Chapter Ten: Glenn Roeder Tribute, Darts Tips for 2021, Newcastle's Injury Crisis and Something Nice That Happened Today
This latest journal entry pays tribute to Glenn Roeder, the former Newcastle player and manager. I also name five darts players I think will shine this year, comment on how Newcastle's injury crisis should be seen as an opportunity, and finish with a nice story that made me smile.
We start this entry with the sad news of Glenn Roeder, the former Newcastle United player and manager, having passed away on Sunday of a brain tumour. This news hit me particularly hard, because Roeder is a man I’ve always respected. The season he came in as caretaker manager, he took over a club in sixteenth and turned them around, winning ten and drawing two of fifteen matches while smashing Sunderland on their own ground in the process, before sealing a remarkable European place by beating champions Chelsea on the final day with a Titus Bramble scissor-kick. Despite having to replace the legendary Alan Shearer up-front and suffering from the worst injury crisis in Newcastle’s history, Roeder refused to complain, instead taking the opportunity to promote several young players, including Tim Krul and Andy Carroll, who have gone on to have very good careers, and guiding Newcastle to the last-sixteen of the UEFA Cup, going out only via the away-goals rule. When he was –unfairly, in my eyes – removed as Newcastle manager, I actually wrote a letter to him, to express my gratitude for everything he had done for the club throughout his career, to say how unfair I felt his dismissal was and to wish him all the best for the future. He is the only Newcastle manager I have ever felt compelled to do that for, and it’s purely down to the kind of man he was, and the way he conducted himself and set an example for everyone.
The tributes that have poured out since reflect that: the journalists that, to a man, say how kind he was to them; the former team-mates who describe him as a gentleman; the players he managed, who thanked him for looking after them, giving them their debuts and opportunities to play for clubs they loved. Don Hutchison tells the story of how, when his father died, Roeder remained on the telephone to him for the full five-hour journey home, making sure he was as ok as could be. He became a father figure to Paul Gascoigne, even promising to move to Italy with him when he moved to Lazio, before the year-long delay of the transfer left that impossible, and he refused to profit off stories of the young Gazza by writing an autobiography. When football clubs were asked to donate wages to nurses struggling financially in 2007, Roeder asked a nurse to do a presentation to the players on their daily tasks, and his team were the only one to donate two weeks’ wages. There are countless more tributes to the man, over social media and in the press, and all of them describe a man who put others first, who was gentle, caring and honest, and who carried himself with the greatest of dignity and class. The world is a lesser place without Glenn Roeder in it.
I’m looking forward to the PDC Darts resuming this weekend. The UK Open is one of my favourite competitions, with the unseeded draw making for a very exciting few days. With that in mind, I decided to make a list of five players I fancy to do well in 2021. What doing well means is relative – for a young gun, getting to the semi-final of a major competition would represent doing well, whereas for one of the big names, anything less than a win is unsatisfactory. These aren’t necessarily based on statistics; it’s as much a list of who I’m supporting as it is one of whom I think will dominate the darting world. Even so, I expect all five of these players to have a good season, to rise in the rankings and win at least one tournament – even if it is a non-televised one for the lower-ranked players.
Honourable mentions go out to Steve Lennon, Max Hopp, Ryan Searle, Daryl Gurney and Michael van Gerwen, all of whom I like and fancy to do well this season, yet have just missed out on making my official list of ones to watch.
UK & Ireland Rising Star: CHRIS DOBEY
Dobey was my official pick to break through last season following semi-final appearances at the 2019 World Grand Prix and European Championships yet, for whatever reason, he struggled for form throughout the year, failing to qualify for the Masters, the World Matchplay, the European Championships or the Grand Slam of Darts, and being knocked out in the first round of the Player’s Championship Finals and the World Grand Prix. He was my official ‘one-to-watch’ last season and, despite his poor showing, with tournaments being more regular and fans hopefully returning throughout the season, I’m picking him to make the advances I thought he’d make last season. An exciting player, for whom the sky is the limit. For this year to be seen as a success, he has to make a televised final, going one stage further than his two semi-final defeats in 2019. With a bit of luck in the draw, he could even achieve that this weekend.
Rest of World Rising Star: MARTIN SCHINDLER
The man they call The Wall has so far struggled to break through in the PDC, qualifying only for the UK Open last season and, UK Open aside, never having made it past Round One in a major singles competition. He has made it to the Quarter-Finals of the World Cup of Darts twice, alongside Max Hopp, and the time has come to step out of his team-mate’s shadow. A sterling performance at Q-School saw him hit a nine-dart finish against Raymond van Barneveld, while also hitting a Q-School record three-dart average of 123.53 – a score higher than both the televised world record average of 123.4 from Michael van Gerwen, and the broadcast world record average of 123.50 achieved by Peter Wright. Heading into the only singles tournament of which he’s made it past the first round, he faces a tough opening game against Berry van Peer then a real challenge against Jeff Smith; should he bring his Q-School form, there’s no reason he can’t beat both men, and go on to exceed his previous best finish of Round Five. The bigger aim for Schindler this year must be to cement himself inside the top-64 and get back to the World Championships; with his undeniable ability, anything less would have to be seen as a failure.
Wild Card: DIRK VAN DUIJVENBODE
For Dirk van Duijvenbode, this season is all about making sure last year wasn’t a one-off. He went from not having qualified for a non-UK Open televised tournament for four years to qualifying for them all bar the Masters, reaching the quarter-finals in the European Championships and the Player’s Championship Finals and the Final of the World Grand Prix, a dream year that nobody could have seen coming. The challenge for the Aubergenius this year is to prove 2020 wasn’t a fluke, and to seal a first tournament victory, something which is well within his grasp.
Fallen Star: RAYMOND VAN BARNEVELD
Raymond van Barneveld, a five-time world champion, rescinded his retirement and earned his tour card back with several ton-plus averages at Q-School last month. He followed that up by winning a Player’s Championship event in his first weekend back, both of which suggest van Barneveld has regained the Eye of the Tiger. Whether he can continue his revival throughout an arduous season remains to be seen, and there’s a chance it could all end in tears, but his first major event since his return to darts is in a tournament he won back-to-back in 2006 and 2007, giving him a great opportunity to remind everyone just who Raymond van Barneveld is. Retiring after a deeply-disappointing 2019 and a first-round World Championship exit was never going to sit well with such an esteemed competitor, and I back his desire to end his career as a champion. With no televised tournament win since 2014’s Premier League, it will be a tough challenge for van Barneveld, but one he is more than capable of rising to.
Big Gun: GARY ANDERSON
I will forever love Gary Anderson for hitting a nine-darter at the Matchplay while I was in attendance, giving me and my friends an experience unlike no other that we never thought we’d have. That bit of bias aside, I’m backing Anderson to be the star of the year based purely on his ability and performance. Having struggled with injury in recent years and having developed a reputation as a bit of a moaner, it’s easy to forget just how good Gary Anderson is. Unplayable on his day, his darts seem drawn to the treble-20 like they are being drawn in by magnets, while his inconsistency on the doubles ensures all his matches have an element of drama and the potential for an upset. His rival Gerwyn Price may have stolen a march over him with victory in the World Championship Final, and he may now be ranked number one in the world, but that will serve only to drive the Flying Scotsman on. One of the Big Four in darts alongside Gerwyn Price, Michael van Gerwyn and Peter Wright, an Anderson with injury complaints and struggling for motivation given the restrictions enforced by the pandemic still made it to the final of the World Matchplay and the World Championships, while also losing in the semi-finals to the eventual winners of the Premier League and the Masters. With his injury problems seemingly behind him, I am fully backing Anderson to win at least one of the major tournaments in darts, and to go on to become only the third man to win three PDC World Championships.
There’s a lot of consternation among Newcastle fans this week, with Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron joining Callum Wilson in the injury room, meaning Newcastle will be without their first-choice front three for several games. While large sections of the fan base feel this condemns us to relegation, I do not share this sentiment. There’s no doubt missing three attacking players of that calibre is damaging to the club’s chances, but it also presents a massive opportunity to the fringe players, and to the management team, to boost their reputations by winning games in the absence of the three main men.
Ryan Fraser should start in place of Allan Saint-Maximin and, while he does not have the trickery and flair of the mercurial Frenchman, what he does have is blistering pace, a point to prove and, perhaps, the best cross in the club. He may not be as flamboyant to watch as Saint-Maximin, but few people in the footballing world are. He may, however, prove to be even more effective, with Saint-Maximin’s unpredictable nature as likely to cause frustration for his team-mates as opportunities at goal. Almiron is harder to replace, but in Matty Longstaff and Elliot Anderson are two young, talented attacking midfielders that have been crying out for a chance to impress; the absence of the Paraguayan playmaker is the perfect opportunity to rotate the two for a few weeks, giving them both plenty of game-time and giving a stale team something fresh, energetic and exciting to reinvigorate a horrible campaign. As for who should be starting up-front, there’s only one answer, and that is Dwight Gayle. This bizarre Joelinton experiment continues to provide nothing to the team after eighteen long, turgid months; with goals at a premium, starting the only natural goalscorer fit on Newcastle’s books, one whose contract expires in three months and has a massive point to prove, is the only sensible thing to do.
Of course, whether Bruce has the nous, the courage, the humility and the cojones to do that remains to be seen, with the Newcastle manager more interested in protecting his own reputation, sparring with journalists and blaming fans who have been absent from St. James’ Park for a year than taking courageous decisions and actually guiding Newcastle to safety; his complete dismissal of tactics and the urgency of the situation continues to rankle and, whether Newcastle stay up or are relegated, his removal as manager is essential and surely inevitable. For Mike Ashley to gamble a £300m+ takeover fee and £150m+ in television rights for the sake of avoiding a £1m payoff to Steve Bruce simply beggars belief; right now, expectations are so low that Newcastle fans would be happy with new assistant manager Graeme Jones being named as acting head coach. If Ashley wants to give Newcastle the best chance of protecting his investment for the cheapest possible price, paying Steve Bruce to go on gardening leave and promoting Jones gives a better opportunity to do that than remaining as we are.
Christ, how low standards have fallen at Newcastle.
I want to end this entry with a nice thing that happened to me today. In August, I published The FPL Nightmare: How to Lose the World’s Greatest Mini-League in 38 Simple Steps as an eBook for Kindle and the Kindle smartphone app. After some early sales and nice reviews, mainly to and from my friends in the mini-league, the sales dried up and I started thinking less and less about it, focusing more on writing the blogs for this season that will eventually comprise its sequel. That was until this morning, when I woke up to a lovely review from Twitter user Jeishee, who posted a tweet saying:
“Ended up laughing myself to sleep immersed in The FPL Nightmare by @FPLNightmare. A truly great book - funny, relatable and touching. My new life goal is to join the League of Gentlemen mini-league. His weekly blog has given me life. Couldn’t recommend enough. Five stars.”
What a wonderful, unexpected thing to happen. It has lifted my mood today and given me new drive to continue with the FPL Nightmare series; my woeful season has made this season’s entries a lot less fun to write, and I had contemplated wrapping it up at the end of the season. Knowing it has reached people I don’t know, that it has appeal – even limited – outside of the people in my league, makes me think it’s something that’s worth sticking with. And who knows, maybe next season, someone in the League of Gentlemen will win the whole game, and the publishers will come flocking to my door, desperate to be the ones to snap up the rights to the most unlikely diary ever kept of the fantasy game that continues to grow in popularity and notoriety. Unlikely, maybe, but until it doesn’t happen, I’m going to keep on dreaming that it might, and trying my best to make sure that Gentleman who wins the whole game is me.
I hope you have a good week, and thank you all for your continued support.
Video of the Chapter:
Gary Anderson’s Nine-Darter,
from the 2018 World Matchplay.
Quote of the Chapter:
“She had been given a wonderful gift: life. Sometimes it was cruelly taken away too soon, but it's what you did with it that counted, not how long it lasted.”