Miles Starforth: The lost voices at Newcastle, a club which is now too quiet

Kevin Nolan
Kevin Nolan
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I’d been meaning to do it for a while.

And a four-hour train journey to Norwich seemed as good a time as any.

My iPhone memory was full.

It was clogged with audio clips of interviews dating back to early 2013.

Then, as now, Newcastle United were fighting relegation.

Some things never seem to change.

It was a fight the club ultimately won on the penultimate weekend of the season.

The Premier League fate of Rafa Benitez’s team could be decided long before this season’s corresponding fixture, the match away to Aston Villa on May 7.

I didn’t just delete the files.

As the train left Ely – still an hour away or so away from my destination – I started to listen back to them.

Some of the players are long gone. Others are still at the club.

Anyway, I found some of the voices reassuring.

It was nice hearing Jonas Gutierrez talk again.

Gutierrez – who would later that year be diagnosed with testicular cancer – was a passionate man who cared deeply about the club and its fans. Invariably the last out of the dressing room after any game, Gutierrez always spoke. And he spoke well.

Minutes after the final whistle at Carrow Road, where Norwich City beat his old club 3-2 on Saturday, he said on Twitter: “Still believe. I came from Cancer because i believe so we can stay up if we believe. Come geordie nation.”

There were also interviews with Steve Harper, Yohan Cabaye, Shola Ameobi, Davide Santon and James Perch on the phone’s memory. All are now playing elsewhere.

There was enough character, and quality, in that side, thanks to the January signings of Moussa Sissoko, Mathieu Debuchy and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, to stay in the Premier League that season.

And a goal from Yoan Gouffran against Queens Park Rangers ultimately ensured another season of top-flight football at St James’s Park.

Harper – who came off the bench late in the game to make his 198th appearance for United after the dismissal of Rob Elliot – spoke after the club’s 2-1 win at Loftus Road.

Harper had been in the team which went down in 2009.

Another relegation, he said, would have been “unthinkable”.

Sadly, a season in the Championship is very thinkable right now.

I had deleted a few dozen of audio files by the time the train pulled into Norwich. I kept the rest for posterity. Or until the phone’s memory is again full.

Less than twenty hours later, I left the city on another train. It was standing room only.

Fans on board had seen a sobering 90 minutes at Carrow Road after a day in the city’s bars and pubs.

Norwich won thanks to an injury-time goal from Martin Olsson. It was cruel, but football is a cruel game.

Supporters sang “we’re going down with the Villa” as the train meandered across the Norfolk broads to Peterborough. It was hard to disagree.

Benitez – whose name was also chanted loudly by fans – was understandably frustrated at the mistakes that had gifted Norwich their goals.

What’s more, Papiss Cisse had had a chance to win the game minutes before Olsson rolled a low shot through Steven Taylor’s legs and past Karl Darlow.

There was a weariness about Benitez after the game.

The task for him and his team had just got much harder, much harder.

A couple of players spoke after the game – Darlow and Andros Townsend stopped to take questions from journalists in the post-match mixed zone – but others couldn’t get on the team bus quick enough.

Stand-in captain Jonjo Shelvey was one of them.

Shelvey hasn’t said much to say since taking the captain’s armband from the injured Fabricio Coloccini.

Of course, it’s what Shelvey and his team-mates do on the pitch that matters most, and Shelvey let his feet do the talking on his debut against West Ham United in January. But Newcastle need leadership on and off the pitch.

Alan Shearer and Kevin Nolan didn’t trundle past reporters with their heads down and their phones glued to their ears after games.

They spoke. They said what needed to be said.

Shearer and Nolan led by example on the field and had the character to front up after defeats.

I wrote about the silence in the away dressing room after the club’s 6-1 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in October.

That came as a shock to Steve McClaren, Benitez’s managerial predecessor.

Where are the voices?

The club has been too quiet for too long.