There will be an open-top bus parading through the streets of Newcastle on Saturday, before the home game between the city's beloved football club and Manchester United. It is to signify the success of Newcastle United's season. Supporters have been encouraged to toot horns and wave as it passes. Newcastle will start next season in the Premier League, they have had no cup runs.
Roll up for the "Magical Misery Tour". And yes, it is ironic. Here is Newcastle's season in six words: bad, good, really good, really bad.
By January, after the really good part, they were safe. Yohan Cabaye was sold. No replacement was signed. Since he left, Newcastle have played 10 times in the Premier League. They have won three. Five games have been lost by scorelines of 3-0 or 4-0. In the last 14 games they have failed to score in 10 of them. Loïc Rémy, the loan signing from Queen's Park Rangers, has not played in nine games this season. In his absence Newcastle have scored once.
When Newcastle moved into sixth place in the Premier League on Boxing Day by beating Stoke City 5-1 at St James' Park, the club were one victory from safety. At that point, the season was done.
This is the case for those who have felt so underwhelmed as to hire a bus to drive through bemused shoppers on Saturday afternoon.
Thirteen miles and 21 points away, in the muddled mess of Sunderland, is the case for the defence, where a club on their fourth manager in less than three years lies stranded, four points from safety, and where a culture of change – players and managers – has led to an erosion of the security of the Premier League.
Ellis Short, the Sunderland owner, cannot plan for what division his club will start in next season. He has not received much criticism. Sunderland have 25 points.
In Newcastle, the Mike Ashley Out Campaign, which has received the support of the True Faith fanzine on its website, talks of the "alienation and exploitation fans feel from the club they love and support". They are the people behind the open-top bus.
Last week's Manchester United flyby seemed to galvanise sections of the club's support to back the team as much as further criticise the manager. Supporters inside Old Trafford jeered the plane that carried the banner "Wrong one – Moyes out". There is likely to be more support for the Misery Tour.
It has been a bad week for Ashley. On Wednesday night, Sports Direct scrapped plans for a shareholder vote on a share bonus scheme worth £73 million for the founder of the company after failing to secure enough support. A proposal was set to be put forward to grant Ashley eight million ordinary shares at a vote at the company's AGM in Mansfield. The AGM was also cancelled.
Last Saturday in the directors' box at Southampton, he sat in front of Alan Pardew, the manager of his club who is banned from the dugout for a further two games, and watched Newcastle lose 4-0. Rob Elliot, the back-up goalkeeper playing in the absence of the injured Tim Krul, was their best player. Only two players went to applaud what was left of the 2,187 visiting fans at the end of the game, Elliot and substitute Davide Santon. They were jeered, Santon more so, such was their anger at the display.
Norwich City lost 3-0 at Swansea on the same day. Their players paid for the club's supporters who travelled to the Liberty Stadium, as a way of apology. Pardew confirmed that the move will not be followed by Newcastle.
If Newcastle finish in the top 10, the entire staff, right down to the cleaners, will receive a bonus. Last season they were within a defeat in the penultimate game of the season, at Queen's Park Rangers, of going down. It should be viewed as progress, but Newcastle were safe too soon and Ashley, who now has a strict, slow version of growth, will not allow wanton spending.
To add to the situation, there will be no Rémy, Krul, Mathieu Debuchy or Moussa Sissoko available for Saturday's visit of Manchester United because of injury.
"I think we're in a difficult place, I make no bones about that," Pardew said. "We're on 46 points, we have a few excuses in terms of injuries so it's easy to go, 'Oh well, okay, the summer's not far away'. Certainly I have made that very clear to the players that that's something that cannot happen.
"We can't do that in front of 52,000 people paying good money to come through the door. We have to put on a performance that shows real commitment. It's difficult when you get to an area of the season where there's no real goals for you, other than a league position. That's something we've been trying to focus the guys' minds on."
The lack of a more tangible goal. That is what has inspired a bus.Reuse content