Note: Woah. I started writing about my feelings on Newcastle and it grew into a bit of a monster before I knew it. To spare you the indigestion, I've split it into three sections. Here is part one, with the rest coming tomorrow and Wednesday. Endure!...I mean, enjoy...
There's probably something you should know about me. Underneath this cynical, 85%-cocoa-bitter, wreckage-of-a-multiple-vehicle-motorway-pile-up-twisted exterior beats a heart which trembles like a kitten who's been thrown from the wheel-arch of the car in whose warm engine it's been pleasantly kipping for the past couple of hours. And though I may crack Wise about Newcastle United, the truth is that I don't really see them as figures of fun. My mockery conceals a deal of sympathy for the Toon.
As sports fans, we sometimes flatter ourselves into believing that we always strive for the beautiful, for the glorious, for Galeano's "pretty move" in our appreciation of the game. I myself was this close back in July to setting up a blog entirely dedicated to the men's final at Wimbledon. But though I may have pretensions towards being a sporting aesthete, alone in a remote cliff-top hut, in the lotus position in front of the telly, divining profound philosophical significance from each super slo-mo replay of a Fabregas through-ball, it's not as simple as that.
Because I sometimes think I get as much a kick out of failure as success. Perhaps 'kick' isn't the right word, because that suggests some kind of gruesome, ambulance-chasing nihilism which I'm pretty sure isn't there. It's more a matter of tragedy being on the obverse side to romance, and that if you're going to flip that coin, you have to accept whichever way it falls.
For Newcastle United, it seems so routinely to come up against their call that a comical appraisal of their fortunes is an understandable reaction. But equally legitimate is to feel sad at the litany of failure which had defined their recent history: the Keexotic sallies at the Trafford behemoth, the karma-baiting sacking of Bobby Robson, the painful interregna of Dalglish and Gullit, Shepherd and Hall's Marbella jaunt, Dyer and Bowyer's pugilism, Bramble and Boumsong and defences with the integrity of wet sponge cake, Patrick Kluivert, the getting messed around by the club's own hierarchy.
While Newcastle's relationship with the latter is akin to stumbling from one abusive relationship into another, that with Kevin Keegan is more complicated. The whole 'Messiah' business may be melodramatic and even cloying, but when you consider the previously unimaginable depths to which Newcastle were about to descend before his arrival, and the all-too-giddy heights subsequently reached, one cannot legislate for the emotional maelstrom thus created. Factor into this the manner of Keegan's first resignation, following a 7-1 win over Spurs and seemingly out of nowhere, and dysfunction is set for good.
Some may find it arrogant for Newcastle to believe that their club is special and deserves not only a reasonable effort to attain success, but to have it achieved with a degree of style. Others may find it hopelessly naive. I find it admirable. I am loathe to draw comparisons between the scoffing of the ambitions of Newcastle and others outside English football's aristocracy, and the desire to keep the nation's fearsomely nuanced class system just so; that's a sticky web from which few flies emerge. But it is distasteful to see a club's desire to enhance their spirit derided as a by-product of ignorant provinciality.
The grinding-down of this dream by the forces of mediocrity - of club management at the input end and results at the output end - since the First Keegan Era has left Newcastle open to ridicule. The growing distance from the glory of that time and of Robson's tenure (just as successful, in its way) meant that, when the long-hoped-for régime change ushered in Mike Ashley, a certain giddiness took hold. Sam Allardyce's pragmatic dullness was unlikely to wash at a club which had been saved by the gung-ho Keegan. Indeed, on some level, Keegan had become a holy icon of Newcastle's fundamental character. It is precisely for this reason that Keegan's return was doomed. The club's nervous system was ill-equipped to cope with the Resurrection, and with it the raising of old hopes that were once more easily attainable. Such was the power of these hopes that the issue of how qualified Keegan was anymore seemed unimportant. But when the high subsides and one realises that it was without substance, the comedown can be almighty. Ashley's make-it-up-as-you-go-along style of ownership added still more volatility to an already combustible mix.
Newcastle want Keegan back because the battering they have endured since he first left - and especially in the last year - makes him seem ever more like the one true saviour; no-one else in their world is trustworthy. And on Keegan's part, to go with the rumoured financial imperative, is the acknowledgement that he has never belonged anywhere as he did at Newcastle, and that maybe he should have one more tilt. Keegan and Newcastle are a couple bound to periodically return to each other's embrace, even as their love is mutually destructive.
Next time: New Saviour, New Danger
Photos (1, 2, 3) by Thomas Hawk, jonbradbury and sternenstaub.