We have asked a number of our regular/irregular contributors various question about Newcastle United – the events of last season and moving forward.

Up this time is Neil Sybenga:

Mike Ashley is pushing ahead with a development on land opposite the Gallowgate End which almost certainly will make it impossible to ever expand St James Park in the future (This will only profit him and not the football club). What are your thoughts, especially considering Newcastle averaged over fifty one thousand in the Championship.

I don’t really see much of an issue with the development of land behind the Gallowgate End. If this goes ahead and prevents us extending that area of the ground then so be it.

We are not really in a position to be extending our ground given that we have been perennial Premier league strugglers for the majority of the past 10 years. Should we ever make a sustained effort to be a top 6 side challenging for and winning honours every year then surely that would be the time to redevelop. If that time ever comes and we can’t redevelop then building a new stadium has to be the most beneficial solution.

St James Park is our spiritual home but sentiment cannot be a preventative force if looking to progress. Arsenal, Spurs and Man City have all built or are building new homes, Everton are planning to, even our fierce local rivals took the plunge many moons ago and I’ve not heard any of my Mackem or Smoggy mates saying they regret it. If we need a bigger stadium to accommodate our fans because we are being successful then build a new one, Leazes Park anyone?

st james park

How does this promotion team compare to the 2009/10 one?

I think the team that has achieved promotion this season has performed equally as well as the team that achieved promotion in 2009/10, in what is undoubtedly becoming a more difficult league to get out of season upon season.

The backbone of the side that won promotion under Chris Hughton remained intact following relegation and contained lots of experienced players, both domestically and internationally. Hughton, and some of the senior players, did a great job ridding the club of the deadwood and the team spirit created is mirrored by that of Benitez’s team this season.

I feel the Rafa team had to be restructured following relegation and that he had to inject the experience and team spirit that was slightly lacking in comparison to the 09/10 team. Both teams throughout the season were hard to beat, went on some really good unbeaten runs and got the job done without really ever excelling in any department.

Somebody who deserves more credit for last season than they maybe have received?

The groundsman and his staff. Never have I seen the pitch looking as good as it did on the last game of the season and this is despite the fact that far more games had been played on it compared to premier league seasons. I see it has now been ripped up to start again and I can only hope it handles the rigours of professional football as well as it did last season.

How would you rate Rafa Benitez last season on:

Transfers:

I think Rafa has made some shrewd signings so far and only the odd blip. The likes of Ritchie, Gayle and Clark have excelled and Hayden is developing in to a real player in the middle of the park. He could be a real steal and a pivotal figure in Rafa’s teams in years to come.

Hanley did not really produce any kind of form but was a reliable enough back up when called upon. Murphy was worth the money and chipped in with some important goals. I was left a little disappointed with Lazaar, Gamez and Diame, none of whom really left me feeling they would be missed should they depart this summer.

Yedlin definitely has potential and could yet be excellent value for the fee paid, while Atsu showed flashes of his undoubted ability and under Rafa will hopefully improve under his guidance.

All in all I am happy with our transfer dealings so far under Rafa and should he be given full backing, I believe he could address issues with playing style and formations with better quality players who offer more options in all areas. Benitez has a really good track record in transfers, no manager has a perfect one, and I trust him to get it right for us.

Tactics:

As previously mentioned I was a little bit disappointed with the home tactics in particular. St James Park should have been a fortress last season but rarely did we strike fear into the opposition and were often far too easy to defend against. I’m not saying moving forward we need to play two up front but with the right purchases the one up front that Benitez played last season could be far more effective.

For me, it’s all about giving the opposition more to think about; more pace, more width, more flair, more creativity and more goal threats. Defensively I don’t see too much wrong. We are a hard working team with a good team ethic. The basis is there but can we take the next step?

Entertainment:

There were some really good games last season and some excellent goals both from individuals and team goals. I’m not one of these fans who expects to be treated to the footballing entertainment of the Keegan era at every home game but yes I would like a little more excitement. For me it’s just a really refreshing change to actually be looking forward to going to games regardless of the fixture or result. There is an air of optimism at St James Park these days and long may it continue.

Overall:

In terms of Rafa Bentitez’ performance last season I would rate it 7 out of 10. Yes we won the league but I feel there is plenty of room for improvement.

Some of his team selections had me baffled and the reliance on one up front, especially at home, was a little disappointing and was a significant factor in our rather poor home record in my opinion. I think we will improve as a team, become more expansive and have far more options going forward should Rafa have a successful summer recruitment.

He’s an experienced manager with a fantastic CV but it remains to be seen how he will develop things as manager of Newcastle and how far he can take us in the premier league and beyond. A solid 7 out of 10 for now…….I hope to God he gets to a 10!

How did the Championship season turn out compared to what you imagined would happen?

At the start of the season I would actually have been happy to make the play-offs and that’s probably the innate sense of being let down by my beloved club time after time preventing me being overly optimistic. As the season wore on I would have been left tremendously disappointed had we not secured automatic promotion as it became clear we were ahead of our competitors in a number of areas and was delighted we clinched a well-deserved championship. The Championship is tough, we all know that, so I guess my head was saying “top 6 would be good” while my heart was saying “we will easily get promoted and probably win the league.”

If no signings (other than Atsu) where would this current squad/team finish in the Premier League?

If NUFC do not sign another player this summer I still believe we are good enough to stay well clear of safety, 10th to 15th for me. This opinion is due mainly to the fact that:

We have a world class manager who I believe will out think a number of his rivals next season particularly those who are touted as being our relegation rivals, that alone is worth a few points on the board.

We do actually have some players of premier league quality. Gayle has shown he can score goals at that level if given the opportunities, Shelvey and Clark have premier league experience, Ritchie has shown he can be equally as effective as he was last season when stepping up a division. That’s not a bad start!

We have a team who believe in their manager and work hard for each other. We haven’t always had that and it’s worth its weight in gold when your backs are against the wall.

st james park

With level of signings you anticipate, how high do you think Newcastle can aim next season?

If Newcastle sign the standard of players I believe they should be targeting and strengthen key areas of weakness, I think top 10 is more than achievable. I think we could be a real surprise package next season but as ever, that will depend on summer recruitment.

If 10 was Mike Ashley totally changing his outlook on running Newcastle and 0 not at all, how far do you think he has moved (if at all) in the 15 months Rafa Benitez has been at St James Park?

I don’t think Mike Ashley has changed his outlook on running Newcastle at all.

I think he has been ill advised, made some awful decisions and with his lack of knowledge in the world of football did not realise the size of the task. As a business we seem to be in a rather healthy position compared to others and that side of things he appears to have got right. Unlike a lot of supporters I don’t for one second believe our owner wants to have a losing team. It just doesn’t make sense for someone who is hugely successful in other areas of business to be happy that one of them is failing!

The only thing that has really changed recently is that we now have a manager we want, the fans are united for the club again and the direction looks a lot more purposeful. Maybe last season was a bit of a wake up call and the passion that has been reignited by Benitez and his team may be rubbing off on our owner. Only time will tell if he is fully on board with the Rafalution.

How do you rate local media coverage of Newcastle these days?

In general I am happy with local media coverage, you can always find the latest updates on transfers, team news etc. However, there are often times when “nothing articles” appear that are basically just written so there is something to read. They offer nothing new, relevant, or of any real value. Most of the coverage is particularly positive and it seems as though regional media have been swept up in the Rafalution just like the fans, rarely have I seen a bad word written about him.

How do you rate national media coverage of Newcastle these days?

In comparison, national media can’t wait to paint a negative picture of us. They, in my opinion, hate any kind of success outside of London and all too often the big three North East teams don’t get the coverage they deserve/merit. Yes! There hasn’t been much to shout about in these parts lately but national media can’t wait to put the boot in and seem to take great pleasure in our woes, particularly the black and white ones.

What would be your ideal first Newcastle Premier League fixture of the season?

My ideal first fixture of the season would obviously be a home one and I’d like any of the top 8 from last season. It’s the best time to play them, before they are in full stride and at least gives us a chance. If I had to pick I’d say Chelsea. I think there may be a real FA cup hangover from them and a bit of complacency against us. If I get my wish then I’d plump for  2-0 home…all depending on what happens this summer of course.

Three words to describe how you feel about Newcastle United at the minute?

Positive – Wary – Enthused.

How positive do you feel about progress being made underneath first team level at Newcastle?

Progress underneath first team level at Newcastle is similar to a lot of clubs……SLOW.

We have the odd few that make the breakthrough and under the current regime there seems to be more emphasis and investment in this area but it will take time. I think the biggest problem is youth coaching and the way academies are run, but maybe that’s for another article as I have plenty to say on that matter.

At the end of the day, if a manager like Rafa Benitez does not think someone is good enough then in all honesty they probably aren’t. I do hope some of the youngsters get an opportunity next year in the likes of the league cup. I don’t think you can ever know how good someone is going to be unless they’ve been given a chance.

I applaud the changes being made to the academy site and to the recruitment drive that is seeing us cast our net further afield in order to catch top young talent, but like I’ve said, it takes time and only time will tell in the end as to whether we have made progress.

What are your hopes/expectations for the atmosphere at St James Park next season and what could be done to improve it?

I hope next season we continue with the Gallowgate flags as it is a real spectacle from where I sit but I would love it to be extended to all areas of the ground. Now wouldn’t that be a sight?

I just hope we have a team that has maybe one or two players to get us on the edge of our seats and who are worth the admission money alone. The Ginolas, Asprillas, Beardsleys and Ben Arfas of this world. That would do it for me: more flags, more flair happy days at St James’.

One other change I would make is to the song we come out to. I like local hero but surely the Blaydon Races is ‘our’ song and that is what we should come out to. A few small changes in addition to an atmosphere that is really building momentum at present, could be a huge difference in this season and seasons to come.

(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])

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  • Phil K

    I agree – Draw a line under 60 years of domestic failure and start again somewhere else

  • Jimblag23

    52,000 is big enough. We just need to concentrate on making those 52,000 make more noise.
    What’s the point in having an extra 15,000 who sit there passively. It’s not like ticket sales bank roll the club, TV money will enable us to buy players.

    • Leazes Ender

      ….and generate more revenue……loss of prestige here for the future unfortunately the club is now sunk.

  • Rich Lawson

    Ffs can we not get over this ground development ? I was in the very back row of the Milburn stand for Shearer’s testimonial and the view was awful.I have been in the top tier at Old Trafford (71,000) and you honestly needed binoculars to pick out the players.How high are you goin to go with the Gallowgate if you could ? For this money (and I presume it won’t be reduced ?) don’t you want to be able to see what’s goin on rather than just being there ? The ground is big enough,full stop.

    • Leazes Ender

      Certainly big enough for a club with no ambition.

  • Mrkgw

    Redevelopment is a difficult one. Our ground is currently fantastic but, is rapidly becoming yesterday’s thing and visually, is something of an hotch potch with areas standing much higher than others. The new generation of stadiums i.e. Arsenal, Man City and Spurs eclipse the mighty St James. Leazes Park may well be the only option if we truly want to remain amongst the elite but that’s some way off yet. Personally, I like the central position of St James and would love to see it redeveloped in situ rather than a move away. But, if I had to chose an alternative then the short walk to Leazes Park would be an acceptable alternative.

    • Jimblag23

      I think the shape is what helps it to be unique, rather than a dry clone of every other stadium in the world. And allows a great view of the city if you’re in the right spot.

    • Leazes Ender

      The ground isn’t fantastic…. its a mish-mash which was good at the time but now showing its age and certainly not good enough for the 21st century…. a football daft area such as this deserves better something along the lines of the Cardiff Millenium Stadium.

      • Mrkgw

        Must admit Leazes, that even the outside needs a bit of a clean up. Austerity is showing about the place and the showcase is beginning to fray around the edges.

      • Whickhamrobbie

        rubbish it is fantastic . Did a stadium tour of the Etihad and as a stadium its fantastic and better than ours but also souless and the surrounding area has nothing going for it .
        It empties 20 mins before the end so the fans can get a tram to the city and home.
        Our city is the best draw just ask the rugby league fans who attended the magic weekend.

        • Albert Stubbins

          I love it the way it is. Its home at the end of the day and that’s all that matters to me.

  • Leazes Ender

    It’ll be interesting to see how much money the club got for the land from Ashley… or did he simply steal the land from the club?

  • toonterrier

    Be a lot happier if St James Park stayed where it is and Ashley moved on somewhere else.

  • Albert Stubbins

    I bubbled when they put seats in the gallowgate so cant even consider ever moving from St James’. Sorry, not for me. would jack it in but if its good for the club then so be it. I cant see it happening for twenty years minimum anyway- too much money invested in st james’- theres an easy way to satisfy demand without the need for building a new ground anyway and it fits right into Cashleys business plan- you put the price of tickets up!! wait till we are charging as much as Arsenal and see how many fans are on the waiting list then!!

  • Geordiegiants

    This peice is getting very boring, a stupidily ridiculous headline to get people to read.

  • Davey drape

    agree about moving to keep up

  • Geordiegiants

    Stupid and ridiculous headline! StJames is a perfectly fine stadium, it’s our heart and sole. We couldn’t fill a 60, 000 stadium.

    • Porciestreet

      Where dya get that stupid idea…?

      • Geordiegiants

        What stupid idea?

        • Albert Stubbins

          50,000 have been watching bang average football for 17 years now- surely its not beyond the realm of human understanding to suggest that this would be surpassed by some considerable margin with a team that was actually capable of challenging for something? or were you just being silly?

          • Geordiegiants

            No, I wasn’t being silly, it will never happen. Aside from that issue, we couldn’t fill 60,000. Jabba is giving season tickets away for £50 to the kids to fill the stadium. He has also reduced the price of adult season tickets all round to try and keep attendances up. We only filled the ground a couple of times last season, I’m not saying we couldn’t fill 60,000 a couple of times a season, but that would be the best case scenario.

          • Albert Stubbins

            the relevant points worth considering in this debate to me are as follows:
            Under John Hall Newcastle were going to build a 60,000 seater stadium- he wouldnt have considered this if it wasnt going to be full- remember also in those days 50% of revenue came from season ticket sales.
            Newcastle United arnt by anyway the only club that gives cheap tickets away. Virtually all clubs do it in fact recent season ticket prices confirm that Newcastle are about average over the overall cost.
            Newcastle averaged over 50,000 in the second division and sold over 35,000 season tickets
            The quality of football Newcastle have been producing over the last ten years at least apart from one season has been mediocre at best and still we have averaged around 50k
            Newcastle have been relegated twice in the last decade and still crowds have stayed consistent
            Newcastle have had arguably the most volatile period in its history regarding distrust of ownership but still the crowds have remained around 50k
            Newcastle havent been close to winning anything in the last 17 years but crowds have remained at around 50k.
            The greater point being- if Newcastle had a team consistently challenging for trophys we would in my opinion quite easily fill a 60,000 seater stadium and then some. There is the demand- john hall recognized that 25 years ago and plans were in place even back then for a 60,000 stadium. you don’t envisage building a stadium this size if only 50,000 are going to turn up on a regular basis and john hall may have been a lot of things but he wasnt stupid.
            Do you honestly believe that if we had a team like we did in the mid 90’s we wouldnt fill a 60,000 seater stadium? for goodness sakes weve not won anything in nearly 50 years and theres still be over 40,000 season tickets sold next season- and yes some of them will be cheaper as in line with most football clubs these days- this is the most economically challenged area in the country. Arsenal fans may well pay twice as much for tickets but their average wage is twice as high so its parameters of scale on that one. This is my reasoning on this subject.

          • Geordiegiants

            If we were able to fill a 60,000 seater, John Hall would of built a 60,000 seater stadium. Stadium revenue was almost as valuable as Sky money in those days.
            We would probably be able to fill it with plastic fans, IF we were wining trophies season after season, but we aren’t and we won’t be in the near future.

          • Albert Stubbins

            John Hall had significant opposition to the leazes park development- as far as i’m aware he wasnt a dictator at the time. plastic fans as you call them make up around 50% of fans in all premier league clubs- how many plastic fans do you think man yoo, arsenal and spurs have? that’s the reality of modern football. Regardless if fans are so called plastic as you so eloquently refer them means not a jot- they are bums on seats so constitute paying fans- also the argument is whether Newcastle could fill 60,000 not on the fans loyalty or dedication- in addition to this the fact you think Newcastle will not compete in the next few years is irrelevant- the issue is IF Newcastle had a winning side or a side that competes- that is my argument and has been throughout- 60,000 wouldnt be anywhere near big enough- ps tickets for £250 each isnt them being given away by anyones definition of the word.

          • Geordiegiants

            We didn’t need to move to leazeas park, we could of extended the Gallowgate over the road, and probably still could, even with the land sold/developed.
            You only have to look at the Milburn stand.
            If and a very big IF, we were winning torophies, we might sell close to 60,000 the odd week, but I very much doubt it would fill every week. As you have said John Hall wasn’t daft.
            I think this day and age £250 isn’t a lot of money considering what is on offer, when we first went all seater 25 yes 25 years ago it’s was around £350 / £450 a season ticket. Plastic fans aren’t the sort of people we want at the games, they kill the atmosphere, and these days because it’s so cheap, bring nothing to the table.
            Just my opinion!

          • Albert Stubbins

            iv been a season ticket holder since 1988-so know a thing or two about season tickets- first season ticket in Leazes was just over 260 quid in 1993/4. They went up about 10/15 % a year after that. so not sure where you’re getting your prices from- maybe you were in the milburn but not in gollowgate or Leazes. also- there are some cheap tickets now but for plastics? kids you mean?my son has had me banging on to him for 18 years and probably knows more about the club than me- the kids are the future of the club- if you mean plastics being those that are in corporate hospitality or in the nicer areas of the ground im not sure what your getting at- if so they are paying top dollar for the privilege. Ashley is working from a very low base in terms of product remember- his has continually tarnished his reputation with the support and knows empty seats dont look good from a marketing perspective. However, what other set of fans would have put up with the RUBBISH that he has been serving up for years and still attend in the numbers we do? 50,000 for watching a putting up with mediocrity equate to at least 60,000 watching a team made up of class players wearing the black and white I dont think anyone could reasonably dispute this. I well remember the 95/6 season- the ground could have sold out twice over all season – the request for individual match day tickets was reported then by the chron as being over subscribed by over 100% on a regular basis- the ticket office sent a statement out on the day of the man united home game saying it could have sold over 85,000 tickets such had been the phone inquires for the match. I’ll say no more on the subject as there’s no more to be said. NUFC.

          • Geordiegiants

            Fare weather / Plastic fans, the ones that want to go to the Manure match, the Chelski game. Not kids, kids are the future and have more hope, passion and optimism than most older fans.
            You make my point for me, the Manure game I have no doubts it would sell out.
            Burnley, Bournemouth cold Wednesday night etc etc, I don’t think we would fill it or the Halls and FFS would of built it bigger.

          • Albert Stubbins

            p.s- the 50 quid tickets for kids isnt quite right- they have to be accompanied by an adult season ticket holder who shells out over £400. So the average is nearly £250. I know this as I go with my son in family enclose.

          • Geordiegiants

            Regardless of how you put it, he is giving tickets away to keep attendances up. I’m not saying it isn’t a good thing mind, I’m just merely pointing out that facts.

  • Davey drape

    i would never had considered moving until i visited the san siro. can we not move leases terrace brick by brick and move it elsewhere or move it to beamish