It’s fair to say the last 20 odd years haven’t been easy on the Toon Army, but The Magpies find themselves in their first cup final since '99 this month.
However, the source of their recent turn in fortune has been a challenge for some fans. We caught up with one of those fans, economist Ben Zaranko, a North East native, to talk about everything Newcastle.
Showing his old age, Ben's earliest football memories are under Sir Bobby, “When I was young, I took for granted that Newcastle were quite good - I can remember Champions League nights and Shearer being the best striker on the planet.”
Playground footy chat became more of a challenge as things at St. James’ swiftly became a laughing stock under the previous owner. Ben recalled the famous moment when Ashley necked a pint for the cameras at the Emirates; before claiming it was a 'non-alcoholic' drink, Arsenal were quick to reassure any potential away fans that they don't sell such a beverage.
“My cult hero is Laurent Robert. I feel like he’d only exclusively score screamers; whether that be 40-yard free kicks, ridiculous volleys or overhead backheals”
Throughout the 2010’s Newcastle became synonymous with cycling through managers, fighting relegation and Joe Kinnear calling out Charles Insomnia, to name a few things keeping Ben up at night. Life was a lot simpler then, the biggest worry may have been peas instead of beans for dinner and not the ownership of his club.
SAUDIS AT THE GATES
Whilst the first Saudi takeover attempt failed and any subsequent deal being labelled “deader than a dead thing from dead land” from Simon Jordan’s perspective (if there’s any good coming from this, it is that he got that so wrong). It was still being reported the deal was going to happen, once they stopped illegally streaming Premier League in the region - hope for their sake they are still be able to watch Carlisle at Bradford on a Firestick.
“I feel conflicted, even today. I just want to watch and consume the football”
Which brings us to last October when the takeover went through, “It happened really quickly; it was new and exciting, it was hard not to get swept up in it” Ben recalled. Sam Fender’s drunken BBC Breakfast interview would’ve been echoed on many zoom calls across Tyneside that Friday morning, “I’m really hungover. I’m really, really hungover”. That being said, as the paracetamols were popped, some of the Geordie nation were coming to terms with their new dilemma.
Sam Fender on BBC
Ben quickly turned to speak passionately about where he stands, something he has given much thought and consideration to. “I feel conflicted, even today. I just want to watch and consume the football. It’s not up to Newcastle United's fans to draw the moral boundaries where our government or Football Association have not.”
WHAT SHOULD A FAN DO?
It’s probably hard for someone not born in the UK to understand why Ben can't go and find another team (Maybe Forest Green Rovers? They sound respectable). However, in the UK you have no choice which team you support, it’s a birth right and in the same breath you have no control who owns the club.
Ben believes that whilst you are helpless to all of the above, celebrate what’s right about your team and speak out about what isn’t. “I felt really uncomfortable with lads waving Saudi flags and wearing Arabic attire, it’s one thing as a fan to think you’re powerless in all of this and we’re here to support the football. But why is there a need to fully celebrate the owners, let's not forget their terrible human rights record.”
Ben explains further, “for 'traditional' rich owners such as the Glazers this is very much something to do or a bit of fun. States have different objectives to this type of owner, they try and capitalize on the reputation of football and the links they have with their communities.” Who’d have thought when he fell in love watching Nikos Dabizas, Andy O’Brien and Steve Harper all those years ago, it would turn into this.
For many Geordies like Ben their morals and their beloved Newcastle United are not as black and white anymore.
“What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes.”
“It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up the stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him, and without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love” - Sir Bobby Robson