Diversionary tactics at Newcastle United: Which way to purgatory?

I was reminded by Facebook earlier that on this day 7 years ago, I was deeply unhappy with the management of Alan Pardew and I wanted him to leave Newcastle United as quickly as humanly possible, without so much as stopping to turn off the lights. Here we are in 2021, with a head coach I despise comfortably more than any other in my time supporting the club (22 years or so), steadfastly refusing to loosen his grip on the wheel. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Not for the first time, I’m contemplating the question “What is the point of Newcastle United?”

I can’t remember the last time I cheered a Toon goal. Each one we concede is no longer met with anger or frustration; rather a wry smile and occasionally, weirdly, even a chuckle. At some point since the appointment of Steve Bruce, a massive part of my being simply stopped caring. I support Newcastle United, but I don’t support Steve Bruce or Mike Ashley, and that creates a cognitive dissonance that manifests itself as apathy and indifference. If Newcastle win, it helps to keep Steve Bruce in a job. It also strengthens the volume and veracity of nonsense spouted by his defenders in the media to deafeningly intolerable levels. I can’t stomach it. If Newcastle lose, however, it could mean a damaging relegation that would end any slender, lingering hopes of a long-awaited takeover. I can’t take satisfaction from either outcome anymore and I struggle to bring myself to care at all. Never has a manager or head coach succeeded in destroying my passion for Newcastle United like Steve Bruce. Of course, his influence is in tandem with 14 years of Mike Ashley’s soul-destroying ownership. Bruce is only here because of Ashley and his life force is of course sustained by his evil overlord, but never before have I despised the monkey as much as the organ grinder. He’s a head coach in open rebellion against the fanbase. A man who two weeks ago, after a run of zero wins in 11 games, was at pains to tell us all that he had a pile of supportive fan mail telling him to “keep bashing away”. Yet after two wins in the last three matches, is now apparently receiving death threats from these same fans. He’s a man who changes the narrative to suit his own purposes when he feels like it; who lies indiscriminately; a man whose bluster, untruths and incoherent ramblings in press conferences do as much to anger his club’s supporters as the ineffective anti-football evident 90% of the time on the pitch.

Allow me to pause at this juncture to make it categorically clear that death threats are unacceptable. Anyone making such threats is pathetic and has no place in society, let alone as a Newcastle United supporter.

It is worth digging into Bruce’s quotes, though. Firstly, he isn’t on social media, so he clearly isn’t receiving direct threats through those platforms. People have said they hope Bruce dies and they’ve called him every name under the sun – deeply unpleasant, but not actual threats to Bruce’s safety. Let us also consider how Steve even knows this is happening. It’s because his son, Alex, is telling his father all of the vile things being said about him. Why? If people were sitting around a table in a pub, ranting and raving about how Steve Bruce is useless and they wish he’d disappear into oblivion forever, the head coach would be none the wiser. In the absence of that forum, people vent on social media, and no doubt plenty of their words cross the line beyond justifiable criticism of his managerial ability, but Bruce is still protected from it because he has no social media presence. The fact that his own son chooses to pass on the worst of the things being said about him is highly questionable. It’s also worth highlighting that Bruce Sr and Jr are only making these claims AFTER widespread reports of Mike Dean receiving threats and AFTER the team’s results have actually improved. There has never been a statement from the club, nor are the police involved, as far as we’re aware. Even in Alex’s TalkSport interview on the subject, the examples of abuse he’d been sent were undeniably disgusting, but none of them could be considered a direct threat, as has been claimed. Forgive me for hearing the distant echo of a bandwagon being jumped upon.

If you think I’m making light of it, I refer you to my previous statement regarding any kind of death threat. If, however, I were a member of the Bruce family looking for a handy distraction from a disappointing season, a fractious relationship with the press and supporters, and an ever-growing injury list, the sight of “Alex Bruce” trending on Twitter on Friday evening would be a very welcome one indeed. The media narrative will revert back to Bruce being a great manager and the fans being unreasonable, overly-demanding, and now downright despicable. Sceptics of this opinion need only look at the latest tweets from the likes of Neil Custis (journalist for The S*n) to see that this has already begun. Apparently, Steve Bruce has done “an incredible job” at his previous clubs, for instance. (The only way that’s true is if the word “incredible” is being used here literally to mean “not credible”.) The focus of attention on Steve Bruce’s reign at Newcastle United is no longer the absence of tactics, the appointment of Graeme Jones, the injuries to key players, or a record of 2 wins in the last 15 matches. How convenient.

I will never cheer for Steve Bruce. I’d be happy if he left tomorrow and I never heard anything about him ever again, which I’m sure makes me one of the nasty, vile troglodytes that Alex Bruce is suddenly so keen to go on national radio to complain about. So be it. But I’ve made my peace with Steve picking up a few points to keep us in the Premier League, because that’s the only way a takeover happens. Sadly, having listened to Ben Jacobs give his insight on an excellent Gallowgate Shots podcast, I no longer feel that the PCP-Reubens-PIF acquisition of the club is a realistic possibility. The deal fell down on the PIF’s separation, or otherwise, from the Saudi government and the more I hear about it, the more it seems that this separation will be impossible to prove, or the degree of it will be insufficient. Whilst that alone technically doesn’t prevent the takeover, Muhammad Bin Salman and/or the Saudi state aren’t going to be allowed to own a Premier League club and it’s unlikely the KSA hierarchy would even agree to being put through the Premier League’s Owners and Directors Test.

This means we’re stuck, indefinitely, with Mike Ashley as owner and, for as long as we remain a top flight club, Steve Bruce as head coach.

So I ask again. What is the point of Newcastle United?

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