Editor's note: Readers of this blog will have noticed a lack of posts and podcasts as this season has worn on. Life events for all four of us have played their parts, but this post may also explain why we haven't felt compelled to write, rant or record of late.
For about the past nine years, I've performed a daily ritual. Regardless of my schedule, at some point I've grabbed my computer or phone — or stolen my wife's iPad — to get my fix. My vice? All things Newcastle United, from transfer rumors to injury updates to youth team results.
There have been a few exceptions: the days around the birth of my son, a vacation here and there, a family gathering. But the hours I've logged reading about players who became stars at Newcastle (like Yohan Cabaye), prospects who never made it (like Wesley Ngo Baheng) and even long-rumored transfer targets who never arrived (Per Ciljan Skjelbred, anyone?) clocks in well above the healthy amount.
That's the reality of cheering for a European soccer team as an American: the Internet is your gateway to your chosen club. There are no weekend walks to the stadium. Hell, even a genuine conversation with another human being about your team can be hard to find, particularly when you root for an English club not named Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea.
Once I cast my lot with Newcastle in 2006, the club quickly became a thing of fantasy, a love that I could indulge for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning and then daydream about for another week. Part of the appeal in choosing Newcastle as my team was that the club had room to grow; it wasn't in a position to financially strong arm its way to trophies, but it wasn't that far removed from the Big Four. Any team drawing 50,000 each week had a chance, right?
Nine years later, I don't know what to think of Newcastle. The stadium is still great. The fans are crazy, most of the time in good ways. But is following this club from afar genuinely enjoyable? The fantasy has eroded, to the point that my morning scans of NewsNow now feel like a mix of forced habit and acts of desperation, merely in the hope the club has done something, anything to excite me.
I'm not interested in rooting for a team that relies on oil money to win trophies. I don't need an international all-star lineup on the field. But I want entertainment. I want some feeling of connection with my team. The powers that be at Newcastle — make that the power that is — have repeatedly shown they cherish mediocrity, in all of its boring, predictable splendor. There is no imagination, no sense of possibility, just a set of financial records that treats players purely as assets who contribute to yearly profits.
What, then, is the point of me watching from nearly 4,000 miles away? I didn't grow up with black and white in my blood. I've never had the luxury of taking my seat at St. James' Park. I should be watching Premier League soccer for enjoyment, not to fulfill an obligation.
At this point, though, I've sunk enough time and emotion into my Newcastle fandom that I can't envision switching my English soccer allegiance. But I wonder if the same holds true for newer American fans ... or those who stumble upon NBC Sports Network on a Saturday morning and notice the team in the black and white jerseys.
This is the saddest part of Newcastle's descent into international irrelevancy — soccer interest, particularly in the Premier League, is on the rise in this country. Watching games over here has never been easier. With some effort — another summer tour and a little fan outreach — Newcastle might have made a dent in the designer clubs' grip on the American soccer public. Instead, the club doesn't seem too interested. Just ask our friends @ToonArmyAmerica.
The rest of this season will play out like we all know it will: an up-and-down slog to a mid-table finish. Ninth at best, 13th at worst. The summer may bring a new head coach, but the overall plan won't change. Moussa Sissoko will leave, with his transfer fee paying for the striker and center back the club should have signed last month. Next season's standout performer will be rumored to be on the move in January. And on and on. This is the Newcastle way of life.
The question is: How long will we all keep watching?