To no-one’s great surprise Steve McClaren was appointed as Head Coach at Newcastle United last week and I have decided I’ll spell his name correctly for the duration of his time as manager at our club. How’s that for Glasnost?
Whilst it seems McClaren’s role will be similar to that enjoyed by Pardew and that he’ll fit within the model outlined by Charnley which boiled down to its bones is basically a management committee, it does seem that McClaren will fulfil the media role in common with roles at other clubs known as “managers”. Thus, McClaren will explain everything whilst not having authority over those areas. Charnley and Carr will remain in the shadows with public profiles lesser than what their role, within their model, suggests it should be.
Last week was positive in one way. I will take no pleasure in the removal of Carver and Stone from their posts but I will say it was the correct decision. It may well have come as a surprise to both men because for the last 6 months Carver has been at pains to tell anyone that if he didn’t get the Head Coach gig he would still be there anyway. Let’s be honest, with a remaining 5 years on his contract, he was in a very good position and although he’s now down the road, he has an alleged £1m in his back poke from United, so it’s not like he’ll be impoverished by losing his job as so many fellow supporters have been when redundancy has come calling. He was never ever good enough to be the main man at United but I wish neither he nor Stone ill-will and hope both get jobs in football more suited to their talents.
With Carver and Stone out of the way, McClaren now has a blank page more or less to build his coaching team (Woodman is unlikely to last the summer at United I’d guess) and the press has been full of names expected to join him on Tyneside – Simpson, Zenden, Clarke, Steele, Black, Round … who knows, we’ll have to wait and see. That said, it is absolutely crucial McClaren gets this team right. Our play under Carver was abysmal but it was extremely limited post-Cabaye under Pardew as well. Admittedly Pardew had been hung out to dry by a lack of investment but nevertheless the play and style under Pardew lacked sophistication and variety as well as basic organisation (defending and attacking corners and set-pieces for example) and it is to be hoped there is more in every regard in terms of how we play the game. We do want an attacking style of football but we will also need to have competent defending as well.
That’s my stating the bleedin’ obvious bit over.
Naturally, unlike just about every other Premier League club in the country, United couldn’t just introduce McClaren to the press and supporters, get the usual cheesey photos and have one or two supporters (the days of big, enthusiastic receptions outside SJP for managers as we had for Dalglish, Gullit and Robson are now well and truly over) shaking his hand and all the rest of it. Oh no, the whole atmosphere had to be soured by putting McClaren under early orders not to speak to anyone other than a new selected media who are what might be safely termed “friendly”. Clearly, this gets McClaren off onto the wrong foot and it seems the PR geniuses we have at Newcastle United seem happy to have plenty of the media world outside pissing into the Black & White tent than those inside pissing out.
For some time now there have been rumours that Ashley has wanted to charge the press for access and there’s even been talk of different Gold, Silver, Bronze categories of access to individuals at the club. For a while it looked like The Sun were going to shaft the press-world and pay what was required but if my information is correct they were a little fearful of having Tyneside turn their back on their horrible paper in the same way as Merseyside after their lies following the Hillsborough Disaster such is the antipathy towards Mike Ashley here.
Surprisingly, it now seems as though it is Trinity Mirror who have been asked to come to sit at the front of the class and will get all of the gold stars. Don’t forget that although Trinity Mirror owns the Thomson House titles, The Chronicle weren’t invited to the McClaren news conference but they did get the interview the following day, so they were looked after.
Needless to say, SKY were there as were BBC Radio Newcastle, who let’s face it have been less than er, surgical in their dissection of Mike Ashley’s running of Newcastle United.
I would suspect Ashley doesn’t like giving away the steam off his piss on a cold day so you have to ask what is in it for him when he’s opened the door to Trinity Mirror. I’m not 100% certain of the Premier League’s collective agreements as per media but I do rather suspect Newcastle United will stretch what they are required to do to the absolute limits this coming season. They will give the “non-friendly” media the absolute minimum.
The big question is then why? I don’t imagine Trinity Mirror will be paying for access to Newcastle United but I do suspect that Mike Ashley will be getting value from this arrangement, if not Newcastle United. Therefore I suspect Trinity Mirror and Sports Direct might be the relationship where we find the answers to this apparent new age of chumminess. I have absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support my claim but I’d rather suspect that Sports Direct might be about to get some very er, affordable advertising from Trinity Mirror. That will deliver absolutely nothing positive for Newcastle United but on the contrary further alienate the rest of the media. In my half-baked, fanzine conspiracy theory this arrangement will suit Mike Ashley down to the ground because he could not really give a flying fuck about Newcastle United doing anything more than staying in the Premier League if his history so far suggests anything.
For Trinity Mirror however, the spotlight of suspicion will be on them from people like us but also from people like you. Even within the last week I have noticed some hyped up headlines at The Mirror and The Chronicle and it seems a very definite shift in tone. We will see if they are on-message with Ashley in the next few weeks and months. I don’t envy decent lads and good journalists like Simon Bird and Mark Douglas who I am certain will feel uncomfortable working within these new constraints.
For a supposedly left-leaning, Labour Party supporting media outlet like Trinity Mirror, I am surprised they should be happy to sit so comfortably alongside Sports Direct with its zero hour contracts and Newcastle United with Wonga on the front of the shirt and a toxic relationship within its generally, left-leaning, Labour Party supporting catchment area. Then I think of Piers Morgan and conclude perhaps they exist in the same moral vacuum as The Sun et al.
But let’s return to what was said in the press conference and why it was said. All of a sudden, Newcastle United is now a club that wishes to win a trophy. Ashley said it before the West Ham game (as well as wanting to qualify for the Champions League) and now Charnley and McClaren have said the same things. It’s not just a sign of how fucked up United has become under Ashley that it has to make these kinds of statements it also suggests something else – the people running Newcastle United know their public has turned completely against them. That’s not just we deluded, simple-minded, overly enthusiastic Geordie folk from the banks of the Tyne but the entire football media and many within the game.
Again and again, I have heard fellow supporters, ex-players, pundits, you name them refer to the sheer pointlessness of Newcastle United. The Zombie club if you will. That of course isn’t much good for Newcastle United but it’s pretty terrible for the Premier League as well and the competiveness it sells to the world. Don’t imagine words have not been exchanged between the boardroom at St James’ Park and PL HQ. Do not ignore the discomfort obvious in Richard Scudamore, PL CEO when asked directly and pointedly about Newcastle United in radio interviews. That questioning, that impact, that raising of the profile beyond a regional concern to national attention has been down to those involved in the Ashley Out campaign. Not just the individuals knocking themselves out with the campaign but those who have enthusiastically supported them – people like you and me.
Do not imagine the empty seats at the Spurs game last season for a game live on TV, the deluge of cancelled season tickets, the retreat of corporate packages and the difficulties to sell match tickets has not had an impact on Ashley, Charnley and the rest of them. Because it singularly has and they are desperate for us to think things have changed long enough to keep season ticket debits while they desperately try and get their shit together with a new man.
Previously, the club has been able to dismiss those who criticise the club, particularly the likes of me and others as a militant, vocal minority. Another word for militant is determined but let’s leave that for the time being.
It’s my belief in life generally that cynicism is a really bad thing because it preordains what your perception of what might be about to happen.
Scepticism on the other hand is completely different and that is how we should approach what goes down at United this summer. Investment has been promised – by Ashley directly, by Charnley and by McClaren. That’s good. Public statements of intent are always positive as they set the bar for expectations and they create a positive atmosphere. However, it’s all been said before at United and we heard plenty similar statements from Pardew on too many occasions to recall. The “couldn’t get it over the line” patter became grating and in many respects Pardew’s stock fell amongst supporters as much for his public utterances to the media as what went down on the pitch.
So, for me I’ve heard United’s name linked with any number of players already this summer. But I heard that last summer and the one before that and the one before that and on and on.
This may be different as Ashley has publicly made those statements but let’s be honest here too – Ashley was found to be a liar by a court of law (the Keegan case) and I am still waiting for the £20m per season he promised to invest into the club per season above the club’s own resources. I remain sceptical and I will until the transfer window has closed and we have retained those players we want to keep and we have also invested in the players we desperately need and that conservatively is 5 new players of true and genuine quality to go straight into the first team – two new central defenders, a creative central midfielder and two strikers of genuine quality. Outside of that we will need players to deepen our strength in depth to create genuine competition for places and give options for McClaren.
There are players who also need to leave the club as they simply aren’t good enough. You watch the team like me and you know who they are.
Therefore, the cynic will expect nothing to change but the sceptic will require evidence to justify their belief in any change. I’m in the latter category and hope at the end of the transfer window to be writing this stuff and expressing justifiable reasons for optimism. There has to be evidence of that and not just Steve McClaren’s quite, slow, serious whisper on NUFCTV. I wish he’d pack that in by the way, it’s going to get on my tits.
Another development last week and that was in the boardroom. McClaren is now a member of the Newcastle United board whereas Mike Ashley is not. I think if anyone imagines this represents Ashley allowing the “board of directors” to run the club as they wish might be sadly deluded. Ashley will retain a vice-like grip on the United purse strings and those on the board will operate within strictly defined parameters. To be fair, much the same probably applies at most other clubs owned by a billionaire (though most are a wee bit more generous than our bloke.
It can only be a good development that McClaren will work closely with Carr who is the Director of Football in all but name as well as Charnley who (sighs) is responsible for doing the deals (a matter of concern for me). What has surprised me is the appointment of Bob Moncur to the board as well. Moncur is a bona-fide Newcastle United legend and his status as a former player grows the longer we go without atrophy, given he was the last captain to raise a trophy for United (1969 and all that). Like numerous others I’ve been pretty scathing about Moncur in the past and he himself has taken to his column in The Chronicle to deny claims he is a Yes-Man, though let’s be kind and describe him as something of a “company man” who has provided something of a sympathetic (cough) voice for both Mike Ashley in latter years and previously for Freddie Shepherd. I seriously doubt Moncur is being brought into the boardroom for his football expertise – he has been out of the game in any meaningful sense for decades and I’m not certain his business expertise would be sought after at any other Premier League club. Or any club. In many regards, he’s the classic Ashley appointee. He has no alternative choices and will be desperate for the job. In return, Moncur, like Charnley, like McClaren, like Carver, like Pardew, like Beardsley, like Kinnear will be pliable, compliant … they will not be like Kevin Keegan, prickly, restless, principled and able to walk away.
We’ll see what Moncur brings to the table over the next few weeks and months but I rather suspect it may be to provide a public face of United to the world at best and at worst a human shield for Lee Charnley, who has so far proven pretty adept at throwing anyone he needs to under a bus.
News from Paisley Road West, Glasgow, a place I’ve become surprisingly familiar with
over the last couple of months as it happens but that’s for another day. I can see the blood drain out of certain of my relatives’ faces at hat news but hey-ho. Ashley is as unpopular in the Glasgow District of Govan as he is here on Tyneside and in a rather peculiar development Ashley, who has called for an EGM at Rangers regarding that club delisting from the stock-market and its £5m owed to him. There is great bitterness amongst Rangers fans concerning the deal their club has done with Sports Direct which alleges that of every £10 spent on official Rangers merchandise, a mere 70p will go to the Ibrox club. Clearly, that represents a massive restriction on that club to recover from its financial difficulties and use its vast support to help them do that through purchase of Rangers merchandise. That deal will stretch until 2022 it’s my understanding. The last time I was in Glasgow, not unsurprisingly, a Celtic fan of my acquaintance was less than sympathetic and described it as similar to someone recklessly managing their finances, getting into horrendous debt problems, being unable to go to the bank for a loan and being forced to go and see a loan shark. I’m sure the likeness of Ashley to a loan-shark is not without its irony given the shite on the front of the United shirt but I’m not certain this Bhoys logic has that much legs. I’d rather compare it to someone getting hold of your bank details and taking out loads of HP agreements you can’t afford which is where I should mention Peter Green and Derek Llambias with a massive ALLEGEDLY attached to it.
You might ask what this has to do with Newcastle United but the operations of Mike Ashley in Glasgow with Rangers provides food for thought for us. How does the deal with Newcastle United merchandise work in its relationship with Sports Direct? What exactly is the arrangement with NUFCDirect (operating alongside the Sports Direct business)? How much goes to Sports Direct and how much goes into the United pot?
I continue to ask the question because no credible response has come from United regarding the £3.4m paid by United into the Sports Direct accounts as raised here:
Indeed, Newcastle United contributed £3.4m in revenue to Sports Direct last year, according to the retailer’s annual report. And Rangers Football club, in which Ashley has a 9pc stake, is also a contributor to Sports Direct’s revenues, handing over £3.8m last year.
Harry Wallop, The Telegraph, 25/Apr/15.
The full article is here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/11563435/How-fair-does-Sports-Direct-play.html
Now, I’m going to guess that Rangers and Newcastle United shift a similar amount of merchandise and the numbers both clubs have paid into the Sports Direct pot are remarkably similar. Therefore it’s a pretty reasonable supposition to draw that the Newcastle United share from its own merchandise might be similar to what is widely believed to go to Sports Direct.
You might also wish to speculate why Mike Ashley and Sports Direct do not want this information to be disclosed publicly at the Rangers EGM.
However, I’m no expert and I do think this is an area for those who er, represent us at the Fans Forum. Doubtless they will be able to present these questions to Mike Ashley himself who will attend the next meeting, which we have been promised, is imminent.
Right, that’s enough sarcasm for one day.
It’s good the summer is here and we can stoop thinking about Newcastle United isn’t it?
Have a great week – see you at the Charlie Austin press conference at SJP. Insert smiley face thing here.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …