Will Hawkes: Hodgson provides angry young men with a lesson in fury
Newcastle United v Liverpool, ESPN
Monday 13 December 2010
angry young men are much in vogue these days. Whether they're poking Camilla Parker-Bowles with a stick, defacing the Cenotaph or standing outside St James' Park promising to have a jolly good shout at Mike Ashley, they're hard to avoid. There must be some angry young women out there, too, come to think of it, but they're probably too sensible to think a few choruses of "Ashley Out" will make the slightest bit of difference.
That said, Newcastle supporters are right to want to see the back of Ashley. His tenure at St James' Park has been an abomination, the perfect illustration of what is wrong with English football. Chris McQuillan, the protest's erudite spokesman, was the very model of good sense and decency when he appeared on Sky Sports News on Saturday morning. You couldn't but agree with everything he said.
And then the match happened. Newcastle beat Liverpool 3-1, which might just have been the worst possible thing for the protest. Football fans are much more willing to kick up a fuss when things are going badly on the pitch: when you've just witnessed your side beat one of European football's biggest names, you tend to be a bit too pleased to shout abuse at money men, although there was a loud chorus of "Get out of our club" at the final whistle.
Not that Ashley cared. An ESPN camera picked him out as those chants rang around the stadium: he was rubbing his hands in glee, a huge, self-satisfied smile plastered across his big, round toddler-face. Earlier, after Newcastle's second goal, we had witnessed him hugging an equally chunky gentleman before jumping around, an ill-advised move for a man of his size. With every tiny leap you feared St James' Park would crumble. Then he really would have destroyed the club.
The other man getting a lot of screen time was Roy Hodgson, Liverpool's embattled manager. He seemed to be having some sort of breakdown during the last 10 minutes: muttering to himself, feverishly wiping his face, hunched and intense. "A study in contained fury," was how commentator Jon Champion had it, but he didn't look very contained to me. This was a man at the end of his tether, struggling to believe just how feeble Liverpool were.
The other key character on Tyneside this weekend was Hodgson's opposite number, Alan Pardew, the man Ashley chose to replace Chris Hughton. "This time last week he was snowed in in Surrey, frustrated that he couldn't get out to watch a match," said Champion. "He has had a lucky break."
You could dispute that – who would want to work for Ashley given his record? – but he's been luckier than Hodgson. Three years ago the latter was the coolest character in English football, the sophisticated gent who wore shades as Fulham beat Portsmouth to stay up on the final day of the season. It might as well be 30 years ago now: he could certainly teach young McQuillan a thing or two about being angry.
Hodgson's problem is that he appears to care too much. Ashley doesn't really care at all. He chuckled as Newcastle fans held up banners, one of which read "Ashley Hated Local". ESPN's anchorman Ray Stubbs, like the rest of us, struggled to work that one out before tackling the equally taxing subject of summing up another big day in the life of the soap opera that is Newcastle United. "They don't have a lot of confidence in Mike Ashley," he said, perhaps rather understating the strength of local feeling. Nonetheless, the only person who seemed truly upset at St James' Park on Saturday evening was Hodgson.
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