During the crisis that has been NUFC’s 2014/2015 season, one thing that has baffled and perplexed me, is that the entire onus on trying to get things sorted out has fallen on the shoulders of the Newcastle fans.
Despite there being plenty of evidence and actions which one would have thought would at least raise the eyebrows (I’m not asking much!) of the media and the regulators of our sport, there has been precious little interest (until very recently) and no intervention at all from “the custodians of the game” despite the ongoing horror show at St James.
Therefore, I hereby set out in black and white, for the benefit of all Newcastle fans as well as the club and anyone else who may be interested, just how alone we are and how (in my opinion) the national regulatory body is in contempt of its own criteria, since the FA’s stated goals and priorities include to:
- Govern the game effectively
- Provide a safe and fun experience for football
- It is further stated that “The integrity of football relies on quick, consistent and sensible decisions. This is particularly true in England’s professional game where those decisions are scrutinised all over the world. Clubs, fans, players and managers all want the right decisions to be made according to the rules they have agreed to play by” and
- “The game in England is sustained by a huge range of football fans, from players to referees and club supporters to parents. We need to communicate effectively with everyone with an interest in the game”.
What is interesting by the way, from a cursory inspection of the FA’s rules, regulations and aims, is the distinct lack of statements such as:
- To ensure the proper management of football clubs playing in England;
- To ensure that clubs are run in the spirit of the game of football, i.e. that clubs should use their resources to try and succeed (in football);
- To ensure that clubs do not ignore their fans or their fans’ interests;
- To ensure that commercial and footballing interests are balanced appropriately.
So, given that these last 4 ambitions appear to be very sadly outside of the FA’s own stated remit, (and their absence should I think be the subject for a separate though rather important discussion), I recently wrote to the FA to question their inactivity with regards to NUFC and the growing deficiencies of the club and its owner.
I asked them whether they were satisfied that their inaction is appropriate, that their lack of intervention (of any kind) is suitable given the various transgressions or inappropriate activities which have been described relating to NUFC. The examples referred to included the following.
- The owner admitted to an employment tribunal that he repeatedly and intentionally lied to and misled the press, public and the fans of Newcastle United, but the FA did nothing.
- Mike Ashley was fined by the SFA for a rules breach in relation to dual interest in Rangers and NUFC, but the English FA did nothing.
- The properly constituted fans’ Supporters Trust was banned by the owner from partaking at its Fan’s Forum meetings for trumped up and disproportionate reasons, but the FA did nothing.
- In Scotland, the owner has been exposed by a Parliamentary Committee, accusing him of unacceptable behaviour, and yet the FA has done nothing.
- The owner was found guilty at an English court of law of constructively dismissing its manager, a former England Manager, and yet the FA said and did nothing.
- The owner has seen his Newcastle side knocked out of the FA cup by Stoke, Hull, West Brom, Stevenage, Brighton, Cardiff and Leicester and has apparently said to various senior people, who have reported it informally, that he does not want NUFC to succeed in cup competitions as it may threaten league survival – hence it could be, (and has been) argued, that NUFC is distorting the FA Cup, for example, by effectively throwing games. However, the FA has done nothing.
- The owner removed the St James’ Park name (after saying that he would not) and replaced it with that of his shop, with no fan dialogue and against the wishes of said fans.
- The owner apparently pays nothing to advertise any of his various brands at St James Park. The potential income achievable for our football club is being restricted and merchandising and other income streams are apparently being channelled to his external companies to the detriment of the football club itself and yet the FA has said and done nothing.
- The owner has at various times banned The Chronicle, The Journal, The Sunday Sun and The Telegraph for reporting (truthfully) on events at the club, but the FA has done nothing.
- The owner sold shirt sponsorship rights at NUFC to a payday lender that charges 5,853% interest rates, but the FA did nothing.
- The owner has asked fans of the club to pay an additional fee in order to purchase an away ticket, but the FA has said nothing.
In raising these points, I asked the FA’s Chairman, Greg Dyke, why it is that the FA has so far failed to seemingly take any action against the owner of NUFC or challenge his ‘model’, which I explained appears to many people to be based entirely on self-aggrandisement of the owner and his non-footballing, retail interests to the exclusion of any sporting aspirations.
I pointed out that an increasing number of people are asserting that Mr Ashley’s interest in NUFC is purely to make him money, predominantly by pocketing the proceeds of broadcast income, and that there is no or little place in his model for things such as the following.
- Fulfilling competition obligations (trying to succeed) rather than distorting said competitions. This not only extends to selecting “second-rate squads” to compete in League and FA Cup competitions, but his failure to use the resources at his disposal, commensurate with NUFC’s standing in the game, to provide for a quality of squad in line with the size of the club;
- Behaving as a “fit and proper person” to own and run an FA-sanctioned, English football club;
- Responsibilities to the footballing community.
I explained to Mr Dyke that as a supporter of NUFC, I object strongly to the way that our club is being run and explained to him that people are now calling it a “zombie club”, meaning that it is a mere shell club, existing to collect TV revenues for its owner and nothing more.
In summarising my letter, I posed the question “does the FA really not see anything in any of the above that would prompt it to at least make formal enquiries and to possibly consider taking interventional actions (fines or exclusions) regarding the past and ongoing conduct of our club’s owner, or whether it is really satisfied that all of the above is perfectly acceptable for a high-profile club playing in the top league in English football”?
Well, within 10 days of me writing my letter, I received a reply (from the FA’s Customer Relations team). I copy it below so that you can see what they have said.
‘The owners’ and directors’ Test applies to all clubs in the Premier League, Football League, Football Conference, Isthmian League, Northern Premier League and Southern Football League. The purpose for the test is for the owners, directors and officers of clubs in those leagues to meet standards greater than that required under law so as to protect the reputation and image of the game. The Premier League and Football League administer the Test for clubs in their leagues. Any queries in relation to the application of the Test to a club in membership of the Premier League or Football League should be addressed to the respective league. The FA administers the Test to clubs in membership of the Football Conference and the three leagues below.
With regards to Newcastle’s FA Cup tie v Leicester, The FA are satisfied that Newcastle did field a team at their full available strength for the fixture in question.
As for your comments about Scotland, you would need to address those to the Scottish FA.’
So in summary:
- They did not address most of the points my letter raised – they just ignored them.
- It is very clear that the FA does not see any problem with regards to any of the examples of inappropriate behaviour mentioned; from its perspective there is nothing to warrant any kind of investigation or intervention.
- That they clearly see the Premier League as the appropriate body to consider elements of club conduct rather than the FA itself.
- They either misunderstood my point about the SFA action (which implies a corresponding action is required by the English FA) or alternatively they reject the point altogether.
So, what does this exercise tell us?
It tells me that the FA is not after all the “custodian of the game of football in this country” that I thought it was and that I thought it thought it was. That came as a surprise.
Also, it tells me that the FA considers that it sees no reason to intervene (after all, it has not done so so far) with regards to the way that NUFC is being run. I think the issue here may be that the FA’s focus is more on things like the England team, women’s football, encouraging kids to play and other very important topics, but very clearly not aspects of football in this country such as appropriate behaviour of club owners and the very real challenges being posed by commercial interests distorting footballing interests in the sport of football in England.
To conclude then, given that the FA appears to think most of the issues raised are for the Premier League’s in-tray rather than its own, maybe someone would be interested in pursuing this matter with the PL to see what their response is?
Maybe the PL might consider this to be an FA matter rather than one for them, which would be very sadly ironic and deeply shambolic for the game of football in this country but would at least vividly explain the lack of any external official intervention to date.
The bottom line seems to be that no matter how bad the owner’s abuse of power has been at NUFC, no matter how many times his and NUFC’s conduct falls short of fans’ expectations and ambitions, there will be no tap on the shoulder, nobody saying “excuse me, but that behaviour is not acceptable”. No, it will be up to us, the fans, to prompt the change or sell demand to the owner, we have been abandoned.