Geordie Wonderland: Wigan

Pardew wins round the fans.

Football Geordie Wonderland Wigan

‘Newcastle very, very, very, very rarely improve as the game goes on.’- Me, last week.

I’m aware I said this last week. I’m also aware that quoting oneself is the first step on the slippery slope that leads to referring to oneself in the third person. My decline into Caligula-esque delusion aside, I stated this as a sort of universal truth. Once again, this being Newcastle, such maxims buckle under our perennial inconsistency. Edward Owen is not impressed.

The day started strangely. Having missed my first train to Newcastle, I found myself running to catch the crowd heading to St. James’ Park, aware that a panini from the buffet cart is most definitely not conducive to a state of frantic running. Upon catching a throng of fans, I overheard a scarily accurate metaphor from the fan in front of me; that being optimistic about Newcastle is akin to drowning kittens in a barrel; it’s painful to watch and inherently wrong to do.

Now, I’m not a fan of feline violence, but the comparison was strangely accurate; for 81 minutes today, I watched my team toil to a standard that did not befit their calibre, cut open by Wigan’s assortment of South Americans, Spaniards and solitary Englishman, a ginger bloke called Ben with a face like a hatchet. Edward Owen was feeling profoundly pessimistic over the whole thing.

Yet Edward Owen is willing to get over it. Because when you grab a result from absolutely nothing, the true nature of the fan is revealed. We’re willing to put up with the dross, the inconsistency, the strange moment when Gabriel Obertan managed to dribble a ball past himself, just for that moment of sheer elation when Yohan Cabaye, thus far a bit of a passenger in the game, smashes the ball into the top corner in the 81st minute.

All previous transgressions become forgotten, from Jonas Gutierrez’s strange inability to summon anything beyond a petulant strut when without the ball, to Leon Best’s numerous attempted dropkicks on Wigan’s unsuspecting cosmopolitan back line, their welcome to England consisting of a lumbering, ineffectual Irishman planting a fluorescent boot into their nether-regions. It’s simply that good. The fan exists for these moments, packing out the terraces even for a rain-swept swamp-fight in Cumbria on a Tuesday, because we’re willing to believe. It’s all about old wine in new bottles; it looks crap, but you might be pleasantly surprised.

After Cabaye’s moment in the sun, I can safely say that St. James’ was rocking; the back rows of the Gallowgate orchestrating a cacophony of noise as the lads stood firm against a late Wigan barrage, singing the praises of Yohan Cabaye to the tune of ‘Rupert the Bear’ (‘Yohan, Yohan Cabaye, everybody loves his name’), the loudest cheer coming when the Frenchman came over to applaud, mid-game(!), his chest puffed out with that very Gallic sense of supreme self-confidence. The only strange moment arrived when those same fans came out with a rendition of ‘Alan Pardew’s Barmy Army’, inspiring a clear sense of confusion around me.

The gentleman to my left, who had been particularly vocal over Obertan’s ineptitude (‘You’re sh**e, Obertan! Thirty grand a week? They should give me that for watching you!’), became oddly contemplative, offering only a faintly neutral ‘I don’t think they should go that far…’ in response to the celebrations. The fan to my right, a pleasant elderly gent who’d asked me where the hell I’d been when I turned up three minutes late, was slightly less on-the-fence; ‘I still think he’s a cockney sh**e’. I nodded respectfully, not offering my own opinion due to my upbringing in Shropshire, which is dangerously close to London for some fans.

However, such confusion is emblematic of a very good thing; it means that Alan Pardew, once believed to be a cockney spiv, the (hated) chairman’s lackey in an attempted London-based coup, is finally being viewed separately from the widely reviled upper-echelons of the club. And I must say how very well he’s done; refusing to get involved in the board-versus-fans mudslinging, instead his attention to creating an attractive attacking side that should (touch wood) have no business being near the relegation zone. The fact he acknowledged the chants with an appreciative round of applause was the icing on the cake, a confirmation that whilst he may not be the Messiah, (that’s Shearer), he’s no longer a very naughty boy.