Here we are again then. After a few months of relative quiet in these parts of the world, Newcastle United and its supporters again find themselves the source of both scrutiny and hilarity across the rest of the country.
In the wake of another limp defeat in the Tyne/Wear derby, digital frustrations boiled over into yet another online pressure group – ashleyout.com rising from the ashes of sackpardew.com to sneers and titters from fans and journalists alike. Talk is now of a fan boycott of next weekend's home game with Tottenham Hotspur, and with it have come accusations that they're all delusional and fickle. “You don't understand though”, Newcastle fans retort to a mass eye-rolling from the rest of the footballing world.
As skepticism goes, it's a brand I can totally understand. A swift glance at the club's local rivals shows only successive battles with relegation, while Blackpool, Leeds, Blackburn, Wigan, Birmingham, and Portsmouth provide sobering reminders of the peril of extending one's reach. Fans of all these clubs would no doubt deeply love to be floating around mid-table and posting sound financial figures, so who the hell are Newcastle to be unsatisfied with their lot in life?
Well, let me try and explain.
Newcastle United sit, relatively comfortably, in one of the top leagues in the entire world. They aim to attract young talent from all over the globe, develop them in front of crowds of 52,000, then move them on for a tidy profit. In a footballing age when clubs of all statures are going completely t*ts up, Newcastle fans are somehow looking at this cosy status quo and finding immense and furious displeasure in it. That's the perception and, yeah, it looks pathetic, but there's a deeper emotional issue here.
The source of problem is, as it's been for a number of years now, the owner. The stagnant status of a club is one that's festered deliberately under his charge and now, by the admission of the Guardian's David Conn “one of England’s grandest clubs” is currently little more than “a billboard for a company dedicated to cheapness”.
Whether you agree with either of Conn's sentiments isn't really important, but simply by virtue that they're being expressed by someone who is neither a) wearing a black and white bobble hat, or b) working for a paper that depends solely on purchases in the city, shows that the problem is apparent to people outside the club's fanbase. It's not just us that can see this anymore.
Mike Ashley has devised a formula of running the club that aims merely to ensure its visibility in front of the largest possible audience. They won't be pursuing cup competitions because they risk their Premier League status, and they won't aim up the table because, frankly, there's nothing to be gained from doing so.
The club is posting brilliant financial figures, yet the squad is one of the most dour and threadbare in the league; they secure their top flight status before Christmas, yet play a reserve side in the FA Cup; and they makes themselves a wonderful prospect for commercial partners and advertisers, that plasters the kit and the stadium with cheap sportswear and pay-day loan companies. On every level, all of that is rotten.
Let me put it another way.
On May the 7th this year most of us are going to the ballots in the General Election. A friend of mine has already told me he intents to vote Conservative because, in a time when countries all over the world are facing huge problems, things in Britain have been relatively ok. We didn't slide into financial ruin, we haven't had prolonged years of violent social unrest, and life for the vast majority of people in this country is, in the grand scheme of things, pretty good.
“Look at Greece though”, he often retorts when I point out the Tories have actually done nothing in their tenure but serve their own grubby interests. Selling off things that a lot of folk care deeply about for no other reason that it'll make their opulently wealthy chums a little bit richer. Some would argue that a lot of what this government has done carries with it a veil of necessity, but that still doesn't excuse the cynical and self-serving way things have been carried out.
David Cameron has driven millions into the jaws of the same malicious payday loan companies that Mike Ashley has emblazoned on almost every piece of merchandise in the club shop - the common denominator here is that, sign of the times or not, neither of them give a sh*t about the human cost of furthering their own aims.
Comparing the problems of a few football fans to the single parents queuing up outside food-banks is, obviously, ludicrous. Sadly subjects you're passionate about seldom allow you to be wholly rational when you're trying to explain them, but if you're still struggling to understand the source of Geordie grievances then you can boil it down thusly: just because things could be a lot worse, doesn't mean you shouldn't try and make them better. If you're voting against Cameron and co in a few weeks then can at least understand the principle.
A change in government might not improve anybody's life, but there are a lot of people in this country who think, regardless of the results or the potential pitfalls, that it's important enough to them to at least give it a try. When it comes to Mike Ashley, Newcastle United fans won't get an election, but if the team take to the field on Saturday to a virtually deserted stadium then they'll at least have voted with their feet.