.
A fortnight later, and the Frenchman was again a key figure, this time scoring the only goal as we defeated a neat and tidy Bruges side who were, at the time, topping their domestic table. Little Big Lad caught the eye in particular, superbly setting up Kenobi for his strike early in the second period and menacing the Belgian defence on countless other occasions. The only real negative was that Haris Vuckic - the player whose goal carried us through into the group stage - didn't get an opportunity to strut his stuff too, the Slovenian attacking midfielder desperately unlucky to have been ruled out for the rest of the season with a cruciate ligament injury.
Three clean sheets out of three in Europe, then - but unfortunately things didn't go quite so smoothly in domestic competition. When Taggart's troupe rolled into town three days after Bordeaux had been summarily dispatched, sadly there was to be no repeat of last season's battering - indeed, the reverse was true. I subsequently speculated (with tongue lodged firmly in cheek) that the result may have been a case of the curse of the Ronny Gill striking again, but the truth was rather more prosaic - our makeshift backline gifted Red Devil defenders Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra goals from corners in the first half, and the knock-out blow was struck by Tom Cleverley's freakish curler in the second.
The international break afforded us time to regroup and refocus - though, with our return to action being the derby, it also meant a protracted build-up. Acting like a boy poking at a wasps' nest with a big stick, Saylor did his best to inflame passions, declaring he'd rather take up philately than pull on a red and white shirt and claiming that no Mackems were good enough for a place in the Newcastle team. It also emerged that Sunderland couldn't even trust the vociferousness of their own supporters, having opted to move the visiting fans away from pitchside and into an upper tier in what was an ultimately futile attempt to ensure they didn't drown out the drab encouragements offered by the slackjaws in the home end.
When the game finally arrived, it took us all of three minutes to take the lead, Dreamboat driving home to cement his place in our affections. The assignment got much tougher when Mr T's ill discipline resulted in his first red card for the club, but we battled on in defence of our advantage almost right until the end, with captain Sideshow Bob turning in a display that in years to come should be the stuff of legend. We couldn't quite hold out, however, and after a five-goal haul in September, Demba Ba won't have been pleased to break his October duck with an own goal, unwitting though it was. Good of him to take pity on the Mackems, though - they weren't going to score by their own means. With precious few minutes left on the clock, there wasn't time to regain the lead - and, in any case, our derby talisman was nowhere to be seen, a disgruntled Big Lad last seen sulking off down the tunnel having been withdrawn after Mr T's sending-off to allow Perchinho to reestablish a protective shield in front of the back four.
Our Ivory Coast enforcer didn't just have Big Lad looking daggers at him afterwards - there was no escaping a stern talking-to from his manager either. Still, the consequent three-match ban did mean we'd be able to get accustomed to life without his steely presence ahead of his involvement in the African Cup of Nations in the new year - an involvement secured amidst riotous scenes in Senegal and subsequently confirmed.
That play-off defeat for the Senegalese, however, ensured that we wouldn't be simultaneously deprived of the services of Messrs Ba and Cisse. An undisputedly good thing, as they then proved by both scoring in the somewhat fortuitous St James' Park victory over a slick West Brom. Following his derby day disappointment, Ba found the net at the right end, Big Lad's flicked header allowing him to blast past Ben Foster. Substitute Cisse's injury-time winner, coming after Romelu Lukaku had equalised at the third time of asking, very definitely fell into the "They All Count" category, deflecting Little Big Lad's shot off his back and beyond a wrongfooted Foster. Chelsea away it was not.
With the January transfer window moving gradually into view, October offered welcome evidence that some of our key players feel comfortable and settled on Tyneside: a French mini-documentary on Dreamboat showed the French clique looking relaxed and cheerful, while one of its number HBA talked of his relationship with the club in terms of "marriage".
But another employee of the club - I hesitate to call him a player - continued to lead a troubled and troubling existence. Only the Lone Ranger could manage to have quite such an eventful month without actually kicking a ball. The self-confessed "assh*le" was found guilty of assaulting a pair of police officers (even though it was accepted there were mitigating circumstances) and yet misguidedly seemed to believe he'd been exonerated. A deeply frustrated Silver Fox then publicly criticised him for his attitude and persistent tardiness - only for it to be reported a few days later that he'd even contrived to be late for a meeting discussing said attitude and persistent tardiness. He's like Mario Balotelli without a shred of the talent.
Strange things can happen - the Xisco Kid managing to muster a hat-trick in black and white (albeit for the Reserves), a prominent national journalist honouring his word to swim across the Tyne if Jabba gave serious and sustained backing to the Silver Fox - but none would be stranger than the Lone Ranger somehow finding redemption and finding a way back into the first-team frame. Of all the financial misjudgements Jabba's made during his time on Tyneside (the Wonga deal being the latest), handing our errant forward a long-term deal has to be one of the most foolish.
Labels: a month of saturdays