Last night, listeners to BBC radio Newcastle's Total Sport programme will have heard a belligerent Steve Bruce repeat his assertion of a couple of weeks ago that disgruntled fans are engaging in nothing but 'mass hysteria'. Whilst I can understand his frustrations at how the season has started, mainly because I share them, I did take a little exception to his remarks.
Bruce is adamant terrace angst has been exaggerated by the recent derby defeat and that had the Liverpool and Newcastle results been reversed then supporters would not be heaping what he believes to be unfair pressure upon him and his team. In other words, losing to our bitterest rivals is the source of fan displeasure with how things are going. Hmmm...
I wouldn't contest a suggestion that a derby defeat, especially a home one, is a catalyst for a certain degree of supporter unrest. That much is a gimme. But there was a significant groundswell of dissent against Bruce's leadership long before Ryan Taylor got a bit lucky at the Stadium of Light. Following the departure of Asamoah Gyan I used Captain's Blog to express some growing suspicions and doubts about his ability to man-manage players of the required level to move us forward, but I've always been a strong advocate of patience. However, even to the most vehement of his defenders, and I have been there myself, it had to be accepted that those more inclined to see a managerial change had some weight behind their beliefs.
If you look back at events at the club since the turn of the year, it is littered with a record that would leave most managers discussing a severance package never mind having the sheer front to complain about unhappy fans. In the last 8 months, fans have seen two top forwards effectively walk-out on the club at their own leisure, a top youngster sold, the club's home form deteriorate to the point where 9 out of the last 10 games at the Stadium of Light have ended in defeat, and the team meekly bowing out of two cup competitions to lower league teams at the first hurdle. You'll forgive us if we are not dancing in the streets at that little lot, Steve.
Bruce has every right to fight his corner, of course. But what is perhaps so disconcerting is that by ridiculing the concerns of the fans he is dismissing the source of them as nonsense, and if the manager can examine the club's form of 2011 and defiantly proclaim all to be hunky-dory then that is very worrying. It is far from a hopeless cause but clearly there are reasons to be alarmed and there are questions to be asked, and there is no weakness in acknowledging as much. I can only speak for myself, but as much as I want to root for Bruce and believe him unequivocally to be the man to turn around our pretty worrying form, I find it impossible to do so whilst he seemingly seeks to brush it under the carpet and pretend it hasn't happened or isn't worth worrying about. How can you have faith in a person to fix a problem they insist doesn't exist?
To give Bruce his due, he has done well to bring Champions League winners John O'Shea and Wes Brown to the club, and Niklas Bendtner adds further genuine pedigree. That he requires time to forge his new-look squad into a team is also a fair suggestion. I maintain that, regardless of the concerns or suspicions we have, he has earned the opportunity to try and build on last season's top-half finish and and prove his detractors wrong. It just appears odd that on the eve of a crucial home game, and when presented with the chance to use the common-ground of Gyan leaving all associated with the club feeling somewhat let down, he chose to draw a division line rather than trying to inspire some unity. Openly and willfully inciting those who doubt him is nothing but needlessly inflammatory and counter-productive.
'Hysteria', if that is what this is, shows people retain enough faith to hope for change. When times get really grim, as they did in the 19 and 15 point seasons, it is apathy, not hysteria, with which they are met. That shows the support for him is still there or, at least, the willingness to support him is still there. But he appears to be a man feeling the pressure and lashing out. You can't help but feel that standing up, taking some responsibility, and showing some solidarity with the concerns of the supporters would have done considerably more to galvanise the club than further fuelling the divide ever could.
For more on this, and various other SAFC discussion, check out The Roker Report Podcast, which you can download or stream here - http://www.rokerreport.podomatic.com