Cowards, loony Toons and lucky Luciano

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I didn’t realise how bad Newcastle United’s crisis was until I read that the club had asked Keith Harris to smooth its sale.

Were billionaires in the Middle East/India/Nigeria going to be impressed by a man brandishing a green duckling wearing nothing but a nappy and a safety pin?

Reading on I soon realised this was another Keith Harris altogether but Newcastle couldn’t be in any greater disarray if a ventriloquist – or an excruciating little duck called Orville – was running the show.

"I think we'll go 3-1-6 this week with Nicky Butt in goal..."  

In the media, every story produces an equal and opposite reaction. So the backlash against all the stories about how rubbish Mike Ashley is saw some papers blame the fans.

Apparently, their hysterical attitude, their absurdly inflated expectations and their delusion that Newcastle United are a “big club” is at the root of the present crisis.

For most Newcastle supporters, their absurdly inflated expectations boil down to this:
1) They’d like the team to play some decent football
2) They’d like to win a trophy occasionally.

If you’re paying £935 for a season ticket, it doesn’t sound too much to ask, does it?

Newcastle United hog so many column inches it seems spurious to comment further. But surely even Ashley and his advisors must realise that each passing week of relegation form shaves another few million off the asking price? 

Lucky Luciano?

Roma coach Luciano Spalletti had to jump over the fence at the training ground the other day to escape irate fans, disgusted by defeat to Cluj.

The reaction may seem extreme, but the loss doesn’t leave Spalletti much margin for error in UEFA Champions League Group A. If they beat Chelsea home and away, they can win a maximum of 15 points.

But if they lose and draw or lose both, they could end up with 12 or 9. In other words, Roma need to do the double over Bordeaux and beat Cluj away to keep their fate in their own hands. If Chelsea hoover up all 18 points, nine could be enough for Spalletti’s stylish team.

"What! We have to beat Bordeaux twice?" 

In Group C, Shakhtar have a different problem. Their away victory to Basel was far more convincing than the 2-1 scoreline suggests – coach Mircea Lucescu slammed his players afterwards for showboating – but they have won as many games in the Champions League as they have in their first eight games in the Ukrainian league.

Shakhtar’s five Brazilian stars are accused of only being motivated by Champions League games. There is even talk of Lucescu, who has won three titles in four years, losing his job.

Which would be ironic because, in a reasonably open group, they probably have their best chance of qualifying for the last 16 for the first time. To make certain, they need to beat Basel and Sporting at home and hope that Barcelona walk away with the group.

Punches and tea jugs

The death of Jimmy Sirrel, 86, the legendary Notts County manager, reminds me of my favourite football psychology anecdote.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, County relied on Newcastle-born striker Trevor Christie for goals. When Christie hit a barren streak, coach Howard Wilkinson insisted on using his subtle psychological wiles on the player. None worked and general manager Sirrel insisted, finally, he was going to sort this his way.

Curious to see how the legendary Scot would handle the issue, Wilkinson followed him into the dressing room. Sirrel walked up to Christie, punched him in the stomach and said: “Big man, you’re an effing coward.”

That afternoon Christie scored twice.

Jimmy Sirrel 1922-2008 

His players regarded Sirrel with a mixture of fear, affection and awe. As Les Bradd, County’s record goalscorer told The Times, “We certainly feared him on matchdays, particularly when he was throwing jugs of tea at us.”

Sirrel’s glory days are fondly remembered here with an interview on Left Lion that proves what an entertaining, unpretentious bloke Sirrel was. I especially like his observation that Cloughie “could be a bit bombastic about his football.”

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