The emergence of AshleyOut.com is a breath of fresh air to those who have struggled to break the atmosphere of hopelessness and defeat which has not only polluted our team on the pitch but has seeped into even the most ardent and hopeful of what is left of the NUFC hardcore.
Talking to a few friends and colleagues who attended the SOS on Easter Sunday to get their take on things proved extremely difficult for me; I think an expert psychologist would have been more appropriate, to gradually work their way through the complex layers of hurt and trauma which have multiplied over 8 years of abuse from Mike Ashley.
In the maelstrom of emotions that immediately followed our Wearside surrender, it seemed that anger – what Johnny Rotten (my current bathroom read) recognises as a positive energy and catalyst for change – was not at the forefront. The looks on people’s faces who attended and those drowning their sorrows in my local drinking establishment were those of victims whose eyes tell of much more than they could ever express verbally. I went to bed that Sunday night, thinking NUFC was finally finished – ended by 90 minutes of on field cowardice.
Easter Monday brought the resurrection of hope but I was more than a little slow on picking up on this – the scars of the past never fade. As someone who has been involved in previous fan demos as part of the MAOC, I can appreciate more than most what a herculean task is at hand. As a long term boycotter, I can also understand some of the cynicism from those who also walked away some time ago and now say “it is too late.” But it is not too far gone. It is never too late. So long as there is hope.
My self-imposed exile started with choosing to watch NUFC games in pubs and clubs, but watching sporting crime through the bottom of a pint glass is bad for your health. Eventually I stumbled into the Northern league and my hometown club of North Shields; amazingly, I managed to fall in love with the game all over again and have witnessed first-hand how ambition can grow something from the ashes of disaster. I know others who have gone to Gateshead and the other clubs of our region who are so grateful for your support and would never treat you with the contempt that NUFC have. I know mates who wander round B&Q of a Saturday now, sniffing wood glue, trying to forget their former lives. I have acquaintances that have taken up allotments and claim they would rather watch leeks growing than witness Gabriel Obertan masquerade as a footballer (you can exchange Whoppa Nut’s name for almost any squad member you care to recall).
But I’ll let you into a secret… for me it is impossible to switch off totally from events at NE1. I suspect this may also be the case for the glue sniffers, the leek growers and the basket weavers of Tyneside? I know it is the case for many of the Shields Ultras on the Curva Nord who watched a dull game against Durham City on Saturday – I heard them whooping their delight at every goal during the Sunderland capitulation against Patsy’s Palace. I also heard several times the refrain “it just shows how shite WE are”. That tells me those lads still care, no matter how many times they clench their jaw and try to deny it.
There is a pride that unites all Geordies. We are traditionally, a proud people. We are rich in history and our heritage is one of hard work against the odds. We have often been betrayed by those in whom we placed our trust. In terms of football, Mike Ashley’s crimes against the people are well documented (but if you really need to refresh your memory, check out the excellent AshleyOut.com website). The question is, what can we do?
Next Sunday’s proposed boycott has got to be only the start. Ashley won’t be leaving the next morning, so the do nothing gobshites and trolls on twitter and facebook will have to come up with something a little less predictable to throw at the brave souls who decide to stand up (and stand out) to be counted. There are no guarantees of success in this. I hope the numbers who choose not to take up their seats at Spurs are large. Large enough for the cameras not to skip over and ignore and large enough to prove to a worldwide tv audience that we care enough to make a sacrifice many thought we didn’t have the guts to make. If clubs ranging from Blackpool to Milan can do it, why can’t we? We have been educated and abused long enough to use the ‘boycott’ word openly now and realise it is not a dirty byword for betrayal.
The real betrayal is by those who should know better – those club legends who have served and worn the black and white and understand fully what the club means to the city but have chosen to take the Ashley shilling and trot out tired clichés that are aimed at scaring the fans into inaction. Doing nothing is not a viable option. In my opinion, the ‘support the team not the regime’ boat sailed long ago, but the last stalwarts of that stance seem to have died on Easter Sunday in SR5. Let that not be an epitaph on our gravestones but a signal that from this adversity, we can unite and fight. In reality, there is nothing to lose and there is a clear field for an agenda for change.
Talk of factionalism amongst our support has been greatly exaggerated in the past and the word ‘agenda’ has definitely had negative connotations when used by those in and close to the local media. From what I have observed, from all quarters in the last week, there clearly is an agenda and it is very much ‘Ashley Out’. That has got be a positive! Nothing else matters now.
It may feel like we are armed with peashooters against nuclear weapons and a one match boycott and protest has to be just one tactic in an overall strategy that has to embrace, evolve and empower.
We have had flickers of togetherness before – the march, the walkout – and those who took part felt that camaraderie and the sense of hope. They certainly were not a waste of time; they undoubtedly had an effect on an owner who many thought was impervious and insensitive to protest. Lessons were learned too as opportunities to build were lost. This latest flare up of fan protest seems to be more prepared, wiser and its growth more organic. But it has to break out of that social media circle that can seem like the whole universe to those who use it, but in reality, probably accounts for nothing more than 10% of the fanbase.
As a sitting board member of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, I can say I am both proud and relieved that they have backed so publicly the rights of others to take the lead on exacting the change that we all as fans, so desperately need.
When Ashley is gone, not only do I hope that we can say that we all played a part in his exit but we realise we have a duty of care to ensure we never see the likes of him again. I hope that we all have the mutual respect for each other to realise that whatever divides us is far outweighed by what unites us. I hope that we can seize what might be a unique opportunity to mould a club that is totally geared to realising its potential by engaging its audience and community; a club that far from being an ‘also ran’ can be beacon for other clubs to break out of a system that perpetuates self-defeat and demeans the sport.
In the meantime, I urge all of you who care enough to do something, to back this latest initiative – it may not be the idea you prefer, but there’ll be plenty of scope to get to those, in what I’m sure will be a long road ahead.
I hope to see plenty of people who have already walked away, turning up in Leazes Park and standing alongside those who are doing it for the first time. I know I will not hear anyone of those longtermers say, “I told you so” because not only are we better than that, we should know it was never going to be a good enough tactic on its own.
Images of empty seats in the stands and fans having a day out in the park instead, could have an impact and provide a catalyst for something far greater than any of us can understand at present. Come along and wear your strips, feed the ducks in Leazes Park and enjoy whatever the AO lads have in store for us. Please don’t leave it to others to fight for what we all care about: NUFC.
Hasta La Victoria Siempre.