Newcastle United has announced that for the second straight year, the team has canceled their annual Christmas party. Being in a relegation battle once again increased fears that a Christmas party would send the wrong message toward fans that the team isn’t grasping the seriousness of a relegation battle that they’re skipping Christmas.
A 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town on Saturday has put Newcastle United up to 14th, six points above the relegation zone. At this time last season, Newcastle was just one point above in 16th. Despite that, the team isn’t having a party.
From The Guardian:
“I was talking to [team captain] Jamaal [Lascelles] and I told him: ‘If something’s wrong, you have to realise it’,” said [manager Rafa] Benítez before his team’s trip to Huddersfield on Saturday for a game the Spaniard has dubbed “a cup final”. “This group of players, last year they cancelled the party because they knew it was not the right thing to do and this year has been exactly the same. I think Jamaal has been quite sensible.”
“The squad wanted to do it because it is a tradition for some players, especially in England, but they’ve been quite good about it. I think the fans will appreciate that they’re just focused on football.”
Newcastle may not be on the level of Manchester United or Liverpool but they are one of the most popular teams in England. Despite some recent hard times, fans still pack the 52k seat St. James’ Park. Owner Mike Ashley has infamously been referred to as “cheap” by fans and the media and has spent far less than other teams, instead relying on Benitez to have to pull a miraculous effort to keep them in the Premier League. That might be seen as prudent, sensible spending but given the millions being raised due to massive TV deals, fans feel like Ashley can stand to spend more and ensure Premier League safety.
My point is that it’s not the player’s fault and it’s not Rafa Benitez’s fault Newcastle is in the position they’re in, it’s Mike Ashley’s fault. Fans know it and the media knows it. Plus, and this isn’t on Newcastle fans as much as it is fans in general, fans need to get over themselves when they see a pro athlete out after a tough loss or are in a stressful situation like a relegation battle.
Let’s be realistic, no pro athlete spends every waking moment thinking about and studying for the next game. Tom Brady may be a machine who lives in the film room but even he takes a break every once in a while and unwinds with something non-football related.
In fact, a team may play worse if they don’t have something where they can let off some steam. When I’m writing something and I sometimes get stuck, I don’t concentrate more on what I’m writing. If I did that, I’d never finish the thing I was writing in the first place. Instead, I might set it aside, go on YouTube or watch The Office on Netflix, come back to it with a fresh perspective and get it done. And if I had a rough day at work, the last thing I want to do is dwell on that immediately afterwards. I’d rather go to the bar, have a drink and get back at it and improve tomorrow. And I’m sure most players feel the same way after a tough loss so let’s not react as if they somehow don’t deserve that just because they make a lot of money and we don’t.
At the end of the day, it’s a team Christmas party. Newcastle is free to have their party or cancel it however they see fit, but anyone who thinks that players celebrating Christmas is a sign they don’t care about their play needs to get over themselves.
[The Guardian/Photo: Getty Images]