This is just a bit of bric a brac. When I wrote the Steve Bruce poem, I remembered this earlier tribute to a controversial football manager. Whereas that one was meant, more-or-less sincerely, this one was a bit of fluff. The inspiration was a writing competition on the theme of renewal, which got me wondering what Mike Newell’s up to these days. The result: a poem about, or Re, Newell.
In many ways, though Newell’s as interesting a character as Steve Bruce. Back in the early 21st century, he was hyped. If he wasn’t being talked about as a future England manager, it could only have been through a fear of tempting fate. For a good few years, this man was the future. And then he blew it, making a series of allegations about venality amongst his peers. It was a brave, in the Yes Minister sense, but ultimately suicidal gesture. His career never recovered and jobs which ought to have been his for the taking went to lesser managers. He ended up failing to turn things around at Grimsby and he’s hardly been seen since. The implication is that he did it to himself, and he did it by making a stand. He was, in football terms at least, a martyr.
But there was a second act to Newell’s story. He might have ruined his name in football circles, but a lot of us appreciated what he’d tried to do. If he’d left it at that, the chances are he’d have been able to turn it all around. Hell, he could have been been the next Garth Crooks if he’d kept his nose clean. Instead, he made some horrendously outmoded comments about female officials and went from being a principled hero making a stand to a gibby ex-pro who couldn’t keep his mouth shut. In one, ill-advised comment, the renaissance man turned into an anachronism and managed to put the backs up of those of us who might have made his rehabilitation possible.
There’s a lot of drivel spoken about the art and poetry of football. Mostly, it’s pretentious nonsense, but the Newell story is an almost Shakespearean tragedy.
Dropped in your hometown, passed over at Crewe,
Dario Gradi showed up too late for you,
You seemed destined, at best, for the journeyman’s life,
From Stoke to Dunfermline in the Kingdom of Fife
A mediocre, unnoticed niche,
But you were saved from that by Kenny Dalgliesh,
It was Blackburn where you made your name,
With your functional strain of the beautiful game,
But when Chris Sutton pitched up, it was hard to compete,
So you travelled the leagues on those magical feet,
Blue nose, Hammer, Bantam, Don,
Till you jacked it in when your pace had gone,
But the dugout’s gain was the pitch’s loss
When you started out as a tracksuit boss,
At Hartlepool, like Brian Clough,
But to sustain a comparison, thar wasn’t enough,
You didn’t win the plaudits you felt you were owed,
So you hightailed it off to Kenilworth Road,
And eased yourself into the manager’s seat,
To follow in the footsteps of David Pleat,
But we’d never get to see your pitchside dance,
Like a square-jawed scouse Icarus, you blew your chance
And got stuck on youe career ladder’s bottom rung,
When you said you knew an agent who was partial to a bung,
And then made comments about female referees,
That would’ve sounded dated in the 1970s,
So your career petered out somewhere in North East Lincs
A man’s got to have brains before he can say what he thinks