All about Newcastle United!!!! Just another day on Planet Toon hilarious in parts... Paul Wilson Sunday September 4, 2005 The Guardian What a strange football club Newcastle United have become. Without wishing to dampen celebrations before Michael Owen has kicked a ball, you cannot tell me the England striker would not have been thinking something similar when he discovered that upwards of 15,000 people had nothing better to do on a Wednesday lunchtime than act as unpaid extras for a Sky Sports News party in the (St James') park. Most clubs just sign players and get on with their lives. There might be a press conference, even an autograph opportunity, but everywhere else except Planet Toon new players meet their new public at the first home match, a dignified and understated arrangement that has suited both parties down the years. When Manchester United signed Wayne Rooney they did so without a jamboree at the Stretford End. Most English clubs could have signed Pele in his pomp without feeling the need to parade him through the streets in an open-top bus, but one definitely gets the idea this is where Newcastle signing ceremonies could be heading. The club's habit of making trophy signings, pacifying supporters with players rather than the elusive and less easily bought silverware they crave, has been remarked on here before. Let us hope that does not turn out to be Owen's fate, though he must have cringed when Freddy Shepherd described his capture as his proudest moment since bringing Alan Shearer to Newcastle. Club chairmen are supposed to be proud of titles, or cup runs, or getting a side into Europe, not simply spending money on England centre-forwards. Especially when the last one had a Premiership title under his belt when he was Owen's age, but has yet to win a bean in nine years at Newcastle. Yet signing Shearer for £15million was a proud moment for Newcastle. He had had a successful Euro 96 and was being courted by Alex Ferguson. His decision to return to his roots was perhaps not the wisest of his career, but there is a place for romance in the game as well as medals and Manchester United. Newcastle were United's closest challengers at the time and no one thought it inappropriate to hold a love-in for Shearer at St James'. Shearer has been every inch the local hero. Shepherd sounds a touch desperate when he brackets the two signings together, for anyone can see that circumstances have changed. Newcastle are now one place from the bottom of the Premiership, not the top, and have yet to score a goal this season. Owen is not local, he belongs to Liverpool and made his preference to return to Merseyside plain. He might become a local hero in time, but what those 15,000 people in the stand were witnessing was the arrival of a player who had turned down Tyneside, only to find his options compromised by a combination of Liverpool's ambivalence, Real Madrid's poker-playing and Newcastle's willingness to pay over the odds. WHAT IS REALLY odd about Newcastle, apart from the fact that the centre-forward has taken to managing the club in his spare time, is that no one seems to have noticed this change in the landscape. Fans interviewed outside the ground willingly went along with the absurdly optimistic idea that spending £16m on a player no one else appeared to want would instantly end years of under-achievement and take the Toon straight into the Champions League. You wanted to slap the one who said it was a great day for the club. When Owen scores the winner in an FA Cup final, that will be a great day for the club. When Owen, Shearer, Shepherd or anyone else steers Newcastle to a first title since 1927 - yes, it has been that long- it will be a great day for the club. When a big club signs a major player, it's just another day.* So here's the crux of the matter, the question Owen has probably been wrestling with: are Newcastle a big club? Graeme Souness says they are, but he would. The honours board for the past half century suggests emphatically not. The conduct of players and directors in recent years has also left a lot to be desired. Which leaves the fans. St James' is a big place and when it is filled with 50,000 passionate Geordies you would struggle to find a bigger atmosphere anywhere in England. Apart from those unfortunate scenes a few years ago when Newcastle fans cemented their symbiotic relationship with Sky cameras by staying behind after defeats to blub on each other's shoulders the positive passion emanating from the terraces is what makes the Toon unique. Even when directors insult fans' intelligence or players come to blows on the pitch. The Geordies' loyalty in the face of all manner of disappointment is astounding. They may not be the most loyal fans in the country, that accolade might have to go to the thousands who watched Manchester City all the way to the second division, but they are the most remarkable. Since Matt Busby's original observation that you could put 11 black-and-white shirts on the St James' pitch and 30,000 Geordies would turn up to cheer, there have been several less charitable appraisals of the local passion. Cynics suggest Newcastle fans are over-loyal, blindly loyal, stupidly loyal or perhaps just stupid. Fortunately there is a more old-fashioned and innocent expression. Football daft. *Paul McCartney's first solo single success. And what does a former Beatle have to do with Mersey-Tyne transfers? A favourite footballer in the young McCartney household was Albert Stubbins, a Liverpool centre-forward of the early 1950s who made his name on Tyneside by scoring an astonishing 231 goals for Newcastle in 188 wartime appearances. Stubbins was not on the list of legendary Newcastle No 9s reeled off by Sven-Goran Eriksson in the wake of Owen's move, though he did make the cover of the Sgt Pepper album - between George Harrison and Marlene Dietrich.