A journey from hope to despair at Newcastle

Posted by Lee Ryder

Stu Forster/Getty ImagesThere's been plenty going on at St James' Park for the fans to talk about.

Cast your mind back to May 2012. All was well on Tyneside as Newcastle United marched into the Europa League after a fifth-place finish in the Premier League, just missing out on the Champions League slots.

Alan Pardew was voted LMA and Premier League manager of the year.

The feeling in Newcastle was positive, the Magpies were back where they should be and the future was looking bright.

It was only 18 months ago, but if a week is a long time in football, a year and a half at Newcastle can feel like a lifetime, especially when things start turning sour.

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Had you asked any fan after finishing fifth how they felt about the Mike Ashley regime they'd have probably been quite complimentary.

European football? Great. A sought-after manager? Super. Players that hadn't cost the earth like Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse? More of the same, please.

But since those joyous days it has been nothing short of a footballing nosedive.

The Magpies thought the squad they had was good enough to challenge for another top-six finish and bank the prize money from the Premier League and Europe. It wasn't.

It seems they may have got too picky when it came to transfer details and started to become obsessed by the prospect of getting more bargains; deals for Mathieu Debuchy and Luuk de Jong fell through.

It transpired that the club and the squad could not cope with domestic competition, Europe and injuries and slumped to a 16th-place finish.

This was made all the more difficult to take for owner Ashley after he had spent money in the January transfer window to bring in Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoan Gouffran, Massadio Haidara, Moussa Sissoko and Debuchy at the umpteenth attempt.

But it didn't solve the problems for Newcastle.

Many feel that Pardew may have further irked owner Ashley with some end-of-season comments, and after losing the Tyne-Wear derby 3-0 at St James' Park, the mood in the city dipped to new depths.

It felt like everybody at the club needed a holiday to get away from each other for a while. But by the time everybody had returned for preseason training the fans were already up in arms following the unpopular appointment of director of football Joe Kinnear.

Kinnear didn't help himself by making big boasts about transfers. He said he could "pick the phone up to any manager in world football" to broker a deal. Yet only Loic Remy arrived on loan from QPR.

Kinnear also stated that the fans questioning his appointment after he'd returned from the football wilderness were "talking out of their backsides."

Many wondered how the relationship would work between Kinnear and Pardew. But the Newcastle manager went on record to sympathise with Kinnear's efforts in the transfer market after the window closed without a senior permanent signing.

A less than spectacular start to the season hasn't improved the mood in Newcastle.

Fans are annoyed with Ashley because he didn't spend money on transfers to add the required strength to a squad and isn't showing the ambition that matches teams of the past.

Unlike his early days in the Toon when he drank with fans at away games, there is no relationship with supporters. And a poor show in the Tyne-Wear derby last weekend meant Newcastle stooped to a new low.

But what fans didn't know until after the derby was that there had been a simmering row between the local press and the club. The reason? They -- like a host of other newspapers and TV companies -- had reported that fans had marched through the city in protest at Ashley's leadership.

The outcome? A ban for all three titles -- The Journal, the Sunday Sun and the Evening Chronicle.

The response? A front-page headline that read "Banned but not gagged."

Or at least that is the Chronicle's stance after having been barred from using Newcastle’s media facilities, asking the manager and players questions and attending the club's training ground.

In a letter to the trio, Newcastle complained of "extensive" negative coverage of the protest march, staged before the home game against Liverpool on Oct. 19.

The Magpies claim the newspapers' reporting was "disproportionate" and also said they were disappointed that the number of those taking part in the protest -- a few hundred rather than 1,000 -- was not mentioned.

The situation came to a head after Newcastle's 2-1 defeat at Sunderland, when journalists from both the Chronicle and the Journal were stopped from asking questions at the post-match news conference.

Ashley has already made some unpopular decisions during his tenure at Newcastle but banning the three local titles for reporting on the protest march against his ownership of the club has certainly sparked plenty of debate the city.

The whole situation also makes life difficult for Pardew, who was prevented from answering questions from those designated sections of the press in the postgame news conference at the Stadium of Light.

He's had to make some tough decisions since taking over as manager. From selling Andy Carroll in his early days to seeing funds limited on transfers, the aforementioned Kinnear appointment and now a newspaper ban that hardly helps him as he tries to get his points of view out to the fans of United.

But the show will go on; it always does. The fans -- some of the most passionate and loyal -- know that the club belongs to them in emotional terms and that won't change. And my newspaper, the Chronicle, along with the other local press, will continue to cover that passion too.

As always another game is just around the corner and this time it comes in the shape of a clash with Manchester City in the last 16 of the League Cup. Despite the derby defeat on Sunday it could help shape the season significantly for Pardew and his troops.

Suddenly the Magpies would be two big steps from a Wembley final. Although it won't be easy against Man City no matter what side they put out. Certainly, United could make life easier with some of their decisions off the field.

For the fans, though, what they really want to see is United get back to basics on the field.

Losing to Sunderland was a major blow for Geordie fans who have grown used to dominating the fixture through the Premier League years.

It will still take some getting over, but with Pardew eyeing two wins in the next two games, it could shape the way the rest of the season pans out.

To do it the Magpies will have to show much more passion and focus on matters on the field rather than what seems like a pointless squabble off it.

However, winning does make up for so much in football, and a place in the last eight and three points against Chelsea would certainly soothe the wounds that have opened up since the 2-1 loss at the hands of Sunderland.


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