England’s north east goes from hotbed to wasteland

March 25, 2009

Things are looking grim in the north east, England’s fabled “hotbed of soccer”. 

The phrase, if you are interested, was used for many years to describe the passion for football in the region before a scholarly book by reknowned journalist Arthur Appleton “Hotbed of Soccer – the story of football in the North East” was published in 1960 and told a mainly successful story.

If a similar tome was being written today, I’d suggest a more apt title might be “The Frozen Wasteland of Soccer — Under-Achievement, Broken Dreams and Very Few Trophies in the North East.”

A suitable sub-title? “Staring Relegation in the Face in 2009.”

With the end of the English Premier League season fast approaching, Newcastle United and Middlesbrough occupy two of the three relegation places with only seemingly-doomed West Bromwich Albion beneath them.

Sunderland, the region’s other major power, may appear to be safe in 14th spot, but they are only three points above Newcastle and five ahead of Boro.

One online betting service on Tuesday was offering odds of 25-1 that all three north east clubs will go down — and who knows, if West Brom launch the kind of miraculous escape they managed in 2005, that could still happen.

Clubs find themselves with relegation worries for all sorts of reasons — but generally it’s because they are not winning enough games. Sunderland have won just eight of their 30 league games, Newcastle and Middlesbrough have both won only six. Boro have scored only 21 league goals all season.

Sunderland and Newcastle have both changed managers, with Newcastle effectively having three bosses this season with Kevin Keegan’s replacement Joe Kinnear being sidelined with health concerns and making way for his assistant Chris Hughton last month.

Middlesbrough’s owner Steve Gibson said on Tuesday he had no intention of replacing coach Gareth Southgate, and despite the odd good performance like their recent win over Liverpool, Boro have at times looked woeful amd just one win in 19 league matches makes for ominous reading.

Of course this kind of disappointment is nothing new to the fans.

Since Newcastle won the FA Cup for the sixth time in 1955 — their third FA Cup victory in five seasons — they have won one major trophy — the old Inter Cities Fairs Cup in 1969.

Cup-winning captain Bobby Moncur joked this week it was so long ago the only photos they could find recording that event 40 years ago were black and white ones.

Middlesbrough famously never won a major trophy from the time they were formed in 1876 until they lifted the League Cup in 2004.

Sunderland, known as the “Team of All the Talents” in the 1890s because they were so successful, have won just one major honour in the last 72 years — the FA Cup in 1973.

However, the pain of all those years of failure will pale into insignificance if they go down — and at the moment I would bet that at least two of them will.

PHOTO: Newcastle United’s Michael Owen reacts after a missed opportunity during their English Premier League defeat against Arsenal, March 21, 2009. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

One comment

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It’s sad that the north east is of so little influence compared to the old days. But England is still the strongest competition in the world.Too bad that so many clubs are concentrated around London, though.

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