Alan Pardew will learn his fate within the next two or three days. He has admitted his guilt, indeed, he could scarcely deny it. All that remains is for an FA commission to decide the length of his ban. A great deal is at stake; his immediate future, perhaps his entire professional career. Clearly, he is spending a nervous weekend.
There is a degree of local sympathy for his predicament. A poll conducted by a Newcastle paper revealed that 61 per cent of fans believe that the manager should keep his job. Their general attitude was summed up in the single, tribal slogan: ‘He may be a nutter but he’s our nutter.’
Given the chance, they might have awarded him a qualified ovation the next time he walked on to St James’ Park. All the signs suggest that they will not be given that chance; at least for the rest of this season, and possibly never again.
Outside the Geordie Nation, however, sympathy for Pardew is in short supply. A shrewd judge once described him as ‘an acquired taste’ and a good many people in and around the game have never felt the need to acquire it.
His critics perceive him as a man in thrall to his own image, with poses which smack of practice and one-liners reeking of rehearsal. He sets great store by his status; indeed, amid the disturbing rage of last weekend’s attack upon Hull’s David Meyler, there was an affronted element of: ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ Although he would never admit it, Pardew is an extremely fortunate man.
In any other area of management, indeed, in almost any other walk of life, a public assault involving a headbutt would result in instant dismissal and probable criminal charges. Yet, so far, he has suffered only a £100,000 club fine, or roughly three weeks’ salary.
The prospect of prosecution was removed by Chief Inspector Richard Kirven, of Humberside Police, who announced: ‘Having reviewed the circumstances of the incident, it has been agreed that the matter will be dealt with by the FA, rather than considering criminal proceedings.’
How terribly civilised! And how the city of Hull’s home-grown thugs might relish the chance to have their transgressions handled by a benign FA rather than the East Riding judiciary.
But then, they are citizens of little consequence, while Pardew is that most privileged of creatures: a football manager.
To understand what that means, you had to hear his reflections on last weekend’s incident. He was too arrogant or simply too lazy to compose an intelligent explanation. Instead he said: ‘I didn’t mean no damage to the guy… I was just trying to push him away really, with my head.’
Many years ago, as a cub reporter, I recall a similar excuse being offered in the local magistrates’ court, and the scarcely stifled giggles which hissed around the courthouse. Pardew’s hapless justification brought them rushing back.
This, remember, is a man who lost control to the extent that he thrust his head into the face of an opposing player. So what lessons did he draw from this outrage? ‘For me, personally, I think it’s a bit of a wake-up call to sit down. And I will from now on,’ he said.
And that was it; a trite platitude delivered with a faint sneer, and let’s all move on. Pardew is rarely regarded as the sharpest knife in the box but even by his standards this was a miserably inept performance. The subsequent clamour of criticism seemed to surprise him. The fact that his most prominent defenders were Freddy Shepherd and Joey Barton should have told its own tale. But he is, as I said, a football manager, whose views are indulged and whose orders are obeyed. Week after winter week, in the company of his fellow ‘gaffers’, he acts out his fantasies in his private theatre of the absurd, aka the ‘technical area’.
There he runs through his repertoire of poses, and there he feels strangely safe. For the technical area confers a kind of invulnerability. It is a neutral, protected place; football’s equivalent of Switzerland or the Ecuadorian Embassy. A manager can do pretty much what he likes in there. He can shove a linesman, bawl an obscenity at an older, more accomplished rival, even thrust his head into an unfriendly face. All without fear of consequence. Or so Pardew appeared to believe.
Well, he was wrong, and even the people running Newcastle United could recognise his error. They may have Mike Ashley as their owner and a legalised loan shark as their shirt sponsor but even they could see that a head-butting gaffer is a step too far. Hence the opportunistic fine and the portentous warning about his future conduct, in the knowledge Pardew has surely given them grounds for dismissal at a time of their own choosing.
The FA’s sentence may inform Newcastle’s ultimate course of action, and that sentence will surely involve a lengthy stadium ban. In time, he may reflect that a less deluded man would have behaved rather differently. He would have recognised that there are lines which may not be crossed. In short, he would have used his head. – Mail On Sunday