The Last Word: All is lost when even the Toon Army won't report for duty

Back in August 1982, when Kevin Keegan had his first coming as a would-be saviour at St James' Park, on that occasion as a permed striker, Newcastle United staged a grand unveiling at the Gosforth Park Hotel. Russell Cushing, the club's long-serving secretary, stepped up to the microphone and boldly proclaimed: "We've got Kevin and we're in heaven." Quick as a flash, Bob Cass, the veteran North-east football writer, retorted: "It's a good job you didn't sign Ritchie Pitt then."

As it happens, 26 years on, Newcastle could do with a central defender blessed with the kind of skill that Pitt displayed in Sunderland's FA Cup-winning side of 1973, before his career was cut short by injury. Even now, at 55 and with one good knee, the Seaham schoolteacher could fare little worse than the youthful members of the St James' home guard.

Still, when it comes to rhyming slang, Newcastle United are most certainly in the Ritchie Pitt. They are deeply entrenched in the stuff: managerless, rudderless, up for sale and heading for relegation unless they achieve a quick takeover and an equally swift turnover in the backroom department. Achieving those basic stabilising measures might even be the easy part. Regaining the faith of the Newcastle supporters could prove to be a good deal harder.

For all of the soap opera dramatics that have featured at the Tyneside club over the past decade or so, and for all of the underachievement, there has always been an air of optimism among Newcastle fans: a belief that one day, despite it all, the Geordie boat will come in and that eternal wait for silverware will be over. With the departure of Keegan, for a second time as manager, and the dawning that the Mike Ashley empire has been built on sand, that positivity has gone. In its place has settled a pall of negativity to match the black and white shirts.

The sea change has been palpable to those of us who live on Tyneside. I know of long-standing season ticket holders who have vowed never to return. I know of others who cannot bring themselves to talk about their once-beloved club and what has been done to it. And these are highly intelligent individuals: teachers, retired businessmen, scientists.

The swathes of empty seats at St James' for the Carling Cup tie against Spurs and the Premier League fixture against Blackburn spoke volumes. It has been four years since the Bobby Robson era came to grief, when fifth place in the Premiership and failure to qualify for the Champions' League was deemed to be a sackable offence.

Even in the thud and blunder days of Graeme Souness, Glenn Roeder and, to a lesser extent, Sam Allardyce, the bulk of the Toon Army were generally prepared to report for duty, in the hope that one day, somewhere along the line, would be a change for the better. Now they are wondering whatever happened to their likely lads – in the same mournful manner of Bob Ferris, who lamented in the film version of that classic Geordie sitcom: "In the chocolate box of life, the top layer's gone and someone's pinched the orange crème from the bottom."

Not that there appears to be very much sympathy going for the Doom and Gloom Army. Newcastle's followers have long been pilloried by the nation as drama queens stricken by delusions of grandeur. It has not helped that at every pantomime twist of events, the television news crews have chosen to seek the considered opinion of some tattooed loon mumbling something along the incomprehensible lines of Michael, the Geordie porter at Alan Partridge's Travel Tavern. You can imagine the rest of the nation chorusing: "Sorry, didn't understand any of that; just a noise."

Yes, you've got to be joking here. That's what the locals were saying when Joe Kinnear reported for duty as interim manager. The Toon Army were not greatly amused, though the transcript of Kinnear's expletive-thon of a Thursday press conference did bring a smile to even the longest of Geordie faces. Judging by the tone of it, a place may well be found in the future scheme of things at St James' for the chairman of 1.FC Kaiserslautern, former German striker Stefan Kuntz.

As it is, a South African consortium apparently leading the bidding for the Tyneside club seem to be intent on reappointing Keegan as manager. It would take that, or something similarly in tune with the Geordie psyche, to win back the goodwill of the disaffected Toon Army.

It would take much more to restore hope of some long-craved silverware being a possibility somewhere over the rainbow. In the meantime, Newcastle United could be contenders for the Turner Prize: a football club stuck in the Ritchie Pitt.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice