Cockney mafia bare brunt of Toon frustrations


The recent appointment of Joe Kinnear has done little to placate the passionate fans of Newcastle United, writes Fearghal Kerin.

Mike Ashley was one of a spate of businessmen to take over English clubs in recent years. While Malcolm Glazer’s purchase of Manchester United was subsequently greeted by widespread protests by the United fans, the club have since experienced stability off the field, as well as a Champions League and two Premier League titles in the intervening years.

In stark contrast was the Newcastle fans’ reaction to Ashley, who was seen as the man to take the club to a new level and provide the impetus to break into the top four. However, disagreements between controversial Director of Football, Denis Wise and then-manager Kevin Keegan at the beginning of last month led to the popular manager leaving the club in an almost unprecedented state of turmoil, with Ashley’s position becoming untenable as a result. Protests against Ashley and Wise, the so called ‘Cockney Mafia’, preceded the club being put up for sale.

As a result, few were surprised that the Magpies’ board struggled to find an experienced Premier League manager to take the reigns in the short-term after Keegan’s departure. In recent times the job has become a poisoned chalice with many previously successful managers, including Sam Allardyce and Glenn Roeder, having their reputations left in tatters after short spells at the club.

With the boardroom in such a fractious state, aswell as rumours of an imminent takeover abound, initial approaches to Glenn Hoddle and Terry Venables were rejected. Despite this, no one could have predicted that Joe Kinnear would be offered the job, four years after he presided over former European Cup winners Nottingham Forest as they were relegated to the third tier of English football and a decade after last managing in the Premier League.

It smacks of desperation on behalf of all parties – Ashley calling on an old friend of Denis Wise when he could get nobody else to take the job and Kinnear gratefully grasping an unlikely chance to relaunch his managerial career. What’s more, the beginning of the Irishman’s tenure has been as shocking as his original appointment. Choosing not to meet the players on his first day in the job and opting instead to hold a meeting of the backroom staff did him no favours with the North-Eastern media who were already underwhelmed with his selection.

Kinnear’s reaction to this was an expletive-laden first press conference. Under the impression that he was speaking off the record, the 61 year old began an astounding tirade against the media. Fifty expletives in the opening five minutes alone set the tone as Kinnear slated all those who dared question his management.
While many will have questioned this behaviour, others have described it as a stroke of genius. Don’t forget that it was Kinnear who orchestrated the ‘Crazy Gang’ at Wimbledon, the famously jovial team of perennial over-achievers in the mid-nineties. Kinnear’s public behaviour could prove a master stroke in psychology as he looks to build a siege mentality within the dressing room.

Only results will decide how Kinnear is finally judged on his departure from St. James’ Park , whenever that is, and it does seem unlikely he’ll manage to rescue the Toons from the plight they find themselves in, currently sitting second from bottom in the Premier League.

Sadly for fans of the Mike Ashley soap opera however, the club appears to be changing ownership sooner rather than later. The fans’ displeasure at Keegan’s sacking has left the Buckinghamshire-based millionaire no option but to put the club up for sale. In what is becoming an increasingly common pattern in English football, a host of international consortiums have been linked with the club and at this time a group of South African businessmen look most likely to buy out Ashley’s stake. Despite rumours of a £300 million bid seemingly without substance, it has been confirmed they have met with Kevin Keegan to discuss reinstating him should the takeover come to fruition.

With a loyal and dedicated fanbase, selling out their 55,000 seater stadium week in week out, there is no doubt that Newcastle have the potential to be successful if run properly, both at boardroom and pitchside level.

The initial appointment of Kevin Keegan a year ago reaked of a publicity stunt at the time and his potential re-naming as manager by a new board would similarly look like an attempt to pawn off the fans in the short term.

As it stands, regardless of owners, it is difficult to imagine the Newcastle fans watching their club compete for honours unless vast changes are made to the psyche of the club too.

For the moment, however, maintaining their Premier League status is the number one priority, as relegation would test the loyalty of the self-proclaimed best fans in the league, not to mention the interest of foreign investors considering buying into a Championship club.