The people behind SKY and BT have in this last week decided they will pay £5.1bn to
televise Premier League football. That figure is likely to be inflated yet again when overseas TV rights are added to the bottom line and I heard the figure of £8bn bandied about last week. After we watched Newcastle United draw at home with Stoke City and away to Crystal Palace the description of the English Premier League as the “best in the world” seemed a little fanciful. If those games are amongst the best club matches in the world, for which broadcasters are prepared to pay five times the amount to which it costs to run the North East’s Social Services departments then I think we are through the looking glass. Hello Alice, where’s your mate with the hat?
Following the news about the TV deal, the inevitable hand-wringing about what it all means with many rightly questioning how this new money might “trickle down” to the rest of the game and make football more affordable to its patrons began in earnest.
At Newcastle United, a progressive policy towards pricing has begun but I’d argue vehemently it has been dictated by a simple supply and demand side business model and is one which is desperate to arrest the loss of match-going support. A trickle in the loss of season ticket holders could quite easily become a flood. No-one from Newcastle United can explain why supporters should give up ANY money or ANY time to follow what is in essence a Zombie Football Club. The efforts to agree price-matches for away fans at Old Trafford, Anfield or the Mackems hasn’t been proposed because there is no need to – the tickets will be sold anyway. It’s a different story with West Brom, Swansea and Southampton however.
I can’t use the word “trickle down” without emitting a bitter laugh. “Trickle-down” is the oft-used shibboleth of the neo-liberal right (Tories, UKIP, US Republicans etc.) to justify monetary policy on a national and global scale. It is an economic policy which has most of the world in penury and which has brought Food Banks and Tax dodging Ministers of State in the UK to pass and sadly has its echoes within the corridors of power (sic) at Gloucester Place, home of the Premier League.
Premier League football is dysfunctional. Despite all this money flowing through a national game (essentially owned by 20 various billionaires of dubious intentions) many of the clubs are hugely in debt and if the cash tap turned off next week, month, year etc. there would be no legacy for the country’s favourite sport. A sport the FA no longer governs in any meaningful sense. There is no governance worthy of the description, no strategic thinking, no acknowledgement of the game’s wider obligations (i.e. the Living Wage) and no bending of the knee to the motif “good of the game”. It is a private members club.
Informed commentary points to sky high ticket prices, appalling facilities at the grassroots and the damage this apparent cornucopia does to the national team. All of it is right and proper. You might also point to the abysmal numbers of correctly qualified coaches as compared to Germany and Spain as well as the poverty in talent of home-grown managers too. I give you Pardew, Carver, Pulis, Allardyce et al.
Our greatest clubs are now owned by people without even the most cursory connection to the communities they supposedly represent and the people who use possessive terminology like “my club”, “us” and “our club” are becoming ever more, well, twee by the day. Premier League clubs and many in the Championship have absolutely nothing to do with the communities who have traditionally supported them and the towns and cities in which they are based. St James’ Park, Anfield? They might as well be massive out of town stores like IKEA selling commodities – which I suppose they are.
What this all means to Newcastle United and Mike Ashley is a matter for considerable debate.
Those of us who have been paying attention to the club’s finances (and latterly this has begun to involve the press – catch up lads) are variously forecasting a profit for United in the tens of millions in the next set of accounts. How that money will be used remains to be seen given the remaining debt United owes to Ashley which is in the region of £120m. Many, myself included believe Ashley will take a massive chunk of that money (if not it all) to pay down the debt he inherited and also helped cause. The club will also have increased in value because of its own profitability because of the increase in revenue due to this new TV deal and the obvious truth that there is still massive growth potential in the club (i.e. match-day income, corporate and commercial where United has under-performed under 8 years of Ashley).
In short, Newcastle United, on the books at least, has never been in better nick to be sold.
But coming with that knowledge is the suspicion that Ashley will consider it never to be a worse time to sell given the riches coming into the game via this new TV deal. Ashley, is not a distressed seller looking to realise an asset. Pigs do not routinely remove their snouts from a full trough. He can sit on a mediocre, ambition-free United and count the money. To borrow an Orwellian expression, Mike Ashley can stamp on the face of Newcastle United forever.
Second-guessing Ashley is a fool’s errand but understanding the tectonic plates moving under the support of Newcastle United is not. Newcastle United does not have a radicalised, campaigning support in the same way of say, Liverpool, Rangers or Man Utd. Our support is by and large docile. Efforts have been made to galvanise the support into visible, meaningful action but frankly there is no appetite for it. I’m one of a few that has tried but I’ve concluded, it’s just something we don’t do. I’m happy to be proven wrong and I hope I one day will be but I just don’t see it. I’m disappointed by it but there you go …
Another way of looking at the inert nature of our support is to see it as bonded together so tight that despite the discomfort of the Newcastle United ligatures our association with that club is also comforting, we still feel part of something, even if that something is completely miserable. In an increasingly commoditised, homogenised world, our support for Newcastle United gives us an identity and it may well be one which has been passed down the generations. That’s not easy to abandon.
However, I have the sense that Newcastle United is about to haemorrhage support. Lifelong supporters have already walked away but many more I sense are getting ready to do likewise. There is something in the air.
Where they are going and where they might end up is another exercise in guess-work. Some will have fallen into a Middle England hell of Garden Centres and DIY. Others will be doing something rewarding and creative. Others are going non-league.
A few weeks ago we ran a discussion day to float the idea of an independent, fan-owned club in the model of FC United of Manchester, AFC Wimbledon etc. There was little appetite for it. That might be down to the inert, conservative nature of our support but it might also be as a sub-conscious response to the long history of non-league clubs in this region with strong identities of their own, from towns in the region that remain connected to and utterly dependent upon their communities. It doesn’t take long to have a roll call of them – Gateshead, Blyth, Ashington, Whitley Bay, North Shields, South Shields etc.
I hear regularly of Mags who now tell me they are at Gateshead, North Shields and Blyth in particular. I think they miss the big-game buzz of St James’ Park but they don’t miss Ashley, Wonga, Charnley, Carver/Pardew, Sports Direct and the whole bull-shit hoopla of Premier League football.
I usually go to Gateshead for my non-league fix. I like it there. It’s a decent standard. I have a lot of respect for Graeme Wood the owner and what he has done at that club. I think Mills is a good manager and I like the fans. I think I know 20% of the crowd from school-days etc. They are good crack. For the record, I also like Blyth and where the Spartans trail their NE rivals in status they more than make up for in atmosphere and in Croft Park, they have the best non-league ground in the North East. I’ve been to Dunston a bit down the years as I would do as a Gateshead lad. I like Whitley Bay, that’s a good day out at the coast but I think the real buzz just lately is at North Shields and I do fancy a trip down there to see the Ultras in action. I’ve not been so far yet.
For most of last week, true faith and its friends plugged the Northern League Div.2 game between Heaton Stannington and Ryton & Crawcrook Albion. This came about as a result of a conversation between one of the lads involved in helping Heaton due to a mutual pain in the arse nuisance-crank we (amongst many, many others) suffer for separate reasons and by happy accident United did not have a game last Saturday so it seemed like a decent idea to plug the aforementioned game in particular.
Did it work? It did a little and I’m reliably informed that the numbers turning up at Grounsell Park were up noticeably though there was still plenty room I have to say. I hope it did some good and I hope the people who went enjoyed the experience, put some bit in the till and might go back. I know I will. I liked the strip, the club crest and the people were good. It was great to speak to Ritchie Hands from Ryton as well – he’s another disaffected Mag on the brink of chucking it at United. Who can think of a single reason why he and others shouldn’t just leave Ashley to it?
So, if you do decide you have had enough, there is an alternative and its right under your nose. Ashley may own Newcastle United, the Premier League is an obscenity of money and greed but there is still football out there and whilst it is far from perfect, it is good. You’ll like it.
A piece appeared in The Telegraph last week which I think I should clarify. I had a conversation with Luke Edwards, who is a lad I like and a writer who I think produces interesting pieces. He and I have had a couple of wee disagreements down the years but that’s because he and I probably share a similar spikiness of character. Luke’s alright. I didn’t understand correctly that Luke was going to transcribe the conversation into an article to go in The Telegraph but by and large it said what I believed. There were a couple of things though that I think were mistakes in the piece. The first is that I am not the chair of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust and the piece had absolutely nothing to do with the Trust. The second is that I do not hate Alan Pardew. I have little respect for him as man and as a football manager but hatred is a word I’d preserve for others with more heinous crimes than screwing up Newcastle United Football Club.
I’ve been running this fanzine now for coming up to 16 years and I have studiously avoided ever making any claim to ever speak for anyone other than myself as editor of true faith. That’s why I squirmed when I saw the words framed in the piece as though I was making that claim. Whether you agreed or disagreed with the piece or not, I was speaking for myself, not you or anyone else. Quite rightly I was taken to task via social media but happily after explaining that seemed to be accepted by the majority but I’m repeating it for the avoidance of doubt.
The article got a lot of positive feedback and whilst some of the words and turns of phrase were mine, the lad that wrote it up was Luke Edwards from The Telegraph, so he should be recognised for those that liked the piece.
If you missed it, it’s here:
So, off we (sic) go to Man City this Saturday tea time for what might be something painful to watch. City is the ultimate in financially doped clubs and has not built up their current status in the game. Rather it has been gifted to them through the largesse of a middle-eastern oil-rich country as part of its own geo-political strategy. When you think of everything that is wrong about English football the words Manchester City are writ large in neon lights. I’ve no particular beef with Man City or their fans (even the ones who legged me and my mates around Mossside in the 80s or pelted our van with curry and chips about 10 years ago outside Maine Road. We had worse elsewhere.
It is just Man City is disgusting. Thank You Sheik Mansour banners hanging from the stands? Fuck off. I have the same respect for them that I do a Lottery winner who has had the genius to select the right random bunch of numbers to hit the jack-pot.
The trophies they win are unearned, cheated on the back of an unsporting advantage which is the result of neither hard-work, skill or endeavour. Man City has been removed from the community that supported it for many years just as we have ours, though the football they watch is better than what we endure. I’ll give them that but nothing else.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …