Sitting in the sun in the Don Robson Pavilion at the Riverside eight days ago, it was sometime approaching lunch when the f-word was finally mentioned. Traditionally, the Chester-le-Street ground is something of a bantering chamber for the folk who spend their summer Saturdays watching Durham at cricket and the rest of the year following the fortunes of Newcastle United and Sunderland. Despite the Wearside location, there tends to be an even-ish split of numbers and replica shirts. And the points-scoring jibes can last as long as the day's play. Not last Saturday.
Nobody seemed keen on broaching the football word. Not in our section, at any rate. It was almost two hours into the morning session when someone in the back row turned to his mate and remarked: "I see the football fixtures are out next Wednesday." "Aye," his companion replied. "Have you heard that Newcastle have been banned from training on the beach before they play at Blackpool? Apparently, they'll only allow 10 donkeys on at the same time."
They both chuckled. And the pair of them, it transpired, were of the black-and-white persuasion. Gallowgate humour, you could call it. It is a sign of the times in these parts.
Up on Tyneside, the f-word has been banned by some. If you know them well enough, and press them hard enough, they will say that watching their Titanic of a football club sink from the Premier League was bad enough but that seeing them drift into midsummer without so much as a rubber ring in sight – let alone a rudder – has been too much to bear.
Some of my acquaintances have chosen to invest their season-ticket money in the Newcastle Falcons rugby union team. It could all change, of course, if a new Newcastle find some winning momentum when the 2009-10 Championship season gets under way and a promotion bandwagon starts to roll. Not that the omens are very promising. It was four weeks ago today that Newcastle hit the relegation rocks at Villa Park and the Titanic has yet to start turning.
The club is for sale, the players too. Those players are due back for pre-season training on Wednesday week, yet they have no manager to manage them. As things stand, Chris Hughton will be asked to perform some more caretaking duties. As for Alan Shearer, he can only wait to see which way the sale goes – and, no doubt, wonder whether the Match Of The Day sofa might be the better option after all.
"Big changes need to be made," he said back on 24 May, when Newcastle's relegation fate was sealed. "Players need to go and players need to come in. Every day another day goes by and another room burns. Every other club is getting a head start."
Not that everyone shares the negative mindset. "It's a case of wait and see," says Mark Jensen, editor of The Mag fanzine. "It seems a lot of people are looking to buy the club. It would be different if Mike Ashley had said: 'I'm staying and JFK [Joe Kinnear's nickname on Tyneside since his expletives] is staying.' People would be absolutely devastated with that. They wouldn't be able to see any light at the end of the tunnel. I think most people are waiting to see what happens. They're praying that credible new owners will come in and also that Alan Shearer will be back as manager."
Come to think of it, there was a time when Chester-le-Street had become such a wilderness on the cricketing circuit that the regulars said it was not David Boon who Durham needed but Daniel Boone. Twelve years on, the fans are following the county champions – and minding the f-word.