Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Newcastle United or Havant & Waterlooville?

I'm sure that some of you will see my title of this post and conclude that I am an idiot. I know some of you think that I am an idiot anyway, but that's not the point.

Why Newcastle United or Havant & Waterlooville? That is not a tie from the FA Cup? As you clued-up souls already know, both clubs play replays this evening; Newcastle entertain Stoke City whilst Havant & Waterlooville host Swansea City. So why join the two in this seemingly dodgy post title?

Well, I haven't (or Havant?) lost it. As I sat down to write a short post this evening, I had every intention of talking about Havant & Waterlooville, the only non-league club left in the FA Cup. A team from the Blue Square Conference South (a sixth tier team in English football) they will be flying the flag for non-league football. I would have repeated the fact that I will miss the non-league involvement in this season's competition, about what this competition means to non-league clubs and to their fans, and I would no doubt have positively drooled at the potential tie awaiting the sole remaining non-league outfit should they see off Swansea tonight. The romance of the FA Cup cannot be summed up any more poignantly than a tie which reads "Liverpool v Havant & Waterlooville" in the Fourth Round.

I even took a quick look at Havant's website just now; there is so much interest in tonight's replay that the site has crashed. Oh dear.

Anyway, back to my point. Having decided I was going to put Havant & Waterlooville's adventure under the microscope, the news filtered through this afternoon about one of the most hotly debated questions for a many a season, that being, who would take over as the manager of Newcastle United?

If you have been anywhere but on the surface of this planet in the last few hours, I probably need to explain that that role has now been filled by Mr Kevin Keegan. If you don't know who he is, you are reading the wrong blog.

I would normally refrain on here from writing about the big football news stories; that was never my intention with this blog. Go to any football website now or to any newspaper tomorrow morning and I don't need to tell you that Keegan's mug shot will be centre page, probably full page, probably front and back page. There is little I need add to the story.

But I couldn't resist this one, a small mention. So I'm sorry Havant & Waterlooville, if you could just step aside for a moment.

If there's one thing I admire most about Keegan it is this; his ability to bring a degree of raw passion to the game. Passion. A word that I have already used in several posts and a word I believe is synonymous with the FA Cup. When Keegan last took over the job of Newcastle manager his passion (and a fair amount of managerial skill) brought about an unbelievable change of fortune for the club. They were flirting with relegation to the third tier of English football; this they avoided with a win on the last day of the season. The following season (1992-93), Keegan's style of attractive football saw Newcastle brush all aside as they walked away with the equivalent of the Championship. In the 1995-96 season Newcastle United came so, so, so close to winning the Premiership, squandering a twelve point Christmas lead to Manchester United. Keegan had converted Newcastle United to a top four club in a little over four seasons.

Newcastle fans call Keegan "The Messiah". His previous achievements make for a tough act to follow and I'm not sure that this is the best, long term appointment for Newcastle. But the Newcastle fans will give him time, something that previous post holders have never had, not least Big Sam. Some "experts" are already calling this a "ludicrous" decision and are accusing the Newcastle owner (Mike Ashley) as being too quick to pander to the demands of the fans, having failed in his attempts to lure Harry Redknapp away from Portsmouth.

But for me, if this means that we get to see a little more real passion in the Premiership, something that has been sparse since that great 1995-96 season, then this appointment gets my vote. Newcastle face Manchester United in February and Liverpool in early March. I'm sure Keegan would "love it, just love it" if they got a result against Sir Alex Ferguson's side. And I wonder what odds you would get for a 4-3 thriller at Anfield?

I've also heard that Chris Coleman, who was with Keegan at Fulham, has today resigned as manager of Real Sociedad. What are the chances of him joining Newcastle as Keegan's number two? If that happens, you heard it here first. If it doesn't, leave me out of it.

The Newcastle fans are ecstatic about Keegan's return. The atmosphere at tonight's FA Cup game against Stoke City should be even more charged than usual.

And there should be a cracking cup atmosphere down at Havant & Waterlooville, but for a different reason. So Newcastle United or Havant & Waterlooville? Well, both really. Passion at both ends of the country. Marvellous.

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