While Charlton Athletic and Norwich F.C. are both headed for League One next season, Newcastle United are still stuck at the butt end of the upper echelon, Sunday’s 3-0 dismantling by Liverpool leaving the 18th place Tynesiders stuck on 31 points and trailing the game-in-hand Hull City. As such, we’re at that fateful moment in the campaign where the Guardian’s Paul Hayward proposes “we play the curious moral parlour game of trying to decide who deserves to be relegated and who is entitled to be swept off the rim of the volcano by a vast white eagle of celestial origin.” (“One criteria is degrees of incompetence on the field of play and the other, more complicated, measuring stick is whether having a Mike Ashley (above) as your owner should buy you a one-way ticket to damnation while the rest of the game waves tatty-bye.”)
Across the blazing landscape of demotion mistakes abound. But only Newcastle are guilty of continually ramming their head in a lion’s mouth, from the wholesale self-enrichment of the Freddy Shepherd-Douglas Hall era to the vaudeville of Mike Ashley’s reign, which has left Alan Shearer facing Liverpool at Anfield today with a team thrown together in the dark.
Sustained mismanagement and hubris carry extra penalties in the debate about who deserves to be Little Bill with William Munny standing over him. Certainly Newcastle’s credit line of admiration and sympathy is badly depleted. Here is a board that assumed they would be safe in the hands of Joe Kinnear and Chris Hughton. But to condemn them now still requires neutrals to abandon the victims, the supporters, whose only contribution has been bouts of gullibility.
Here is a suggestion. Why not set up a parallel system of relegations for chairmen and owners? Retrospectively, Shepherd could be made to save, say, Stockport County. Newcastle could be confiscated from Ashley and Darlington given to him instead. A new scale of forfeits for reckless owners would marry crime and punishment.
Ashley is already way down on the Newcastle deal, of course, but not half as much as the Tyneside community if the club go down. In London, and on racecourses, they would call the whole thing a “stumer”.