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North East 'expectations' are a footballing fairy story - and a corrosive one at that

By Mark Douglas on Dec 5, 11 05:01 PM


GRAEME Souness is making rather a better fist of being a perceptive pundit than he ever did as a manager, but his column this week made for difficult reading.

It opened up with the following sentiment: "Steve Bruce paid the price of the high expectations in the North East."

Now Souness, who was an unmitigated failure during his time at Newcastle United, no doubt has his own reasons for bashing the region but he is far from alone in furthering some pretty far-fetched ideas about football up here.

The sacking of Bruce - deserved as it was - seems to have tapped into this popular misconception that the North East is somehow devoid of any sense of perspective. Geordie Bruce, a good guy who was in way over his head, hardly helped by advancing the theory that Black Cats supporters dreamt of a Champions League challenge while he was in charge at the Stadium of Light - but he is in good company in misunderstanding the rhythms of the North East football scene.

Seven days ago, Sir Alex Ferguson penned a lengthy diatribe against the local North East media, reckoning we engender expectations that are too big and wield far too much influence in boardrooms and the terraces.

It doesn't stop there. One national newspaper column labelled Sunderland fans "bigots" for the way they reacted to the Wigan defeat, setting the tone for a week where the North East seemed to be portrayed as some kind of footballing twilight zone.

Well lets nail that hoary old expectation thing for a start. For while it is true that the North East is an exceedingly demanding place to play football, the demand of the fan or writer is not to deliver a trophy, a top four place or constant success.

It is for a team that represents the values of the region - hard work, commitment, bravery and a bit of ingenuity and invention. Get those things right and generally you reap the rewards.

Don't believe me? How about the fact St James' Park broke into spontaneous applause at the third Chelsea goal on Saturday? That was a reflection of their support and belief in this Newcastle team - not the greatest collection of star names but a collective prepared to dig deep and represent the black and white with distinction.

Supporters are more than aware of their position in the greater scheme of things. Most United fans contacting me on my Twitter account seem to want the club to sign Montpellier's Olivier Giroud in January. Hardly a global name, is he?

It is a lesson I hope Martin O'Neill has heeded ahead of tomorrow's official unveiling. His early promise - that he would work as hard as possible to bring success to Sunderland - is a good sign, as is the fact that he is aware of the Black Cats history.

Supporting a team from these parts isn't necessary to win you the respect of supporters but it isn't asking too much to try and understand what makes our clubs tick if you're working up here. Alan Pardew made it a priority - appointing John Carver and soaking up the history and tradition of the North East. It has helped him to turn around public opinion.

It is true that the North East is a unique area when it comes to football, and it is not always a force for good. The crowds are the envy of most clubs while the passion for the game can be frightening at times - not least the vicious edge that has developed in the rivarly between Newcastle and Sunderland.

It is a unique and powerful force that, as yet, has not been channeled into success in the modern era. And some big names - and even bigger egos - have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps it is difficult for someone like Souness or Sam Allardyce to admit that it was their own failings, rather than the press or fans, that meant they could not thrive in these parts.

Instead they are happy to fuel the expectation and delusion myth that reared its ugly head again last week. It is wrong, and the fact that so many big name players and managers continue to want to ply their trade in the North East illustrate that even those within the game know it is baloney.

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