Retro Football Manager: The Newcastle Odyssey

Sid Lambert is a 43-year-old man playing Retro Football Manager on his iPhone. He’s gone back to 1995/96 to take over Newcastle United and put right what once went wrong: beat Manchester United to the title. And he’d love it if he beat them. Love it.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King. After two seasons of top-flight football, the football world was shocked when Kevin Keegan left Newcastle United. His sale of Andy Cole and a late-season dip in form meant the Toon missed out on European football. Relations between board and manager soured, tempers frayed, and ultimately a change was made. And now it’s up to me to deliver the impossible dream: The Premier League title.

Replacing the Messiah was never going to be an easy task. I’ve got no affinity to this area, apart from being one of the seventeen people in the UK to purchase PJ and Duncan’s debut single. But my old friend Peter Ridsdale always says there’s no problem that spending someone else’s money can’t fix. So, I resolve to rebuild the side with some star signings and win the hearts and minds of the Geordie Nation.

The truth is I need to invest. I’ve inherited a threadbare squad. Impressive up front, but leaky at the back – which sounds like a Playboy centerfold with a persistent haemorrhoid issue.

There have been some new arrivals already. The change in management hasn’t deterred a young French lad named Ginola from joining the fold from PSG. And Les Ferdinand has also signed from QPR. He’ll replace the departed (in the physical rather than spiritual sense) Cole and give us a decent goal return. But we’re still a little short on options.

My only other recognised striker is Tino Asprilla, who evidently negotiated an early release from Parma to arrive on Tyneside in time for the start of the season. Tino’s about as predictable as a wasp at a picnic. I’ll probably need someone more reliable.

Then there’s the back four, which is about as watertight as the starboard bow on the Titanic. There’s lots to be done. As I ponder the squad in my office at the training ground, planning my slow and steady overhaul of the team, my secretary knocks at the door and drops by a memo from the Chairman. I wonder what it might be. An invitation for a slap-up dinner at The Gosforth Hotel to officially mark my arrival, perhaps?

Charming. I’ve seen warmer welcomes getting off the bus at Broadmoor. Well, if Sir John Hall wants results, I’ll give him results. But he’ll have to put his hand in his pocket sharpish.

My first point of order is the defence. We’ve got some lovely players on the ball, but we desperately need a bit of bastard in us. I know just the fella. A man who’s damaged more limbs than Hannibal Lecter. Welcome aboard, Psycho. Get stuck in, son.

I’m faced with similar options in midfield. We’re lacking bite. There are creative options aplenty. Ginola, Berdsley (sic) and Lee are all fine footballers. The question is whether they can do it on a cold Tuesday night at The Riverside. There are going to be times when we’ll have to go to Middlesbrough and get something if we’re going to win this league. I’m looking for a player who can add some steel to Ginola’s sex appeal.

I make a call to Ray Harford at reigning champions Blackburn, new in the manager’s seat after Kenny Dalglish’s move into the boardroom. I tell him I’m after an industrious midfielder. Nothing flashy. I need a fighter, not a lover.

He tells me David Batty might be available. The Yorkshireman fits the bill perfectly. Talk about down-to-earth. His idea of romance is letting the wife switch on the central heating on Valentines Day.

We shake proverbial hands on a £4m deal and toast our new friendship. Good doing business with you, Ray.

But there is one other thing, Ray. I tell him I’m after a new striker; he offers me Mike Newell’s number. Once he’s stopped giggling, I politely decline and request this man instead.

Ray’s gobsmacked. A managerial novice telling the Kings of England he wants to buy the crown jewels. He says he’ll need to speak to the chairman first. A few minutes later, he calls me back. The asking price is 25 million quid. Jack Walker’s probably found more down the back of his sofa, but in football terms, it’s a ridiculous sum of money.

Faced with what’s clearly a nonsense request, I weigh up my first test as manager of Newcastle United. With great power comes great responsibility. I’m not just the man who picks and chooses the first XI. I’m meant to live and breathe the values of this great city and its proud, hardworking people. I can’t just fritter away their hard-earned season ticket receipts on vanity signings. I’ve got to do what’s right for the club.

I ask myself: what would Peter Ridsdale do?

And just like that, the deal’s done. A cool 25 million quid. The British transfer record is broken. The world record’s down the Khazi too. Common sense can wait for another day. I’ve got a Premier League title to win.

I shout through to my secretary and tell her to get Mark Knopfler on the phone. Tell him to dust off that saxophone. A Local Hero is coming home. And he’s in the starting XI for our first game of the new season… at home to the Villa.

Next week: Sid’s title tilt starts in the West Midlands and there’s more transfer speculation.

Written by Sid Lambert from A Funny Old Game

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