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Newcastle United fan Q&A: Benitez is repairing our fractured club

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez

HITC speaks to Newcastle United fan Marc Jobling, who's been a supporter for 20 years.

General view outside St James' ParkGeneral view outside St James' Park

Q: What have you made of your team’s start to the season?

A: After losing the first two games to Fulham and Huddersfield I feared the worst. But we’ve just completed a relentless streak of eight consecutive wins and remain ahead of Brighton, despite Saturday’s shock home loss to Blackburn. That’s my main concern – we’re prone to silly defeats and already have as many as our last Championship season (four). Yet we have one point more, due to a startling ability to not draw matches – just one in eighteen.

Q: What are your opinions on your manager?

A: Rafa is phenomenal. And, after years of sitting through Kinnear, Pardew, Carver and McClaren, I feel like our fanbase have earnt this genuinely world-class manager revolutionising our club. He’s been a breath of fresh air and has gone a long way to repairing the fractured club-fan relationship. Benitez is beloved and he’ll never have to pay for a pint up here! Football-wise, his rotation can be frustrating but we tend to grind out wins based solely on solid defensive work, which is unheard of for this club. Confidence has returned, backed up by an EFL Cup run, and it feels like we’re on our way to finally meeting our potential.

Newcastle United manager Rafael BenitezNewcastle United manager Rafael Benitez

Q: What are your views on the board?

A: It will take a lot for Mike Ashley to ever be cheered or actively supported by our fans but it says a lot that he’s been quiet for a while. Day-to-day operations are with Lee Charnley, who Rafa seems to enjoy working with, and the revolution is forming at every level. Even the little things like a new website, light-hearted social media comments, good PR moves… there used to be such a wall for our fans and now everything is much more chilled and open. The board has to take some credit for that. It’s taken many years, but they may have finally found a formula.

Q: Who is your favourite current player?

A: Aleksandar Mitrovic. He’s frustrating and can’t be solely relied upon like previous strikers at the club, but the talent is there. He’s just nuts and clearly loves the club, which is far removed from our recent players.

Newcastle United's Aleksandar Mitrovic looks dejectedNewcastle United's Aleksandar Mitrovic looks dejected

Q: Who is your favourite ever player?

A: Well that’ll be Alan Shearer because of his 206 goals. He’s an icon. My parents aren’t into football so I discovered it on my own as a 7-year-old. It happened to be 1996 where Newcastle were good, Britpop was strong and everything seemed cool. Amongst that was Euro 96 and Shearer coming home for a world-record fee. Pure bliss. Let’s just say things haven’t quite matched up to that yet! Honourable mentions go to Hatem Ben Arfa, Laurent Robert and Gary Speed.

Q: What has been your best memory of the club?

A: It’s these memories that keep me warm during the bad times, of which there are many. My favourite is probably Craig Bellamy’s injury-time winner in Rotterdam when we beat Feyenoord 3-2. It made Newcastle the first (and only?) side to lose their first three Champions League group games and win the final three, taking us to the next round. I went ballistic in the living room. But of course the Philippe Albert 5-0 “if the rest was the cake, there’s your icing” (Andy Gray) versus Man United is up there, as is Tiote’s equaliser in the 4-4 against Arsenal and Shearer scoring his 201st goal which made him the club’s all-time top scorer. Nicky Butt’s random halfway line overhead kick against Middlesbrough is also fondly remembered.

General view of fans looking at the statue of Alan Shearer outside the ground ahead of the matchGeneral view of fans looking at the statue of Alan Shearer outside the ground ahead of the match

Q: What has been your most disappointing moment?

A: Where to begin? Both relegations, Ashley renaming the stadium, losing six consecutives derbies. I was gutted when we sold Ben Arfa, who was fantastic up here and is the type of player who makes you love football. But we’ve lost two cup finals, three semi-finals and three European quarter-finals. The most disappointing of these were losing to Chelsea in the 2000 FA Cup semi-final, because I think we’d have beaten Aston Villa in the final. And in the 2005 UEFA Cup quarter-finals, we beat Sporting CP 1-0 at home and went 1-0 up at their place – we collapsed and lost 4-2 on aggregate. That was the year CSKA Moscow won the cup and I feel, again, like we had a great chance to win some silverware.

Q: What has been your most shocking moment?

A: Replacing Sir Bobby Robson with Graeme Souness was mind-boggling. We even paid compensation to do so! After coming fourth, third and fifth, Souness immediately led us to fourteenth in the league. And that’s where our decline began.

Q: Describe the best goal you ever saw at your club’s home ground

A: In person, I would say Hatem Ben Arfa’s dribble again Bolton. He picked the ball up in his own half, went past several players and slid it under Adam Bogdan. I was right behind that and, whilst it looked like he ran in a straight line, look closely and you’ll see all the intricate movements he made. It was majestic. Other great St James’ Park goals include Ben Arfa versus Blackburn and Shearer’s screaming volley against Everton. That goal gets me every single time.

Chelsea's Eden Hazard (L) in action with Newcastle's Hatem Ben ArfaChelsea's Eden Hazard (L) in action with Newcastle's Hatem Ben Arfa

Q: Which ground is your favourite away day?

A: I’ve never actually been there, but I like Craven Cottage. It’s reminiscent of a time before modern football.

Q: Who do you consider to be the club’s biggest rival and why?

A: Suppose it has to be Sunderland, really, because they’re nearby. Only in recent years when we’ve sunk to their level has it become more heated. There was a spell where they’d only beaten us twice in 18 meetings, but now it’s our turn to suffer. Some fans miss derby day but I really don’t.

Q: Who do you feel has been the club’s best and worst summer signing?

A: Signings have been a mixed bag but Dwight Gayle gets the nod because of his 13 goals. Matt Ritchie is also brilliant – too good for this level. I think the worst, so far, would be goalkeeper Matz Sels simply because he’s played a few times, unlike Grant Hanley, Daryl Murphy, Achraf Lazaar and Jesus Gamez. Mo Diame has been disappointing.

Newcastle United's Dwight Gayle scores their first goal.Newcastle United's Dwight Gayle scores their first goal.

Q: Who is your one player to watch out for this season?

A: It was meant to be the year for Rolando Aarons but he’s suffered another major injury, so you do fear for his career. Jamaal Lascelles quickly went from bench fodder to dressing room leader and he’s a fantastic defensive rock. Isaac Hayden, bought from Arsenal, has also impressed.

Q: Is there a particular youth player that excites you, and why?

A: Adam Armstrong started excellently at Barnsley, although the goals have dried up. I also think Freddie Woodman in goal has a bright future, so it’ll be interesting to see where he gets loaned out to in January.

Newcastle United's Adam Armstrong in actionNewcastle United's Adam Armstrong in action

Q: Where do you think the club will look to strengthen in January?

A: Money is there to be spent. Despite all those Championship fans saying we’ve bought the league, we made a £30m net profit on summer transfers… which is kind of the opposite of that. We don’t need a lot but I still think we’re in need of a winger and another creative source in midfield, especially if Jonjo Shelvey gets a ban.

Q: Finally, what are your aims for this season, and where do you think your club will finish?

A: The sole aim is promotion and we should really be doing it as champions. We have a legit world-class manager, perhaps one of the ten best, and a squad strong in quality and quantity. A cup run would be superb but it’s all about finishing first. Will we? The natural pessimist in me says no, but we probably will.

If you would like to hear more from Marc, you can follow him on Twitter @MarcJobling

If you want to share your thoughts / memories on your club, please email peter.bowler@hitc.com

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