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Newcastle news: Fans are divided over the state of their club on the eve of the new season

The television in the corner of the pub is relaying news of Andy Carroll’s shock deadline-day return to Newcastle United.

Michael Martin, founder of the True Faith fanzine, sits with his back to the screen. Rob Clothier, one of their writers and podcast hosts, faces it, keen to enjoy the images of Carroll in a black-and-white shirt.

And that just about captures their stark contrast in mood ahead of Sunday’s opener against Arsenal, where thousands of fans are threatening to boycott in protest at Mike Ashley’s running of the club.

It is an uprising motivated by this summer’s loss of Rafa Benitez, fuelled by the arrival of Steve Bruce and underpinned by a deep mistrust of the owner.

Martin, 56, will not be attending, even though he has a season-ticket. Clothier, 20 years his junior, has just bought his first season-ticket.

‘I won’t even watch it,’ says Martin. ‘I’ll catch Match of the Day. I can’t see me going back, and that’s because of how it makes me feel.

‘It’s the death of hope. I fervently believe we could be a super club, with the right investment and structure.

‘But Mike Ashley is wedded to this philosophy of buy them cheap and sell them high. He’s essentially a football retailer, and that’s the extent of his ambition for Newcastle United.

‘I will only go back when he’s gone. Because of him, it is a zombie football club.’

Clothier has always attended games but is now able to commit to a season-ticket. He says he can divorce his anti-Ashley sentiment from his enjoyment of matchday.

‘I’m excited,’ says the dad of two. ‘I love that feeling of waking up and knowing you’ve got the match. You’re thinking, ‘What time is the Metro into town?’. The whole day builds towards the match.

‘I understand what Michael is saying. We both clearly love the club but we’re at different points in our journey as a fan. Maybe come the end of the season I’ll be like him.

‘But, for now, I just want to put all the protests to the back of my mind, go to the game and enjoy it.

‘I’m seeing all the negativity on social media and some of the abuse people are getting for not boycotting, and that has made me want to go even more. I want to do what is best for me, and I want to go to the match, have a beer, see my friends and support the team.’

Martin has listened, and adds: ‘I’ve been through what Rob has, that dilemma. Everyone reaches their breaking point at different times. I don’t think Rob is a traitor. I wish I had the same buzz as him, I really do.

‘I’ve spent half my life obsessed by this club. But, if I went, I know I’d be sat there thinking, ‘What am I doing?’. It’s an exercise in complete futility.’

It was in this pub, The County in Gosforth, where Bruce would come for a beer as he made weekly trips home to visit his sick parents before their passing last year.

And just two weeks ago he sat in the same spot we are now for a get-together with journalists, later mingling with locals receptive to his presence.

Supporters, though, remain split on his appointment.

‘I think he will fail,’ says Martin. ‘He had a big chance at Sunderland and blew it. He had another big chance at Aston Villa – and they only got promoted after he left.’

Clothier counters: ‘I’m willing to judge him on results. I find it hard to criticise him before he’s started. I just want to give him a chance.

‘A lot fans are convinced he’s doomed to fail. I don’t think he is. We still have the core of Rafa’s team and I’m excited by the signings, I really am.

‘But it’s so important not to have a bad start, it could turn toxic if so.’ 

The shots of Carroll remain on loop on the television. Martin cuts in: ‘Why are we getting giddy at signing a crock from West Ham? Regardless of what is on his birth certificate, if that’s getting us excited then we’ve lost the plot.’

‘I’ll give him a chance,’ says Clothier. ‘It’s a low risk signing – pay as you play – which could turn out to have a big impact. I want to be there when he first plays, he’ll raise the roof.’

At every turn there is a difference of opinion. That is Newcastle United, a club for whom turbulence and division represents the norm.

But Clothier says: ‘If we beat Arsenal everyone will be happy and the town will be buzzing, that’s just the way it is here.’

Bruce can only hope he is right. If so, he might even call by for a celebratory beer.

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