When Sunderland pulled off their annual great escape last night and relegated Newcastle United from the Premier League, there was plenty of mocking.
The entire internet made the same ‘Rafa Benitez has gone from managing Real Madrid to managing in the Championship in less than a year’ joke, and Sam Allardyce himself even pulled off a half-arsed Hulk Hogan impression.
But when the dust settles and everyone’s jokes dry up, the Premier League will be a worse place without Newcastle United.
A club that captured everyone’s hearts in the mid 1990s in a similar way to Leicester City have this season, Kevin Keegan’s ‘entertainers’ became everyone’s favourite second team.
But in recent years – since 2007 in fact – it’s all been downhill for the Magpies.
Mike Ashley’s tenure has turned one of the country’s biggest clubs into a laughing stock, and even managed to suck some of the belief around St James Park out of the city.
Now, when you go to NE1, the faithful Geordies will still pack out their incredible stadium (despite it being littered with hundreds of Sports Direct stickers), but there’s no sense of belief amongst fans.
They know that they’re being taken for a ride by an owner that’s purely in the football industry for the money, but their love for the club ensures they’ll still be there every week.
Speaking of money, Ashley will miss out on the new TV deal that kicks in from next season, as Newcastle face trips to Burton Albion rather than the Etihad.
That would seemingly move the sportswear tycoon one step closer to selling up, but in a rare TV interview little over a year ago, he confirmed he would not be leaving anytime soon.
I shan’t be selling it until we do [win something]. The club is not for sale at any price.
And by the way, when I say win something, if we ever get in a position where we qualify for the Champions League, that also qualifies as winning something.
From this day forward, we’ll definitely be making our own luck.
I’m not going anywhere until we win something.
Does winning the Championship next season count, Mike?
Newcastle’s second relegation in seven years is potentially devastating.
The division is littered with former Premier League clubs who have never returned to the top flight. Fulham, Blackburn Rovers (former PL winners), Wolves, the list is almost endless. Bolton Wanderers were playing European football less than a decade ago, now they’re in League One alongside Port Vale.
When the Geordies last went down, they were lucky to have key players at the club with the right attitude to get them back to where they belonged.
Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and emerging youngster Andy Carroll dragged the club back to the top table by the scruffs of their necks, notably assisted by cult heroes like Shola Ameobi and Peter Lovenkrands.
Now, they have the likes of Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Papiss Cisse, who will all have instructed their agents to find them new clubs.
It’s ironic that Newcastle’s overzealous scouting of the French league brought them flop signings like Florian Thauvin and Emmanuel Riviere, while other teams around them picked out the likes of Dimitri Payet.
Even Sunderland managed to find Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Kone from Ligue 1, two players that have transformed the club since arriving in January.
Newcastle turned to England internationals Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend, but – as it was with their managerial switch – too little, too late.
Should they stay, Shelvey and Townsend will face an interesting away day to Elland Road, home of Leeds United – a club the absolute epitome of what Newcastle United might become.
Newcastle didn’t stay in the division because of a lack of heart. That’s what keeps Sunderland up every season, despite their obvious lack of talent.
Heart wins derbies, hence their record of six straight wins over their rivals.
Heart is what you need to survive in a dogfight.
Heart is what Newcastle United do not have.
If they find it from somewhere, they’ll be back before long.
Let’s hope they do.