I don’t think much of the preceding 70-odd minutes will linger long in the memory of the 50K+ crowd at SJP for the Villa game but the relief around the stands, on the pitch and in the dug-out might just as Remy headed for the Strawberry Corner to celebrate in the dying moments of the game with team-mates and fans alike, might just. We’d endured a largely turgid afternoon with several players having their commitment questioned by those around me and the post-Cabaye malaise looked very much like it was going to inflict another horrible day on us all. I’d felt that had Lambert showed even a modicum of ambition and went for our throat in the first 10-15 mins of the second half, the game would have been very much up for us and I don’t doubt a largely muted home crowd would have turned on the team and manager. We were there for the taking. That Agbonlahor had had the run of the midfield where there remains a massive Yohan Cabaye shaped hole for us won’t have been missed by watching analysts from other clubs and I expect we’ll struggle here for the rest of the season. To no-one’s great surprise there was no sign of Hatem Ben Arfa and although there is justified questioning of how Pardew is nurturing our talented players (i.e. Sissoko, Cisse, Marveaux) I do think the minimum to be expected from any professional footballer is that they train hard and look after their condition. For all of his talent, HBA looks a good stone overweight to my eye. This is a professional athlete?
Now on 40pts and up to 8th as I write this there are many who would look at our situation and wonder what all of the fuss is about. By and large the clubs above us in the PL are either bigger than us with much greater resources (Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal) or they are the beneficiaries of financial doping (Man City and Chelsea) or they are Spurs and Everton who at this point in time have greater ambition and / or better management. Isn’t this, as one lad I spoke to today asserted, where we should be in the pecking order. He has a point. Being 8th in the PL is not a crisis. When I think of where we have been in my lifetime of following United, its nowhere near the depressing shambles we were in during the late 70s (Rafferty, Shinton, Clarke et al (shudder)) and the unlamented McGarry/Cox era of six seasons in the Second Division. Seeing Waddle, Beardsley and Gascoigne sold off in the eighties broke our hearts. That period between Play-Off defeat to the Mackems in 1990 and the arrival of KK in ’92 was equally as desperate too. That Portsmouth game at SJP in ’92, David Kelly and all that evokes the memories but let’s not forget, we were staring down the barrel of relegation to the Third Division. This is not a terrible position for the club to be in.
But the thing is, it feels really bad. We know Ashley has no feel for the club, no love, no dreams and increasingly no interest it would seem given his lack of presence on match-days. When Pardew hints at being terrified to requalify for the Europa League, our only realistic target in the PL, we know there is something not right, though criticism of its format is justified. When we hear John Irving, unabashedly informing supporters, the cup competitions are not a priority and bracketing the club with the likes of Wigan and Birmingham, we know something is really amiss at St James’ Park.
I would really like the club to change hands but I don’t see the departure of Ashley as an end in itself. Mike Ashley Out? That’s great, who is coming in?
Ashley has become a demon in the eyes of many who follow the club. I’ve done my fair share of demonising the man as well. I believe he is ungracious, arrogant, ignorant and bitter. He is also wholly unaccountable to supporters and the seven years he has been at the club have been an ordeal.
I don’t think he’s the worst owner there is and I don’t believe he’s the worst owner we’ve had. I reserve that (dis)honour for the previous incumbents, Hall and Shepherd who loaded debt onto the club, tookk millions out for themselves, made it unsustainable and had it not been for the arrival of Ashley with his deep pockets, its highly likely the club would have headed for financial meltdown a la Leeds, Rangers, Portsmouth. Whatever his faults, Ashley has arrested the growth of the club’s debts and made the club sustainable. He may not have intended to invest so much money in keeping the club afloat but the facts are the facts. He has done some good.
But the atmosphere is so sour around United right now, the lack of attention to critical areas of the club’s operations so deep-rooted, every supporter is right to be concerned about the future.
The club has lost its soul, it appears to have no direction beyond staying in the PL and raking the TV money in so Ashley can claw back the dough he was forced to put in to keep the whole thing afloat. There is no corporate strategy to grow the club’s income or raise its global profile. Indeed, it has no board of directors beyond John Irving and Lee Charnley. There is no Director of Football, no-one who it would seem calls the shots. No-one to drag those responsible for United’s failure to meet the Cat. 1 standard for the EPPP in and kick them up the arse!. No-one to appoint a replacement for Willie Donachie, our recently departed Reserve Team coach! I worry who will be charged to conduct the substantial rebuilding required this summer. Who will negotiate, who will judge, who will decide?
For Ashley, he seems to show United all the love of a broken toy.
We can shout all we want about wanting Ashley out and all the rest of it but are we even sure what the Newcastle United we all want even looks like?
I’m pretty sure nothing would give our support a bigger collective hard-on than if we were to become the subject of a takeover by someone in the shape of Sheik Mansour as per Man City. For all of my po-faced wishy-washy socialism, I think I’d sit on my Gallowgate End pew wetting myself at the great team on show and the hunt for honours we were engaged in. But really, this kind of financial doping is all wrong. It has to be stopped. If it were, we would instantly become stronger as I will insist Newcastle United is a stronger football institution than Man City or Chelsea. But in the current format, Ashley cannot compete financially with Sheiks and Oligarchs. Neither can we with or without Ashley, compete with the resources of Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal!
To be honest, I’m not really bothered about who we can and can’t compete with. I just want us to be the best we can possibly be and to compete as far as we can. I think we should be attempting to scrape every penny we possibly can via sponsorship and all the rest of it and that money should be reinvested in the club – academy, signings, stadium and all the rest of it. I’d like the club to be more than a billboard for Mike Ashley’s business interests, I’d like the club to engage more effectively with supporters and I don’t mean half-baked Fans Forums and I’d like the Academy and the Foundation to improve what they do by about 10K% than what they are now. I’d like the club to be owned in full or in part by the supporters. The German model looks pretty attractive to me. If that means the limit of what we can be is 8th or 9th in the PL then so be it, that’s what we are but we should always be striving to be better, to do the right things, to be a force for good in the NE and within football more generally.
That’s my aspiration for Newcastle United Football Club but amidst all of the white noise about Ashley Out, calls for season ticket boycotts etc. do we even know what we want rather than what we don’t?
We will likely close the third true faith : READERS SURVEY of the season at the end of this week. Our man Steve Farrell, will cast an eye over the results and he’ll try and make sense of them in the next issue. So, if you haven’t taken part in the survey, take less than a minute to fill this little fella in and do us a favour. Click here.
Yours truly has recently taken up a position on the board of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust. There was no requirement for an election as not enough people contested the available positions. I’m looking forward to getting to work with the board and making my contribution to the growth of the NUST – its membership and its influence within the main body of our support, on Newcastle United and more widely within football. I know a few of the board already but I’m looking forward to getting to know others as well. They all seem like good eggs to me.
Obviously, true faith will stay entirely independent of the NUST. What appears here and elsewhere within true faith is completely separate from the Trust and business will be conducted via the Trust’s own formal lines of communication. If you want to raise issues with the Trust you’ll need to do that via the established lines and not by any informal means with true faith.
You should know that membership of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust board is unpaid.
All of the advertising and promotion provided to the Newcastle United Supporters Trust via true faith is provided completely and wholly free of charge. Always has been and always will be.
If you don’t believe me, get to next year’s AGM and ask the Treasurer.
Anyway, have a great week and let’s head for Hull in good heart. We owe them.