The drama that has engulfed Newcastle United in recent times could be scripted as a new Monty Python film: The Life of Alan.
The trials of Newcastle United has been a biblical epic longer than Ben Hur, and itâ€™s all getting boring now. You have an enduring cast of thousands; 50,000 loyal supporters flock to St. James Park Stadium religiously every fortnight, to watch their living dead players propped up by their coaches to produce a half-decent game over 90 minutes. Youâ€™ve got false prophets (Freddy Sheppard, Mark Ashley, Dennis Wise) that prophesy great things, Messiahs (Kenny Daglish, Ruud Gullit, Kevin Keegan) that promise greater things; more Prophets (Sir John Hall, Bobby Robson); anti-heroâ€™s (Joey Barton, David Ginola and the recently departed Charles â€œInsomniaâ€) and the indomitable Son of God (Alan Shearer).
I have never quite understood the love-in affair with Newcastle United. Granted in the mid-90â€™s, in the heyday of Oasis, the Spice Girls and Britpop, they were a very good side that played some exciting football. They were most peopleâ€™s second team (not mine though). They scored goals and conceded goals in near equal measure. It was more likely to end up 6-4 then 0-0 when Newcastle was in town. No wonder Sky Sports loved them. They helped bring in the viewers. But they did blow their title hopes spectacularly in 1996 after Manchester United overtook a 12 point deficit to claim the title. That was their finest hour though. The Messiah at the time was called Keegan, and he walked away from it all after his hair became a Moses Grey. The successive of apostles that followed only brought pestilence, famine and civil war to the Temple of Toon (or should I say, Doom).
Alan Shearer is the least qualified of all the Messiahs appointed to the job of salvation and deliverance. However, Shearer, to his credit, has downplayed any expectation that he is the man that can turn water into wine. He has stated that he is merely the deliverer, who has come to set his club free from the bondage of relegation. At his press conference last week, he seemed aware of the great task at hand. He had to motivate his disciples into believing that the Promised Land of 40 points was still attainable. Whether the players believe this is possible after a barren wilderness of a season remains to be seen.
Last Saturday, against the mighty hosts of Chelsea, they were easily overrun on their own turf. Frank Lampard, a Goliath for the blues, bundled in a header after disarray among the Toon ranks. Flourent Malouda, like a galloping Amalekite, scored the second after another successful assault on the Toon backline. The Newcastle defense has been prone to much almsgiving and charity this season. Newcastleâ€™s own little David, in this case Michael Owen, scored a perfectly legitimate goal but it was ruled out for not crossing the line when TV replays showed that it had. Shearer protested helplessly to the fourth official. At one point, when he stood resigned to his first defeat, I saw his lips purse thoughtfully. Perhaps he was humming the tune: â€œAlways Look On The Bright Side Of Life.â€
The truth is that the Toon Army have suffered fools gladly and have been deluding themselves into thinking Newcastle United are big football club, which they are not. The success of a football club is not measured by its game attendances, or the Sky Sports subscriptions it has in that city. (Yes, you Sky Sports, chief panderers to all things Newcastle). It is measured by the trophies in the cabinet, and a big trophy has not been added among the cobwebs for generations.
This week, 7,500 loyalists turned to watch the Messiah coach the players in the art of passing and dribbling, shooting and scoring. He seemed very much the part the quintessential boss, calm, composed, authoritative. There were even happy chants of â€œShearer, Shearer!â€ from the fans. It would have been poetic, however, if Brianâ€™s Mom from Monty Python had appeared to deliver her telling line: â€œHeâ€™s not the Messiah. Heâ€™s a very naughty boy.â€