Ahead of tomorrow’s date with the Toon, I’ve been chatting with Norman Riley, a writer and podcaster with Newcastle site, True Faith.
First up, a little bit about you, Norm? Your Toon journey, who you host/write for etc
I’ve been a Newcastle fan since my first game in 1986 which was a 4-0 shellacking by Everton. A precedent was clearly set and I’ve no idea why the misery of that day didn’t put me off for life. I write and record podcasts with True Faith.
I suspect I know the answer, but what’s your take on Ashley? Were you there on Sunday, or did you boycott?
I decided against renewing my season ticket when Rafa left. Rafa brought me back into the fold and allowed me to live with the fact that a man who treats people as commodities owns the club I love. I wasn’t there on Sunday as I’ve decided to try my hardest not to return to St James’ Park whilst he’s there (easier for me to do as I’ve lived away from the region since 1996; if I was up there it’d have been a much tougher decision).
I’ll probably go back though because, like many football fans, I’m a massive hypocrite and I won’t be able to help myself. Ashley is an incredibly unpleasant individual. One just has to look at the stories on Sports Direct. He likes to employ people on zero-hours contracts. He’s the absolute epitome of a child of Thatcherism, a neo-liberal with no moral compunction when it comes to making money.
Good description that… a child of Thatcherism indeed, with the same redeeming features as Aaron Banks. A shyster, and makes us appreciate having Delia and Michael at the helm.
Is the story of Rafa leaving the obvious one of Ashley’s continual broken promises, or was there more to it?
Broken promises in my opinion. Rafa was promised certain amounts of money and control. The promises weren’t delivered. He was offered a contract on the same terms he’d had for the previous three years. He’d seen his level of control over affairs stripped back over the course of those three years. Why should he have stayed?
Yep, good point. only Ashley could lure Rafa in the first place and then erode away his authority and, I’m guessing, use that as justification for offering him unimproved terms.
The MSM press reported Steve Bruce as being eleventh on the list, that can’t be right, can it? In an ideal, Ashley-less world, who would you have liked to see succeed Rafa?
If he wasn’t eleventh on the list, he should’ve been. He’s an old school Championship manager and I don’t believe any other club in the Premier League would’ve given him the manager’s job. His record at Villa was abysmal given the resources he had. His Premier League points per game record is low. Tactics and tactical innovation are so important now and I’m almost certain the Steve Bruce approach to football management has had its day. It feels like a retrograde appointment.
In an Ashley-less world who’s to say Rafa wouldn’t have stayed. If not Rafa then I think Graham Potter would’ve been a great appointment. He’s very much the new generation of British manager, influenced by people such as Guardiola, Benitez and Klopp rather than Redknapp, Allardyce and Moyes.
Potter is a good shout and, on paper, an infinitely better option than dipping into the dinosaur pot.
But does Bruce have a chance? A few wins and the Toon Army would unite behind him, right?
Wins change everything. I can’t speak for NUFC’s support. My personal opinion is that I don’t think a few would make me forget how things are with the ownership nor would they make me think that maybe Bruce is an adequate replacement for Rafa. They’d make me happy because I love my team.
Is it possible to detach the off-field unrest with what’s going on on the pitch? Or is it unavoidable that it will spill over?
It’s difficult to say given that we’re only 1 game into the season. However, it’s always there in the back of my mind and I guess that if the team starts to struggle during a game, or if it goes on a bad run, then it’s inevitable the unrest in the stands will increase and filter down on to the pitch.
What we absolutely need to avoid is a situation like 2008/09 after Keegan walked. That kind of toxic atmosphere can affect what happens on the pitch. However, am I saying that displeasure towards Ashley shouldn’t be vented during the match? 100% not. I don’t believe in getting on the players’ backs if the team is struggling but I’ve no issue with Ashley being criticised.
Joelinton and Saint-Maximin look a couple of decent signings, don’t they? But presumably, you were expecting/hoping for more new faces?
Hoping, always. Expecting, never. Both have potential and undoubted ability. However, we’ve lost Rondon and Perez who were both incredibly important last season. I don’t doubt that the two signed in their places are equally if not more talented. However, they’re both young and without Premier League experience, so they’ll need time to adjust and they’ll need effective coaching and man-management, especially if they go through dips in form.
You’ve partly answered this already, but are you expecting Bruce’s style of football to be discernably different to Rafa’s?
Yes. It’ll be less tactically-drilled, possibly more open offensively and I’m going to say we’ll concede a lot more goals than we did under Rafa. Players will be expected to use their instincts more as under Rafa every player was micro-managed. I think there might have been a reason for that, but we’ll see!
Do you know much about us and our style of play? We’re the faintest of blips on most radars, which suits us really.
You were superb to watch last season. I was very impressed with Stiepermann (moving him from defensive midfield to this kind of drifting number 10 was an excellent decision), Buendia, Hernandez, Aarons and, of course, Pukki. Above all though it’s Farke who I like. I think allowing him that season to bed in and change the philosophy around the club was a masterstroke and the benefits were reaped 2018/19.
The short passing and overloading of players in the box is always going to ensure that chances are created and I like how the team, like Farke, seems to believe in what it’s doing. It’ll be a hard season but the fact that the team and club has a strong sense of identity under Farke bodes well.
You know what Norm, you understand what we’re trying to achieve and what we’re about better than 99.9% of the national media and 99.99% of the ex-pros, who now masquerade as experts. Cheers for that.
So, finally, a score prediction and, if you’re feeling brave, a prediction of where we’ll both finish?
I can’t predict us to lose as I’m going to the match! I’m going to say 2-2. We’ll take an early lead; you’ll hit back and go 2-1 up and then a Grant Hanley OG under pressure from our mobile front 3 will get us a point. In terms of finishing, let’s say 15th and 16th. I won’t say which team will finish where!
Ha! We’d take 16th… you can have 15th. Cheers for your time, mate.