by : Hugh Larkin
There is little point in comparing past players – both sides have had many great players and we have even shared 3 in more recent times – Waddle, Gazza and Ginola – the fact that all three are legends at both clubs says something about the style of football demanded by both sets of fans.
Current squads are also quite interesting to compare – Spurs have brought together an entirely new team in the last 12 months – acquiring along the way some of the best young English talent around – all very promising for the future but some are unlikely to play much in the next season or so – a new striker to support Defoe and Keane (if he stays) is needed. Souness inherited the basis of a good squad but needs to strengthen the defence and find long term replacements for Bellamy/Shearer/Kluivert up front. The Newcastle mid-field looks young but good with Jenas, Parker, Dyer, Ambrose and Milner all competing for places – Nicky Butt looked like a spent force to me – just as Poyet was in his last season at Spurs.
My favourite way of comparing squads is to consider the best possible team/squad and see which side supplies the most players. How many Newcastle players today could oust their Tottenham equivalent? In defence only Carr (and only just) edges out Kelly in my opinion. In midfield it is a much tougher call but Dyer and Jenas with Carrick and one of Parker, Routledge or Reid looks good to me. Up front the only question is who should partner Defoe and for one season only the answer has to be Shearer. On the bench the choice is too big but Given and Keane are musts with the other three places something we could all argue about for a long time. So for me – trying to be honest and fair-minded Spurs players edge out Newcastle players in terms of numbers – but only because Spurs have Robinson and King and Newcastle lack a dominant centre-back.
Last but not least we should consider prospects and trajectories. To my way of thinking Newcastle have just begun to decline – despite a good cup run (including a slightly fortunate victory over Spurs) Newcastle finished the season poorly with low morale due to a number of ‘player issues’ – Bellamy, Dyer, Bowyer, Robert – and a less than happy dressing room. Whether Souness can arrest and reverse this decline is unclear but the squad needs strengthening and a new strike force needs to be acquired. I am not sure Souness is the long term manager most Newcastle fans want or need but a tough character who will sort out the discipline issues at the club is needed right now and Souness fits the bill. Spurs fans, after too many false dawns, seem to have finally found a manager that can unite not just the players but also the fans and staff together in a common cause. For the first time in a long time we have good reason to feel genuinely optimistic about the future – the team’s trajectory is upward.
Right now I honestly think Spurs fans have, for the first time in years, more substantive reasons for looking forward to next season than their Newcastle equivalents.
No doubt about the most striking fixture to open the new season in League One on 2nd August. 25 years ago Nottingham Forest opened the campaign as reigning European champions but the two time winners must begin the climb back with a home match against Huddersfield Town. In the same division will be MK Dons who, in their former guise, weren’t even a League club in 1980.
It will be a new experience for travelling Forest fans as the team checks in at destinations like Hartlepool and Yeovil (another outside the League in 1980), two sides who have never experienced life outside the lower divisions. Their first fixture on the road though will be at the comparatively familiar Walsall on the Tuesday after.
Walsall visit Rotherham on the opening weekend as the Millers get reacquainted with life down the leagues after a rare four years in English football’s second tier. The same feelings will afflict Gillingham fans who have enjoyed the club’s best ever spell in its moderate history- five unprecedented campaigns in the second tier which only came to an end after a dogged battle against the drop. With all due respect to Colchester United, their visit on the first Saturday will quickly bring Gills supporters back down to earth.
On a different level the fans of Yeovil Town are still embarked on a big adventure. The Glovers are starting their first campaign at this level and have pulled out the plum of an away game at Oldham Athletic for the opener. This is a tremendous result because Oldham were a very recent Premiership club but more especially because getting the visit to Ice Station Boundary Park out of the way before winter sets in is a real bonus.
Mixed feelings on Day One at Griffin Park where Brentford fans will still be wondering about what might have been in the playoffs while Scunthorpe’s followers will have the chance to see the Iron out of the bottom division for the first time in five long years. Plus, Peter Beagrie will still be teasing defenders for the club, even into his 40th year.
A couple of heavyweights square off on the opening day when Doncaster Rovers head for the West Country. Bristol City and their visitors are both teams who expect to be in the shake-up at the end of the season and Rovers can be expected to take a very big following to see Dave Penney’s improvers take on the Robins.
Chesterfield go to Blackpool where they survived on the last day two seasons ago. The Spireites have become a fixture in the lower reaches of this division in the past few years, unable to move upwards but just managing to escape the drop. Money is still tight at Saltergate and an early away win would do much to boost the morale of their long suffering fans.
Promoted Swansea City open against Tranmere Rovers and with Kenny Jackett awarded a new contract, plus the prospect of a new ground and the FAW Cup also in the trophy room, these are exciting times in South Wales. Lee Trundle gets the chance to ply his tricks at a higher level and Andy Burgess’s signing from Rushden shows the Swans mean business.
Hartlepool will try to use their near promotion to League One as a springboard to a successful run again. Bradford City, who should have finished higher last season, are their opening day visitors. Swindon make the trek to Barnsley for a clash of two ex-Premiership clubs who appear to have little hope of reaching that status again. Southend and Port Vale meet in match between two sides who will probably be happy with a mid-table finish.
Finally, the unloved MK Dons start another year at the National Hockey Stadium trying to persuade the Northamptonshire public that League football has a future in the town of roundabouts and concrete cows. Danny Wilson and his players did their bit with a late ‘Houdini’ act but the fixture committee hasn’t given them the hoped for Forest for an opener. Instead, Bournemouth provide the opposition as the inevitable survival battle kicks off again.