Schrodinger’s football fan: a fan that exists both in a state of hope and in a state of despair regarding their football club. Perhaps no set of fans exist that reflect this idea more than the supporters of Newcastle United right now.
It’s a tale as old as time in the top flight; Newcastle fans expecting far too much from their side and its manager, that seemingly every season without European football and lengthy pursuits of domestic success is a failure of a season. Impartial pundits all too often express pity on the Geordies for enduring a prolonged period of suffering under Mike Ashley’s ownership (unless said pundit relies on Sports Direct to distribute their brand of caps and hoodies), yet are quick to berate any justified criticism of the main man in the dugout.
Coming off yet another defeat in the Premier League, few positives can be drawn from their 2020/21 season so far. With only 8 points from their last 42 available (as of the 21st of February 2021), the joint 2nd most goals conceded in the League (only West Brom have conceded more), and with the club’s top scorer expected to be out injured until April, things are looking especially bleak on Tyneside.
If one were to draw a list of demands from the fan base, the immediate removal and replacement of Steve Bruce would likely be top priority from the Geordie faithful. The former Manchester United title winner and ex-Sunderland manager’s tenure should have been questioned from the start given Bruce’s past allegiances and, well, lack of major success. The past 18 months have only gone on to certify early skepticism surrounding Steve Bruce, with his Newcastle side having regressed in form and quality despite a much needed injection of talent into the team. The likes of Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron are often relied upon to carry the side to a good performance, with either man’s substitution being a declaration of surrender from Bruce: an invitation for the opposition to cease any worries of Newcastle being an attacking threat.
Normally, a defeat to a club like Manchester United would not irk such large swathes of a football club’s fan base as it has done for Newcastle. In the humble opinion of this writer, past performances from Martin Dubravka and Matty Longstaff against the Red Devils have been marquee moments in recent memory, and all the fans ask for is some similar performances from the current crop of talent available. Yet Dubravka found himself once again warming the bench in favour of Karl Darlow, whilst Longstaff was left out of the squad entirely. It would be to little surprise if the 20-year-old spent much of last night’s game daydreaming of life in Northern Italy as a part of Udinese, just another team in a more comfortable position than Newcastle United in 2021.
This defeat stung differently because of one moment in particular that took place after the game. Bruce, having just watched his side become further embroiled in a battle for survival, was grinning and laughing with fellow Manchester United alumni Ole Gunnar Solskjær, despite the Norwegian having dominated his counterpart’s team for the final 30 minutes of Sunday night’s game.
Bruce giggled as Newcastle burned.
The moment captured there will be one of the defining images of Bruce’s tenure. A man who has attracted almost universal condemnation from the people he claims to belong to. A man who has severed any positive relationships with the print media. A man who has permanently etched frustration and apathy on the faces and minds of his players and the club’s supporters. A man seen laughing mere moments after defeat. What more can be said…
Newcastle United, thanks to Fulham’s poor start to the season, control their own destiny right now. Victories against Wolves and the majority of the bottom three teams are imperative to survival. But things are never that easy in the North East, and many have predicted Fulham to continue their good form and force Newcastle into a decisive game at Craven Cottage on the final day. Bruce may be “quietly confident” of survival, but to find other like minded individuals may be an even more difficult task than survival itself.
Parallels have been drawn between the current season and the trials and tribulations endured in the 2015/16 Premier League season: a talented squad whose potential was squandered by an incompetent manager too stubborn to admit their mistakes. Said talented squad was relegated that season and had its best players poached by more powerful and promising Premier League sides. To perhaps spare the current Newcastle side from such a similar fate, one would hope Bruce meets the same end as Steve McClaren. In reality, Bruce is likely to see out the current season, with the 60-year-old’s contract not set to expire until July 2022.
During McClaren’s stint, Newcastle sat on 24 points after 25 games, and missed out on 17th place and safety by two points. In comparison, Bruce sits just one point better, on 25, after the same amount of games played. Arguably, Bruce and Newcastle face an even more difficult run of fixtures to close the season, with Manchester City, Liverpool, and Leicester lying in wait for a seemingly easy three points against the hapless and hopeless side in black and white. As more and more voices clamour for Bruce’s dismissal, would a premature sacking come too little, too late?