Approaching the end of a tough championship campaign we had the fixtures from hell, our three nearest rivals away from home all in the same week. Would we let the chance of the title slip away? Even the nightmare scenario of the dreaded play-offs was in the minds of some fans. We got seven points. Promotion was sorted, we’re still in with the chance of the title, no worries. Even Newcastle United couldn’t mess this up. Then the taxman called.
Sky Sports reported that 180 HMRC investigators raided St. James’ Park and Lee Charnley had been arrested for fiddling the taxman! We hadn’t had time to celebrate properly and now we might have points deducted, we might be relegated, we might have a transfer embargo.
Worst of all, Rafa won’t stay if this all proves to be true.
It seemed to centre around deals involving French agents and a couple of other clubs. The amounts involved, whilst not insignificant to you and me, were chicken feed in the grand scheme of things in the world of football. It never seemed likely to me that it was much more than a good tabloid story but it sort of knocked the shine off the great week we had just had.
Never mind, we went on to win the title after our own game finished on that great afternoon at the beginning of May. Our good friends Aston Villa, managed by a sad mackem bastard, equalised against Brighton and we all got properly pissed! At last we had a summer we could enjoy, if only someone would confirm that Rafa was staying. Unbelievably, there’s an early decision and not only is he staying but the club are on board with his plan and he can have whatever money the football side of the business raises to put his plan into action. A world class manager, a plan, the club at last showing a bit of ambition, bring on the premier league. What can go wrong?
After ten years of wanting Mike Ashley to sell up now is not quite the time …. is it? Stories have emerged about serious interest in the club coming from a Chinese consortium. Is this what we want at the minute? I think most fans couldn’t give a monkeys who owns the club. They’re bothered by what the owner does and how they do it, not who they are. The biggest concern at the minute amongst fans is will it affect Rafa’s plan? If there’s to be new owners will they stick with Rafa? Surely he’s the biggest asset we have at the minute. Surely even NUFC can’t shoot themselves in the foot this time and lose a world class manager who not only believes in the club but who “gets” the Geordies. He’s bought into the local community, he “gets” the City, he loves the fans almost as much as they love him, he’s explored the region, Newcastle Keep, Durham Cathedral, the Angel of the North and he calls into local six a side football to watch local kids do their stuff. He’s supported the work that has been done by fans to help set up a foodbank collection point in the name of the fans. He “gets” it.
During 2015 NUST ran a campaign asking “Whose Club Is It?” We organised a conference about fan engagement. It was attended by fans from all over the country and launched our manifesto about how we wanted OUR club, Newcastle United, to become a “Community Club”.
What we wanted was :-
- a club that will work with supporters on fan issues and will recognise their value as the long term custodians of the club;
- a club that will work with our MPs, the City Council and local businesses to play its part in regenerating our area rather than simply billboarding a national sports retailer;
- a club that will work with local football clubs and schools to develop local talent and keep that talent in the North East;
- a club that says we can compete, we will compete, we don’t reward mediocrity, we strive for excellence and to be the best we can be in everything we do.
Now, however loyal and passionate a Newcastle fan you are I defy you to show how NUFC during the Ashley years has hit any of those points. Supporters have been ignored, the Supporters Trust banned from the club’s Fans Forum, local newspapers banned from the ground for reporting the fans protests. The City Council Leader reportedly told by the then Managing Director to stay the fuck out of Club business when the renaming of St. James’ Park had been criticised in a Council meeting. MPs cancelling their season tickets in protest at the sponsorship deal done with what was seen as a parasitic pay day lender. A football recruitment policy that was based on scavenging the lower end of lesser European leagues to bring in young inexperienced players promised stepping stone deals which would bring in a tidy profit further down the line. A club policy and reward system aimed at mid table mediocrity with no interest in competing for trophies because they didn’t bring big enough cash rewards.
Compare all of that to the Rafalution. He’s invited fanzines and fan groups in to talk to him about what’s important to fans, he’s reorganising the way the Academy works with a view to bringing through more of our own talent, Lee Charnley is actively involved with local politicians and businesses through the Newcastle Gateshead initiative, Newcastle United Supporters Trust has been invited back to the Fans Forum, Rafa is responsible for football business and Graham Carr has now left the club. Rafa is not aiming for mediocrity, he has a plan for OUR club to be competitive in the premier league and to win trophies. He is 57 and could be winning trophies elsewhere but he believes that he can do it at Newcastle United. He believes.
So what happens next if Chinese interest is real? Will Mike Ashley sell up and get out of a business he’s never seemed comfortable with? He told us he was here until we won something, does the Championship title count? He’s been found to speak with forked tongue before. Will he sell part of the Club in order to attract investment whilst he retains control? Significant investment will surely require significant influence if not control. Mike Ashley has no history of sharing decision making with others when it comes to businesses he owns.
What might the Chinese want out of the deal? They are unlikely to approach it like Roman Abramovich who wanted a new toy and wanted it to be the very best toy in the playground. Neither are they likely to be on a charm initiative about their country like the middle eastern owners at Manchester City. The Chinese, it is reported, want to learn how the premier league operates as the most successful league in the world. They want to be part of it and to transfer their knowledge to growing the game at home. If that is the case, they may be happy to be “junior” partners in an arrangement that allows them to see the workings of the premier league from the inside. Their involvement in West Brom. hasn’t led to major changes at that club.
As fans we recognise that we are not going to be part of the decisions to be taken by Mike Ashley, we’ve asked before and been ignored. What we all hope for now is that even Newcastle United cannot throw away the most valuable baby we’ve ever had in the bathwater. Whatever Chinese dish we might be served up it cannot be allowed to destabilise the most ambitious plan we’ve had on the boardroom table at St. James’ Park for many years.
Trust Rafa …………….. he’s part of OUR club.
Vice Chair, NUST