During the week I was invited to draft a piece for THE TIMES (I know, get me eh?) and it was published in this morning’s paper ahead of the #BoycottSpurs tomorrow.
As I did the piece for nowt, I feel justified in re-publishing it here for those who don’t buy/subscribe to THE TIMES.
That is all.
“What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city.” Sir Bobby Robson.
As a neat summation of what supporters feel for their clubs I don’t think many can go past this homespun wisdom from a Co Durham miner’s son. Robson understood what made supporters fall in love with football. He played on north east mud for Langley Park, he managed at the World Cup, the Nou Camp and St James’ Park. Here was a man who could look into a crowd and understand what drew the people from firesides in the biting cold of a late winter afternoon.
Robson’s emotional intelligence is utterly absent in the cold, dead, money-making heart of Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United. Over eight years, Ashley’s artless ownership has drained the life out of one of English football’s most iconic clubs. As a lifelong supporter of this maddening institution, I regard it as special, just as the fan of any club does their own, and in Newcastle’s case, it is the focus of a city, a region’s pride, its hopes, its longing and its dreams.
Ashley has crushed that. Also-rans with a self-imposed glass ceiling, Newcastle are deliberately non-competitive in cup competitions (not “a priority,”), for fear it upsets a fragile financial model. Who view the Europa League as a strain on a threadbare squad, assembled to achieve league survival and no more. With players signed on the promise of an opportunity before being sold on at profit. Cold, calculating, joyless.
As one of those ‘deluded Geordies’ of media imagination, I could be accused of a lack of understanding of the wider financial world Newcastle finds itself in. The overwhelming body of our support knows it cannot hope to compete with Roman Abramovich or Sheihk Mansour, but this is no raggy-arsed operation. It remains in the top-10 best supported clubs in Europe and is in the top-20 wealthiest clubs on the continent. It attracts the third-highest gates in the Premier League.
For all of Ashley’s business genius, every income stream (bar television) has narrowed under his tenure. Less money at the gate, from merchandising, from commercial and corporate since his takeover in 2007. In those same eight years, not a single player has emerged from the ranks to establish himself as a first-team regular (bothTim Krul and Andy Carroll were already here when Ashley arrived).
The news this week that Newcastle ended the last financial year with £34m in the bank has scandalised a support watching its tattered, managerless team nosedive down the table and write off a second successive season. Eight years? God, it seems longer. We are at breaking point, frustrated by a club which has disengaged from the community that has sustained it since 1892, with senior executives whose response to ferocious condemnation is a silent arrogance.
Tomorrow, the stands will be emptier for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur and the SKY cameras. Some might portray this as the last twitch of a once utterly compelling football club as it sinks slowly into torpor. Or it could be the start of a fightback for the heart and soul of something truly beloved. I firmly believe it is the latter.
MICHAEL MARTIN – Editor, true faith, Newcastle United Fanzine
also at www.true-faith.co.uk Follow on @tfeditor1892
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