The Downfall of Newcastle United, and Who Was Really to Blame

Brian A. BradshawCorrespondent IMay 25, 2009

NEWCASTLE, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 01:  Newcastle Unite owner Mike Ashley smiles during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Sunderland at St James Park on February 1,  2009 in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

First of all, I'd like to send my heart-felt condolences out to not only everybody associated with Newcastle United, but to every team who have this season, suffered relegation in English League football.

Be it Middlesbrough, Southampton, or even Luton—as a Blackburn fan I know the pain of relegation too, and I wish the speediest of recoveries to you all.

But onto the topic at hand...

After Newcastle United's loss to Aston Villa yesterday afternoon, I was listening to talkSPORT radio, of which, as you'd expect, had a mass array of calls from Newcastle fans. Some of the callers were calling for Alan Shearer to stay on as manager, others were condemning him for not being the messiah they had hoped for.

But most of the calls were fans directing scathing attacks to one person: Newcastle owner Mike Ashley.

Many callers were annoyed at the way Mr. Ashley runs the club, calling him a bad businessman, but being completely honest, is he to blame?

Partly...yes, but he didn't cut the strings on the puppets alone. There were many people involved in the act.

Let's go back before Ashley's purchasing of the club, back to when Sir Bobby Robson was manager. Robson had guided Newcastle United to the dizzy heights of Champions League football in his reign, but silverware was lacking. Desperate for cups and trophies, then Chairman Freddie Shepherd sacked the England legend and replaced him with Graeme Souness.

An unpopular choice with the Toon faithful, Graeme Souness had a bad reputation before him. At Blackburn, he reportedly had several training ground punch-ups with players, namely Dwight Yorke. Go back a little further, his popularity he had gained as a Liverpool player was wretched by his quick-fire, controversial decisions as their coach.

From the get go, Souness was an unwanted figure with the fans. This arguably put the firey Scot under pressure, and a season later, after more short-comings in terms of league and cup success, was swiftly replaced by Glen Roeder.

Roeder's short reign was also unsuccessful and Shepherd again lost patience, sacking him toward the end of the 2007-08 season.

At the start of following Premier League campaign, Sam Allardyce had been instilled as manager. A few games into the season, Freddie Shepard sold his stake in the club to local business tycoon Mike Ashley, who in succession launched a full takeover.

With a new manager and a new owner, it was a dawn of a new era on Tyneside.

A lot of hype had been built around the club. Fans started to believe the glory days were on the verge of returning. But Sam Allardyce had gained a mixed reaction with the fans. Despite a steady set of results, supporters didn't adjust to his tactics. Mixed results started to follow, and fans pestered Ashley to fire the former Bolton chief.

Under pressure, Ashley listened to his fans, and despite steadily taking the club to 11th place, Sam Allardyce was let go. He lasted six months.

Yet again, another manager change was imminent.

After half a century without meaningful silverware, times were becoming desperate for the club. Mike Ashley had to make what would seem to be the biggest in his ownership. The fans wanted one person to be brought back to the club, and Ashley produced the goods.

The messiah, Kevin Keegan, was re-hired to the post he left over a decade prior.

But even the appointment of Keegan had its negatives. Alongside him came a new staff, of which included the highly controversial appointment of Dennis Wise. Believed to be the man in charge of transfers, you could say the hiring of Wise was unwise, and the fans were highly critical of Ashley for employing him.

The season went on, however, and things weren't looking up.

The end of the season was beckoning, and Keegan was still looking for his first win since his return. The win finally came, a 2-0 home win against Fulham, which proved to be the catalyst to a respectable 12th place finish. The magpies were safe, at least for another season...

Over the course of the coming months, Kevin Keegan's relationship with Mike Ashley had strained. Keegan was believed to be annoyed with Wise's transfer policies despite his denials to the media. Barely midway into the 2008-09 season, Keegan resigned, admitting he didn't favour Wise's position.

Fans in turn, turned on Ashley.

Coach Chris Houghton was given the caretaker role for the meantime, but results faltered. Fans at St James' Park became preoccupied and, with banners and chants, demanded Ashley to sell up. Fearing for his and his family's safety, Ashley stopped attending matches and confirmed he was putting the club on the market with an asking price of over £400 million.

With the club officially up for sale, Mike Ashley hired Joe Kinnear as interim manager, another unpopular choice. Results started to improve slowly, fans started to get behind Kinnear, and Ashley returned to the matches.

Eventually, the club came off the auction.

In March 2009, Joe Kinnear was rushed into the hospital with heart trouble and needed immediate surgery, thus putting him out of work. Again, Chris Houghton was put in temporary charge. Results became worse, however, and with few games left, Alan Shearer agreed to become temporary manager. Iain Dowie was instilled alongside him.

Arguably, it was little too late.

Shearer had very little time to stamp his mark on the Newcastle squad, and on the last day of the season, had to gain at least a point from their game against Aston Villa. That may not have been enough if Hull gained a point against Manchester United.

Unfortunately, they lost 1-0 finishing the season in 18th place with 34 points.

After 16 years in the top flight, Newcastle United has been relegated to the Coca-Cola Championship. It has been a disastrous turn of events since being in the Champions League just a few years ago.

But who exactly is to blame?

Well the answer is simple—everybody associated with the club.

Newcastle United is the epitome of a train wreck.

Freddy Shepherd lacked patience.

Mike Ashley lacks direction.

But after Shepherd's ownership, it is easy for the fans to blame the chairman. However, it's the fans who are as much at fault as anybody.

There is an aura that surrounds the fans that suggests they are a bigger club than what they are, but in reality, a 50,000+ capacity crowd doesn't give you the right to be successful. It was the supporters who forced Mike Ashley to ditch Sam Allardyce just because his tactics weren't up to their standards, even though results were steady.

It's a cliche, but managers need time to stamp their mark on the team (I'll make it clear I was never in favour of Paul Ince's sacking at Blackburn either). Sir Alex Ferguson is a testament to that fact.

It all went wrong with Freddie Shepherd when he sacked Sir Bobby Robson, who was doing a great job. Quick manager changes have cost the club since, but Mike Ashley isn't to blame for this season's staff rotations.

Okay, Kevin Keegan left, but you can bet your house Ashley wouldn't have wanted that. Nobody could predict the health issues with Joe Kinnear either.
The only bad managerial decision Ashley has made this season is the appointment of Alan Shearer. In the trouble the team was in, a much more experienced manager was needed. Shearer isn't to blame—he loves the club and tried his best. He was close to tears in his post match interview; it's justified he gets the benefit of the doubt.

Lastly, the players.

There have been board troubles, but there is no excuse for the team. Newcastle boasts talent—Argentina interntional Fabriccio Collocini, Nigerian international Obafemi Martins, Republic of Ireland international Damien Duff, just to name a few...

There is unquestionable talent here to give a relegation battle a good fight.

But they all went down with barely a whimper.

The players lacked vision, looked disoriented, and at times, uninterested. And the amount of dismissals toward the end was horrendous also. Many Newcastle fans claimed this is the worst team to wear the famous black and white jersey—maybe harsh considering the potential that lies amongst the squad, but hard to argue with also.

It's a sad state of affairs, but in hindsight, the relegation is deserved as much as I am sorry to say. Newcastle United are in danger of not only following Leeds United's path, but also that of Wimbledon.

Lessons need to be learnt and fast.

This relegation could be really a positive outcome, if handled properly. It is a chance to stabilize the club, to steady the ship so to speak. It is a chance to summarise and to plan ahead. But, that plan has to be based on wise patience.

Don't expect to jump straight back up.

I have no doubts in my mind that Newcastle United can become the club they were, to be back in their glory days again. I hope that upon their return to the top flight, should it happen, it'll be a less complacent, less arrogant, but a more steady, stable, and patient Newcastle United.

-Brian Bradshaw



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