James Lawton: Sacking Hughton was crass but it was sadly typical of Newcastle
Friday 10 December 2010
At the end of another scabrous week in the history of Newcastle United, you have to ask the old question. Why do they do it? The fans, that is.
You have to believe it is because they have had their values shot away, piece by piece, and all that is left to them is to go along out of some desperate tribal loyalty.
They remind you a bit of the cargo cults of the South Pacific because of the absolute irrationality of their belief that under the Mike Ashley regime one day their boat might come in.
The cargo worshippers were excited by the sight of vast amounts of military equipment being moved around by America and Japan in the Second World War and the belief that if enough magic was made, enough rituals completed, somehow all the power and the wealth would be transferred to the islanders.
This seems pretty much the hope of most Newcastle fans, at least the astonishingly large number of them who remain unsick to their stomachs by the manner of Chris Hughton's dismissal.
Every football club, and even one as perniciously dysfunctional as Newcastle, has the right to change their manager, but the way it has been so arbitrarily abused by Ashley and his predecessors is surely an embarrassment even in a League where most anything goes.
The fact that many believe Hughton's crude dismissal may also have facilitated a betting coup in circles close to the ownership is a mere detail, an appalling one no doubt, but then it is a long time since anyone had the nerve or the instinct to believe anything but the worst of a club that can, like some pet monster, still command affection, even passion, among so many of its supporters.
This means that a succession of managers, some of them the biggest names in football, have known their fate from the moment they signed to the cause. Or at least they should have done.
The reaction to the reports that Alan Pardew was the new man was as instructive as the manner of the firing of Hughton. Outrage over the latter's fate was now only fuelled by the fact that his replacement might be from outside the elite of management, a man who indeed was recently fired by Southampton.
Such are the splintered moralities of the Newcastle football culture.
Fire Hughton, a man patently dedicated and devoted to his players, even the most troublesome of them, one who had produced such memorable results as the slaughter of Sunderland and the defeat of Arsenal at the Emirates, who had won promotion and had to be given a reasonable chance of checking a mini-slide, and you are committing an outrage. Replace him with some fancy name, like Martin O'Neill, however, and the reaction is somewhat different, perhaps even "March on, bonnie lads".
Hughton's achievements at Newcastle should have protected him from the worst of his treatment by the club for whom he did so much, so quickly. That they did not was just another random blow aimed at the image of football in one its most passionate centres.
In terms of reputation, Newcastle, of course, have nothing to defend. They just sit on their bleak shore, watching the flotsam float by. It is their version of black and white magic, ineffective and shameless to the same degree.
A majority of fans will say it is their club – right or wrong, their identity, their hope, and that it is nobody's business but their own. In this, they are right, as far as it goes down the road of football doom. But then it hardly stops you being sickened by their plight.
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