TO CONTEMPLATE the unbearable sh**eness of being a Newcastle fan.
I have ripped this title from the stunning 1984 novel by the intimidatingly talented Milan Kundera.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being begins with an abstract philosophical thought, essentially, ‘what do we put on the scales?’ (Mike Ashley is not the answer).
For some ‘being’ is light. Life is easy, happy-go-lucky: free. For others, it is a weighty affair, full of meaning. The novel challenges us to ask, ‘which type are we?’, and ‘is it worth it?’ To my continual pain, one I’m sure is shared, so does the beautiful game.
Life is great. So is Newcastle United. The club can be, at times, as worth supporting as life is worth living – and for many the two are inseparable. This can be a cause of great pride, and pity. So what do we gamble? We could keep it light, maybe lend our love to a non-league team, perhaps support Leicester. Or we can be the fans we are, and endure the unbearable sh**eness.
I stole the thought from Kundera, who plucked it previously from the German great Friedrich Nietzsche, and his unnerving idea of Eternal Return: the notion that we must revisit every second of our ever-repeating lives, so we better make each mortal moment count. Unless, of course, we say goodbye and take the weight of meaning off those scales.
The applications of their philisophising are intriguing, although the footballing persuasions of both scholars remains unclear.
All Newcastle fans have had moments to revisit, and moments in which we say ‘My stop, many thanks, but I’m getting off this rollercoaster’.
I was vaguely, too vaguely aware of the glorious reign of the Entertainers in my youth, but my true induction and education began with the days of Greame Souness, with days of rapid decline and defensive hilarity – or tragedy. It depends on how lightly you take it.
It was not a short sharp shock to put me off Toon Army membership, but a wailing, drawn-out baptism, with Bramble, Boumsong, Babayaro and Carr clumsily pouring water on the burning hope in my naïve head like a gaggle of feckless vicars.
Perhaps I should not have returned, never mind eternally, to that East Stand where I first observed the sloppy horror.
But the famed rollercoaster was not long in restarting, and a thrilling rise gave me new enthusiasm, powered by the unlikely source of Glen Roeder. With a team assembled, or not assembled, from the depths of the academy and obscurity, Roeder marched to European qualification. I still have Ramage on the back of hidden, golden-lettered shirt.
Of course I could bear the shiteness, the rebirth was just around the corner. And if it could be achieved with Paul Huntingdon at left-back, it could always be achieved.
What next? What else. A mess. Sam Allardyce instructing the likes of Geremi – a captain, remember that – to play spot with Sputnik, and put the ball into orbit. A dip in the rollercoaster, but not off the rails. Soon came Keegan, once again, but short-lived. From this Messiah to the anti-Christ: Joe Kinnear. And, despite Shearer, down we went.
It was a blow. I’m sure I’m not alone in leaning the weight of my weekends on the Toon result, but this pain burdened a whole year. Undoubtedly, irrefutably turd.
Successive seasons were a not so much treading water as treading on other teams that obligingly drowned. We stayed under Pardew’s media-polished turd of a reign, with one season of glory amongst the mediocrity to offer a bit of hope. It was, of course, taken away.
The less said of what followed the better, until we reach the point where we have a squad of talent, a manager of pedigree, and still face the fate of a snowball in hell. By dropping to the Championship we have imperiled the one occasion of good judgment in almost a decade of Ashely’s asininities: the acquisition of Benitez. Miraculously, he has decided to remain in charge of this turbulent, nonsensical club, despite the odious higher management.
Young players of promise if not application have been mismanaged, and threatened with sacrifice to satisfy the constraints of a lower league wage-bill. Townsend will make his exit perhaps, along with some I won’t mourn too much, and others that I will. Who knows who will stay on the ship as it goes down?
Which leads us to the more important question: what do we do when faced with this situation? Do we flee like rats in flotsam and leave behind nothing but empty seats and bitterness at St James’ Park, never to return, as Nietzsche threatened, to the weightiness of Toon support? Or is there no levity in being a part of the Black and White Army, or indeed any suffering band of unfortunate fans?
The former has never become a familiar reaction, even in a lifetime of unrewarded support. The latter, alas, is the only choice – or no choice at all. We cannot change our stripes. The Toon Army will always advance towards that forever-vanishing glimmer of hope on the footballing horizon. We will still support. And the added inducement to optimism that is Señor Rafael, makes this continued support less of a chore. Another trough, another peak on the grueling expedition in black and white.
So the awfulness I am talking about is simple. It’s the weight of meaning we place on that team of ours, the weight of each game, the weight we all bear and cannot remove, the burden of significance which makes the pain all the more shattering. But we embrace this weekly recurrence nonetheless, we gamble, and a merciless, unbearable, excremental feeling may well be the result – but it is part of being a fan.