Magpies in trouble

Newcastle United is going through troubled times. The club has sold three of its biggest players, and the only one left with any quality is also disgruntled and facing the wrath. Over to Brian Glanville.

The recent stand off between Newcastle United and Joey Barton has been the subject of surprise, amusement and incomprehension in reflecting the turmoil in which this unquestionably great club finds itself in. Now that they have sold both striker Andy Carroll, for a staggering GBP35 million to Liverpool, and their resilient captain Kevin Nolan, to West Ham United, Barton alone remained as a key of versatility and influence; despite an appalling record of violence both on and off the filed.

A Liverpudlian who never played for either Liverpool or Everton he made his name as a footballer with Manchester City. And off field as a recidivist thug forever being caught up in violent actions. There was the time when he stubbed out his cigar in the face of a Manchester City junior in a bar. Then the time when he viciously assaulted and injured a Manchester City defender on the training ground. Then there was the street brawl, which ultimately did get him convicted and imprisoned, when he roughly and brutally beat up an inoffensive young man in a Liverpool street at dead of night, outside a club.

Yet there has never been any doubt about his all round ability and last season, though there was at least one violent incident in the pitch, he was arguably the Magpies' best player. He has made only one appearance for England and is anxious to make many more, though he has hardly improved his chances by contemptuously criticising the current England internationals.

Having so surprisingly let Kevin Nolan go to West Ham United and more surprising in that the former Bolton Wanderers star went into the so called Championship, you'd have thought Newcastle would be prepared to keep Barton, whatever it cost them and whatever pyloric criticism of the club, its policies and the way it has let its key players to go. The last of them being the greatly popular Spanish international left back, Jose Enrique, who has been as critical as Barton himself over the way the club is run.

Yet it still beggared belief when Newcastle announced that Barton who still has a year on his contract, could leave on a free transfer, a decision which seemed more to do with morality than sound thinking. Certainly not the kind of Quixotic gesture you would associate with the controversial owner of the club, Mike Ashley, the sports goods millionaire, detested by the volatile Geordie fans though he poured huge sums of money into the club. They have always seen him as an alien figure from a Southern background, though he has put aside their hostility and remains in power.

Meanwhile, to the general astonishment, Barton has publicly and appositely, been quoting George Orwell, George Washington and the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietsche. Quotes culled from the internet, rather than Barton's own bookshelves if indeed then George Washington is quoted thus: “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” And Orwell, to me as a young writer an inspiration (though I don't like all his books): “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Critics of Barton point out that only one season, the last, showed him in consistent form. Meanwhile, Nolan has accused the popular managing director of the club, Derek Llambias of failing to honour the promise of a new contract. But since at West Ham and GBP10,000 better off, one assumed he can live with all that.

The fact is that, under Ashley, chaos has all too often returned. The ever sentimental Geordie fans were enraptured when their idol, player and manager, Kevin Keegan, was brought back to Galloway as manager; only to be undermined by the strange appointment of Londoner, Dennis Wise, as a kind of overseer. Wise having flourished as a player with Chelsea and Millwall, but far too authoritarian a figure to suit the Geordies, who spoke of a London Mafia.

Much more to their taste was the managerial appointment of playing hero and centre forward Alan Shearer, who as a local youngster, slipped through finger to Southampton, only to return in splendour. But Shearer could not keep United out of the second division, alias the Championship. It was ironic that Chris Hughton, his self effacing assistant, guided them back to the Premiership, only to be summarily and surprisingly sacked last season.

Alan Pardew, who took over, was hardly a sensational capture and his depleted team will surely be condemned to struggle for survival. Yet even away back in the 1950s the club was notorious for enriching directors and turmoil at the top. Personified by the left winger and chief executive — he long wouldn't appoint a manager — Stan Seymour who scored their second goal when they won the 1924 Cup final, but was never a calming influence.