When I was about eight years old I fell over playing football in the street (for the record, we really were using jumpers for goalposts. Marvellous. Isn’t it?). Now, all these years later, I can remind myself of that moment whenever I want simply by looking at the big scar on my kneecap. I can look at it, see that it’s a scar, and accept that it happened nearly thirty years ago. The scar is my little reminder, my souvenir if you like.
What that scar reminds me of is that if you’re going to play football on a gravelly road and you hit the deck, you’re going to end up cutting yourself. It doesn’t tell me that every time I play football I’m going to knacker my knee. It doesn’t tell me that I’m going to knacker my knee at the same time every year, either.
So here we are at last. The bit where I start talking about Newcastle United and stop using my knee as some sort of storytelling device – although I absolutely reserve the right to use my knee as an analogy again in the future.
As we approach the January transfer window I’m beginning to recognise the sort of typical grumblings of certain section of Newcastle fans that seem to happen every year at around this time. “We’re a selling club – just you watch, Ashley will sell Cabaye and cash in on this good run of form”, “We won’t sign anyone in January – more likely we’ll sell Krul, Cabaye and Tiote!”, “It’s the same every January. We always sell Cabaye in January and I bet we do it again this year”.
I’m prepared to accept that the last one might be a slip of the tongue but I did hear someone say it and therefore it qualifies for a mention in my Knee Journal.
We seem to have acquired this reputation as being a club that sees every January as an opportunity to shoot itself in the foot. A club that sees a promising start to the season as a chance to offload a few top players and cash in while the going’s good, even though it’ll wreck our prospects of a strong league finish.
Every year this gets mentioned and every year I’m left bewildered as to why people start thinking this way. Mike Ashley has been running this club for six January transfer windows now. In that time we’ve sold four senior players (whilst signing 14 of them!). Given & N’Zogbia left in 2009 as the club hurtled trapdoor-wards. Demba Ba left at the start of this year when we were powerless to stop him due to the clause in his contract. The only other major January departure in Mike Ashley’s reign is in 2011 when we sold Andy Carroll. For some reason the utter shock of that news seems to continue to leave some of our fans traumatised. The scar (there we go, there’s the scar reference) seems to serve only as a reminder of how bad it felt at the time to lose Carroll. To the extent that people seem determined to see no positives and to search for reasons to be pessimistic at every turn.
Why not dwell on all of the great, great things to come out of our Januarys under Mike Ashley? First things first, we got THIRTY FIVE MILLION QUID for a striker who has subsequently gone on to score 13 league goals in 68 league games. We signed up the likes of Nolan, Ryan Taylor, Lovenkrands, Simpson, Williamson, Ben Arfa and Cisse. January was even the month when we got to experience the gleeful joy of seeing Geremi and Xisco leave the club.
January last year even seems to have become tarnished in the eyes of some. We signed five Frenchmen, they didn’t settle instantly and as a result our relegation scrap went on to the penultimate weekend of the season. No matter that four of them have played a huge part in what has been a fantastic recent run of form, let’s condemn them for being signed in the middle of a bad season.
This season has been much, much better so far than any of us can have expected. Mike Ashley may have made some decisions in his NUFC tenure that range from weird to disastrous but history has shown that January seems to bring out his best side.
It’s also been a great season for Alan Pardew so far. Tactically he’s made huge, huge progress from the struggles in 2012-13. We’re showing more flexibility, the substitutions are better and the likes of Sissoko and Anita are really being played to their strengths. So let’s give praise where it’s due. Let’s not pounce on Pardew saying “We might not sign anyone in January” or “We may well sign someone in January”. All he’s doing there is playing his cards close to his chest, as 99% of other managers also do.
Maybe we’ll sign no one next month. Maybe we will sell a star player as the grumblers are forever insisting we will. Maybe we’ll sell Cabaye just like we did last January and probably will next year too. However, maybe we’ll enjoy this fantastic run of form a whole lot more if we just relax a bit, enjoy the football and approach January with a bit of optimism, as history tells us we perhaps ought to.
Don’t let people tell you this is the most wonderful time of the year. January is the month we should all be waiting for!
Merry Christmas, folks.