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Tyne Talk

NUFC Protest March Before Liverpool Match – Your Questions Answered

8 years ago

Most of you will be aware that there is a march organised before Saturday’s home match with Liverpool.

Is there any point? What will it achieve? What comes after that?

Well these questions are all answered up to a point below but of course the reality is that a bit like our football team, there are no absolute guarantees.

Mike Ashley has, intentionally or not, put Newcastle United in a kind of limbo, a nothingness. Just getting by from season to season, hoping not to go backwards but with no ambition to go forward.

If you take away hope/ambition/dreams from football fans then what do you have left?

With an absentee owner and no proper board or management structure at St.James’ Park, you’d have to be the type of person who really thinks they are going to win the lottery every week to think positive, rather than accepting that it is a millions to one chance of it actually happening…

If Mike Ashley turned around tomorrow and announced he was going to form a proper football board and management team at Newcastle United and give them the freedom and backing to make NUFC the very best football club it could be, then I’d say well done and what can we all do to help support it.

Sadly though, that isn’t going to happen. We’ll never know for sure why Mike Ashley really bought the club, and many of the decisions he has made since, but despite having the financial clout and connections to almost guarantee Newcastle would be competing each year near the top, he has no appetite to do so.

You don’t need to necessarily measure that level (lack) of ambition by how much money is spent, while clubs we could and should be competing with are aiming their operations to be worldwide/international businesses with commercial money flooding in on top of the TV riches, Mike Ashley is aiming for Newcastle United to be an every penny accounted for corner shop. While we have all looked to find some laughs from the appointment of Joe Kinnear, that must really be seen as the final nail in any argument that claims Ashley is trying to make Newcastle United a force in the future. Kinnear is woefully ill-equipped to be a Director of Football but the fact that he is also the most powerful person at our football club is just too depressing for words. If you just want to dismiss this as more Ashley knocking, have a look outside our Tyneside bubble, look at the calibre of people other Premier League clubs employ to run their football clubs on the business and football sides.

Unless Ashley has a bang on the head and realises just what a potentially successful football club he has, both on and off the pitch, then there are no easy answers.

Getting rid of Ashley isn’t a complete plan in itself but living in fear of what could follow him is no way to live your (football) life.

As a board member of NUST (Newcastle United Supporters Trust), we are working on various community based initiatives such as our Junior Trust which attempts to try and connect young fans with our club.

In addition though, we are working on a number of strategies that would help supporters work WITH any potential new owners of Newcastle United, whether this would include supporters owning part of the club once again or not. NUST have done a lot of work to establish a framework that could help enable fans to own shares if the opportunity came along, it might not be sexy doing work that might never ever have a chance to be implemented but without this preparation work then it would be almost certain that any opportunity would be missed.

In the meantime we are willing to work in any way with Mike Ashley and those running Newcastle United on his behalf, the club’s recently introduced Fans Forum the latest example. Having this new avenue of fans interacting with club officials must be seen as a decent step forward, although with no Managing Director/Chief Executive appointed after Derek Llambias walked out, means that the Forum has been seriously downgraded, as Llambias was committed to chair each Fans Forum.

NUST board member Peter Fanning was the Trust’s representative at the inaugural Forum and he was on hand to ask the most pertinent questions on the night, the answers that came back from NUFC directors were largely depressing to say the least but the exercise very useful in opening many people’s eyes as to exactly what the state of Newcastle United is at the minute under Mike Ashley. More to the point, where Newcastle United is or isn’t likely to be heading under the current owner.

As well as NUST, my involvement with The Mag, both magazine (25 years of madness covered so far!) and website will continue to cover the good and the bad at St.James’ Park. Putting the spotlight on everything that happens, positive and negative, at our club.

The most important thing is that we give you via magazine/website the platform to talk about and debate what is happening at NUFC and communicate it to fellow fans (and those in charge at the club). Whether we are walking the streets, involved with NUST, or writing/talking about Newcastle United we can all move the agenda on.

One thing is for sure and that is one day Mike Ashley will leave St.James’ Park, we all need to be focused when that does happen.

In the meantime get involved with The Mag, NUST, or indeed the Time4Change march, we all want the same thing but we might all have slightly different routes of how to get there.

(To feature on the magazine/website send articles/letters to [email protected])

Here are the questions and answers that were first posed on our sister publication’s True Faith website, have a good read and get yourself along if you can make it.

First things first, why do you want supporters to join a protest march before the Liverpool game?

We have felt the utter frustration, like many other fans, at the way the club has been run by Mike Ashley. Some of the complaints have been well-rehearsed: The sacking of managers, the changing of the stadium’s name, the Wonga deal, and the puzzling re-appointment of Joe Kinnear as director of football.

What is of real concern to us now is that repeated club statements appear to suggest that it lacks direction, ambition and is failing loyal fans who have put so much time, loyalty and money into supporting the team. The club has been through bad times before, but since finishing in fifth place, the club has revised and budgeted its targets down for two consecutive seasons. At the same time it has said it regards cup competitions not as a priority, but as a chance to run the rule over our very small squad of reserves.

We contend that something fundamental has changed, and that the club has now admitted it has little intent to attempt competitive football. The potential of the club not only remains untapped but maybe diminishing as the club identity and brand has been consumed by Mr Ashley’s pursuit of his other ‘main’ business interest.

Time4Change believes that something needs to be done, to say ‘enough is enough’. A meeting was called through certain social network groups and it was democratically decided that a lawful, properly organised march would be a start.

We have been granted permission for this by the police and city council.

We hope this will give the opportunity for all fans and supporters groups to unite and express their concerns at current policies and showcase our solidarity and shared hopes for a better future.

The Liverpool fixture was chosen for several reasons. Firstly, it has significance as being a high profile game which in the past has created some terrific football matches. Not too long ago it would have been regarded as a game between equals. Last season saw us capitulate in a way that shocked many fans.

Liverpool is also a good example, via the Spirit of Shankly group, of what can be achieved when fans get together to pursue a peaceful campaign for change. We have been in contact with SoS and have developed a relationship. They have sent us messages of support. In this spirit of “football first”, we have invited Liverpool fans to join the march. The game will also be shown live on BT Sport and it will generate inevitable media interest.

This is a chance, right at the outset of our campaign, for everyone who has pride in the club, the city, and the region, to show what Newcastle United means to us all.

Is there a better way of showcasing how much we care and crave ambition by marching peacably together, then showing our support by backing our team 100%?

What do you think a protest march will achieve?

We are not naive enough to think that one march will suddenly make Ashley pack up and sell up. The march however can be very significant symbolically, especially if it manages to unite the fans. Just as it has on a small scale during the organisation of this march, it’s a wonderful way of bringing people who had not previously met, together, and realising that we share so many things in common and can gain strength in unity.

If Ashley has been successful in anything during his reign it has been his unerring ability to divide and conquer the supporters; be it the fragmentation of the singing section in Level 7 that led to tensions elsewhere in the ground with other fans, or his ability to create amateur accountants out of passionate football fans. Ashley has even used his cronies to conduct character defamation campaigns against legends Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer. We wonder how Sir Bobby Robson would have fared if he was alive today, for there is no doubt in our minds he would have spoken out against the club’s so called ‘plan’.

This is why we hope the march can re-invigorate the whole campaign for change in the running of the club so that the fans and the city can be reconnected with its heart. We feel this is the first time in almost 5 years that the need to do ‘something’ is overwhelming and we hope the march can channel the frustration and anger felt by fans and convert it into a positive movement for change.

What are the arrangements for the protest march?

The march is legal and sanctioned by the council and the police. It has been organised and paid for by individual donations and groups giving up their time to ensure every interested fan has the opportunity to exercise their democratic right to march. There are no ulterior motives other than to make the owner and the football world aware that not all Newcastle fans are content in doing nothing.

The gathering point for the march will be on the pedestrianised part of Northumberland Road (next to the City Hall) from 10.30am on 19th October and will proceed through the city centre, past the ground, and end at the bandstand in Leazes Park where there will be one or two short speeches before dispersal for the match.

The march has had a full health and safety check, will be accompanied by volunteer stewards and matchday policemen with rolling road closures as it progresses.

Certain groups are getting their own banners made and anyone wanting to bring their own are welcome; all we ask is you keep the slogans non-abusive. There is plenty of scope for fans to quote back the regime’s lies and failures without being offensive. If you’re bringing bedsheets, we ask that you put them through a spellcheck 😉

Remember, this isn’t a march aimed at hurling abuse at the owner – that will achieve little and won’t look great in front of the watching media. What we want is a good humoured protest march attended by caring, sensible fans who want to express their hope in a brighter future. We not only want to call time on the Ashley regime but make it known to the wider football world that we want responsible ownership where the fanbase can be respected and consulted. We can only do that by behaving responsibly and by policing ourselves so that others can see we are worth investing in.

How many supporters do you predict will join the march?

That’s a question we can’t answer! What we can say is that a couple of dozen people, who run websites and social network groups, have provided the opportunity for Newcastle fans to show that they care about the club. If you are a season ticket holder who feels helpless or a boycotter who feels disenfranchised, we want you to march in the belief that you can assert your self-respect and pride alongside others. We want this march to be inclusive, encompassing many parts of the NUFC demographic.

There has been press coverage since the papers got wind of possible fans’ action weeks ago, so there’s no doubt they’ll be there. What we hope is that the march is well attended so that they know there is a groundswell of opinion that says fans are willing to get involved in shaping the future of the club.

We can understand people being sceptical about the march and this is as much a symptom of the way Ashley has reduced us down into infighting, as it is to those anonymous people who want to denigrate people in 140 characters via twitter.

In the past, what we have needed most and lacked the most, is faith in ourselves. It’s a simple choice really, if you’re happy with the way the club is being run, managed and funded then stay at home and don’t march; if you are not happy, show you want better and march.

Every time you look, there seems to be a new supporters group being formed (mainly online), tell us about TIME 4 CHANGE – what does it want to achieve?

Indeed, there are many supporters groups out there, but we are NOT a new group as such. We stress that we are a coalition of some of the more established ones over the last few years and as such, will remain independent and do our own things which range from humourous, irreverent looks on the club, to giving match reports and player news to being one issue pressure groups.

As we have stated, the ownership issue is the one issue that unites us all in calling for fan solidarity in a Time4Change. Amongst the groups, it is generally felt that there already exists the framework for positive change at NUFC, via the work the Supporters Trust has pursued since its inception (several trust members are involved in T4C). However, for whatever reason, a lot of this work goes unreported and because of this, their campaign has arguably lost momentum and drifted from the public eye. We hope that the #Time4Change March and any possible movement that grows from it can help reinvigorate and put to the very top of the agenda, the common goals many of us share not only with the Trust, but with football fans in general. It is with this in mind that the Trust have been invited to speak at the end of the march.

In short, if the Time4Change coalition can grow and unite as many groups as possible then it can be a movement which works in tandem with the Trust. If their membership swells because of a multi pronged approach to affecting change then the long-term goals of us all – at the very least, responsible and accountable ownership – can become nearer reality.

Who are the organisers behind TIME 4 CHANGE? What support do you have?

In some ways we have answered part of this question in the previous one.

There are no people with any professional or commercial interests in Newcastle United involved in Time4Change, nor are there any people with ‘media profiles’.

This is in effect, an attempt by concerned fans at a grassroots level to provide the opportunity for other fans who are extremely concerned by the club’s direction to come forward and march in solidarity and hope. To this point there have been no open mass meetings and therefore we aren’t imposing upon fans a full agenda of protest as we don’t have the mandate to do so.

As we are a coalition of groups, we all have a different amount of people who ‘follow’ our groups via the social networks and as we have progressed others have come forward and offered their support. Significantly, The Newcastle Supporters Trust has offered their support and agreed to circulate details of the march to their mailing list and totally understand why this is taking place. We are gaining endorsements; but what we need is for the fans to turn up on the day to show we all really care about the club and want to see it progress.

Some supporters are wary of joining protest movements because previous supporters’ protests have been perceived as being poorly organised and embarrassing. How will TIME 4 CHANGE be different?

This protest is properly organised and we have faith in the fans who attend to conduct themselves in the right manner. We appeal to all fans to come forward and march to ensure that it is successful.

The only previous mass supporters protests we can recall in recent times were in the aftermath of the Keegan resignation in 2008 at the Hull City game, when quite understandably, there was much vitriolic anger. But most of these were NOT officially sanctioned. This created a somewhat toxic atmosphere outside and inside the ground that day.

We think the climate is different to 2008. What we want is a successful, incident free march and then everyone who is attending the match to go inside and make it one of the best atmospheres worthy of a top fixture. We have given guarantees to the police that we will not organise or call for any protest that will contravene the stadium rules or break the law.

However, we do want to make a point in front of the cameras and the watching millions. With this in mind we are calling for fans to take to the match white handkerchiefs (even serviettes/paper will do) and upon the teams entering the pitch prior to the kick off, waving them in the air to signal that we are ‘calling time’ on the Ashley Regime. This as you know, is a simple form of protest usually practiced on the continent to signal fans disapproval. After that is done, we want everyone to back the team all the way.

This simple form of visual protest will be reliant on many people, whom for whatever reason, did not make the march, but gives everyone the opportunity to show they too think it is time for change.

This ‘white hankie’ protest would show the tv audience that the fans do have a valid voice and opinion but also that they refuse to turn their backs on the team. It is this passion and untapped potential that we hope one day will appeal to more responsible and receptive investors.This is something that could grow and carry on into further games, home and away. It costs virtually nothing but is symbolically and visually significant.

What happens after the march?

Many people say ‘be careful what you wish for’ – ironically it was something Freddie Shepherd said when Ashley first sniffed round the club, but we should not be afraid of the future! To ensure that we get responsible and co-operative ownership in the future, we believe that fans have to be organised and have a coherent voice.

The march can be but a starting point in getting people together again, but let’s not forget there is a framework already in place, ready to be built upon.

We can’t make too many bold predictions as to where T4C goes from here, because in reality it depends on those who actually come forward and are willing to be proactive. There are all sorts of possibilities that could spring from this, but certainly within the group of people who have organised the march, there is a hope that this can be the start of a concerted coordinated campaign to put fan power and regime change on the agenda.

We have faith that we have provided, via the march, a sensible alternative for fans to show that we have had enough of being taken for granted and exploited.

We hope the readers will join the march on October 19th and show that we not only deserve, but demand, our voices to be heard. It’s Time4Change at NUFC. United we can do it!

Signed, Chris McQuillan, Duncan James, Brian Hall and Graeme Cansdale (on behalf of #Time4Change) – visit their Facebook page HERE



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