Newcastle United were in a mess a decade ago – and the parallels today are striking
July 11, 2009. Newcastle United had just beaten Shamrock Rovers 3-0 thanks to goals from Steven Taylor, Shola Ameobi and Nile Ranger.
The score, I reported at the time, flattered the visitors, who had been playing against a team largely made up of reserve players and trailists.
The players, one by one, filed out of the dressing room at the Tallaght Stadium and through a makeshift mixed zone in the tunnel.
They had a lot to say, and there wasn’t a press officer there to stop them saying it.
Then, as now, the club was without a manager.
And then, as now, the club was for sale.
Newcastle then, as now, were seemingly in big trouble before a ball was kicked in the Championship. The players – and the fans – wanted answers.
"We want somebody to make a decision – it's unfair on the players and the staff. In the next week we certainly want to know what is going to happen,” said Kevin Nolan, who would captain United that season. "We would prefer to know whether Mike Ashley is going to keep it next season or whether somebody is coming in."
Steven Taylor said: “Every day there’s something happening at Newcastle. To be fair we just want to stay out of it. All the players are just keeping their heads down and getting on with it. Every day you hear something different – you don’t know what to believe.
“We’d like it sooner rather than later. We want a manager and a bit of stability – we need that. We’ve got a chairman who wants to sell, but as players, we don’t know what’s going on. We want something sorted quickly.”
Chris Hughton, put in caretaker charge following the departure of Alan Shearer, also had his say on the off-pitch uncertainty which was having such an impact on the pitch.
“We would all like the situation to be resolved as soon as possible, but the players have to get on with it – and they know that,” said Hughton, previously a coach at the club under Shearer and Joe Kinnear. "We don’t know anything, other than that there are groups interested. We’re just getting on with our job, which is training up a group of players so they are ready for the start of the season.
“We don’t know whether that’s for one day or three days, one week or three weeks, but for as long as it lasts we’ll be doing it to the best of our abilities. We hope to hear something. But we’re the same as yesterday and the day before that – just waiting.”
Things got worse before they got better, and Nolan led a post-match meeting after an embarrassing 6-1 defeat to Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road two weeks later. The midfielder had had enough.
That afternoon in East London, the score had again flattered Newcastle, whose players rebelled later in the month when they were told they would travel to another fixture against Dundee United by coach. Ashley, eventually, agreed to pay for a flight.
Obafemi Martins, Habib Beye and Damian Duff soon left the club in the wake of the inquest into the Brisbane Road defeat, and the rest is history. Hughton, put in temporary charge that summer, was given the job on a permanent basis in October, and the club was also formally taken off the market by Ashley, who had bought it a couple of years earlier.
Thanks to the efforts of Hughton and a cabal of senior players led by Nolan, Newcastle were brought back from the brink. The club returned to the Premier League at the first attempt.
Yet here we are again. The more things change, the more they stay the same. A lot has changed at Newcastle in the last 10 years, but the ownership has stayed the same.
Every year, fans hope for a better summer. And, almost every year, they are disappointed. They were given a tantalising glimpse of a possible bright future on a sunny afternoon at Craven Cottage on May 12 when Rafa Benitez’s side convincingly beat Fulham 4-0. Ayoze Perez, one of the scorers that day, has already gone, while few expect loanee Salomon Rondon, so important to last season’s 13th-placed finish, to be back.
Supporters were contemplating a bleaker future on a soggy Tyneside yesterday. The past three summers have been dominated by stand-offs between Ashley and Benitez, who left his managerial post on June 30.
This summer, however, seems as damaging, and damning, as any that have gone before it.
The club has lost a Champions League-winning manager and Steve Bruce is the favourite with bookmakers to replace him. Supporters are angry, and a boycott is planned of the August 11 season-opener against Arsenal at St James’s Park. Some fans are planning to stay away all season, having simply had enough.
Neil Redfearn and Ben Dawson have been taking charge of training, and could be in the dugout for the Premier League Asia Trophy games in China next week.
There are many parallels with the summer of 2009, though supporters fear that this coming season may not have such a happy ending.