Five wins, a draw and a defeat from the last seven games is a respectable haul and whilstthe draw with Southampton at SJP doesn’t lose us any momentum, it was a game we should have won given the two great chances Remy missed but I also think it gives us pause to reflect upon just how important Yohan Cabaye is to us. There is no question we missed him. The players around him aren’t the same without the intelligence and economy of his play and we were definitely deficient without his presence, particularly given the form he’s been in lately.
Still, being on 27 points at the start of a really hectic period for us is a good position to be in and we have games up and coming that on paper at least look like they could provide us with opportunities to improve where we’re at. I’m looking of course to Crystal Palace (a), Stoke City (h) and West Brom (a). I’m relishing the game with an Arsenal side who have set the pace this season and of whom I’m an unashamed admirer. They play great football and this is a perfect match for us over the holiday period. A great event! But those other sides will present us with some real challenges and one of the rare beauties of the Premier League is there are few occasions when teams lie down. That’s not really in this division’s DNA.
Obviously, just around the corner we have the January transfer window when all of the beasts and monsters at Newcastle United come from under the bed. Will we sign anyone? Will we tie up the Loic Remy deal? Will we sell anyone? Will Pardew tell us something which is completely the opposite of what he has just said about wanting to bring one or two players in during the January window? Without question, it will be an excruciating period.
We all know by now that Ashley doesn’t think like us. I doubt very much whether Ashley will look at our position in the PL as an opportunity to invest from a position of strength. He’s had those situations before and backed off. Last season’s January splurge only came on the back of the team’s results and position in the table causing some palpitations about whether we could stay in the Premier League. With 27 points in the middle of December, I don’t think our PL status is in any real doubt, so from Ashley’s position of a complete lack of ambition, why invest? We’ve heard it from John Irving, the club’s Finance Director, that the club doesn’t prioritise the Cups and we’ve heard Alan Pardew bemoan the strains of the Europa League (with little by way of financial reward for its ridiculous schedule) and although sounds are being made about the Champions League, no-one is really taking that seriously. So then, given Ashley looks at United completely differently to you and me, why would he invest? If United was to go out of the FAC at home to Cardiff, I don’t think Ashley will be arsed because there’s no money in it and I think there will be words were we to qualify for the Europa League again. If United finished 8th, it is the perfect position for Ashley. There is no ambition.
It was pleasing to learn St James’ Park will host Kings of Leon this close season and it’s to be hoped this becomes a regular feature in years to come. I’m far from the only one to have become bewildered by United allowing this ground in the NE to be occupied by the Mackems in recent years. Newcastle is the regional capital, served brilliantly by road, rail and air with thousands of hotel beds, bars and restaurants for visitors. It has made no sense for the Mackems to have hosted these events given the overwhelming majority of visitors from outside the region have stayed in Newcastle and then had the ball-ache of having to schlep through there and back again for the gigs. We do the parties round here, like.
Hopefully, the profit will go into Newcastle United and improve the club’s lamentable position in relation to its commercial revenues which has been in steady decline since Ashley bought the club in 2007. I say, hopefully, because I have my doubts given the complete lack of clarity regarding where the money ends up via the club’s online merchandising, NUFC.DIRECT – an enterprise owned 100% by Sports Direct and operated from its base in Nottinghamshire. No-one from United has seemed particularly interested to clarify the position on this one. Nor why Sports Direct was paid almost £500K in the last couple of years by Newcastle United.
Still, the city’s economy will benefit from the gig with visitors piling in to see the band. It’s a move in the right direction.
With one Newcastle United positive however, there’s always a negative and here it came in this last week in the shape of a barmy plan to charge the press for access to our players and manager for interviews etc. I think we can now see the real reason why Ashley has banned the local press from the SJP press-box and training ground and it has absolutely nothing to do with any unhappiness with the coverage given to the Time 4 Change Protest march before the Liverpool game.
The logic in this that because satellite broadcasters and Radio pay for access then so should newspapers simply defies economic logic. The printed press, particularly, the local titles, are on the bones of their arses. That Ashley’s minions have written to the press outlining their intentions to try and pull out their back-teeth in the week that SKY Tyne & Wear ceased operations should tell Ashley everything he needs to know about the folly of this plan. Anyone who has been paying attention can see the constant re-organisations and cost-cutting amongst the local titles is being done because the media tide is against them. The whole plan to do an individual deal with national newspapers covering the game in its entirety, simply doesn’t stack up either. SKY, BT and the BBC negotiate their deals with the PL, not with individual clubs. I imagine the proprietors of The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, and The Mail et al will look at Ashley’s letter and laugh. I think they will be able to cope without banalities from Carlos Kick-a-Ball in the frozen north, whilst the local press simply won’t have the kind of money needed to make this worthwhile.
It’s baffling that Ashley doesn’t realise this but as you know we love a good ol’ rolling-eyed conspiracy theory, I wonder if this isn’t just a means of attempting to show to the locally-based journos from the nationals, who is in charge and that he can live without them.
But even were the printed press, cash-rich, this is a really bad idea. I occasionally see a copy of the club programme. No-one really believes the leading features are actually written by Pardew, Kinnear etc. and the coverage is saccharine. Imagine all of your football coverage from the mainstream media looking like this?
Regular readers might be surprised to read this here but the local and national football press provides something of value – independent, critical analysis, which we know is an irritant to key people at football clubs – and United is no different, its actually more sensitive than most. We rail against the press but that’s not to say we think they don’t have value because of course they do. Like you we want a better football press and like many of you who have been in touch about the lack of apparent interest in the financial analysis this fanzine has conducted into the club’s affairs we’re bewildered why that hasn’t been picked up by the mainstream media. It’s hard to defend hacks against charges of being lazy and after an easy life in this instance. However, they do add value and they are worthwhile. They could be better though.
Some might regard this as an attempt to raise United’s commercial revenues but it is doomed to failure and there are more easily achievable ways of doing that – like charging for the wall to wall perimeter advertising at SJP and everywhere else that is given away free and gratis to Mike Ashley’s businesses.
I’m interested to hearing more about the investment in the club’s academy and training facilities up at Darsley Park. I’m interested in the detail of the plans and learn more about the time-line for them happening – you know when planning permission will be applied for and some final, official confirmation as to whether United has achieved Category One status for the Academy. You know, the cynics out there might be coming to a view that the release of this news was more about providing a distraction regards the money United has paid to agents in the last year (which they are obliged to tell us about under PL rules) and maybe a weak attempt to convince us Kinnear is actually doing something other than avail himself of the hospitality at PL grounds around the country.
The second meeting of the Newcastle United fans Forum will be held on Monday 16/Dec/13. I say Fans Forum, but I don’t think that’s a correct description. An Audience with John Irving and Lee Charnley (if they can be arsed to show up) might be more accurate. That this Fans Forum (don’t laugh) can proceed following the extraordinarily arbitrary decision to ban the Newcastle United Supporters Trust says everything about the people who made this barking mad decision. That the club can claim the ban was made because of a breach of a vague point of protocol renders the whole of the Forum a complete sham. Even if the circumstances were accepted, it would still be completely disproportionate to the offence.
The fact is the Newcastle United Supporters Trust is the only properly convened supporters’ body we have. It is plugged into Supporters Direct (in itself supported by the PL, FA and Government) and as a consequence the NUST has the correct governance arrangements. It has a proper constitution, its officers are appointed after properly constituted elections and its elected officials are accountable to those who are members of the NUST, who have their own procedures for raising issues they might be concerned about. You don’t have to be completely on-message with NUST to understand that. You don’t have to think the NUST is wonderful to recognise the injustice of the ban. It is a truly disgraceful decision.
What remains of the Fans Forum is a disparate and loose affiliation of the wholly unelected with no meaningful organisation to connect to the wider support or absolutely any mandate to do so. That’s not to say there aren’t people on the Fans Forum (the ones who haven’t chucked it yet) who aren’t well-meaning and with good intentions. Those representing the interests of disabled supporters are a case in point and have a specific interest to advance. I wish them all the very best. There will be others too, perhaps naïve and unaware they are being taken for dupes in what has now mutated badly into a bad box ticking exercise. There are others too who will see this as an opportunity for self-aggrandisement and whose knowledge at being taken for a fool is relegated to a need to be a puffed up somebody. Their motivation is explained by some mealy-mouthed rhetoric about wanting to improve communications between the club and fans. Really? The man responsible for the whole shebang, for the entire direction of the club won’t be within 300 miles of any Fans Forum. The Fans Forum won’t explain what the hell is going on with the club’s commercial revenue, what is happening with NUFC.DIRECT, why Sports Direct received almost £500K large from Newcastle United, what is happening to the £18m on the last club accounts said to be payable to Ashley, why Ashley can’t convert club debt into equity and immediately transform the club’s financial position or even better, as a fan, write-off the debt owed to him or explain why a lamentable figure such as Joe Kinnear is now the brains of the Newcastle United operation? Why there has been no replacement appointed following Llambias’ abrupt resignation in the summer and so on and so forth ad infinitum.
Having met the club’s Supporters Liaison Officer, Lee Marshall in the summer to discuss the Fans Forum, I had modest hopes for it but the doubts crept in ahead of the first meeting when the assurance yours truly could sit in on meetings as an independent observer and report accordingly was withdrawn by those above Lee in the SJP hierarchy. Thus the ban of the NUST comes as no surprise really. This has all the marks of a PR exercise and I feel for those with good intentions involved within it who are about to be patronised and used by it. The most that can possibly be achieved is a plaque here, a set of gates there … we want so much more.
Congratulations to TF writer, Dave Smith and his partner on the arrival of their new daughter, Grace. All the very best from everyone at true faith!
We’ll have a new issue of the fanzine out before the weekend. TF108 will continue the analysis we’ve started regards the club’s financial operations but we’ve also included those who can see some of the benefits in Ashley’s approach too. We’ll have all of the gen about what’s in it but it’s a one of our 72-page specials, so bloody plenty is an accurate summary.
Have a great week.