On a Wednesday afternoon in the directors’ suite at Newcastle, Alan Pardew’s phone beeped. It was official, Pardew was the Premier League manager of the season. He had already won the League Managers’ Association award. A celebratory bottle of red was opened. He took a toast from the handful sat around his table. There was humility.
An hour later, he was driven to the studios of Radio Newcastle, about a mile up the road from St James’ Park. Live on air, he was asked to wish good luck to Northern League First Division side Dunston UTS, who were appearing at Wembley in the FA Vase at the weekend. “Come on, Dunston!” he roared. It was 2012. It was the second week in May. Newcastle were fifth. Pardew could do no wrong.
Earlier this week, Pardew was sat in his car. A young fan wearing a “Pardew out” sticker stood next to the vehicle and got his friend to take a photograph.
What did you do, Alan? What did you do when you saw they were taking a picture? “I waved,” he said. He looked exasperated.
Pardew has been the manager of Newcastle for just shy of three and a half years. That is a long time and it takes a toll. Pardew is head of state. The party of power are unpopular. Pardew fronts a football club in the city on his own. On Thursday, his shoulders looked heavy. He had another civic event to see to later that day.
“It’s a club which brings a lot of pressure and, having been a manager for three years, you do feel that pressure,” he said. “I’m not going to hide from that. It has been a tough week for me but I’ve never hidden from it. I’ve been in the city this week and I’ve got another function. It is very important when you are leading a group that you are seen to stand up to it, the pressure, because I’ve got to ask 11 players to stand up to it. I’m not the one who is kicking the ball, but I owe a great debt to them.
“You can’t get away from the fact my relationship with the fans has suffered. It isn’t good. I am not pretending my relationship with them is anything other than precarious, my position with them and their mentality towards me. I am in a precarious position with them and I want that to change.”
Newcastle are ninth in the Premier League and assured of top-flight football next season. They are two points behind Southampton, who are perceived to have had an excellent season; their manager, Mauricio Pochettino, has been touted as a possible replacement to Tim Sherwood at Tottenham. Newcastle have won one more game than Southampton this season.
And yet... Last week at Stoke City was the penultimate match of Pardew’s seven-game ban (three from the stadium, four from the touchline) for headbutting Hull’s David Meyler. It was the first time there will have been relief at the suspension. He was spared walking towards the tunnel at the Britannia when the game had finished (Newcastle lost 1-0). There he would have passed 2,900 of his club’s fans. There were two banners calling for his dismissal. The mood of unease, one the rest of the country cannot comprehend, is reaching breaking point. Today, Newcastle face Swansea at St James’ Park. It might not appear a huge game, but for Pardew it is. He cannot afford another defeat. Newcastle have lost their last four without scoring, have lost 12 of their last 17 games. In 2014, they have won four times and failed to score in 12. These are statistics that hang heavy around Pardew’s neck.
“If the stick is coming my way, I accept that,” he added. “Hopefully, it is something which doesn’t affect the players. On Saturday, I want them to have as little pressure as possible, but there is a lot of pressure on them to win.
“I suspect that more than half the fans at St James’ Park on Saturday would want me out. It is frustrating because you want to be well received and I want to have the respect of these people and when you haven’t got it, it hurts. But it doesn’t hurt me in as much as I want to walk away or go into my shell. It just makes me more determined to try and get their opinions to change. And opinions do change.”
This time last year Newcastle were fifth bottom, but still there is no sympathy in the region. Pardew’s fight with Hatem Ben Arfa has not helped. Ben Arfa is the maverick who can no longer fit into the manager’s system. The pair have rowed after the last two games. After the 4-0 defeat to Manchester United, Ben Arfa was physically thrown out of the dressing room. It is a theme. Most are not Pardew’s signings. It is the squad of chief scout Graham Carr coached by Pardew. There is an inherent problem to such a structure. Ben Arfa flew out of Tyneside in the early hours of Thursday to see his French back physician. You would not be surprised if he has played his last game for Newcastle, certainly under Pardew. It is one less problem for the manager to face. There will be no calls for his introduction today.
If Loïc Rémy is fit, Pardew will instead put his faith in the loan signing Newcastle failed to sign for real in the 2013 January transfer window. It was a huge mistake. There are many for Pardew to carry. It is beginning to show.