Sven put us through the ringer on Sunday, going missing for hours without having touched his breakfast, and leaving no clue of his whereabouts. While the special boy stressed us all out, the Newcastle players did their best to ease the tension with a simply wonderful performance.
Well, Sunday proved to be an eventful day. Getting in from work at 9am, I sat and watched NJPW: Sakura Genesis for a few hours, and was delighted to see Will Ospreay dethrone Kota Ibushi to become the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion in a great match. Turning it off, I thought to myself how strange it was that I'd been watching it alone. Normally, when I watch the wrestling, I watch it with my special boy, Sven. Today, I hadn't seen him at all, which was especially unusual because he still hadn't had any breakfast, and he normally comes barrelling down the stairs for it as soon as I get home.
I asked my partner if she'd seen the special boy, and she replied that she hadn't seen him since 1am the night before. This was the point we started to get worried. While Sven enjoys going out and prowling the back yards, and he loves playing with the neighbour's dog, he always comes home at least once every couple of hours to show his face and get a snuggle. Normally, after his breakfast, he'll go for a nap on our bed until the early afternoon, yet here we were at half-one in the afternoon and neither of us had seen or heard from him for twelve hours. It perhaps isn't cause for alarm for most cats, but Sven is very much a creature of habit, and he is still a kitten, so the combination of him being gone for so long and not having had any breakfast was enough to raise the hackles.
I went for a walk around the neighbouring streets, tapping a fork off his steel food bowl - sound which normally causes him to come running home from wherever he is - and I checked the back yards and the alleyways, the car park and the streets, hoping to rouse his attention. There was no response, no nervous mewling of a kitten trapped in a shed, no excited meowing of a feline about to be fed, and no traces or hints of him being dead, which was the biggest relief for my increasingly-flustered head. None of the neighbours had seen him, not even the owners of the dog who is his best pal and who had been out in their garden all morning. It was like he'd vanished off the face of the earth.
He'll come home when he's ready, we kept telling ourselves. He's enjoying the sun, the first real sun he's experienced since getting to the age he could be let out. He's just gone for a wander and he'll be back before long. Such consoling thoughts, which do nothing at all to relieve the fear that something dreadful had happened. This behaviour was so unusual, so out-of-character, that my partner had enough of waiting and rang the vets, who hadn't heard anything. We both then put his photo up on Facebook requesting people keep an eye out, and the response blew me away.
So many people were sharing our boy's picture. Not just our friends, but strangers, businesses, the local animal refuge; it felt like my phone was going off every minute with somebody else sharing his photo in the hope they could help locate our Svennypoo. As soon as they saw the picture, my best mates, Dinga and Jeeves, were straight on the phone offering to come out searching with me to find him. If people thought we were over-reacting, they didn't show it; all we received was a mountain of kindness. After a few leads, my partner and I went out looking again, spreading the search area over a wider field, only to again draw a blank. Defeated, we retreated home, with the intention of going out again once it got darker and quieter outside.
As nightfall came, we were just getting ready to go out, when we heard a clatter at the back door. That beautiful, wonderful, magical clatter of our special boy strolling through the cat-flap, mewling his head off as if enraged we hadn't found him already, like it was a big game of hide-and-seek he'd been playing that we'd given up on. He's not the keenest on being picked up, but this time, he seemed to revel in the attention as we took turns cuddling him, the relief washing over us that he was okay. We put out some food for him, even some ham and chicken, but he didn't really eat anything bar a few treats. After about ten minutes, he went and curled up in his bed and slept for hours, before coming and snuggling up on the sofa with us after he'd rested, and he wouldn't leave us alone for the rest of the night.
We don't know where he'd been or what he'd been up to, but we did find out some interesting things about our special boy. Rather than sticking to the neighbouring back yards, like us and the neighbours believed, he regularly travels all the way to the allotments to tease and stare at the chickens in their hutches. Not only that, but he was apparently seen prowling around Thacka earlier in the day, far further than we thought he'd travelled before. He always comes running back so quickly when we call him or tap on his food bowl, so for him to be so far from home was a surprise! It's maybe not unusual for cats in general, but it was the first we've heard of him journeying so far. What we think happened is, he went out through the night and then, as the Easter traffic picked up and more people were out of the house in the nice weather, he got spooked and went further than he'd been before, and was too scared to try and get back because of the traffic and the volume of people that he was unused to. Him returning when the world quietened down, mixed with his skittishness and his lack of eating when he got home, would certainly lend itself to that theory. Whatever he'd been up to, it was such a relief to have him home safe and sound.
I just want to express my gratitude to everyone that shared his photograph, to those that gave us leads and especially to the people that offered to help us look for him. I've criticised social media a lot in my journals, and it was nice to be reminded of the positive impact it can have, and how it can bring people together. I believe, at their core, most people are good, and want to help other people. Sunday reaffirmed that belief to me, and it's something I need to try harder to remember. And as for Sven, I'm sure it won't be the last time he goes off gallivanting. My special boy is growing up, and that's something I need to learn how to deal with. At least I know, should anything really bad happen to him, there are people in this world that will help. The media will have you believe society is falling apart, but the people of Penrith keep proving that community still exists. Thank you all, it means the world.
It’s been a long time coming, far too late really, but Newcastle have finally shown up to the relegation battle. After weeks of looking like they were going to passively slip out of the Premier League without laying a glove on their rivals, the Magpies have decided that playing in the top flight next season is something worth striving for.
They may not have come away with a win from the game against Spurs, but they could well have come away with something much greater: confidence, unity, belief and hope. Had Emil Krafth stuck the ball out for a corner instead of trying to clear, they would probably have come away with all three points. Had Callum Wilson regained fitness and started over Dwight Gayle, they could easily have given Spurs a real thrashing. The cutting-edge that Wilson provides should return in the next week or two, and when it does, he’ll be returning to a team with a point to prove, who appear to be working collectively to succeed in their mission of survival.
He has – rightfully – received a lot of criticism from Newcastle fans this season, but Steve Bruce deserves a lot of credit for Sunday’s performance. He showed humility in restoring Sean Longstaff and Matt Ritchie to the team after having fallen out with both, and was rewarded by Ritchie vocally directing the traffic, demanding more from his team-mates and raising the effort levels and standards, and by Longstaff running the show in midfield. The absence of Longstaff from the team has been a bone of contention for a while, with his endless running and ability to dictate the play sorely missed from a Newcastle team that have spent weeks playing with no direction or control, and it was this passing ability that led to the breakthrough, with an inch-perfect ball creating an opportunity that even Joelinton couldn’t miss. While that good work was undone with two concentration lapses in five minutes that saw Spurs take the lead, Newcastle – lined-up in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Ritchie and Jacob Murphy as attacking wing-backs, and full-backs Dummett and Krafth as centre-backs either side of captain Jamaal Lascelles – showed the fortitude and desire that has been sorely lacking in recent weeks, keeping their heads high and refusing to accept defeat. As the game went on, it was Newcastle that looked the stronger, and it was no surprise when substitute Joe Willock fired in an equaliser from close range. In a pleasant change from recent matches, Newcastle continued to go forward in search of a winner. Though ultimately unsuccessful in their attempts, the performance, attitude and perseverance shown bodes well for the rest of the season.
There has been an awful lot to criticise about Newcastle this season, but this weekend, they deserve nothing but praise. With their backs against the wall, Bruce put the needs of the club ahead of his own feelings and selected the players needed to secure the result. The manner of performance was so vastly improved that a neutral bystander would wonder why Newcastle fans were so upset with the manager, as they tore into a Champion’s League-chasing outfit boasting the best striker in the land. Even after the introduction from the bench of Gareth Bale and Heung-Min Son, Newcastle refused to settle for a point, showing the endeavour and intent so demanded by the fans. They opened Spurs up on numerous occasions, creating opportunities that, had Wilson been on the end of them, would’ve seen a recreation of the famous 5-1 victory from 2016. The defensive lapses show that a weakness still exists, but should Federico Fernandez regain fitness and replace Krafth in the team, these should be nullified further. The performances and crosses of Ritchie and Murphy at wing-back enabled Newcastle to get balls into the box, creating the sort of opportunities Wilson will thrive on in the coming weeks, and highlighting how these two players simply must start going forward. Murphy, in particular, was a revelation, twisting Reguilon inside-out and whipping dangerous balls in whenever the opportunity presented, whether from deep or the goal-line. Indeed, in a week where the merits of Trent Alexander-Arnold being in the England squad have been debated, Murphy put in a performance reminiscent of the Liverpool starlet at his finest. Joelinton delivered both a goal and his best performance in a Newcastle shirt, staking a strong claim to be Wilson’s partner when the main man returns from injury. Miguel Almiron again underlined his importance to the team, with a tireless performance of energy, skill, endeavour and inspiration; should he eventually depart Newcastle this summer, performances like this would see him grace any team in the land.
Yet, for me, the star man was Longstaff. Returning to the starting team for the first time since January 12th, the local lad showed no signs of rustiness, getting on the ball and playing sharp, incisive passes from the opening whistle. His tempo-dictation gave Newcastle a control over proceedings they have lacked this season and, with Jonjo Shelvey having one of his more effective games beside him, provided the Magpies with the creativity and guile needed to carve open the team of one of football’s most notoriously-tough defensive managers, doing so in such a manner that provided an Expected Goals statistic of 3.86 goals, their highest of the season by some considerable margin. Longstaff was at the heart of everything good about Newcastle on Sunday, and will be central to their hopes of survival this season.
This performance cannot be an exception; it has to be the bare minimum, for the rest of this season and beyond. Another eight performances like that, and Newcastle will have no trouble achieving Premier League status for next season. After a season of despair, Newcastle have finally given their fans some hope. Better late than never.
Thank you for reading this post, and for your ongoing support. Feel free to add to the conversation in the comments section below or in the replies.
Song of the Chapter:
‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ by Metallica
Quote of the Chapter:
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”