This is not a piece about Alan Pardew. Well, OK, it sort of is: there's a picture of him up there and everything. But it's not really about him, so much as what he represents. Or at least represented, while he was at Newcastle United. Thus far, with Crystal Palace, we've only had a chance to enjoy some carping about the state of lower league facilities — apparently he had to walk 150 yards from coach to dressing room — and this rather precious moment of faux-modesty:
You may recall that between January and October 2014, Newcastle went through a run of form that might charitably be described as an amble and might more accurately be described as a kind of wheezing crawl. Just five wins in the last half of the 2013/14 season, and not a one in the first two months of 2014/15; by some measures, they were the worst team in the country. The fans, understandably, were quite put out by the whole business, and did what put out fans do: there were some protests, there were some boos, there were some banners and signs. There was general dissatisfaction.
Then, more recently, Newcastle hauled themselves up off the ground and got a bit of a jog on. A win against Leicester was the first of six on the bounce, as they rose from 18th to fifth in the Premier League. Naturally, the protests died down a touch, much to the patronizing amusement of a few media personalities. Oh, these fickle Geordies, they chuckled. Not so upset with their manager now, are they? Well, judging by the total lack of northeastern misery that has accompanied his departure, the boos might have quieted, but the ill-feeling never really went away. And that's because, win or lose, there was something more fundamental at work.
A lot of Newcastle fans thought Alan Pardew was a bit of a berk.
That might even be putting it mildly; quite a lot of them thought he was quite a lot of a berk. Some of them, perhaps, even went as far as to hold him a complete one. You may disagree as to whether he's a berk, or to what degree he might be, and that's fine; we're guessing Manuel Pellegrini has his own view. From a neutral perspective, whatever he was and is, he was definitely an entertaining one of those.
Anyway, this isn't about Pardew. This is a general point, and it's a thing as equally important as it is overlooked. The general expectation seems to be that fans are entitled to complain when results aren't going their way, but should hush up when results start to go well. Yet that's a very narrow understanding of the role of the fan; indeed, it's slightly dehumanising. A relationship with a football consists of more than simply wanting that club to win. That's part of it, but there's also a thousand other questions, not least of which is: who to win with?
People like people, and dislike other people. People also like football clubs. And while managers — and players and chairman, albeit neither quite so emblematically — may represent those football clubs, they do not own those clubs, in a conceptual sense. They wear the colors, but they do so on behalf of the fans. They are the fans' champions; if you want to go all medieval about it, they're trotting out bearing the fans' favors. Ultra-futuristic polymers rather than handkerchiefs, but you get the idea.
As such, when those colors are being represented by somebody generally and widely agreed to be a berk by those who the colors represent, then it's a problem. A problem that can't just be overcome by a few wins, or even a shiny silver trophy. Think about the differing views that fans of Liverpool and Chelsea have of the trophy-winning manager they have shared, Rafa Benítez. Adored in the northwest, abhorred in west London (even though you could, if you were feeling mischievous, put together a case that one trophy in six months is better than two in six years, making Rafa a better manager for Chelsea than he ever was for Liverpool ...).
This isn't to suggest that appointing somebody that the fans like is the answer to everything; as Stuart Pearce's stuttering form at Nottingham Forest demonstrates, there's more to it than simple adoration. But the importance — if not necessity — of having somebody who the fans like — or at the very least respect — is so often overlooked when considering whether a manager is right for a club. On a pragmatic level, it means that the fans will be as patient as possible with any appointment. On a more abstract one, surely there is some responsibility incumbent on those making decisions for football clubs to make appointments that don't force a fan base to cheer for those they cannot tolerate.
Each and every individual has two absolute rights as a human being: to consider any other human being to be a berk, and as a fan of a football club, to not want any berk associated with their club. That's not fans simply indulging their own personal whims ... well, okay, it is, but imagine thinking football was about anything else. If somebody's going to fight under your standard, it's no fun when you can't stand them. "Pardew out" was a perfectly legitimate point of view when he was losing. It was also a perfectly legitimate point of view when he was winning. Maybe even more so; he's not one of nature's more humble victors.
After all, imagine the alternative. Imagine a world where a fan base evaluated each and every appointment on grounds of utility and nothing else. Then, a football club would simply be nothing more than a machine for victories. That would be desperately sad.