A club falling behind the elite but Newcastle United players can restore pride

Steve Bruce leads Newcastle United into their opening game of the season against West Ham with Tyneside debating what success looks like after a 13 largely fruitless years under Mike Ashley, and the elite they used to mix it with racing ahead on and off the pitch

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Simon Bird reports as Joe Willock nears Newcastle return

The question of what success is for Newcastle United is vexed.

A team that gives it all, is the simple answer for many fans. A cup run? A top ten finish? Top six?

For those of us who have relatively recent memories of Champions League campaigns, and decline, the answer is more complicated and frustrating.

Under Mike Ashley there’s only been one European campaign in 13 years – compared with ten in the 13 years before he took over.

That’s where a generation of fans reasonably believe they should still be.

Massive club, yes. The 21 st richest in the world according to last week’s new accounts with a £153m turnover… ahead of Milan, Benfica and Ajax.

Callum Wilson of Newcastle United celebrates with team mate Ryan Fraser after scoring during the pre-season friendly at Doncaster

But falling behind in many key measures.

When I started this job 20 years ago Newcastle were on a par – and finishing higher – than Liverpool and Spurs on and off the pitch.

Now Liverpool generate £500m – three times more than the Toon and with commercial income racing £200m ahead.

Massive club by attendance? Yes, despite 10k season tickets being up for sale last week, they still end up with 48,000 crowds, the seventh best in the league.

Top four finishers? Yes in terms of profitability, according to finance analyst @swissramble. There are few clubs run better in terms of the bottom line with profit in eight of the last ten years.

Running a tight, sensible ship doesn’t create footballing dreams. But then spending hundreds of millions more, like Everton and Aston Villa, to finish a couple of places higher, is a huge financial risk without much reward.

So where does all that leave Steve Bruce, and his squad who are determined to surprise this season and beat last season 12 th place finish?

Steve Bruce needs Allan Saint-Maximin to be fit and play regularly

Newcastle are no longer contenders. Economics dictate that. But what St James’ Park could be is an enjoyable place to watch football again, especially with fans back.

Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin, Matt Ritchie, Jacob Murphy – goals, breathtaking skill, heart, and resilience.

No trophies, or hope of being in the top seven, but a squad that must give the huge fan base some pride back.

Last word

Clubs should be twisting arms, cajoling and laying down a strong message to players who shun COVID vaccines.

Well done to Steve Bruce and Neil Warnock for taking a strong public stance on stars needing to get the jab to protect their team mates and families.

Neil Warnock wants players to get the COVID vaccine

Karl Darlow is the latest Toon player to suffer, needing four days in hospital to recover proving even those 30 and under can get it bad.

Clubs should be taking a lead in debunking conspiracy theory crackpots. If the double jab is good enough our medal winning Team GB in Tokyo, it’s good enough for footballers.

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