“Which one?” That was how the circus opened in October 2008. That was how Joe Kinnear made sure he would never be forgotten as a Newcastle United manager, no matter how good or bad a job he did, in the Newcastle media room at the club's Benton training ground, except it was a media room then only in that the media sat in it and it was a room.
In truth, it was three leather settees positioned haphazardly, the whirring of a snack machine a reminder that journalists were not originally supposed to be there.
Kinnear was unhappy with the coverage of his first day as Newcastle manager; it is worth remembering that it was as big as a surprise back then as it is now. Journalists were bemused that he had not cancelled the players’ day off to meet his squad. Players who, let’s not forget, were doing their best to get the club relegated from the Premier League, as, it appeared, was the owner. Television cameras were for once not allowed into that small room, tucked away on the very end of the training facility.
Kinnear kept the journalists waiting two hours. Two hours is a long time in the company of other football writers, but it was worth it. Oh, it was worth it all right. No one will forget Joe Kinnear. How could you?
Kinnear, with his greying, curly hair slicked back at the sides, bowled up – and he really did bowl up – and stood in the middle of that room. He could have been Danny Dyer’s old man. More Football Factory than Tyneside factory. His words have gone down in football folklore.
The first words he spoke to the local press as Newcastle manager – “Which one?” – was to discover which player had been the most “out of order”. The first response he made was, “You’re a c**t.” Kinnear swore 52 times. It was theatrical gold. He gave and he got.
He was 61 years old then. He had the hands of a man who has spent a life working with heavy machinery and the gnarled right finger pointed at those who had provoked the most ire. The left index finger and thumb held a bit of paper with names on it and the rage was such that the paper shook in his hand. Occasionally his voice trembled.
Kinnear produced a press conference the likes of which I do not expect to witness for the rest of my career. How could you forget that?
It is easier to forget the miserable record as a manager that followed. It appears Newcastle’s owner, Mike Ashley has, and in that there should be no real surprise. Newcastle had not been in the headlines for 26 hours (when a Yohan Cabaye link with Monaco had been denied, though that transfer seems more likely now). Twenty-six hours is a long time in Ashley’s world. So, on a rare, hazy and relaxed Sunday afternoon, Tyneside had another meteor dropped into its heart.
It is 12 months since Graham Carr, the Newcastle chief scout, signed an eight-year contract. Three months later, Alan Pardew (left) and his back-room staff did the same. Yesterday afternoon they became subplots in the latest bizarre machinations of Ashley.
Kinnear gave an interview yesterday as the new director of football of Newcastle United, admitting he had signed a three-year deal. He did not swear. More importantly, he did not sound like the director of football of Newcastle United. He sounded like the manager.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my life as a manager,” he said. “I’ve been manager of the year three times and I’ve had a great football career so I think I’m ideal for this situation.
“I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to come back. I’ve turned down managerial jobs in the lower leagues, because I felt I’d gone past that and I wanted to get my teeth into something in the Premier League.”
Kinnear sounded like the manager of Newcastle United because he is the manager of Newcastle-in-waiting.
Only something special can save Alan Pardew now and, say what you want, but he deserves better than this. Kinnear’s role is officially as a scout, but Carr will not let go of that role. Kinnear will also be a visible presence at the training ground. Ashley has undermined Pardew’s power with yesterday’s decision (and it is Ashley’s decision), but in doing so he has once more undermined his own reputation. In 12 months there has been another sea change in how to run a football club, and now a change to the group of people that were handed contracts until 2020 last year.
Kinnear impressed no more yesterday in his new role as scout-cum-director of football than he did at the start of his reign as Newcastle manager. He again tried to popularise the myth that he had had problems because he was not from the North-east.
“I didn’t realise Geordies are Geordies,” said the director of football at Newcastle United yesterday. Sometimes you cannot make this stuff up.
“Would they object to someone who is Spanish?” he asked.
Newcastle fans objected to the appointment of Kinnear because his record was poor and he had been out of the game for four years since his last job in football, at Nottingham Forest, where he left the club 22nd in the Championship.
He said yesterday: “My record speaks for itself.” Let’s listen.
He was forced to leave Newcastle as manager in 2009 because he was rushed to hospital before an away game at West Bromwich Albion. He underwent heart surgery. For the record, Kinnear’s record was, on average, two wins from every 10 games.
The circus, once more, is back in town.