North-Eastenders returns

Posted: December 7, 2010 in Blogs
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Forget Emmerdale, Neighbours, Hollyoaks and even Coronation Street. As soap opera’s go, nothing quite matches North-Eastenders for drama and unexpected plot twists. The popular Newcastle-based soap opera returned with a bang for its first episode of the 2009/2010 season after a significant absence of major storylines in the last 18 months.

The UK's most popular soap-opera returned with a bang on Monday

The major storyline that grabbed headlines on Monday was of course the sacking of Chris Hughton from his position as Newcastle United’s manager. After the 5 years of almost non-stop turmoil at the club that followed the late Sir Bobby Robson’s sacking in 2004, the club looked to have finally found a semblance of stability under the reserved Irishman. The club reached rock-bottom in the summer of 2009 following a season that saw the team relegated to the Coca-Cola Championship via 4 managers (2 of which were club legends), boardroom upheaval, heart-attacks, player sales and generally shambolic organisation both on and off the pitch. Newcastle United made Harchester United from the now-defunct Sky1 football drama “Dream Team” look incredibly well-run. Some of the stories that have come out of St James’ Park over the last decade would have probably been thrown out by Dream Team’s scriptwriters as too unrealistic. Who knows? Perhaps Sky took the decision to drop the programme in 2007  as they couldn’t keep up with their competitors?

Anyway, enough of the soap opera comparisons. Hughton is widely regarded as the main reason behind the revival in Newcastle’s fortunes that started some 16 months ago on a sunny August day at The Hawthorns. Working with a depleted version of the squad that was too weak to maintain their place in England’s elite division at Villa Park 3 months earlier, Hughton galvanised a threadbare squad and instilled a team spirit and determination that had been lacking since the Robson days. Hughton not only ended the rot, but transformed a bunch of individuals into a team, leading them emphatically back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, via a permanent contract and the Championship trophy, United’s first piece of silverware since Keegan achieved the same feat back in 1993.

Hughton turned 11 individuals into a team

Fantastic. Hughton must have earned himself a new, lucrative contract for his exceptional work you say? Not a chance. Not with Mike Ashley at the helm. The man who made his fortune by flogging gear that comes fresh out of the factory with 70% off stickers already attached was not about to reward a man he saw as incompetent. Ashley no doubt thought that by paying the Championship’s largest wage bill obviously warranted promotion regardless of the man in charge. To him, Hughton was a cheap, temporary ‘yes’ man. Good enough to steer the club back to the big time but nothing more. Yet Ashley was faced with a problem in the summer. After winning The Championship, registering 102 points and going unbeaten at home for the entire season, Hughton had made himself 50,000 fans in Newcastle and many more admirer’s across the country. Sacking him now would bring an enormous backlash from everyone, far and wide. The answer was simple; give him time and he’ll dig his own grave… surely.

Unfortunately from Ashley’s point of view, Hughton started his Premier League managerial career well. An encouraging defeat at Old Trafford on the opening weekend was followed up by a 6-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. Although some poor home performances followed against some of the ‘smaller’ teams, Newcastle picked up unexpected points away from home with good wins at Everton and West Ham as well as a 4-3 victory at Stamford Bridge in the Carling Cup. The home form was a concern but everyone agreed, Newcastle had surpassed the expectations of most and started the season well. The subsequent 5-1 mauling of local rivals 5under1and and excellent 1-0 win at The Emirates saw the Mags rise to the heady heights of 5th place in the league. Yet all the while, Mike Ashley was unscrupulously plotting Hughton’s demise. Despite pressure on Hughton from outside the club, not least from Tyneside’s unfavoured son Alan Oliver, the vast majority of the club’s fans remained thoroughly behind the former Spurs man. The wins against Sunderland and Arsenal turned the media bandwagon in Hughton’s favour, calling for him to be awarded a new contract. Before United’s defeat to Arsenal in the Carling Cup at the end of October, betting had been suspended on Hughton being the next Premier League manager to lose his job. Following the game, the board released this statement:

“Chris is our manager and will remain our manager, and it is our intention to re-negotiate his contract at the end of the year.”

Hughton received the dreaded vote of confidence™ and although some saw it as a good sign that Hughton had the backing of the board, the statement stunk of Hughton remaining on a trial period. The reluctance of the board to offer him a new contract, either in the summer or after the Sunderland/Arsenal wins showed a complete lack of faith in Hughton’s credentials as a top-flight manager. The team’s performances and the board’s bizarre statement gifted Hughton breathing space, yet that was all it was. A home loss to Blackburn was followed up by a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Fulham. Subsequent heavy defeats away at Bolton and West Brom came either side of a spirited 1-1 draw at home to the champions Chelsea.  Suspensions and injuries played their part, with five of Hughton’s arguably strongest lineup missing from the defeat to West Brom (Harper, Coloccini, Williamson, Nolan & Barton), not to mention the long term absence of French whizz-kid Hatem Ben Arfa, cruelly struck down by Nigel de Jong at Eastlands.

The poor performance at West Brom on Sunday was without several first team players

The first half of the defeat at West Brom saw Newcastle play some of their poorest football since their 2008/09 relegation campaign, yet the fans still chanted Hughton’s name, confident that the new-found stability he had instilled would lead to safety come May. Mike Ashley saw it differently however. Taking 2 points from a possible 15 since the win at Arsenal signaled his best chance to dump Hughton. Whether or not he expected the Newcastle fans and football fans in general to agree with his decision is unclear. What is clear is that he couldn’t care less. It seems he could benefit from employing a PR agency (Even England’s 2018 bid team could do a better job) as he clearly has no understanding of the way his decisions impact upon the people that matter within the football club; the fans. Not to mention the players, whom are known to have been very close to Hughton. The question being asked now is how they will react to his sacking. Whether or not they will maintain the spirit that has seen them take a respectable 19 points from 16 games remains to be seen although the late kickoff against Liverpool on Saturday should reveal their levels of desire.

The overwhelming feeling amongst Newcastle fans yesterday was one of anger. Angry that a good man has undeservedly lost his job. Angry that when it finally seemed the club was headed in the right direction, Ashley has contrived to drag the clubs name though the dirt once more. Angry that we are once again the laughing stock of the country (Perhaps OXO should sponsor us after Northern Rock) and angry that the proposed replacements – Martin O’Neill and Alan’s Curbishley & Pardew – seem like sideways steps or in Pardew’s case, a backwards step. The late night announcement from Holland that ex-Spurs man Martin Jol had stepped down from his position at Ajax improved moods slightly, although it is thought that his resignation was coincidental and Pardew remains favourite with the bookies. The board have let it be known that they want Hughton’s successor in place by the end of this week. Quite who Mike Ashley will pick as his leading role for the next episode of North-Eastenders is unclear. It is however, sure to be yet another controversial decsion.

So for the man that effectively started his tenure with a dogged, determined draw at The Hawthorns in August 2009, it is ironic that his managerial term should also end at the same ground, some 16 months and 121 league points later. To the man who saved our club and restored dignity (albeit temporarily), we thank you.





  1. […] prior to his appointment on Thursday, after which he garnered a further 2, taking his percentage to just under 3.5%. To say the Toon Army were underwhelmed would be an understatement. After yet another major blunder […]

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