The start of the new season is supposed to be a special time, when fans get to see their team’s new acquisitions take to the field, and watch as that summer hard work starts to pay off. Unless of course you’re a Newcastle United fan…
For a Newcastle fan, the start of the season is a unique experience.
Despite already understanding our team’s shortcomings, even though we already know that the chairman’s unwillingness to part ways with funds means our signings are mediocre at best, even given that we were to play with basically the same team that only just scraped the Championship title last season through late heroics from Jack Grealish many miles away from our own hallowed turf, we as Newcastle fans still start the season with unbridled, deluded optimism.
For whatever reason, even when faced with a Tottenham side who – while, yes, we did beat 5-1 in our last Premier League outing – far outweighs our own squad in terms of quality, we still internally believe we can win comfortably.
Spurs’ side was so much stronger than ours that they were even able to almost jovially mock us by fielding £30m
legend flop player Moussa Sissoko without worrying that it would risk the game for them. His reception by the St James’ Park faithful was audible and clear every time he touched the ball. He’s a player not well liked in Newcastle since his move away, who even when in the black and white was hit and miss at best.
However, under the guile and guidance of Rafa Benitez, we honestly believed we had a chance of something in the game, and for the first few minutes we looked like that belief would become reality. We attacked Tottenham straight from the whistle, and for the first few minutes of the game clearly stunned them with the intensity.
Nevertheless, a team with the quality of Spurs unsurprisingly rallied and began to take control of the game, gaining more and more possession of the ball as the minutes ticked by. However, we were structured, regimented and clearly had a plan that was working.
For all their possession, Tottenham couldn’t break us down. Christian Atsu, quite possibly our most understated transfer of the summer having made his loan move from Chelsea permanent at the beginning of the window, looked a player reborn – almost Gouffran-esque of last season – and Spurs simply couldn’t cope with him.
Our defence looked assured, and although it was playing in a somewhat unfamiliar setup, having lost Paul Dummett to a hamstring problem just five minutes into the game, it looked like it would weather any storm Tottenham could muster.
Then came the first of the game’s deciding factors in the match, and what I believe was a very poor decision by referee Andre Mariner.
New summer signing Florian Lejeune, who had impressed throughout pre-season and looked comfortable and assured with the ball in the opening half hour, tousled with Harry Kane for the ball in front of the managers’ dugouts. Lejeune got in front of Kane quite easily and looked to control the ball, but for Kane to come through the back of him with a reckless scissors tackle.
That, as far as I’m concerned, is a red card in the modern game. But Harry Kane got a yellow card, and Lejeune was forced off with injury. It was a moment that really annoyed me as a Newcastle fan for the simple fact that the reason he wasn’t sent off was simply because it was Harry Kane.
England’s Golden Boy seems to have acquired this reputation as being “not that type of player” and I honestly cannot fathom how, because he is exactly that type of player. He knew exactly what he was doing, and it was a shocking tackle that was worthy of a red card.
Had that been Mitrovic who had tackled Kane like that, or any other black and white shirt for that matter, then you could be almost certain the colour card coming out of Andre Mariner’s pocket wouldn’t have been yellow. But, for whatever reason, you just can’t send Harry Kane off in the first match of the season.
Either way, injustices aside, it was a blow that severely hurt us and will likely for weeks to come, as Lejeune looked like a cracking piece of business and a fantastic ball-playing centre back, something we’ve not had for a very long time at Newcastle.
But, even with the costly losses in the first half, we limped to half time at an even score, and still didn’t look to under pressure by Spurs. At this rate, we could easily do the same in the second half and take a point, or even maybe sneak a winner through a Dwight Gayle smash and grab. They were all possibilities.
Unfortunately, our ‘beloved’ captain Jonjo Shelvey had other ideas for the team, and just three minutes into the second half made quite possibly the stupidest and most petulant decision I’ve ever seen on a football pitch.
About two yards away from an Andre Mariner, who was staring hawk-like in the exact direction of Shelvey, the Newcastle captain decided to intentional step down onto Dele Alli’s boot.
Now, I’m not a fan of Dele Alli, and I believe him to be an arrogant player with an appalling temper of his own – as seen by his frankly amusingly petty first half antics when tackled by Lascelles – but to his credit he didn’t overreact. I fully expected him to, and to be honest, it would be one of the few times where if he did you have to just accept it, because what Shelvey did was idiotic and a disgrace to football.
As a professional footballer, and the captain of a football team like Newcastle, where you are playing on the TV and in front of 52,000 fans, in a city that lives and breathes the football club, you cannot behave like that. It’s not just unacceptable, it’s embarrassing and disgraceful.
I’m one of I think a number of fans who wishes we were in a position with more money and resources, whereby an act like that – even without taking into consideration his appalling previous record, including a racial abuse ban last season – deserves him to simply be booted from the club and told to get on with your career somewhere else, because that is not what the club stands for and it is not the type of player that we want representing the club.
Unfortunately, Newcastle do have such luxuries and as such we will keep the thug, and he will play again in a black and white shirt, though I suspect never again as captain. All I wish for now is that our new midfield signing Mikel Merino plays incredibly well and forces Shelvey out of the team, because if I didn’t see him in a black and white shirt again, I wouldn’t be disappointed.
He brought a shameful side to the match and cast a bad light on the football club, and that is not what Newcastle is about. We collected enough red cards the last time we were in the Premier League with Mitrovic, but you could always see that Mitrovic’s red cards – and there were plenty – were not through being intentionally thug-like or vicious, he just has too much passion for the club and overexerts himself. He was easy pickings to be wound up, as a new player struggling to adapt to the country, the league and the style of football. Since then, he’s begun to clean up his act and channel his aggression much better, even if Rafa doesn’t entirely trust him still.
Shelvey doesn’t have that excuse. He has always had English football, and never needed that adjustment period. He spoke before the season of how he has matured. Well, I must have missed the newfound maturity in his decision on Sunday, because to me it looked like a petulant child that wasn’t getting his own way as Spurs were tightly marking him, so he lashed out.
He was an utter disgrace and he cost us any chance of getting something from that game, even despite the heroic attempts of Rob Elliot – who made some key saves later on to keep the scores respectable – and the rest of the team. Christian Atsu, who’s fantastic performance will now forever be lost thanks to Shelvey’s stupidity – kept going and pushing on even until the end, trying desperately to win back something, anything, even if it was just some pride.
That is the kind of attitude and player we need at Newcastle going forwards, and Shelvey is not one of them. While I know it won’t happen, I stand by my belief that he should be cast out the club. If any Championship side offered anything for him, even just a couple of million, Newcastle should quite honestly snatch their hand off at it too.
Even in the same manner, take Matt Ritchie too because for all his talent he too seems to be drifting down the Jonjo Shelvey ‘Path of Lunacy’. Following the Shelvey incident, he lashed out with a wild tackle at Dele Alli that had absolutely no way of ever reaching the ball. He had only one desire, and that was to hurt Alli, and again, as much as I dislike him, Alli didn’t as much of it as he could have, but it worries me that Ritchie is going the way Shelvey has gone, and that is terrible news for the club.
In summary, one game into the new season and Newcastle have once again proven that a quiet mid-table situation is impossible. Instead, we’ve had injuries, idiots and a chairman who had publicly stated he will not put another single penny of his own into the club, even though he knows it won’t generate enough on its own.
Hopefully fortunes change, but currently I can only see one situation coming out of this season, and it likely means more trips to the likes of Burton and Ipswich next season, though this time I doubt it will be with Rafa Benitez at the helm.