When it comes to the last weekend of the Premier League season it would be better if the title was on the line, but a relegation scrap is a passable consolation prize. Its appeal is both engrossing and macabre, akin to that of rubbernecking the aftermath of a car crash, or watching the fatalities in Mortal Kombat X or the 11th September attacks over and over again on YouTube.
The prospect of watching the fans, players and managers of several clubs going through the gamut of emotions, where it’s entirely possible they’ll vacillate from dismay to delirium in seconds with a goal being scored, sometimes somewhere else, is fascinating. Why? We’re quietly relieved when normality is interrupted by something that’s potentially cataclysmic, scarring and or grotesque within its own context, providing it doesn’t affect us, of course.
Invariably there’s something on the line for everyone involved, and it’s cruelly ironic that even though the fans suffer the most at the prospect of relegation, they gain the least from their club surviving in the Premier League. Supporting a shite Premier League team grants you the privilege of paying obscene prices for tickets, largely to help fund the extortionate wages of the mediocre and woeful players that fill the squad of your club. Player’s wages throughout the Premier League have mushroomed due to financial doping by the bigger clubs partaking in a pissing contest within their own financial echelon – this is one of the few examples where those at the top of a niche market help to raise the incomes of those at the bottom. So, provided their club stays up, once or twice a week the fans of Newcastle United or Hull City will get to delight themselves by watching the majestic highly paid talents of Cheick Tiote and Michael Dawson respectively.
Some of the players also stand to lose, as they may have relegation clauses in their contracts that will shrink their wages should the club they play for be relegated and they’re forced to stay. But in this despicable era of super agents with a profile, large agencies and player power most won’t, and they’ll find another riff-raff club to move to. The main objective for 65% of Premier League clubs and their fans each season is survival. They’re so desperate to survive, due to money and pride respectively, that they’ll willingly talk themselves into placing faith in known fallacies. So having players who have ‘been through a relegation scrap before’, because ‘they’re motivated to avoid going through it again’ are seen as assets rather than the utter shite they’re likely to be.
Due to the grotesque new Premier League television contract (£5.13 billion over three years, starting in 2016 – easily £80m per club every season) the owners have the most to lose. Currently clubs relegated from the top flight receive a parachute payment (£60m over four years), but dropping down to the Championship is a chore. If Snake Plissken thought it was hard to escape from New York, he should try getting out of this fucker. It’s a peculiar quagmire type league, where, unlike the Premier League, there’s far more financial parity from top and bottom, and having the biggest budget isn’t necessarily synonymous with where clubs finish. In any given season most of the clubs in the Championship are just as capable of finishing second as they are twentieth. If anything the Championship is a perfect analogy for how fickle football can be.
It would be unfair to say that this defeatist culture, or desire for mediocrity, that is ultimately self-harming, is primarily responsible for the Premier League’s recent decline. Nor is it an independent phenomenon. It is but a shitcake concocted by the impenetrable monopoly of the top five clubs, the evenly distributed gargantuan television deal that sees little distinction between success mediocrity and failure, mixed with a generous dollop of the misplaced triumphalism of the antiquated attitudes that still pervade English football.
So it’s no surprise that the league is now awash with middle managers, or survivalist specialists, on the managerial-go-round, its syndrome fomented and adhered to by chairmen and owners made clueless by greed. There’s a deficit of skill, nimbleness and balance over the ball, as those facets are inherently distrusted by the survivalists in times of duress, which appropriately, is largely caused by them filling their teams with guileless workhorses, because they’re ‘reliable’.
Saturate any market, or in this case league, with this nonsense and the top sides, who hoover up all of the league’s genuine talent, will cease to be immune. Only in the Premier League can Andy Carroll be bought for £35m with a straight face, Danny Welbeck can play for Manchester United and Arsenal, or that a player like Jordan Henderson, a middle distance runner horribly miscast as a central midfielder, is considered good enough to be worth 100k a week over five years. Hey Greg Dyke, good to see those home-grown quotas working out for you mate, you fucking Little Englander cunt.
But let’s forget the big picture existential crisis bollocks for one day, as the final day of the Premier league is always an event. It’s the only day of the year where switching between two or three games and watching the fluctuations in fortunes in real time actually works.
Here’s what we know –Burnley and QPR have been relegated, while Sunderland, Aston Villa and Leicester City are now mathematically safe. It’s a shame Leicester City won’t be going down because I reckon Nigel Pearson is the Premier League manager most likely to become a serial killer. Their survival means those urges to strangle mediocre Scottish holding midfielders have been quelled, for now, but I’ll always wonder if relegation might’ve pushed Pearson over the edge. It’s the scenario that seems most likely. Being interviewed straight after the final game, when the disappointment is at its most crushing, I could picture him snapping and head-butting Geoff Shreeves to death live on Sky, after Shreeves delivers one too many questions in that smarmy snidey condescending tone of his. There’s always next season I suppose.
So that leaves Newcastle United and Hull City in play, sadly only one of them will be relegated, but who will it be?
First let’s look at the mini table with one game remaining:
Newcastle United – 36pts (-25)
Hull City – 34pts (-18)
Now let’s figure this ‘shit’ out by looking at the final fixtures involving both teams:
Newcastle United versus West Ham United
Fact: Newcastle United has lost ten of their last eleven games, drawing the other. Just let that sink in for a minute.
So, how has it come to this?
After nineteen games played this season Newcastle were ensconced in mid-table, with twenty-six points.
Alan Pardew was then allowed to leave for Crystal Palace. He was replaced by John Carver, whose only prior experience in football management was outright failure at Toronto FC in the MLS.
When Pardew took over Palace they were third from bottom. With one game left to go they’re now nine points ahead of Newcastle, essentially a nineteen point swing.
Newcastle has picked up ten points in eighteen games since Pardew’s departure.
It’s all too reminiscent of the last time they got relegated. Kevin Keegan resigned at the start of the season, and the laughable Joe Kinnear was brought in. He then left for health reasons, or at least that was the official line. Chris Hughton floundered in temporary charge, before Alan Shearer, the saviour, the messiah, the trophy less hero of Tyneside was pitched in to a job he was unqualified for, and their form cratered. The result was relegation in completely demoralising fashion. It was marvellous, Newcastle United at their most preposterously inept.
That was then, and this is now, and now it’s just tragic. For us neutrals this is a tough situation, on one hand you have contempt for the tiresome delusion of the Newcastle United fans, perennially tortured by believing their own faux mythology that it’s a huge club. On the other you have Mike Ashley, their owner, who is essentially running them like a corner shop, destroying any vestiges of hope the fans may have left.
Fortunately there’s a solution to cure both of these failings, and it’s the same thing, but even so, Newcastle United fans don’t deserve this kind of humiliation and they shouldn’t have to suffer relegation just to restore a bit of pride into following their club.
Perhaps Newcastle fans should look at their club differently, not that it should be a big club, but that it could be. They should do this to protect themselves from further anguish, as one thing we can be certain of is that it certainly never will be while Mike Ashley is around.
Which brings us to Mike ‘fat bastard’ Ashley. Here I referred to him as the new Doug Ellis:
I don’t believe in Karma, it’s silly, but if Newcastle were to be relegated how it would affect Ashley’s love of making money would certainly feel like a good dose of it. This horrible fucker exploited zero hour contracts to help make his fortune. According to this Ashley has made millions more due to city’s love of Tory policies that favour the myth of wealth creators like him over normal working folk. Well if Newcastle were to go down Ashley the obese locust would miss out on back-pocketing all that TV money that’s to come. Making money is all he has. I suspect making more of it is all he really cares about. It’s his coping mechanism and the only thing stopping him from gouging his eye out with a pen knife. Make no mistake about it he’s sweating the outcome of Relegation Day like a nonce would standing in the middle of a school playground during break time.
It’s safe to deduce that Ashley allowed Pardew to leave because it saved him money. He arrogantly assumed that Newcastle had done enough by that point of the season to ensure survival that they would be safe regardless of who was in charge for the rest of it.
Which brings us to the woeful John Carver. His claim that he believes he’s the best coach around was interesting, there’s something quaint and mesmeric about him and his ilk. He’s inadvisably candid in a ‘Tactics’ Tim Sherwood sort of way. Ignorance or sheer idiocy is always intriguing when it’s so myopic and oblivious, such as here when he suggested that Mike Williamson got himself sent off on purpose against Leicester City. Now anyone can lose their cool and say something out of turn that they would later regret, but to repeat that accusation, when you’re in charge of a team that’s in a dreadful run of form, and morale within the squad likely to be at rock bottom, is just bloody stupid. Fans like to see passion from players and managers, as it helps them to believe that they could care as much as they do. In this case Newcastle fans are tired of their futile station, and you suspect Carver has mis-judged that by trying to sound passionate, like one of them, that they’d fall for what was a transparent attempt at extorting their supposed unconditional loyalty.
Perhaps Newcastle fans would take relegation if it guaranteed they were rid of Ashley and the slew of yes men and his mates that he’s infested the club with. But what if that meant Newcastle became like Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday or Nottingham Forest. So called ‘big’ clubs, who went down and have yet to return? Is that a price worth paying?
Frustratingly Newcastle have some decent players on their books, and with an owner who was actually emotionally invested enough to hire a competent manager that would see the club competing for European football in most seasons.
Verdict: I’m confident that Newcastle will survive. They’re at home, and despite all the misgivings any fan would turn out to support their team in this situation. And I still don’t think they’ll even need to avoid defeat against West Ham to survive. But come Monday, after the euphoria of relief has dissipated, Newcastle fans will rightly recognise that it’ll mean Ashley remains, and they’ll start tormenting themselves over the horrors that will probably await them next season.
Hull City versus Manchester United
The Premier League incorrectly boasts that it’s the best league in the world, but it is certainly true that it’s the richest. Its state of denial that money automatically equates to class is analogous with the Russian Nuevo riche, who buy or build preposterous palaces. To validate the sanctity of their wealth as earned and therefore deserved, they garishly decorate their mansions with repulsively kitsch designs and quixotic ornaments. This in an odd attempt to mimic a warped stereotypical idea of Russian aristocratic taste, and how its orthodox decadence should be translated to a modern context, but only ends up being a crap affectation of something that never existed.
Here, Steve Bruce is the equivalent of annoyingly thick dust, the kind that indiscriminately gathers anywhere, and when it does in these fraudulent Russian mansions it completely destroys the façade of what they want their wealth to mean. Bruce immediately eviscerates the Sky’s best league in the world claim because he’s so agonisingly dull. He answers questions with trite everyman platitudes. He signs uninspiring footballers, or ‘grafters’ and large men with mediocre hand-eye coordination. His style of football is only euphemistically described as “effective” because it’s associated with hard work, which is seen as a quintessentially English trait, and it’s worked in the past, even though it probably won’t work this time. Say your team wasn’t playing against Hull, or you didn’t have money on a game involving them, would you ever think ‘you know what, I really fancy watching Hull City today?’ No, you wouldn’t. They’re so dull that they don’t have the propensity of Newcastle United to evoke a mass symposium of cultural schadenfreude, with their comedic ineptitude and perpetual futility merging to create the lingering spectre of impending chaos, and in their case it’s even more intriguing as we all know it’s only ever a cunthair away from happening.
Indeed, what does it say that the most interesting thing to ever happen to Hull City was Jake Livermore testing positive for cocaine last week – a few quick jokes – is his career on the line? No wonder he went hard-core, he plays for Hull City, and he’s Jake Livermore, he’s shite and he has to look at Steve Bruce’s face every day, which probably reminds him of Gary Oldman’s turn as a hideously mutilated Mason Verger.
Sadly there’s good news for Hull City, they’re at home and Newcastle United are such a liability right now that they’re liable to lose again.
The bad news? They’re Hull City, they’re utterly shit, they have trouble scoring goals – third fewest in the league this season. You’ll be surprised to learn that Manchester United are a far better team than them, and Hull City need to beat them to have any chance of staying up. United will go for the win too. It’s unlikely they’ll finish third, they need Arsenal to not only lose, but by a few goals, and for them to put a few past Hull City. But the latter part of the equation is doable, especially is there’s news of an early goal for Newcastle.
Verdict: Hull City are going down, and fucking good riddance.
Regardless of who goes down and who survives, let’s hope for some drama, as this edition of the “world’s best league” has offered so little of it at either end of the table. That this is what it’s come to, watching two dreadful teams scrapping for millions of pounds that they’re likely to squander just to be in a similar position year after year, says it all.