I dislike that couple in the Newcastle director’s box, the accountant-looking bloke and the lady with the swishy hair, both with brand-new Newcastle United scarves. They clearly have no idea about the game, or where they are, or what Geordies are, but they leap into each other’s arms whenever Newcastle get a throw-in, a corner, or, oh ecstasy, they score a goal.
Yes, I know they have shares in the club, and represent the new owners who come from, er, wherever it is. But they are here on sufferance, investors passing through our footballing lives for a few moments, with their exaggerated gestures, pretending to be lifelong fans. Then they will be gone, taking their money, or someone else’s money, quickly to be forgotten.
And yet I am desperate for Newcastle to escape relegation. Oh Gawd, I do hope they survive. It looked impossible a few weeks ago but now, thanks to a new manager and new players, and yes, these new investors, the team should stay up. Which means that down will go – possibly, maybe – Watford, Burnley, Norwich. And I will feel sorry for each of them, and their fans. I am dead soppy that way. I want all teams in small towns, with generations of families supporting them, to be happy.
I don’t really care whether Man City or Liverpool win the league, and certainly don’t want Chelsea or Arsenal to win it. Though, of course, I do want Spurs to make the top four. They have been my team for more than 60 years, so as each season begins, I want them to stuff everyone, win every game. For 30 years all Spurs fans have been endlessly disappointed. Once a season they manage something unexpected, like beating Man City, as they did again on 19 February, then slump back into mid-table mediocrity. But still we dream, like all fans.
Most fans inherit their team through blood: usually it’s their home-town club, otherwise they acquire them at an impressionable age by chance or for some dopey reason, and then stick with them for life. Or longer. But most fans also have a soft spot for other teams, whose results they look for.
I feel guilty about Carlisle United, my home-town club; I have neglected them these past six years, since my wife died and I gave up our Cumbrian home. I’ve not seen them once in that time. Not much of a fan, eh? Just as fickle as those Arabs and Russians and Americans who arrive out of the blue and buy one of our clubs.
I have always loved Newcastle’s shirt. Those black and white stripes are classic. I love their fans, singing their heads and hearts off, following the team everywhere, standing shirtless on the coldest day. Their hatred of Sunderland is funny, not nasty. I loved Malcolm Macdonald, a caricature of a bullet-headed centre forward and, of course, Gazza: God, he gave us all so much entertainment and amusement.
I hated Mike Ashley when he owned Newcastle, so was pleased when he finally went. But really, there is no point in hating owners, wherever they come from. They are irrelevant, they are not your club. You don’t follow them; you follow the team.
I worked on the Sunday Times when Rupert Murdoch arrived as owner. Those hacks who had principles left, refusing to work for such a person, and fled to the Guardian or the Indy. Murdoch did not bother me, still doesn’t, yet when I meet those friends they still go on at me: how could I, still writing a column for the awful Sunday Times after all these decades?
My answer is simple: all newspaper owners are bastards. Editors are not much better. But they will move on. The Sunday Times was owned by Kemsley when I joined. Then came Lord Thomson. Then Murdoch. But the paper remained the one most journalists wanted to be on. You work for your line manager, the features editor, or whoever commissions you. You have a bond with him or her. Not the owner.
Football fans feel much the same. And political party loyalists, too. I voted Labour when Jeremy Corbyn was leader, despite thinking him an idiot. Loyal Tories must look at Boris Johnson and tell themselves he is just passing through their lives…
This article appears in the 23 Feb 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Darkness Falls