Steve Bruce's Newcastle are epitomised by his handling of Joelinton, with defeat at Sheffield United the final straw. The frustration that club makes Lawes feel led to him updating his website, while Call the Midwife also lifted his mood with their wonderful portrayal of someone with Down's syndrome.
I had a lovely day yesterday. The twins were on great form, full of laughter, joy and affection. My partner was starting to feel a little better after her illness. Sven was as loveable as ever. I played some online chess with my mate and, even though he hammered me from pillar to post, it was fun to play. I had a wonderful siesta, where the twins were as quiet as mice so I could get some rest. I even managed to get some university reading done, though there’s still no resolution on whether or not my funding will go through. Yesterday was a really good day.
Then that abomination of a football team had to ruin it all by being on the television.
I’ve tried to be supportive of Steve Bruce. I’ve pointed out that he lets Allan Saint-Maximin play in a manner which would never have been permitted under Rafa Benitez. I’ve mentioned about how any manager would struggle succeeding such an iconic figure, but the results were showing he did a decent job. I celebrated how he would always put out a strong team in the cup, and how we’d reached two quarter-finals in his eighteen months when we’d reached one in twelve years before his arrival. I even nicknamed him Big Game Brucey, due to his uncanny knack of getting a decent result against one of the better teams when you least suspected it. I’ve given Bruce a chance, far more than most people have, and I refuse to do it anymore.
He says his team are a work-in-progress, yet the more distance that is put between the Benitez era and his own, the more time he has to exert his influence on the squad, the worse they get. First, let’s look at the statistics. Fifth-lowest for clean sheets – down from sixth under Benitez. Third-lowest expected goals in the league. Third-lowest for sequences of ten or more passes. Third-lowest for shots taken, fourth-lowest for shots on target. Second-lowest for built-up attacks and pressed sequences. Worst in the league for high turnovers and opposition passes before a defensive intervention. Third-bottom for completed passes. Fifteenth for goals scored, with eighteen from seventeen games, despite Bruce possessing £100m-worth of attacking players in Joelinton, Almiron, Saint-Maximin and Wilson, with that figure not even including Gayle, Ritchie, Carroll or Fraser. The players are there, the ability is there, but under Bruce, by every conceivable statistic, they have gone backwards, and continue to do so at an alarming rate.
Football, though, is about more than statistics. It’s about passion, it’s about how the game makes you feel, it’s about lighting a fire inside you that makes you proud to support your team and look forward to the next match. Bruce’s Newcastle make you dread the next game. They make you wish the season was over. They leave you embarrassed to talk to your neutral mates after they watch you on the television. They sap every ounce of joy from a sport that you love. They leave you patronised by half-arsed pundits who barely watch highlights of our games. They leave you regretting that you ever cared about football at all, and it all came to a head on Tuesday night.
Sheffield United, before they played Newcastle, were the worst team in Premier League history. They had two points from seventeen games, from which they had scored just eight goals – two of which in one game. Behind their goal-shy attack, they have the third-worst defence in the league. They’re a hard-working bunch of journeymen, with no flair, no cutting-edge and no hope of survival, who over-performed last season due to a rabid crowd and who went off the rails as soon as fans were banned from attending games. There was nothing at all for Newcastle to be scared of; our terrible run of form, featuring just one goal from open play in nearly eleven hours, would surely end with a solid victory. It certainly would have done with any half-decent manager in charge, but Newcastle, we have statistically the worst manager in Premier League history, and he was bound to come up with something that underlined just why that is.
And boy, did he ever. He sent Newcastle out onto the field with a five-man defence that featured four centre-halves, shielded by three defensive midfielders in front of them. His only attacking support for Wilson, who has somehow managed to score eight goals this season – albeit four of them penalties – was Fraser, a five-foot-four unfit player who was thrust into the starting line-up without any match practice, despite having been out with a muscle injury. Almiron, benched. Ritchie, benched. Murphy, benched. Joelinton, benched. Carroll, benched. Gayle, benched. All-out defence against the worst attack, by some margin, in the league. The only attacking strategy being to hump it upfield to a man dwarfed by the defenders around him, with only one unfit player in support. In a must-win match against the worst team in Premier League history, Steve Bruce set up as if he was playing the 2012 Barcelona vintage with an under-eighteen team.
Of course, we lost. Of course, we played abysmally, even before the red card. It was always going to be the case, because Steve Bruce is a terrible football manager. For weeks, the lack of attacking structure has been apparent; the absence of Saint-Maximin exposing the inadequacies that have been growing over the course of the Bruce era. His infamous quote, “I’m not really into tactics,” grows to haunt him with each passing game, as a group of players honed by one of the finest tactical minds in football lose more and more respect for a charlatan flying by the seat of his pants, the flaws that were obvious almost a decade ago exacerbated even further by the passage of time and the increased live coverage of the game. Steve Bruce has nowhere left to hide. If he was the Newcastle fan he claims to be, he’d want himself fired.
You look at Joelinton, and you wonder how much of his struggles are down to his own ability. No player reflects Steve Bruce’s management more than the Brazilian record-signing. Maybe, with a different manager, his raw abilities would have been nurtured. Maybe his weaknesses would have been addressed, his strengths would have been accentuated, and his confidence would have been built-up. Maybe, during the early months when he was struggling for form and belief, he would’ve been rotated out of the team, and the young import would have been able to find his bearings in a new country, developing his understanding of the high-paced English game while playing in a position suited to his skills. Under Steve Bruce, he was handed an iconic shirt that brings such a unique set of demands, far beyond what Joelinton was capable of appreciating or what he was equipped to deal with. He was hung out to dry each week, a deep-lying wide forward expected to play as a lone striker with the nearest support thirty yards away. He had no instruction, no attacking structure with which to grow into, no clear set of guidelines on how to perform his role to maximise the positive outcomes for both himself and the team. Joelinton’s career, at the pivotal moment, fell into the hands of Steve Bruce, and now he is seen as nothing more than a punchline.
Steve Bruce’s handling of Joelinton reflects his handling of Newcastle United as a whole. People say we’re sleepwalking into a relegation battle, but everyone’s eyes are wide open, everyone knows full well what is going to happen. The only question is how quickly Mike Ashley acts. Leave it as late as he did McClaren and Newcastle will be relegated for a third time in twelve years. The takeover hopes will end, there will be no instant return, and the fans, having had a year out of the stadium, will stay away. Whether the dithering Ashley can show uncharacteristic decisiveness is the only question; if he does, he must buck the trend of appointing failed English managers and appoint someone with a vision. Failure to do so, and Newcastle United will go down, will stay down, and will cease to be relevant. It’s that simple.
A few people recently have commented that my website design was an issue for them. What you write is good, they say, but white text on a black background is painful for the eyes, and it makes it hard to read. Needing a distraction from the anger and frustration of the football, I reflected upon my website. When I first created it, I was a young lad struggling badly with mental illness; desperate to find a place in the world, yet with too many barriers to being a part of it, I built a website to reflect how I felt inside. I wanted it to be challenging. I wanted it to be edgy, to be punk, to be confrontational. I wanted people to work to read what I was saying, I wanted them to put in the effort.
Now, eight years on, I’m not that person anymore. I’m not someone desperately trying to be rebellious, cool or unique. I’m someone that has been through a pretty unique experience with regards mental health, one that has shaped how I see the world pretty strongly. I’m also someone that seems to have a knack to write things that engage people, or that reflect how they feel about themselves and their own experiences. Too many people over the years have told me, ‘you said what I feel and cannot say,’ for it to be a coincidence, and I like that. I like that, for whatever reason, I’ve been blessed with a gift to marry words to emotions when it comes to things people struggle to verbalise. Knowing my writing has helped people, has made their own mental health battle a little easier, is one of my proudest achievements.
The website I had proved a barrier to people being able to read it, and I don’t wish to be deliberately challenging for people to know any more. I want people to be able to read things I write, and it makes sense to have a website that facilitates that. I’ve spent a good thirteen hours over these last two days rebuilding LawesDisorder.com, making it more welcoming, more professional and friendlier to the reader. I feel it reflects who I am today so much better than the website I built eight years ago. I really like the new design, especially the little Favicon that appears now instead of the blue Weebly logo. I hope you like my new website, too, and I hope it encourages you to stick around, have a look through Disorderly Thoughts and the Lawes Report and to come back in the future.
I think that will probably do for today, but before I conclude this chapter, I just want to make a quick reference to Call the Midwife. My partner has been binging the box-set of this programme a lot this week, which has been ideal for me because it’s given me the space to spend a lot of time writing and working on my website. It’s a programme I’ve seen a few episodes of and, though it’s not something I think I will ever binge, I enjoy every episode I actually focus on. My favourite characters are Phyllis, who I think would grace any show she was in, and Minty from EastEnders, whose name in this show I can never remember. The episode last night that stole my attention featured Minty and his wife taking in their nephew, whose mother had died and who has Down’s syndrome. As someone who has spent the majority of their working life supporting adults with learning disabilities, it was a story that was always going to steal my attention. I despaired when it looked like Minty was going to send him to the awful hospital to live, shouting at the telly that he couldn’t do it. I was relieved when he drove away, adamant Reggie, the young man with Down’s, would never go to the hospital. I shed a tear when they found a community home where Reggie would be respected, would be treated as an equal, and would be given every opportunity to thrive, and I cheered when he returned in the next episode. I thought Call the Midwife handled that story really well, and it filled my heart with joy.
Also, while people will claim Morgan Freeman is the greatest narrator of all time, I feel those people underestimate Vanessa Redgrave. Her voice adds so much to the tone and quality of the programme, and I think she is outstanding in the role. If you’re one of those that think Freeman is the best, give Redgrave a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.
I’m going to end this Lawes Report here. What was meant to be a weekly column has already seen three entries in six days, a pace I’m unsure I’ll maintain, but one that reflects how much fun I’m having writing these essays. If you have any comments, advice, opinions or suggestions, please leave them in the comments below, or contact me through my social media channels or the Contact form.
Thank you for your support,
Song of the Chapter:
My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down
(Bonzo Goes To Bitburg)
by The Ramones
Quote of the Chapter:
“It is better, by noble boldness, to run the risk of being subject to half the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what might happen”