Sob on the Tyne? Not likely, Newcastle's fans were left feeling empty, not emotional
There was a banner in the Holte End at Villa Park last weekend.
It read: “No sobbing on the Holte.”
The daubed bed sheet, hung from the upper tier by fans of relegated Aston Villa, referenced a previous banner from Newcastle United’s relegation at the same stadium seven years ago.
That day, the banner read: “Sob on the Tyne.”
There were tears that day as a deflected goal from Aston Villa relegated Newcastle, then managed by Alan Shearer.
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But was there any sobbing on Tyneside on Wednesday night?
Were there any tears shed at the club’s second relegation in seven years?
Maybe there were, but most fans have long been resigned to the club’s fate, nothwithstanding the hope that Rafa Benitez brought with him to St James’s Park.
United, these days, is an empty husk of a football club.
Many supporters just felt empty when Sunderland condemned their once-proud club to the Championship with a 3-0 win over Everton on Wednesday night.
They felt numb, their senses having been dulled by the past few years.
Following the club has become dull and joyless.
A glance at United’s (losing) record over the past two seasons tells its own story.
The fact that the team has played in front of an average gate of almost 50,000 tells you more about the loyalty of the club’s fans than the football on the pitch.
And so Tottenham Hotspur visit St James’s Park on Sunday for the final 90 minutes of a campaign which has proved to be as catastrophic on the field as any in the club’s long history.
The unthinkable – relegation ahead of the biggest TV deal in Premier League history – quickly became thinkable under Steve McClaren.
He was weak from day one, and his reluctance to answer even basic questions – and near-total refusal to discuss transfers – was troubling.
Bizarrely, McClaren and Paul Simpson, his assistant, were even given warnings by the club for discussing the club’s transfer policy.
You couldn’t make it up.
After the club was relegated, Newcastle’s managing director Lee Charnley – who never speaks directly to the media – pledged to “communicate more fully” with supporters.
McClaren should have gone before the turn of the year.
But Charnley chose to stick rather than twist.
A 5-1 defeat to Chelsea in mid-February ahead of a 21-day break wasn’t even enough to persuade Charnley to sack McClaren, who he had lauded as the “perfect fit” last June.
“From my first meeting with Steve I knew he was the perfect fit,” said Charnley at the time.
“Steve has been tasked to secure a top-eight finish in the Premier League, and he is also heavily incentivised to try to win a cup competition.”
McClaren was allowed to take his players away to La Manga for a training camp after the Chelsea game.
The 55-year-old was at pains to stress that the trip was not a “jolly”.
But I wrote at the time that a jolly was exactly was what was needed, as it was togetherness that would get the club through the final 12 games of the season.
If what McClaren had done on the training difference in the previous six months hadn’t worked, what difference was a few days in Spain going to make?
As it was, Newcastle’s players quickly became bored at La Manga, and McClaren was gone two games later.
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce had the right idea. He took his players on a more expensive trip to Dubai during that break.
They came back suitably refreshed and closer together as a group.
And that togetherness got them over the line in midweek.
Charnley staked his reputation on McClaren being a success at United.
But McClaren failed on Tyneside, and he may never get another managerial job.
It wasn’t all his fault.
The club was dysfunctional before he arrived, and the a sizeable chunk of the £80million spent on players during his troubled tenure was spent badly.
McClaren, a good coach with a questionable managerial record, inherited a mess and left a bigger mess behind him.
The only hope on Tyneside now is that Benitez – who hasn’t ruled out staying at the club – gets to unpick that mess.