Newcastle United is one of the biggest football clubs in both England and Europe. Accountancy firm Deloitte ranked Newcastle as the 17thrichest club in Europe at the end of the 2007/08 season, and this makes them the sixth richest club in England. Their ground, St James' Park, also has a capacity of over 52,000, meaning that the stadium has the third highest capacity in English football (only behind Man Utd and Arsenal). Unfortunately, however, their form on the pitch has not matched their financial stature in recent years and the 2008/09 season culminated in an ignominious relegation from the English Premier League.
It's not that long ago that Newcastle finished second in the Premier League and found themselves competing regularly in European competitions. That was mainly under the leadership of Kevin Keegan but, since he left, the glory days have been few and far between. Don't even ask when they last won a trophy as that's another sore point for their legion of passionate fans. How then did they fall from being trophy contenders to finding themselves playing in the English Championship?
Well, when you look at the differences between clubs that have been successful (such as Man Utd and Arsenal) and teams that have flopped (such as Newcastle and Leeds), one common denominator tends to be the degree of stability at the club. Teams that stick with their manager and have a long-term strategy for success nearly always do better than teams who chop and change their manager at the drop of a hat. I mentioned that Kevin Keegan was pretty successful in his first tenure with Newcastle, and that period lasted from 1992 until 1997. In the twelve years since then, however, they've had nine different managers. Bobby Robson lasted from 1999 until 2004 and there was widespread disbelief when the talented and popular veteran manager was dispensed with. The rest of the managers tended to last for a maximum of about a year and the roll call includes: Kenny Dalglish (1997-98), Ruud Gullit (1998 - 99), Graeme Souness (2004 - 06), Glenn Roeder (2006 - 07), Sam Allardyce (2007 - 08), Kevin Keegan for a second stint (2008), Joe Kinnear (2008 - 09), and finally Alan Shearer who took over in 2009.
Some of the appointments have been quite odd as well. Allardyce had built up a good reputation with Bolton but it was based on a brand of long-ball football that was never likely to go down well with the Toon faithful. The reappointment of Keegan reeked of desperation, turning to an old hero in the hope that he could turn the clock back to the mid Nineties. And then, perhaps worst of all, was the total leap of faith of appointing former player Alan Shearer, a man who had no previous managerial experience. Shearer may have been a great player but his appointment was an accident waiting to happen and he duly led them to a famous relegation, despite having a squad that contained far more attacking ability than most of the other teams in the bottom half of the table.
How Newcastle react to life in the Championship is going to be fascinating. The club is in disarray at the moment with the chairman having put it up for sale but no firms bids seemingly having been received. The fact that another team that plays in black and white stripes, Notts County, have been bought by a billionaire consortium from the Middle East must have Newcastle fans shaking their heads in disbelief. There's also doubt about whether Shearer is going to stay as manager and some of their best players have already left or are angling for moves back to the big time. All in all, the 2008/09 relegation looks like being extremely costly for this proud and ancient club. Despite all this, their hordes of fans will no doubt keep believing and will still turn out in force to shout for their team. Ultimately, it is the strength of that support that I believe will see them through the bad times.