The Bay of Islands is north of Auckland in New Zealand and is an area of extraordinary beauty. We were camping (yes camping, it has come to such a thing) in an effort to save our poor battered and swiftly diminishing New Zealand dollars for a dolphin swim.
Swimming with dolphins being a contractual and legal obligation for travellers such as Wifey and I; in fact if you don’t throw yourself at a clicking water mammal when offered the chance they confiscate your rucksack. It is a thrilling thing to do (except when I tried to use the snorkel as a big drinking straw and nearly drowned) but I’ll not go on about it here nor will I go into any great detail about the state of New Zealand football. Suffice to say they have one team, The Wellington Phoenix, who play in black and yellow stripes in Australia’s A-League. This is the equivalent of FC Reykjavik playing in the English Second Division only to a lower standard. Their star player is Paul Ifil who you probably don’t remember playing for Millwall, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United and their goalkeeper is Tony Warner who saw little to no first team pitch time when at Liverpool.
Last weekend they played a” home match” in Auckland before a crowd of over 20,000 which is 4x the crowd they get in Wellington and drew 1-1 with Adelaide in a game featuring a diving header so brilliant that I thought of our own dear Peter Withe. Peter himself would have been proud of it. If it hadn’t been an own goal. Actually it’s not that the standard in the A-League is awful, the problem is that it isn’t bad enough; teams are too fit and organised so goals are rare. In fact all the games end 1-1.
Or maybe they don’t. Like you, I don’t really care.
Wifey was on the phone to her dad who reported great consternation afoot in Newcastle over the renaming of the stadium. “That can’t be right,” I thought, “I was positive we all agreed before I left that we would smile nicely and take the money for a name change, spend the money on new players or a new helicopter for Mr Ashley, then carry on calling our ground St James’s Park? Money for nothing.”
Apparently not, the locals are outraged and the media is awash with enraged Geordies bemoaning the sacrifice of their heritage. Is it really or is the football media machine incapable of getting through the pointless footballing desert of an International fortnight without resorting to mischief?
I’m sure many fans are enjoying themselves immensely by being upset and apoplectic with impotent rage but I’m sure more don’t know who the hell Saint James was in the first place never mind where he kept his apostrophes. ( Wikipedia says St James had a dad called Zebedee and Catholic Online says he is the patron saint of hatmakers- Newcastle’s many milliners must be beside themselves) . Surely all we are doing with this renaming idea is pretending to change our address but not ordering a removal van. It’s not like we are going to knock the ground down and move in with sunderland like what John Hall suggested. And that obviously wasn’t such a terrible crime was it, after all we named a stand after him didn’t we?
Well no WE didn’t, 20 years after some lickspittles came up with the idea of rebranding The Leazes End in a disgraceful act of brown nosing we still regard anybody calling the Leazes End “The Sir John Hall Stand” with contempt, suspicion and a complete lack of credibility.
The problem obviously is that Mike Ashley has got us by the nuts and no amount of complaining, threats, boycotts and pressure groups has loosened his grip. In fact you begin to fear that the well meaning folk, those who are doing the most wriggling and Ashley hating, are the ones doing their own cause the most damage.
I don’t doubt that a more kindly billionaire turning up and calling our ground The Sir Bobby Robson Stadium, building statues of Alan Shearer along the roof in some ghastly appropriation of St Peter’s Basilica and telling us all we are the greatest fans in the world would be most welcome but does that person exist? As it stands what do we look like to potential buyers/sponsors, except a poisonous nest of mawkishly sentimental cry-babies. The chances of a big company with serious money offering us a more palatable rebranding than Sports Direct are pretty slim because our toxic objections would make it a marketing disaster. And don’t think pretty much every team in the country wouldn’t change their name to the Anusol Will Shrink Your Piles Stadium for a barrow load of cash either.
Frankly if you don’t like the idea of money being the first, last and only consideration in absolutely everything in the game, you have been watching the wrong sport for 20 years.
Of course it is difficult to actually side with the present regime, despite the fact that, at the moment, their radical blueprint looks to be working better than any of us ever hoped (I thought the loss at Man City was the most encouraging 3-1 defeat since we were last in the Camp Nou) too much bad blood has been spilled. But even on the other side of the world I tire of being told how upset I should be. I know I am also supposed to be appalled about Derek Llambias’ “foul mouthed rant” reported by Brian McNally in The Sunday Mirror except that I thought it was fun and rather refreshing especially the bit about hitting Liverpool with a £12,000 interest fee for being late with the Andy Carroll money. I actually agreed with a lot of what Llambias was reported to have ranted (Carroll not being worth 35 million, Keegan’s head being all over the place, Shearer should never have been made manager); he spoiled it by saying we make f*ck all out of merchandising recently because the obvious answer is “and whose f***ing fault do you think that is?”
You can accuse me of not caring about Newcastle’s pride and heritage being vandalised but I’m still pissed off about people from Newcastle being responsible for the destruction of The Handyside Arcade, The Broken Doll and The Mayfair. With nothing to show for it except Eldon Gardens, a seedy bus station and The f***ing Gate. And I’m supposed to care what some advertisers, some free marketers want to call my football ground? Seriously? Because no matter what the name is changed to anybody not calling it St James’ Park is going to look like an bloody idiot.
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