Freddy Shepherd once said that Newcastle United was an "impossible club to buy". Now, as they prepare to appoint their seventh manager in 10 years, it increasingly seems an impossible club to manage. A big personality was needed for a big club, or so the theory goes, which, despite the continued misgivings of the supporters, is why Shepherd appointed "Big Sam" Allardyce to succeed the meek Glenn Roeder in the first place. But then Shepherd did what he had said was beyond reason – he sold up.
A new owner, in Mike Ashley, for a new manager – and it meant that Allardyce was always on the back foot, especially as it appeared, for a while, that the multimillionaire's own intentions were unclear. Having spent £133m acquiring Newcastle and inheriting a black hole of debt, it appeared that Ashley was quickly going to sell up. He did not but it meant he would not think twice about changing manager, especially one who struggled for popularity as the owner sat in his team shirt amid the supporters listening to the growing frustration.
The sacking appears a harsh decision. "The thing with Newcastle fans is they think they should be winning games 5-0 all the time. Probably the worst thing that happened to them was beating us 5-0 in 1996," Sir Alex Ferguson said when asked about the relentless pressure on his friend, and colleague, Allardyce. Fer-guson clearly had a point but Allardyce has done himself few favours. The charge sheet against him since he arrived, on a three-year contract, from Bolton Wanderers in May, is lengthy.
From his purchases to his tactics to his brusqueness, Allardyce's regime has caused constant irritation in the North-east. His transfer dealings have been disastrous. Alan Smith for £6m? Jose Enrique for £6.3m? Joey Barton for £5.8m? Claudio Capaca, hauled off to save himself further embarrassment against Portsmouth, David Rozenhal ... the list goes on. Then there was the apparently solid acquisition of Mark Viduka, only to do little then to bring the best out of the talented striker, or Michael Owen or the fans' favourites of Obafemi Martins and James Milner.
It has not helped that Allardyce has deployed players out of position, with Milner on the left-wing and the promising Charles N'Zogbia at left-back. That strange use of personnel has been wrapped up in Allardyce's rigid, rudimentary approach. Anyone who witnessed how Martins stomped off at Stamford Bridge, after spending an afternoon watching the ball sail over his head, and then refusing to acknowledge the manager, could see the discontent. Another problem has been tactics. Far too many hours have been spent talking about stopping the opposition while Allardyce has recruited a backroom staff that now numbers 32. Allardyce's favourite word has been "nullify", as in nullifying the team Newcastle are playing. It is said that one senior player sat through a half-hour lecture on the dangers posed by the team they were about to face before asking: "And what are we supposed to do when we get the ball?"
There was also, according to another player, a recent incident which undermined Allardyce's credibility further. He told one player that he was to be dropped for the next game only to receive a volley of abuse in front of the whole squad. Needless to say, the player was in the starting line-up for the following Saturday. Allardyce also staked some of his reputation buying Barton – with the midfielder also having a bust-up with the manager before the Boxing Day game against Wigan Athletic.
Allardyce's approach may have worked at Bolton. But the pressure was not of the same magnitude. Recently, Sir Bobby Robson added his weight to the complaints when he advised Allardyce to play with more style. That touched a nerve with the fans' hostility. The chanting has been remorseless. Choruses of "you don't know what you're doing" and ironic applause accompanying "Big Sam for England" have grown alongside a record of clean sheets in 18 and nine points from the last 12 games.
Allardyce has remained feisty but his personal popularity has been a problem. He has been accused of being a poor communicator and his cause has not been helped by his refusal to speak to the BBC in the wake of a Panorama investigation into corruption in football. His silence mystifies many Newcastle fans. Now, of course, he will not be speaking on their behalf at all. After that recent defeat at Chelsea, in what was a rare improved performance, the Newcastle chairman, Chris Mort, went out of his way to congratulate Allardyce. He later said that the speculation over the manager's future was "tedious". The tedium has ended. Or, at least, that is what Newcastle fans hope.
24: A mouth-watering but ultimately disappointing series (of matches)
Sam Allardyce departed St James' Park last night after just 24 matches in charge. He leaves the club 11th in the Premier League and facing a replay against Stoke in the FA Cup next week.
Big Sam's Toon Record: P24 W8 D6 L10 F29 A35
1 Arsenal 21/50/+26
2 Man United 21/48/+27
3 Chelsea 21/44/+17
4 Man City 21/39/+7
5 Liverpool 20/38/+21
6 Everton 21/36/+15
7 Aston Villa 21/36/+10
8 Portsmouth 21/34/+11
9 Blackburn 21/33/0
10 West Ham 20/29/+6
11 Newcastle 21/26/-6
SOARING SAM: Began reign with convincing 3-1 win at former club Bolton in August. Players showed fighting spirit at home to Arsenal last month, battling back to claim a point in 1-1 draw.
OUT OF TOON: A dismal November saw home defeats against Portsmouth (1-4) and Liverpool (0-3).