Newcastle & its Battlers: A vital combo, takeover or not

Danny Gee looks at the players who know just what it means to play for The Toon and why they are vital for the future of the club, regardless of who is in charge.

Danny Gee

Pick a handful of Newcastle United fan favourites from the past decade or so and there’d, of course, be a few whose ability alone was enough for near god-like status.

Names that any follower of any club would proudly slap across the back of their replica shirt.

But there are just as many, if not more, who make the cut purely because they run about the pitch with all the energy and excitement of a dog spooked by a hoover. Grafters, as they’re known up this way.

And if the new money comes in, bringing with it the inevitable influx of big-name signings that follow all big-money takeovers, they’ll be more important than ever.

Newcastle United

Random wins against one of the top four and last-gasp winners aside, you can maybe count on one hand how many moments of genuine, jump-all-over-the-shop joy there have been in recent years.

In those ups and downs, however, we’ve found a crop of players that really get Newcastle and what it means to play here.

Despite the idea elsewhere that supporters will whinge at anything short of an Entertainers-esque lineup, this lot appreciate players at the rougher, studs-up end of the scale just as much. Sometimes more.

Take Isaac Hayden’s injury-time winner against Chelsea a few months back. A clip that’s been watched and shared nearly as much as the one of Matt Ritchie only seconds later, legging it to the corner flag and rifling it into a supporter’s groin.

Newcastle United

READ: Newcastle takeover would leave fans over the toon

A standard fist-pump reaction? Keep it. Here, they want something and someone that’s as mad as them in the stands. Just with the denim jeans and NUFC scarf swapped out for a pair of knee-high socks and shin pads.

And Ritchie is a round peg that sits snugly in that round hole. Or if it didn’t fit, he’d just whack it until it did. Whether it’s his signature slap-a-teammate-on-the-head celebration, or his rant through gritted teeth at being subbed off against Spurs in 2018, it’s clear he gets it.

That same fire landed a 22-year-old Jamaal Lascelles on the right side of favour; after a woeful 3-1 loss to Southampton en route to Newcastle’s most recent relegation, it was the young centre-half who publicly called out the senior players who weren’t pulling their weight.

The squad went down in flames, but he was in the minority that rose from the ashes, and in his case, wearing the captain’s band. The importance of this club and its followers moving in the same direction wasn’t lost on the one who gave him it, either.

Rafa Benitez’s faith in the latest generation of black-and-white battlers was a sound investment, and the squad returned to the Prem within a year of leaving it.

That tale played out much like the one of Chris Hughton and his merry band of misfits too, who turned out to be exactly what Newcastle United needed.

What once seemed a flammable mix of characters and heart-on-the-sleeve egos, became a clan of cult heroes who, albeit briefly, showed what it meant to have a club and its supporters chanting from the same hymn sheet.

Among them, the likes of Joey Barton, Andy Carroll, Jonas Gutierrez. Hughton even brought in Cheick Tiote and James ‘Perchinho’ Perch, who would both go on to become on-field warriors, and along with the others are as fondly remembered as the first beer garden pint after a win in early summer.

Steve Bruce

They weren’t the first, and if new owners are to tap into the football in this corner of the North East, they won’t be the last.

The response to a takeover, at least when it comes to league position, is rarely immediate; Man City finished their first post-takeover season bang in the middle of the table. A new regime needs time to bed itself in, and there’s little that would help that along better than a Lascelles scolding or Ritchie, well, being Ritchie.

Away to Leicester in 2015, a group of fans hoisted a flag in the stands that read: “We don’t demand a team that wins, we demand a club that tries!”

If the future is one of that ethos, new ownership and the odd airborne flag, it’s one that Newcastle fans will take your arm off for.

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