Open letter to Newcastle fans and Mike Ashley
An open letter to Newcastle fans, Keith Bishop and Mike Ashley from United supporter and Mag contributor Lyndon Sowerby.
I hate to say it but professional football is no longer about representing the honour of a locality and people who invest pride into their local club are misguided. The Premier League is foremost a business and the product is entertainment, the price of a ticket buys a seat and anything else is opinion and socialising.
The origins of football are of whole villages playing against each other and an essence of that still continues today, however entering a stadium is nothing more than entering a theatre where you wish to spectate at an unscripted and unpredictable performance. The crowd are no different to those of the Roman Crucible who adore winners and just as noisily bay for blood when the opportunity arises.
These days supporting a team is like having a favourite band that you are fanatical about to the detriment of all other musical groups, who you begrudgingly accept may have one or two good hits. As well as all the merchandise available, you pay to see them on tour and/or at your local venue and the individuals playing are performing for your adoration.
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Because of the limited nature, if you decide not to go another person will more than likely take your place for the same experience that is gained from actually being there in person, within a living mass. As a spectator the performance of the team generates a feeling which is amplified by the crowd and that emotion is projected either onto the pitch, at the opposing supporters, or out to the surrounding community, or even towards anindividual.
Unfortunately, that huge expression of emotion is not an investment and other than your bum on a seat, there is no other ‘legal’ interaction between the customer and the club. At Newcastle a significant number of vocal supporters are expressing their dissatisfaction with the poor performances and are offering their opinions about changes they think are needed to make an improvement. If we go back to the theatre analogy, the audience would say; “The stars have left, lines are being dropped and there is no coherence. The Director is failing and the Owner should rectify the problem, or leave.”
However, there is no obligation for the owner to react to the complaints whilst the majority of seats are still being used and a 90 minute show is given, despite the type of performance. So then we have to ask “What is it to be a Supporter?”
A large proportion of supporters at any club are local because of the convenience, peers and the historical link it has to the community, in the age of the Premiership these reasons have become less and less important as a larger proportion of money is gained from TV contracts than attendance fees.
But owners (Ashley’s PR guru Keith Bishop seen here sitting to the right of the Newcastle owner) know that the reputation of the league is based on the atmosphere created by large audiences in the ground that show their appreciation for good players and entertaining football.
These have sadly been lacking at St. James Park, but recent attempts at protest have been shown not to have the majority of support, and those not attending or not buying season tickets, have either been replaced or been insufficient in number. The risk of relegation, poor performances and disruption to the squad has failed to elicit the support of many fans towards demanding a change for a number of possible reasons, although why would protesting have any effect when crowd numbers are continually above average?
I am not about to make any more suggestions about forcing a change at NUFC because even though supporters are a potent mass, they are also individual people who have a right to their own opinion and own expression.
I do believe a greater understanding is needed from all those involved in order to improve the environment at games and to enable a better relationship to flourish between the club and its supporters. Communication through talking and listening is required to generate effective discussion rather than confrontational and inflated exaggeration from both sides.
The current Fans Forum is not providing this opportunity, but despite not working should not be abandoned as it is the only device with which change can be facilitated by holding the club to their legal obligations and focusing on their own stated objectives. The use of proper and recorded dialogue, with a huge amount of time, should enable the club to be held to account, locally and nationally, plus generate the changes that fans would like.
The club is currently required to facilitate the forum, however the meetings appear to be stage managed and do not enable a reciprocating process to take place, for which they were originally envisaged. At the moment as I understand, questions from supporters are suggested to the representative members via the club in order to filter the quantity of communications any one individual may receive, because of duplication or other reasons like abuse.
The result has been rather stultifying and I think created a combative environment of questions and answers, with no deeper analysis allowed to take place and the appearance that the club only wishes to present certain information and carefully controlling proceedings for its own benefit only.
The forums should happen more frequently to allow questions to be answered in the following meeting, or for progress to be monitored. Forum members should be able to communicate between themselves in order to generate an agenda, which would also allow an opportunity for the club to present its own topics of discussion.
The process of filtering correspondents does appear to be censorship but I have no sensible solution, as every individual thinks they have a unique idea and wonders if they could do a better job. However, that could be a matter for discussion along with a ‘Mission Statement’ to which the Fans Forum wants to work towards and against which all actions within the whole club can be evaluated.
I predict that there would be a large amount of ancillary benefits to a more open, communicating and reciprocal relationship between fans and the club, without a regular outcry to change the manager at every change in fortune or the removal of board members.
However, without the prior suggestions being acted upon, the current holder of the managerial role will find it difficult to convince a large vocal number of supporters that he is the right man for the position.
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