Newcastle's season has been a triumph for grafters over the glamourpusses. Stuart Rayner pays tribute to the unsung heroes.
ALL supporters are fickle, and the receptions afforded Andy Carroll, Jose Enrique and Craig Bellamy at St James' Park at the weekend were a reminder that Newcastle United's are no exception.
The gloating as Enríque pulled on a grey goalkeeper’s shirt plenty of sizes too large for him to replace the sent-off Pepe Reina was unrelenting. The Spanish left-back escaped Tyneside in search of a “bigger” club after telling the world on Twitter that Newcastle would never again challenge in the top six without a drastic change of mindset.
As the Magpies were busy cementing their place there with a 2-0 win, the home fans were only too happy to point out that, unlike Liverpool, their team were in the top six. “You should have stayed at a big club,” they suggested.
But just as hell hath no fury like a football fan scorned, they are also willing to forgive and forget.
Eighteen months after being booed by his own supporters after a dismal display against Wigan Athletic, the Gallowgate broke off from baiting their old favourites to sing “We’ve got Perchinho” during a man-of-the-match performance by one of the many quiet heroes of Newcastle’s push for Europe.
While Liverpool’s squad was built with American dollars, the Magpies’ is packed with grafters like James Perch. It is too simplistic to portray Sunday’s game as the paupers v the princes, David v Goliath – Jon Flanagan, Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing were all on the Reds’ team-sheet, and Papiss Cissé and Hatem Ben Arfa have the sort of glamour which would not put them out of place in some of the Newcastle teams of the Freddie Shepherd era.
But what is so heartening about Newcastle’s assault on the established order is that, while egos seem to rule the Chelsea dressing room and money is the root of all scheming at Anfield, their success has largely been based on honest professionalism.
Perch, Mike Williamson, Ryan Taylor, Leon Best and Danny Guthrie could never be cornerstones of a Liverpool or Chelsea side. Guthrie was on the Reds’ books as a youngster, lifelong fan Taylor grew up on their doorstep, but was allowed to join Tranmere Rovers.
As they showed at the weekend, even some of the more glamorous members of the team are prepared to dig in for victory. Top scorer Demba Ba has energetically taken on the role of makeshift left-winger in the last two victories, while the man who specialises there, Jonás Gutiérrez, is single-handedly ruining the reputation of pony-tailed foreign wide men. In the last three games – all won – he has played left-back, holding midfield, and left-back again. You will not find him throwing a tantrum like the one which followed Carroll down the tunnel after his substitution on his old stamping ground.