Through Gritted Teeth #44: Alan Pardew

by Scott Oliver

I’ve often wondered whether ‘irrational hatred’ wasn’t a tautology. Isn’t loathing always ‘irrational’? If not irrational, then unconscious, at least, conscious justifications merely giving our more base, primordial sentiments the ex post facto sheen of legitimacy? Or are there genuinely rational grounds for hatred — the implementation of systematic genocide, say, or the so-called ‘ideological’ call to destroy a supposedly morally degenerate civilization — perfectly sound reasons that can be objectively agreed upon, and consciously assented to by all of ‘right mind’? I have a feeling that to seek to justify hatred in this way makes you, inescapably, as demented as Hitler or Osama bin Laden, and to ‘hate’ them in turn would be an undeniable waste of psychic resources, pity seeming more appropriate.

Maybe I never truly hated Alan Pardew, anyway; maybe it — he — was just an irritation, an annoyance, a botheration. Who knows. What is certain is that, for a while, that soapy face and nasal parp stirred in me a prejudice or two that I wouldn’t really want to admit to, either in polite or impolite company (the difference at times not being easy to discern). I may even have spat at the pixels representing him on the TV, once. It’s hard to put my finger completely on it, but there was about him an air of smugness, I felt, and without the (partial) mitigation of actual achievement. Dovetailing with his smarminess was the fact that he seemed such a desperate try-hard with words, over-reaching his way to mangled metaphors and malapropisms (not the crime of the century, I grant you) when not outright misjudging the tone of what ought not really be said, even by iconoclasts, which he isn’t; for instance, calling West Ham fans “fucking wankers” who “should all fuck off” (albeit in jest) at a media training session (!) put on for him by the club (at a cost of £2k). In short, he was the archetypal bumptious social climber (nothing wrong with aspiration – in the sense of striving – only with boasting, or fretting, about status); a managerial Hyacinth Bucket apt to play too many bum notes while blowing his own trumpet. I’m Alan Pardew, A-ha!

How heartily I laughed, then, when Pardew — at the time between jobs (at least, he hoped ‘between’ and not ‘post-’) — described a piece of midfield enforcement by Michael Essien to Match of the Day 2‘s audience thus: “Ched Evans, who’s a strong boy, he knocks him off like he ain’t there. He absolutely rapes him”. Quite a faux pas, n’est-ce pas?

Nevertheless, after a brief and relatively successful sojourn with Southampton, Pardew was invited by that paragon of PR, the replica shirt-selling, replica shirt wearing populist, Mike Ashley, to take up the manager’s post at Newcastle United, perennial oversized slumberers and a shoo-in for Most Deluded Club in the land. Rumours were abroad that Pardew had befriended Ashley and his right-hand man, Chairman, Derek Llambias, over the blackjack table, and the seemingly unseemly fact that he had fraternised with these two nincompoops fixed in me the sense of his now irrefutable muppetry. Guilty by association.

The circumstances surrounding his arrival were hardly likely to have endeared him to the Toon Army, either. Or, to put it another way, the circumstances surrounding his arrival seemed like an insurmountable obstacle to him ever succeeding (see Allardici, Sam), a certain disaster waiting to happen, reason enough for me to let off a cackle of pantomime villainy. Pardew didn’t have a prayer. He was becoming, after all, the Man Who Killed Bambi: replacement for the universally admired Chris Hughton, who had returned Newcastle to the Premier League at first time of asking, with 100 points, only to be unceremoniously ditched last December, having overseen a 5-1 derby win over Sunderland, a 6-0 rout of Villa and a 1-0 win at Emirates, and with Newcastle sitting in 12th position in the table. Even so, a run of five without a win created the opportunity for the trigger to be pulled, the ostensible justification being that the club needed a “more experienced manager”.

Opprobrium was duly rained down upon Newcastle by an indignant punditariat. For many it was the latest tawdry, farcical episode for a club with an insatiable penchant for self-parody, what with the Messiah years having brought them nothing; with previous owners having heaped layer after layer of shame upon the club (Freddie Shepherd, anyone); with the appointment of the anti-charisma ‘charismatic leader’, Alan Shearer; with Kinnear’s rant; with even Sir Bobby Robson signing a collection of wronguns. Now Llambias and Ashley were bringing in a man with a propensity to use wildly inappropriate verbs in public and who himself had just the two seasons’ top-flight management up his sleeve. Not only unseemly, then, it was illogical: Pardew’s CV was neither diamond-studded nor was he particularly “experienced” in dealing with Premier League players.

After cutting his teeth over the course of four seasons at Reading, he left to take the job at fellow Championship strugglers, West Ham, losing a play-off final to Palace (his third such result on the bounce) before winning the following year, then leading the Hammers to a creditable 9th in the Premier League while also reaching the FA Cup final, only for Steve Gerrard to snatch victory away with a last-minute thunderbolt and his team to succumb in the shoot-out. His stock was at its highest (until now, today). Time to build. Thus, those two most Anglophile of Argentines, Carlos Tévez and Javier Mascherano, arrived in East London, lured by the prospect of European football (and that alone). Yet Pardew hardly played either, instead preferring Hayden Mullins to the current Barcelona player and albiceleste captain, a decision that smacked of xenophobic, Basil Fawlty-esque Little Englanderism. In my worldview, anyway. This impression (or prejudice, call it what you will) would be corroborated by his touchline push-and-shove with Arsène Wenger, tensions having been cranked up by Pardew’s sanctimonious criticism of Le Prof for fielding an English player-free side. Anyway, the Icelandics would fire him just three weeks after buying the club (and no Magnússon I know is dumb, after all), whereupon he pootled across town to relegation-embroiled Charlton. He was unable to save them from the drop, nor get them promoted the following year, and duly suffered the second sacking of his career a short way into his third season at The Valley. His third followed – post-”rape”, post-eight-month sabbatical – at Southampton, the departure shrouded by talk of low morale and friction at the training ground – which figured; it was Pardew.

Now, I have to admit that Pards had slunk off my radar somewhat during this period, but, lo and behold, here he was popping up at Newcastle, cocksure and preening, explaining how — and with a staggering lack of appreciation of just how much he’d fallen on his feet — he had “spelt out” to the owners that he wanted a “long contract” (it’s five-and-a-half years) and that he’d received reassurances that Andy Carroll would be staying (which, in retrospect, could all have been a colossally ingenious ruse, it now seems). Perhaps Pardew had won a bet, I surmised, looking for sane reasons for the appointment from a Newcastle perspective. Everybody assumed there must have been polaroids, but then a moment’s reflection revealed that too many of Wor Mike’s indiscretions are already in the public domain to render him susceptible to blackmail. It all seemed like a marriage made in heaven: drunk club, joke owner, too-pious fans, goldfish bowl — surely, surely it would all end in tears… And perhaps this teary ending was going to happen before it had even started, for — most joyously for those of us hoping to see him fall on his face and splatter that flaring mandrill nose everywhere — there was even the flirtation with another nuclear PR blunder, foot going in mouth before it found its way under the Toon table when Pardew informed his new, black-and-white bleeding public how his mates had told him he was “mad taking the job…”. Nice one, Pards. He just about managed to hack clear that slice into his own net, hooting something about it being “one of the top five clubs in England”. Even so, surely the stigma and the strut would (fingers and toes crossed) undo him in the end…

But no, at time of writing, the wheels are well and truly on. Newcastle are currently sitting third in the Premier League on 25 points, one of only two teams unbeaten after 11 games, and while most people suspect there’s some impermanence about it all, that they are punching more than a pound or two above their weight, there is a distinct possibility they could hold on to take a UEFA Cup spot, an achievement that might just guarantee Pardew the Manager of the Year award. Imagine. At the very least, it is undeniable that he has already vindicated the owner’s decision and, while the early improvements were imperceptible to the casual observer (they finished last season in 12th, after all, no different to where they were when he took over, Pardew accruing 1.23 points per game to Hughton’s 1.18), they now have the look of a stable team and a stable club, which happens about as often as you find yourself talking to hen’s orthodontists. In the process, he has sold high-maintenance and high-earning players – some of his most talented players, too – like Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and José Enrique. And Monsieur Pardieu has done all this by exploring the land of his Huguenot roots, bringing Yohan Cabaye from Lille (£4.3 / undisclosed), Gabriel Obertan (undisclosed, estimated at £3m), Sylvain Marveaux and Mehdi Abeid on free transfers from Rennes and Lens respectively, as well as other francophone players like Demba Ba (free) to join Cheick Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa.

But mere recognition of footballing success is not enough to eradicate my antipathy, no matter how impressive the feat of making Fabricio Coloccini look like a world-beater (I mean as a defender, rather than for a Whitesnake look-a-like contest); after all, grudging admiration is my basic position on even the most silver-adorned Gafferísimo of the lot. No, during the eleven-month stint in the Newcastle hot-seat – first winning over and motivating the players, who plainly respect him, then getting the fans onside, bringing some quiet, sober achievement to the city – he has proven himself to be a better man than I ever thought him capable, often speaking with candour, acuity, even humility. He still occasionally appears ready to switch back to being fractious and confrontational, an accident waiting to happen, but he has shed the bombast, the preposterous peacockery, the air of the pre-emptive provocateur. He has a team of honest players who are rolling up their sleeves for him, about whom he speaks in a clear and cliché-free manner that has at times bordered on the gracious. At the end of the day, he’s probably looked in the mirror and learned from his mistakes, Jeff. I don’t know what he said to himself in there, but whatever he did say, it has obviously worked…

As far as the final disappearance of my loathing was concerned, there were a couple of incidents in the last fortnight that finally tipped the scales. First, when assessing the dubious penalties awarded during his Newcastle team’s impressive smash-and-grab at erstwhile Fortress Britannia, one to each side, he agreed that “both were soft,” while immediately excusing the officials from any wrongdoing or failing by qualifying his views with the assertion that “there’s a lot of barging in the box and refs having to make decisions”. Such equanimity is easily conjured in the aftermath of victory, I hear you tsk-tsk, irritably. Well, maybe so.

However, second, commenting later that week on the racial abuse to which Sammy Ameobi had been subjected by a couple of 17-year-old Twitter-warriors, he showed a remarkable (by football’s standards, I mean) grasp of the historical breeding ground for fascism — or, more exactly, what philosophers Deleuze and Guattari call microfascism — and an implicit understanding of the material conditions that, in the post-Depression Europe of the 1930s, were to be translated into a psychological susceptibility to manipulation by the symbols of an abstractly unified and segregative form of identity, the us-and-them logic that formed the molecular underpinning of Nazism. It’s true. And so, finally to answer our questions from the outset, there is indeed no better example of the utter irrationalism of hatred — and its potential codification into some sort of justifiable sentiment — than racism (or, for that matter, the irrationalism of any overweening attachment to a rigid, transcendent form of identity: nation, credo, party, club). Here the insightful Pardew tackles the Twitter haters:

Like all clubs we represent the local community here and when something like this happens you have to react strongly. I think that what the club have done and the statement we have made are quite correct. We won’t tolerate any type of behaviour like that. And, of course, where we are now with the austerity measures and everyone feeling a bit tight – people are getting more narrow-minded and racism has come to the fore. And perhaps [this incident coming to light] is not a bad thing, because we have been leading the football world in terms of tackling [racism] and maybe we shouldn’t get complacent, just make sure we keep a tight lid on it.

A remarkably cogent, positively statesmanlike expression, I think you’ll agree, of the need to be ever vigilant toward fascistic impulses, “from the enormous ones that surround and crush us to the petty ones that constitute the tyrannical bitterness of our everyday lives,” as Foucault so luminously wrote.

So there you have it: rough-arsed and rude rapscallion to Renaissance Man in a few short months, and with it, a reputation restored — by which I mean in my mind rather than in the de facto tribunal of the tabloid media and thus (oxymoron alert) the ‘popular imagination’. Leo-Pards may not be able to change their spots (or, as Pards might say, you can’t polish a turd) but perhaps he was never a leopard at all. Just a plain old bête noir.

Scott has wasted most of his life doing a PhD in Argentine history. He doesn’t so much blog as archive his football writings (and he prefers cricket) at False 9. Follow him on Twitter: @reverse_sweeper.

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