The NUFC Fans Forum: A View From The Inside
As I left St James’ Park on the 12th of May, I had the metro ride home to reflect on my time as the Gallowgate rep on the Fans Forum.
I remember in the summer of 2013 seeing the forum advertised on various websites, calling for fans to put their names forward for a new group to represent fellow fans in regular meetings with club officials. I immediately submitted my application along with the requested details about myself, but after hearing nothing back, I forgot all about the forum as the months went past.
Then in a bit of a post-new year’s eve haze, I received a call from Lee Marshall asking if I was still interested in sitting on the forum, as the original rep for the Gallowgate had stepped down in the wake of bans for NUST and the local media.
My position as a fan hadn’t changed and I was still intrigued to get a first hand account of the goings on at the club I have loved all my life, so I accepted. Fast forward 5 months and 3 meetings later and my time on the forum is over, with the Gallowgate getting a new rep for 2014/15. As such I feel I can now share my opinions on the pros and cons of this group.
I see various comments on websites questioning the point of the forum and criticising if it has any worth. To that point I’d say, “Yes, the forum is worthwhile… however probably not in the way you (and I) would like.”
Fans I speak to, both friends and strangers, are generally disappointed with the strategy and goals of the club. The memories of Shearer, Keegan, Sir Bobby and nights in the Nou Camp are still fresh in the mind for most of us and, like a junkie craving their next hit; we all yearn for those highs again. Being a football fan after all is to be an addict, you know experiencing Newcastle United will likely be hazardous to your health, but you turn up on a Saturday anyway in search of that elusive euphoria of a 3-2 win against Chelsea!
As fans I think we all hoped that the Forum would allow the voices of the many to be heard at a personal level ,with people who have the potential to make a genuine impact on what we see on the pitch. In this regard I think the forum fails, but not necessarily for the reason you might expect. The public perception is that those who work at the club are Mike Ashley’s lackeys but one the most interesting points I took away from the Fans Forum, is that the people working at the club on a day to day basis are fans.
The only real difference that exists between the club’s employees and fans like you and me, is that they are employed by Mike Ashley and ultimately have a strict business model they operate in. It’s abundantly clear that at heart these people would like to see Newcastle United win a trophy but their job is to keep Newcastle United established as a premier league team. While this is the brief of the club (and if nothing else they have consistently achieved this brief) I think it’s likely that the hopes and dreams of the fans will go largely unrealised.
For me the real strength of the forum is the ability of those who are on it to ask questions of the Directors and receive honest answers. We often have to rely on inconsistent press coverage or sterile manager interviews to try and glean an answer to that burning question we have. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Lee Charnley and John Irving in the way they honestly answered questions raised in the meetings. It was very rare that I found that either of them tried to avoid a question and when they did it was around understandable topics such as transfer budgets.
During my time on the Fans Forum, this is the one area that I don’t think has been utilised properly by the fans. In fact in my 5 months as the Gallowgate rep, I received no issues to raise at fans forum meetings from the people I was supposed to represent (the club website has contact pages for all of the reps). It appears that the fans forum will remain in place next season and I for one will be hoping that as fans we make use of this mouthpiece, as although it probably won’t change the strategy of the club in terms of transfers and league targets, it might clarify how they intend to achieve these.
To give my honest assessment as a fan, the fans forum is not the tool for change I hoped it might be. Looking back now I think this hope was always a longshot. That being said I think it has an important role to play in facilitating clear lines of communication between the fans of the club and those who run it on a day to day basis.
I think no matter your standpoint on the manager, the owner or the club’s ambitions; we should all be trying to utilise the forum to get the answers to the questions we need answering.
It’s become abundantly clear to me that my hopes and dreams for the club will never be realised under the current regime. However, at the same time we need to be careful what we wish for when chanting for Ashley’s head. For every Sheikh Mansour there is a Venky’s, for every Roman Abramovich there is a Vincent Tan.
While our dreams may be unrealised as long the big southerner (Mike Ashley isn’t a cockney so stop calling him one!) is controlling the purse strings, there is no evidence to suggest that if we ever do get the owner to match our aspirations, we won’t be in a solid position to strike at the top of the league.
In the meantime let’s use outlets like the Fans Forum to keep the pressure on the club to improve on our current level. The next meeting will likely be in September following the end of the transfer window. I for one will make sure I’m contacting my rep on the forum to ensure that our summer business is dissected thoroughly!
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