I was wrong about James Perch

I was wrong.

Do you hear that Mother? Father? Assorted other family members? Colleagues who I've secretly always held in contempt? Teachers? Preachers? Clandestine reachers? Pets? All past, present, and future lovers? Readers of Unibet? I was wrong.

The year is 2010, and a fresh faced, rosy cheeked Journalism graduate has just put his 4 day graduation hangover behind him, and is scouring the interwebs for online publications silly enough to give him anything resembling a commission. After being blacklisted for harassment by the more discerning outlets, an aspiring new website called Sabotage Times agree to let him write something. 

The subject, after “the theatre, on acid” and “test driving a glamour model” we're both shot down, was a guide to the worst Premier League careers to date. Entry number one in that list, and receiving the lion's share of grammatically awkward abuse, was James Perch.

Arriving as Chris Houghton's first foray into the transfer market as a Premier League manager, he was picked up from Nottingham Forest after having had two very good games against us in the previous campaign. Eyebrows not starting to raise until Forest fans managed to quell their laughter long enough to point out that these had been his only two good games.

Thrown straight into the team at right-back for the injured Danny Simpson his first 8 games saw him collect 5 yellow cards and score a decisive own goal against Stoke. Match reports at the time peppered with the likes of “...after outmuscling Perch”, “...with Perch playing him onside”, “...left Perch in his wake”, and “...dear me, that James Perch isn't much good, is he?” That last one was by me.

My mind was made up, the lad was toilet, and the manager(s) seemed to agree. Between then and the end of the season he appeared just once more, for a 29 minute cameo with the team already 3-0 up against Wolves in April.

Fast forward a year though, where much to the relief of myself, and the 3 people I'm sitting on the bus with, a text appears on my phone that reads “Perch has shaken off his knock by looks of it, he starts”. “Thank goodness!” I exclaim (or unprintable words to that effect) “the push for a Champions League place can continue!”

I want you to consider every element of that statement and try to imagine how ridiculous it would have seemed before the season started. With 5 games left, Newcastle sit level on points with 4th placed Tottenham, 2 ahead of Chelsea, and a staggering 12 in front of high-spending Liverpool. Newcastle are 5.00 to be playing Champions League football next season and that is starting to look more and more plausible.

I wonder what odds you'd have got on James Perch becoming a cult figure on Tyneside...

While many have been quick to point the glittery finger of adulation at a certain Hatem Ben Afra, and dub him the man who, with his coming of age and realising of potential, most aptly surmises Newcastle United's fortunes this season, the steady, assured, mature nature of the Mansfield Zanetti is arguably the more fitting comparison.

The groans of derision which greeted his first league appearance of the season, replacing a limping Coloccini in December, had turned into nods of approval by the time he was brought on to quell the danger of Theo Walcott against Arsenal in March. Which he did, by the way.

James Perch hasn't come in and set the world alight, but he's got his head down, worked as hard as he's able, and done every job that's been asked of him. No fuss, no photographs of him falling out of a nightclub cubicle with some orange-faced sylph, no ill-advised rants on certain social networks, no sly quotes appearing in local newspapers about the injustice of dropping back to the bench after a run in the side; just a man who turns up for work, and does the best job he can. A professional footballer.

Regardless of where Newcastle now finish in the league, the entire squad is deserving of huge, huge applause. But where you're likely to read of how it's been the result of their imperious captain, the scorching Senegalese strike force, or the various French fancies, spare a thought for the unspectacular jack of all trades who's not only humbled a cocky young writer, but the Premier League as well.