Newcastle United’s recent history has meant we have been spoilt with regard to avoiding the sight of blocks of empty seats at St.James’ Park, the news that the Chelsea match has sold out is a welcome return to what we’d previously got very used to.
Ever since Kevin Keegan became manager SJP has been pretty much full, apart from certain cup matches. Since the ground was extended to its current capacity, the first cracks appeared when turning up for a home match with Fulham and seeing the first sub-fifty thousand crowd for a league game. The sight of a sizeable chunk of empty seats was so alien to what had been the case for over ten years. Obviously Fulham had struggled to fill a minibus and so the blocks of seats set aside for away fans had failed to be more or less filled by United fans for the first time.
It had been quite remarkable anyway that St.James’ Park was filled week-in week-out despite repeatedly finishing bottom half after both the Keegan and Robson eras. Probably a combination of loyalty and fear of not having a seat when the expected (prayed for) upturn eventually happened, plus of course these days it is pretty much an all or nothing situation whereby if you go regularly you’re almost bound to have a season ticket, meaning that you don’t decide on a match to match basis whether you go. Of course it can work the other way and when a large number of fans give up their season tickets, it is then so much harder to get them back as once they’ve made the decision not to renew, for many of them that is a mental decision to give up altogether.
It was a shock to me and even more so for Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias when we played Fulham in the first home match this season, a crowd of forty two thousand wasn’t a pleasant sight for anybody and those ten thousand empty seats made me feel sick to the stomach. Were we on the slippery slope of becoming no better or worse than sunderland or Middlesbrough?
Salvation has come with two factors, the most important of course is that the team have surprised everybody by both winning matches and playing some decent football at times. The other main factor came with the decision to offer half price season tickets a handful of matches into the season, which unsurprisingly met with an excellent response. Reports claimed that this initiative came after Mike Ashley was so pleased with the team’s start he wanted to reward the supporters but I think very close to the truth will have been the shock that when we played Spurs it only attracted forty six thousand, not surprising in these hard times when tickets started at nearly forty quid. The season ticket deal becoming a no brainer if you intended to go to any more than a handful of matches and you could find the money.
I don’t think half price season tickets can be a long-term strategy for a healthy future but in the short-term all that matters is seeing bums on those seats.
St.James’ Park packed to the rafters once again, bring it on!