Enduring the crazy in loony Toon town

I GOT a call the other day to inform me that the boys who present ‘Football Crazy’ on UCC campus radio are celebrating 50 editions today and, as I relayed my congratulations, it struck me that, in a week which began with Chris Hughton getting the elbow at Newcastle and ended with his replacement Alan Pardew being handed a five-and-a-half year contract, they might well boast the most aptly named show in sports broadcasting.

The shock and sadness at Hughton’s brutal dismissal have quickly given way to astonishment and disbelief at the appointment of his successor. Crazy is about the right word for it, alright. As someone wittily put it: so dramatically were eyebrows raised on Tyneside, that they practically crossed the border into Scotland.

Obviously, Alan Pardew isn’t lacking in experience but to the long-suffering Toon Army he’s a real nowhere man as opposed to the marquee name they believe their historic and hysterical club deserves — and whose appointment would have gone at least some way to softening the blow of the hugely popular Hughton’s departure. Instead, few gaffers can ever have begun a new job in less propitious circumstances. A Tyneside poll this week showed that, at 2%, Pardew’s approval rating is lower even than Brian Cowen’s. And that’s before he even starts work. As one supporter put it: Newcastle would have been better off with Alan Partridge than Alan Pardew.

Perhaps most ominously for the club is the fact that man himself seems to share a lot of these concerns. Again, few new gaffers are obliged to spend their first day on the job talking about how their fellow professionals thought they were “mad” to take the gig before going on to reveal that, even on the way into the office, they considered turning the car around and taking flight.

And it was almost touching when Pardew said that if, as expected, the supporters show their displeasure at the sacking of Chris Hughton at St James’ Park today — when Liverpool are the visitors — the most he can ask for is “a nice protest”.

But he really hit the nail firmly on the head when he admitted that the personal PR battle is effectively unwinnable — all he can try to do to stem the tide of disapproval is help a shell-shocked team to win a few football matches. And if he does that, football supporters being the fickle folk that they are, Alan Pardew might yet survive his baptism of fire. But you wouldn’t be betting on it.

What is it with Mike Ashley? Having gone through managers at a rate of knots, Newcastle decide to dispense with the first one in years to bring a real measure of stability to the club. You can’t help thinking that Ashley is like an overgrown toddler who, having finally mastered the art of putting one block on top of another, decides that nothing will do for it now only to bring the whole tower crashing to the ground.

But surely there was a missed opportunity here, a veritable gaping goal. I mean, if you have an appetite for self-destruction, or at least a taste for the pyrotechnical, why not go the whole hog? In short: why not appoint Diego Armando Maradona?

Yes, our old friend is not only still out of work but has been talking recently about how he’d love to manage in the Premier League. Although he did add: “The only problem is all the clubs I like have very good managers.” Then again, he was speaking before the changing of the guard on Tyneside, so maybe there’s still time for Ashley to put in a call.

Just think of the magnificent madness which would ensue if Maradona and the Magpies got into bed together. That fantastic vision is reinforced by a memorable interview in the current issue of ‘FourFourTwo’ in which, among many other glittering nuggets, the great man reveals that he wears a beard because he was bitten on the chin by his sick dog; tells how, as a young player, he was on the brink of signing for Sheffield United; and calls Argentina’s General Manager Carlos Bilardo a ‘Thermos Head’ (“It’s one of my expressions: it means dumb, stupid, ugly”).

But my favourite bit is when he reveals that he scored a second goal with his hand.

“It was for Napoli against Udinese,” he recalls.

“After I scored, Zico comes running over to me and says, ‘Diego, you must tell the referee that you scored with your hand, otherwise you’re not being honest’. So I held out my hand and said, ‘Nice to meet you, Zico, I’m Diego Dishonest Maradona’.”

See, Thierry? That’s how you do it. Not by sitting down on the pitch with poor Richard Dunne and pretending to be all sympathetic, like.

Meanwhile, we can only regret that given a choice between the ‘Hand Of God’ and a safe pair of hands, Newcastle have opted for the latter.

Not that hands or even heads can ever be considered safe at St James’ Park, of course.

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