It seems this season has proven to be something of a tipping point for a lot of supporters. I don’t think it’s one major event that has caused so many to consider walking away from the club rather the relentless culmination of screw-ups, broken promises, lies, incompetence, poor treatment and a general malaise that has taken root over almost seven years of Mike Ashley’s stewardship (sic) of Newcastle United.
You don’t need me to list all of our grievances with Ashley and his running of the club though I do think the candid admission by those charged with running the show that United places the cup competitions in low priority aligned to the manager’s diffidence towards qualifying for the Europa League has caused many Mags to believe this season is probably as good as it gets under Ashley and that isn’t anyway good enough. We have a careful and deliberate strategy not to win anything and to be mediocre.
The whole Kinnear appointment, the inevitable outcome, pre-planned sale of Cabaye with no replacement and £20m pocketed hasn’t even come as a shock. It’s all been depressingly predictable. The current form and results of the team were exactly what many of us predicted back in a close season of depressing inertia.
Many Mags appear now to have moved beyond rage and more dangerously are falling into apathy. That apathy appears to me to be about an acceptance that nothing can ever change with Ashley on the starboard bow of USS Newcastle United FC. The club is about nothing more than staying on the TV gravy train and doing everything it can to repay Mike Ashley the monies owed to him largely due to his own incompetent running of the club. That’s your lot. No-one is really arguing against that, no-one is challenging that version of reality with hard evidence.
It would appear that Ashley lacks the will to even think about challenging further up the Premier League having judged that the title and Champions League is out of reach because of the financial strength of those above us. He has decided it’s not even worth trying, like Everton, to be a doughty challenger and do everything we possibly can to upset the status quo. We are one of the few clubs with the potential support and untapped resources to do so.
It’s also about Ashley’s style of running the club. Lack of communication is one thing, absence from all about a handful of matches is another and breeds the belief the man who owns the club has little interest in anything about it other than the balance sheet and plastering the names of his business interests on every available space at SJP.
Ashley’s decision to ban the local press on the basis of their coverage of a protest march against his running of United is dishonest. He has banned them because he wants them to pay for access. What this means is that no Newcastle United player, coach or manager can speak to any of the Thomson House titles on any subject at all. So, when the club launches its community project Toon Times at the Discovery Museum, there is no-one allowed to speak to The Journal, Evening Chronicle or Sunday Sun. Even this humble fanzine (and others), while pestered to contribute for months, wasn’t invited to the opening doo. That’s the class and quality of Newcastle United. When the Newcastle United Foundation is doing good work across the North East, there is no player, coach or manager to speak to the local press about the impact of this work and to publicise it more widely. When Newcastle United players visit sick children at Christmas in local hospitals there is no coverage of it from the local press and no photographs in the local newspapers. Welcome to Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United, 2014.
The decision to ban the Newcastle United Supporters Trust from the Fans Forum was similarly dishonest and part of a duplicity that runs from the top, Ashley, a proven liar to the people he has running the club in various capacities. Ashley has the capacity to corrupt and turn decent people into knaves on PAYE.
So, you know this and you have had enough, so what do you do? The talk is now of chucking season tickets. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d never criticize anyone’s decision to walk away from Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United and I’d likewise never encourage anyone to buy a season ticket with this bloke in charge. However, what I see is huge confusion in this notion of chucking season tickets and I have a number of questions:
- Is the call to chuck season tickets motivated by a desire to exert pressure on Ashley to sell up and go?
- Or is it to simply hurt the club financially?
- Or is it both?
- If I chuck my season ticket, does this mean I won’t be going to any more Newcastle United home games?
- Or does it mean I will be buying match tickets on a match by match basis? Thus meaning I’ll be spending more on tickets than I previously was and not hurting Ashley financially at all, quite the contrary.
- Am I being asked to stop following the club as I have all of my life by going to matches? Or something else?
There is a total lack of clarity in the calls for a season ticket boycott and that is because it is garbled, ill-conceived and raises so many different questions.
This is my personal take. I won’t be packing my season ticket in. I have a variety of reasons but the first is because I find a season ticket convenient. I couldn’t be arsed constantly chasing match tickets, sitting in different parts of the ground and for better or worse I know Ashley isn’t at United for the long haul and he will go at some point. Indeed, everything he seems to be doing, to me, smacks of someone preparing the club’s accounts for a sale. That’s my intuition.
I am not altogether convinced a season ticket boycott will have the desired results. Thousands have chucked it already and been replaced by cheap offers – the massive family enclosure we have is a subject of pride but wouldn’t have been possible had thousands of other Mags not sacked their season tickets off.
Further, like it or not the club’s proportion of income from the gate in its overall top line is diminishing season on season. The ever increasing TV deals means your season ticket money has become less and less important. Ashley won’t like season tickets being chucked but it is unlikely to throw him into a panic and hand the club over to a new benevolent owner(s).
What we also have to acknowledge is that when supporters cross the rubicon and decide to chuck it, by and large they never come back. I am aware of supporters, so disgusted by the sale of Malcolm Macdonald in the 70s, they have never set foot back into SJP since. People find something else to do, get used to not going and lose interest.
Finally, I’ve been here before. In the late 80s following the sales of Waddle, Beardsley and Gascoigne and relegation, the excellent United Supporters For Change group led boycotts of United games and they were only ever partially successful. What led to McKeag and Co. leaving was an alternative buyer, namely John Hall. That currently doesn’t exist as an option for us at this point in time.
Then I have to conclude that had I boycotted every regime at Newcastle United I felt was selling us short, running the club incompetently, were greedy and had no ambition, I’d probably never ever have set foot in St James’ Park over the 40-odd years I’ve served my own Black & White penance.
That does not mean I am advocating doing nothing. It is absolutely right that we stand up and try and do our utmost to protect the club. However, this call for a boycott of season tickets is garbled, lacks of clarity of purpose and I believe will prove divisive amongst our support.
There is another way.
Firstly, all supporters participating within the club’s sham of a Fans Forum should resign from it immediately and cause it to cease to exist. A complete blockade of the Fans Forum and membership of it should be supported. In that way, we can challenge the club’s licensing arrangements with UEFA.
All supporters should take off the football packages from their SKY TV packages and inform them they are so doing because of Mike Ashley’s running of Newcastle United which is dishonest and bad for the integrity of the Premier League as a meaningful competition.
You should contact your local MP to demand that there be meaningful policies developed and committed to by the main political parties which make our football clubs more accountable to the local communities that have sustained them for almost 150 years. Remember, Ashley is a symptom of how football operates in this country, not its cause.
You should join the Newcastle United Supporters Trust and give its membership and its funding a boost. By joining the NUST you will also be joining the Football Supporters Federation. The NUST is the only properly constituted, democratic supporters organization that is open for all members to join. I hear criticism of the NUST and extravagant demands for action from people who to my knowledge have never lifted a finger to do anything positive but feel qualified to command others to carry out their whims.
You should become active as a supporter beyond your match-going rituals. This is a particular bug-bear of mine. I’m hardly a Che Guevara of the Gallowgate End but I’ve done a little down the years here and there. But we do have a load of generals within social media who feel as though they have the authority to criticize, demand and direct when they have never ever done a thing and have no intention of doing anything.
Supporters meetings are notoriously cursed by piss poor turnouts and here’s a thing, there are times when I have concluded, our support just lacks something. I compare us badly to Liverpool fans. There isn’t a better organized supporters group in the country than the Spirit of Shankly and we aren’t even anywhere near to matching Everton’s Blue Union and we are nowhere near to the supporters’ organization of Man Utd, Celtic or Rangers. Don’t for one moment think I’m describing those supporters organisations as perfect but I look at how Hull City fans have responded to their loony owner’s proposed name change and I’m full of admiration for them. Could we, would we have done the same thing? Well, we never really did with the St James’ Park re-naming, did we?
Too many of our supporters, rely on others to lead the fight and stand on the sidelines when they need their support. That really has to end if the current situation is to move beyond cry-arsing and moaning to well-developed, intelligent action that will unite our support rather than divide it.
The football? We can’t score goals and we can’t defend. That’s a really bad combination for a football team.
We are running our new survey, the third of the season. It will take you about 30 seconds to complete. The results will be featured in the next issue of true faith (TF110) Just click here.
We were busy with the Podcasts last week and were joined by George Caulkin, the greatly respected journalist covering NE football for The Times for a mammoth post-transfer window, Cabaye sale, Kinnear-exit chin wag which drifted into post-modern ennui I reckon. Then we had the fantastic opportunity to join Robert Lee for a truly marvelous session of nostalgia and honesty about what is happening at Newcastle United from one of the club’s greatest players in the modern era.
Taylor & Besty do a fantastic job with these true faith : PODCASTS and it’s all absolutely free and gratis. They have become amongst the most listened to football podcasts in the country and it’s not hard to see, I mean hear, why.
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13 matches to go eh? Sighs.