Newcastle United have worn grey throughout a marathon pre-season that has taken them from the heart of middle earth to the bottom of the West Yorkshire foothills.
Given the sheer, bewildering unpredictability of life with this new-look squad, the hue of their shirts seems somewhat appropriate.
At this point, Newcastle United could be a dark horse, a little horse or a tired old nag in the Premier League handicap. We simply don’t know.
And nothing that has gone on in pre-season has really given us any sort of substantive evidence either way.
On Saturday, they were dreadful against a decent Malaga side, but that was balanced out by a performance on Sunday that was full of the sort of pace and attacking promise that a substantial summer recruitment drive was supposed to inject into them.
The World Cup and its demands on the squad have disrupted things a touch, but then so has an itinerary that has groaned with games. It all leaves us none the wiser.
Into this void, Alan Pardew has twice dropped tantalising mentions of the Champions League promised land.
“We’re trying (to get into the Champions League),” he said in the latest name check this week. “We’ve been trying to do it for three years in an educated manner.”
No one could ever accuse Pardew of hiding his light under a bushel. A colleague remembers congratulating the manager after a thumping win at Crystal Palace last year, to be told: “You’ll be saying that a few more times this season.” Hubris had got the better of him: they won six from their remaining 22 games.
The manager remains the same, with the same question marks surrounding his tactics and approach. For some, that is a major obstacle to progress, but what is beyond question is that United’s squad is better than the one that ended last season.
The board sat down in April and identified creativity and cutting edge as departments that needed to be strengthened and with Siem De Jong and Remy Cabella signed, they have brought in two internationals with pedigree who can add to the squad’s footballing IQ.
Daryl Janmaat looks like a tidy player, but is a like-for-like replacement for Mathieu Debuchy, who was one of the squad’s best players last season.
Jack Colback has Premier League pedigree and will deliver a certain level of consistency.
The new strikers have looked useful in bursts, but both are gambles. Facundo Ferreyra and Manu Rivière look good, but there is a sneaking suspicion that a frontline forward is still required. Ayoze Pérez is one for the future. It has been a smart recruitment drive, and the level of an already competent squad has undoubtedly risen.
But Champions League contention? To leap from tenth to fourth in one season? No club has done that in the Premier League era.
Only two clubs outside the quintet of Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal have broken into that bracket since England started sending four teams into battle and they are Everton and Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham Hotspur.
Both have recorded more top eight finishes than Newcastle, and had managers with better CVs than Pardew’s. Indeed, Pardew would do well to remember the breadth of the club’s Premier League achievements under Ashley: just one top-six finish in seven seasons.
The average finishing place is around 13th. It would take a super-human effort to roll back the mediocrity and suddenly aspire to something more ambitious.
Against that, the club managed to finish fifth after a comparable spending spree in the summer of 2011.
There are similarities between the recruitment drive of three years ago and this one, although the Premier League has moved on a beat or two.
The top four’s acceleration has been swift, and Manchester United will surely be more competent with Louis van Gaal in charge.
It all adds up to so much uncertainty ahead of the new season. With Ashley in charge, it has always been that way.
At least this time it feels like the trepidation has gone.