To no-one’s great surprise but most people’s despair, Newcastle United did not make a single permanent signing over the summer transfer window. Despite a windfall of £60m in new TV money and continued promises from Pardew and Kinnear about the need and intention to buy new players, no recruits were made. This for a club that finished fifth bottom of the Premier League last season and which is amongst the ten best supported clubs in Europe, has the third best attendances in England and is the twentieth most wealthy in European football. It is appalling.
In the last week, Joe Kinnear has completely disappeared and his cowardly vanishing act speaks volumes of his character whilst the club’s inertia over the summer illustrates his incompetence and/or mendacity. A fool or a knave? I’ll let you decide.
As for Pardew, whilst we all appreciate things must be difficult for him, as Ashley’s public-facing patsy and the only person at the club who matters with any continued dialogue with media and vis-a-vis supporters, what remained of his stock collapsed last week. That statement on the official site under his name expressing satisfaction with the club’s playing staff, simply defies belief. It is an insult to the intelligence of all of us cursed to follow this circus of a football club. It has likely diminished his standing with his own players too.
So, where do we go from here? The frustration and anger at what is happening at United is tangible. Many have decided to walk away from a club they continue to love (and I have no case to persuade them otherwise) whilst others are planning exit strategies and ending Direct Debits and all the rest of it. The atmosphere amongst supporters, real ones, long-standing ones is bitter. All of that is completely understandable. I feel exactly the same way.
I really don’t think the morale of our support can continue with the sheer joylessness and lack of ambition provided by Mike Ashley’s running of Newcastle United. I don’t think anger is the real risk now, its despair, alienation and apathy.
So, what should be done?
Last week, we had news that the “leaders” of un-named “supporters groups” were meeting to plot action. Naturally, The Chronicle has gone large with it, though with its characteristic lack of scrutiny and the plan it seems is for a protest march to St James’ Park ahead of the Liverpool game.
So, the big plan is to walk together to the match, possibly carrying a few dodgy flags, shouting a few choice things about the man who “owns” our club and then go into SJP where there will be no protest at all.
That will show him. He’ll sell up immediately and do the off pronto after that. Why didn’t we think of this before? Honestly, I apologise for the sarcasm and I share the feelings about what is going down at our club but really, the people behind this need to think again as they are at serious risk of making us look like fools. Again!
Mike Ashley is completely impervious to influence from the likes of us. He might not appreciate the abuse and from what I hear he is rather a sensitive soul under the bluff exterior but a few hundred well-meaning people walking together through NE1 will achieve the sum total of zip. If you think any different, you are deluding yourself.
The only people who benefit from this are the media. I have absolutely no doubt, the local press will cover every step of the way (whilst failing to provide any kind of investigative and professional analysis of how the club is run) and middle-class, Scenty Bottle types from the BBC and ITV (all wearing pointy-shoes) will be around and about targeting the densest person they can find to ask questions of and who they will be secretly sneering at. I suspect, the usual suspects will be running after journalists and TV cameras desperate for another sad five minutes of fame. This will provide a pointless media event from which absolutely nothing positive will come. The grown-up amongst us will cringe. This is what happens.
Others will talk about boycotts of matches and I’ve heard the Leeds LC game mentioned.
Boycotts have some merit in certain situations but this isn’t one of them.
For a boycott campaign to work, we need it to be allied to a potential buyer who we believe in. A boycott needs to be aligned to a potential sale of the club. We need a buyer to show his/her hand and to engage with supporters ahead of a bid for the club. Without that, it isn’t a boycott at all – you are just not going to the match.
If I’d decided not to go to the match because I strongly objected to how Newcastle United was run, I don’t think Westwood, Seymour, McKeag, Hall, Shepherd and now Ashley would have ever seen my custom over the last forty years. All of those directors have failed to run Newcastle United correctly and all of them had the wrong motives. Ashley is probably the worst, though he’ll be doing well to take as much out of Newcastle United as Hall and Shepherd did.
So, what can we do? The truth is very little at this moment in time. That’s not defeatism, it is simple fact. Our collective financial power over those running the club has been diluted because of the budget from TV going into NUFC which dwarves our season ticket and other ticket money. That’s not to say we put in inconsequential amounts of money – we do – but any half-baked boycott, that would definitely not attract mass support, would barely register with Ashley looking at the NUFC budget lines.
We also need a vision of how we want our club to be run. My personal view is of a model where supporters have real structured and intelligent power in the boardroom, where there is transparency, accountability and the club embodies a certain set of principles which unite Newcastle United stakeholders rather than divide and alienate us.
If you share that vision then you should be signed up to the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, who remain the only members-based organisation amongst our support that has elected officials, proper standing orders about how it conducts its business and which is plugged in to a wider network of professionalism provided by Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation. That isn’t a slavish plug for NUST, I have certain criticisms too, but really, when people are talking about the ownership of Newcastle United FC, NUST is essential in providing something of what the future should look like rather than shouting and bawling and endless media stunts that go nowhere.
It’s my fervent belief that the battle for what is going on at Newcastle United is part of a much wider context. Ticket-prices, accountability, financial fair play and all the rest of it need to be understood as football-wide issues and not just in a one club perspective as we are experiencing at United. Portsmouth, Rangers, Leeds, Coventry, Hearts and many others have all gone through owner-problems as we are currently to varying degrees of anguish.
That’s not to say there shouldn’t be protest at United but it has to have a single message and purpose. The local press branding it as a means to remove Ashley or attract a buyer has killed a Protest march dead in the water because that is a wildly over-ambitious objective. Who knows, whose fault that is, The Chronicle doesn’t help in these situations, I do know but the organisers have gone off half-cock I’m afraid.
The game needs to be changed so the likes of Ashley and his ilk cannot behave in the way they do. If you think you can have all your dreams come true by walking up Barrack Road shouting your head off, then off you go, good luck, I’m sure it will make you feel better. But then think about what comes next.
It was gratifying last week to see Luke Edwards (The Telegraph) and Simon Bird (The Mirror) pick up on the club accounts which we’ve had online here for some weeks now as well as detail the money Ashley has taken out of United and which he has plans to again. For the avoidance of doubt, Ashley took £11m out of United in the period ending June 12 and has a further £18m ear-marked to come out in the period ending June 13, though we are informed this hasn’t happened yet and I’ll leave it to you to choose whether you believe that or not as I have no evidence either way. In January 14, we’ll discover how much Ashley intends to take out in the current year. Given the extra money coming into United from TV, no money spent on transfers, redundancies at NUFC and a reduced payroll, I’d imagine we’d be looking at something north of £20m. This is all my speculation of course.
Add to that lolly the benefits to Sports Direct of having their logo plastered all over SJP (which we estimate is worth £8m per season) and the reports that the Sports Direct PLC board may even pay Ashley for organising this media exposure and the need for intense scrutiny of Newcastle United’s accounts is obvious.
There are parts of the Newcastle United business that need a trained eye focused upon them and one of them is the club’s merchandising. Where the money is going out of the club shops has become a vexed question of late but so is the operation of NUFC Direct, the online merchandising arm of Newcastle United – an operation ran from Nottingham and wholly owned by Sports Direct. We are trying in our shambolic fanzine manner to work out what this means but really, this is crying out for trained journalists to conduct some investigations into what is and isn’t going down at United.
Those who work for national, independent newspapers with colleagues working in business and finance should really be offering us more.
As I’m fond of reminding people, the expose of the tax shenanigans at Rangers FC didn’t come from the proper Glasgow media, it came from a football fan, working alone in the spare room, who commented in-depth upon the Ibrox miasma (Rangers Tax Case) and which the proper media, the people who draw a salary, constantly raided to form copy.
As for the local press, quite simply, I despair of their complete lack of professional capacity to shine a light beyond anything other than knacked knees, blatant club PR and transfer tittle-tattle.
Indeed, only a day after the closed transfer window had left the properly washed parts of the NE seething, they were trotting out crap about January transfer targets, how players due to go out on loan to lower division clubs only a week earlier, were now going to show their worth and all the rest of the drivel that passes for coverage of Newcastle United. I have the impression, Mark Douglas (The Journal) would at least like to try and have a go at this but whether or not those higher up the food chain shit their strides at some proper journalistic coverage of the North East’s largest club and source of news and sales, remains to be seen.
The provincial press’ circulation continues to decline and those on the inside mourn a loss of the facility to hold local institutions to account, which is fine in theory but when was the last time they actually did so? They are letting their public down very badly as things stand.
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So then Steve Harper will have his testimonial at SJP. Thank God it won’t be against one of the Old Firm who would stink the city out. An all-star Milan side will turn out and whilst they are all old men now, they still carry some star dust to sprinkle around St James’ Park. Hopefully, some good causes will benefit.
We’ll have our second away trip of the season this weekend when we travel to Vile Park for the first game since the transfer window closed. I expect there will be loud abuse of Joe Kinnear and Mike Ashley and possibly Alan Pardew for his part in the bull-shitting on Barrack Road. I thought we were way the better side over an unambitious Fulham last week but it remains to be seen how we’ll do against a Paul Lambert side which I expect will be a major improvement on last season.
Where Yohan Cabaye will fit in the manager’s plans is open to speculation too. For me, I felt the “strike” scenario presented to us did Cabaye no favours given I imagine Ashley wanted £20m from whoever and it certainly suited those motives to have him missing games and protected from the possibilities of injury. I think United wanted to sell him and he wanted to go. I’ve heard nothing about any club fines imposed, so it seems hardly something that caused consternation behind the scenes at United. Cynical? Who wouldn’t be?
I have no time for Cabaye to be honest. To take part in a strike, real or phoney was unacceptable but I’m not about to be calling for him to be left to rot in the stiffs or booed or whatever. I want to see him in the side and playing well, contributing and earning his outrageous salary. Just don’t expect me to admire or cheer him for his talent. He’s a mercenary, like so many others. He’s a hired hand. Let him earn his money for us and if he goes, he goes. He means fuck all to us.
A point at Villa would be a great result.
Have a great week.
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