Before I launch into this, a little about me. I mention this not to show off my medals (although I was in the crowd of 7134 v Wrexham on 08/05/1979 and at the original postponed game) but to set my thoughts in some sort of context.
I am 51 years of age. I have been a Newcastle supporter for as long as I can remember, although I come from a family where I am the only one with any interest in football, apart (ironically) from my late lamented maternal grandfather who was an enthusiastic sunderland supporter.
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I have lived all my life in Fenham and within walking distance of SJP. I bought my first season ticket for the centre paddock of the old West Stand in 1982 at the age of 20 not long before Kevin Keegan signed as a player.
Since then I have had season tickets in the East (New) Stand, the Milburn (evicted by Freddie Fletcher), Bar 1892 and I’m now back in the East Stand where I’ve been since the Championship season.
On average I would reckon I travel to about half a dozen away games a season and over the years I have been able to rack up enough “points” to pretty much guarantee me a ticket for any match.
Nothing that follows is particularly groundbreaking or original. However, the one thing that I think it has in its favour is the fact that although I’m far from a fanatic, I am probably quite representative of a generation who still make up a significant part of the committed core of our support and if people like me think this I cannot believe that I am the only one.
Saturday could prove to be the tipping point and perhaps some realisation that individually we aren’t the only ones, that recognition may just be the catalyst for change which is never going to come otherwise. Waiting for some (black &) white knight on a charger to galvanize us and lead us to the promised land will be a long wait. We are the only ones who can at least attempt to make a change.
With that background, I mentioned in an email to a friend that yesterday was ‘deja vu revisited’, as for me as it was like being back in the 80s, but in fact I was wrong, it’s nothing like that.
We’ve all watched worse football, far worse players and probably (although I’m not so sure about this one) had worse managers. We’ve been adrift in Division 2 with no apparent sign of it getting better and have looked down the barrel of Division 3. The big difference in all of those situations before was that we were trying to do our best. We had goals and ambitions even if the horizon was a low one, and we had the hope that if we stuck with it and did what we could to back the team on the pitch and the club itself, that eventually things would get better. Even when the McKeags were in charge I do not believe that they did not want to, or try to, succeed. The problem then was that this had to be on their terms, with them retaining control and they simply didn’t have the means to finance the changes necessary.
The game was radically different then and a much more level playing field. Whilst there have always been bigger clubs, even in the mid 80s a club like Newcastle could aspire to league success if you were good enough or lucky enough to produce a group of exceptional players ( like we did with Waddle, Beardsley and Gascoigne), or focus on a run in one of the Cup competitions. Ironically the domestic cups have probably never been easier to win. To do that you need a modicum of luck with the draw but more importantly, the desire to actually succeed.
That is why I was wrong in drawing the parallel with the 1980s because this is a set of circumstances that I have never encountered before and which potentially is unique in football where you have a football club which is content merely to exist and has made a cold financial calculation that it is uneconomic, not just not to strive for relative success, but actively to avoid it.
This is allied to the fact that they also appear to have made a conscious decision not to exploit available revenue streams that are successfully exploited by other similar clubs because that will conflict with their primary objective which is maximum exposure for the parent company of the club. In my opinion, to truly understand what is happening at Newcastle United you have to appreciate that Newcastle United is now a wholly owned subsidiary company of Sports Direct, and therefore the business aims and objectives of NUFC have to be aligned with those of SD.
So where does this leave the supporters? Well it depends what you regard your connection to NUFC as being. If it is just a means of achieving 90 mins entertainment every couple of weeks then probably little has changed, although I would limit your ambitions to the individual 90 mins and view it as a spectacle involving 2 teams where you derive your enjoyment simply from being present and hopefully seeing an entertaining game. If you care about achieving a positive result in a context that has wider significance for improvement, progression and achievement then I suggest you look elsewhere, especially in relation to cup matches.
However, if you view NUFC in a much wider context, not only as a football club but also as one of the embodiments of your pride in your city, then you have a choice to make in my view, which is either to alter your perspective or to walk away.
For all the great qualities that NUFC supporters have, organisation isn’t and never has been one of them. We can look enviously at the way Liverpool and Manchester United supporters have organised themselves to combat ownership that did not reflect the ambitions and desires of the supporters. History shows us that we can have no confidence that this will happen at NUFC any time soon.
There is going to be no mass organised protest but what there is, is a growing individual disillusionment and what needs to happen is for each of us as individuals to consider what it is that forms our connection to the club. If it is that 90 mins of entertainment and a chance to meet up with your mates and have a few drinks and a laugh then that’s fine. I would never claim to be some sort of “Supafan” who should be able to impose my viewpoint on anyone else and if that is what you want then all power to you.
However, if the connection is on what could be regarded as a more emotional level then ask yourself how much of the connection that you had all those years ago when you started supporting the club still remains? I think you’ll find that the answer is that the club and the supporting experience is so far removed from what it was that drew you in in the first place, that cutting the connection will probably be less painful than we anticipate.
None of this is to say that it would be an easy thing to do, or that it should be permanent, but if we want to make a change then this is really the only way that I can see that we might be able to have any influence.
If it doesn’t work, then is what remains something you want to be connected to?
If we all confront this as individuals then the mass protest movement that many of us crave might just emerge.