There’s a half-baked theory that fanzines and their writers secretly enjoy the bad times at a football club because it causes a surge in sales and energises the strength of the polemics penned by their writers. Like most theories of this kind there is a grain of truth in it but it has its limits. I think in the case of Newcastle United we are well beyond the limits. I’m very much aware writing this stuff on a weekly basis that I’m often expressing the same sentiments and on so many occasions they are negative and critical of so much of Newcastle United. I think for some, I’ve developed a bit of a reputation as moaning old bastard whose forgot what it’s about to support a football club and instead has fallen into an addictive need to relentlessly slaughter the doings at St James’ Park.
Being a reflective, self-critical and analytical sort (I like to think) I frequently wonder if I haven’t just slipped into a well-worn groove of cynicism and easy negativity and am failing to see other sides of how the club operates and what might be rays of sunshine or green shoots of recovery at St James’ Park. I look hard for it, believe me because slaughtering an institution that has been a significant part of my life for longer than I care to mention wearies even an angry, belligerent sod like me. I’m at a point now as a supporter where I’m bored of this whole Ashley narrative at our club and am desperate for a change for the better. I can assure you it’s no good for this fanzine any more that we have a club going around in circles making the same crass misjudgements and our writers having to chart and opine on every inch of the Newcastle United story. We aren’t gaining from that I can assure you.
I’m one who hasn’t cancelled my season ticket direct debit but I really don’t want to be
trudging up to the Gallowgate End on match-day wondering what I’m doing with my life and speculating how many of the band of Black & Whiters I’ve been bumping into for years at the match will have chucked it and whether I’m going to die of loneliness one day on Barrack Road.
I’d hate to ever recognise myself as a cynic. I’ve met cynics and they are life-draining pains in the arse who are not not fun to be around and believe me I know!
I would however like to think of myself as a sceptic. I’ve no doubt my gradual and determined embrace of atheism would have horrified my devoutly Catholic parents but as another prick trying to make sense of the chaos of the world, I think I’ve decided if I’m going to believe anything anyone tells me, I’m always going to respond by smiling and waiting for the evidence. That now applies to the existence of celestial creators of the universe who believe condoms to be the work of the devil and owners of football clubs who tell me and my fellow supporters they are about to do what they have set their face against for eight long years and invest correctly in an effort to build a competitive football team.
I hear those who insist it is far too early to start flapping about transfers and they could be right. There are others who are entirely relaxed about McClaren not having appointed his coaching team and that’s fair enough, maybe they aren’t as tightly strung as me and are confident that the manager will have everyone in place by a week Monday when the players return for pre-season training.
It depends on your perspective whether you are relaxed about the lack of incoming transfers at a club which narrowly avoided relegation in May or if like me your thinking has been set by the experiences of Mike Ashley at United for eight, long, stomach churning years.
The thing is, for many Mike Ashley’s time is already up. They have followed through on post-match pub threats to walk away and they have done the deed. Many of us have long warned that Newcastle United’s biggest threat wasn’t the anger of fan activism and protest but the sclerotic loss of hope and enthusiasm for the club. Apathy, not anger was always going to do more damage.
How many games last season at SJP were played out in front of sickened, bored and apathetic fans completely at a loss at why they had bothered turning up? I can’t think of a single reason why anyone would want to repeat the experiences of last season and the one before and that is why the long-predicted and it has to be said hoped (by some) haemorrhage of support has begun and how.
This close season, the deadline for season ticket renewals has been extended on three occasions. Barely a day goes by without some kind of electronic communique from United hitting my in-box or whatever imploring fans to renew. I sometimes wonder if some kind of Black PR company has assumed control of United’s marketing when exhortations for season ticket renewals are accompanied by a photograph of Mike Williamson, as incompetent a central defender to have pulled on a B&W shirt in all of the years I’ve followed this basket case club. And I saw Keeley and Bird. And Barton. And Scott. And Hedworth. Jesus Christ.
I learnt yesterday “director”, Bob Moncur (aka Bob Concur) is now on the phones to corporate customers begging them to buy their hospitality packages and promising jam tomorrow. This is through the looking glass stuff now but hints at desperation taking grip at United. Believe me, I know how much everyone at United fears empty stands at SJP and the most potent protests Ashley fears are absent fans at televised matches.
The loss of support from the stands isn’t something they didn’t know wasn’t coming. Its been happening for a good while now but they have stuck their heads in the sand and imagined that the criticism of how they were running the club came from a vocal militant minority (hello there) who were unrepresentative of the vast majority of the support. I’ll make no claim as to whether my views on the club are representative or not but I do know this they have been losing season ticket holders for years now and they are filling the stands with ticket-offers that are undermining the value of their own season tickets. That is why despite having the third highest attendances in the PL, the match-day income is falling in real terms year on year. That isn’t any sense of enlightenment with ticket prices it is a simple supply-demand correlation.
So, whether my concern at the lack of activity is premature or not, Newcastle United has a major credibility problem with its public. The club has no hinterland of goodwill to retreat onto in tough times because at every turn it has left its support feeling undervalued, betrayed, embarrassed and sickened by how it behaves.
Therefore, now the club finds itself in a position it has not experienced before under Ashley and that is to convince supporters its worth going to the match and to buy season tickets and corporate packages etc. For all of Ashley’s tenure at United the club has never had to do that in meaningful sense. The club attracted support on an emotional level but for many thousands of supporters, the bond has been broken and to coin a phrase fans looking at the outlay of their hard earned money are seeking a pound-for-pound return for their dough. How much enjoyment will they get from the club for their outlay? Isn’t it ironic that having been told for many years that football is a business, many fans have now started to treat it like one. The biter bit.
So, whether too early to panic or not, it doesn’t really matter – if Mike Ashley doesn’t want his advertising at SJP to decorate a depressing savannah of battle-ship grey plastic, the people he has appointed to put the cart before the horse or something are going to have to convince many supporters he’s done enough to earn their money. To return to the religious theme, Mike Ashley isn’t a preacher sermonsing to empty-headed believers any more, he is attracting the glare of an army of sceptics who have their arms folded and all thinking the same thing – prove it. The Newcastle United support has changed and it is harder, more difficult to convince and lacking in its at times exuberant optimism. Ashley has destroyed that. He has now to live with the result of that.
As I type this, our man Glenn Ashcroft is doing the business designing the next issue of true faith which of course will be our summer special. It will be a staggering 150 pages and ideal as it is for tablets, i-pads, kindles etc its perfect for holidays and all the rest of it. We’ll have news about it very soon. As was promised when we went digital – faster, bigger, cheaper and better.
Our weekly Podcast lads led by Alex Hurst are busy throughout the summer and we even have our own true faith radio show every Friday night at 7pm. You can get at everything our Pod Squad does by just clicking here.
Flushed with the success of the true faith online merchandising operation last season when our true faith pin badges etc. flew off the shelves we’ve decided to do a few more bits and bobs and we’ll have news for you on that soon as well. Just keep looking in on the site for news.
There’s more to come soon but still some canny things here as well already.
Many apologies for the tardiness of this week’s gubbins, real life sometimes crashes in on the world of fanzine gobshites as well.
Have a great week – might see you at Gateshead.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …