To B or not to B, that is the question – we are talking B for Boycott, clearly. As other contributors have quite rightly said, “the choice is yours”.
I’ll make a couple of reasonable assumptions at this point.
First, you go to St James Park and/or away matches because you love the Magpies.
Second, something would be missing from your week/year/life if you stopped going. The comradeship, the sense of belonging, the unforeseen comedic episodes form part of your identity.
A desire to support Newcastle United is akin to a desire for a particular man or a woman; it might be ill-advised, foolish in the extreme, prone to disaster, even doomed to failure from the start. But none of those considerations enters the equation. An obsession, a vocation, call it what you like. The inescapable truth is that the countless humdrum days, when the typical fare on offer is mediocre, can be forgotten when you experience those all-too-rare moments of ecstasy.
Despite the massive sense of disappointment since Ashley bought the club, what you cannot do, until you have been through an awful lot of soul-searching, is take the advice of George and Ira Gershwin and say: “Let’s call the whole thing off.” There would have to be a conscious uncoupling, which, although not as public as the Paltrow-Martin separation, would nonetheless take a bit of explaining. And if, like most supporters, your pilgrimage is shared with fellow-travellers, they will want to know why you have quit.
The end has to justify the means.
Time for a third reasonable assumption: you would boycott Newcastle the team, essentially turn your back on a great love of your life, albeit temporarily, if you believed such a protest would provoke Ashley to relinquish his ownership of the club.
Therein lies the biggest weakness of the pro-boycott brigade.
Who can say what Ashley’s reaction would be, if indeed he did react, to the sight of a half-empty SJP? The tactic was tried once last season, when an educated guess put the attendance at 42,000 for the game against Tottenham, though the official figure was 47,427 because all season-ticket holders were included.
Even if there were no more than 40,000 in situ, that’s still a figure most Premier League clubs would envy. And it was a one-off mass boycott, not something likely to trouble Mr Sports Direct.
As loyal supporters know only too well, their contribution to the financial wellbeing of the club is far less important than in the days before Sky rewrote the rules with its astronomical satellite coverage (literally and figuratively).
Nothing less than a sustained, match-after-match campaign of passive resistance is likely to achieve the desired outcome. Are you and 25,000 other diehards prepared to forgo the dubious delight of attending every game from now until August, in the hope that your sacrifice will drive Ashley out of Toon? That seems to me a high-stakes gamble, especially when dealing with an utterly unpredictable animal.
Also, consider the risk of collateral damage (horrible phrase, but at least we are talking theatre of sport in this context rather than theatre of war; shattered dreams, not shattered bodies).
A half-empty stadium is hardly the best foundation for Fortress Newcastle. The fans were the team’s fabled 12th man against Liverpool, as they were against Chelsea in September, but that sort of positive energy will never be generated if empty seats outnumber home supporters. A boycott would not only stop you experiencing life’s rich tapestry, it might also pull the rug from under the team just as they try to keep their balance in the Premier League. Is that a risk worth taking?
Our detested owner knows he has backed a winner thanks to the massive increase in broadcasting revenue for Premier League clubs due to kick in next season. Perhaps that partly explains the uniquely magnanimous tone of his Sky interview minutes before the West Ham game last May.
Remember, he said he would continue at the helm until we won a trophy, while counting a Top Four finish in that mission statement, Wenger-style.
Be reasonable; would any Newcastle fan deny fourth place was a triumph of monumental proportions? Fifth in 2012 was brilliant. Fourth or higher would be unbelievable, Jeff.
Whatever nonsense Pardew spouts for his own transparent agenda — show me a fan who was unhappy with fifth and I’ll show you a flying pig — from my viewpoint a Top Eight finish would be welcome news after the trauma of the past three seasons.
Ashley apparently has no intention of walking away. Certainly not until he has pocketed a massive profit on his investment. That’s how self-made billionaires operate. The combined financial muscle of Newcastle United’s core support is unlikely to force his hand. He pays the piper, he calls the tune. And the Toon? We are left on the sidelines, whistling into the wind.
In monetary terms he looks untouchable. To say Ashley has deep pockets is like saying Katherine Jenkins has a canny pair of lungs (speaking musically). Or that Usain Bolt moves well for a big man. The crying shame is that Ashley seems unable to nurture the gift he possesses.
So boycott if you like. Nobody would think ill of you for quitting. You’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty by continuing to support Newcastle United through the “Cockney Mafia” years, which have in large part been deeply unpleasant.
His regime has added insult to injury, on and off the field. Humiliation has been piled on top of embarrassment. His utter absence of empathy with Tyneside is staggering. If he were the father to this team of children he would be charged with gross neglect, found guilty, sent directly to jail and barred from parenthood for the rest of his days.
Instead, he seems able to do just as he pleases and to hell with the deeply held feelings of countless fans. When Dylan sings: “Money doesn’t talk, it swears,” he could be describing Ashley’s attitude to business. Some might say: “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m only Bleeding)” but if the wound becomes a haemorrhage we will all be staring at blood on the tracks.
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