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Opinion

An open letter to Newcastle United fans

4 years ago
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Open letters are, as anyone knows, an opportunity for the author to demonstrate just how self-important the author considers him/herself to be and this is no different.

Here is my private gripe masquerading as a proactive public announcement which will be rightfully ignored by just about everyone, except you dear reader, and for which I insincerely apologise for wasting the 45 seconds of your life spent reading this.

Back in 1988, fanzines became all the rage and Newcastle United fans had one of the more professional efforts in ‘The Mag’.

Fanzines gave fans a voice but The Mag was a little different, it had a purpose as well. The Mag supported the Magpie group’s plan to take over the club from Gordon McKeag.

The first issue came out for the start of the 1988/89 season with Gazza on the front page having completed his move to Spurs and then the second edition included an interview with Malcolm Dix of the Magpie group, outlining the group’s plans and vision.

The Magpie group, headed by John Hall, was going to run NUFC like a business, treat its customers respectfully and we were going to see something new on the Gallowgate end, a roof!!! By the 3rd or 4th issue, the Mag had interviewed John Hall himself, Hall was very clear, he didn’t want to own a football club, the group would obtain the shares to control the club and then sell a good chunk of the shares to the supporters in a share issue.

The fans lapped all this up, “sack the board” was the call from the Gallowgate and if all went to plan, we could call for that as shareholders of the club and have a real say in things.

By 1990/91 Hall et al had wrestled control of the shares and therefore the club, it was now the fans turn to put their hands in their pockets to take a cut of the club. The share issue was well publicised, the Ronnie had updates on how to apply for shares and deadline dates, but not enough Newcastle fans were prepared cough up and put some money in. Those of us who sent in our cheques had them returned. Here was a real chance of true fan ownership but too many fans had let the club down.

“Sack the board” seemed a little hollow when fans weren’t prepared to do their bit. The problem is that football fans are like socialists, they want lots of spending but they want it done with other people’s money. Hall and his team were left carrying all the financial burden and to their credit, pressed on in rejuvenating the club and stadium, moreover, we got a team led by Kevin Keegan that entertained wherever it went.

As we know by now, the highs were followed by lows and fast forward a few years the club is now owned by Mike Ashley. Ten years of ownership, fans have fallen back into abusing the owners of the club and whilst sack the board is a little dated, the nicer calls are for Mike Ashley to get out of the club – but what are the fans doing to get this man out of the club? Chanting obscenities, painting bedspreads and marching through the town does achieve absolutely nothing.

For Mike Ashley to leave NUFC, someone has to buy him out. It’s not unreasonable or greedy for him to expect recompense for relinquishing assets and I’d not expect him to sell up without getting the market rate.

It’s all very well relying on rumoured takeovers or getting excited about Amanda Staveley. People get involved in football clubs for a number of reasons, most hope to make a few quid and once you start relying on people who don’t necessarily care about the club, the likelihood is that the club will go the wrong way. For all the Oil rich nations or Russian oil barons who want to plough money into football as a plaything, statistics say it’s more likely that the owners will lose interest quickly and leave the club in a bit of a state.

How do we guarantee the club is run ‘our’ way? The answer is to risk a few quid ourselves as fans. That way, when we’re moaning that the club needs funds in a transfer window, we need to look to ourselves to provide the funds.

How can it be done? Well, if United played an FA Cup final in May, A rough guess is that the club could sell the place 4- 5 x over. There must around half a million United fans out there, at least 250,000 would consider themselves passionate. £2,000 each would raise £500m, that would buy out Mike Ashley for £400m and leave £100m for the pot to make a difference.

To get backing from ordinary fans, it has to be a potentially profitable proposal. We will not raise enough money on the idea that the club will be successful, people will just freeload and leave it to others.

Initially, there does not even need to be a full buyout but a minimum 50% of the club would need to be achieved, anything less would be railroaded by Mike Ashley. If the club is worth £400m as a stable Premier league club (probably about right) then £239m is the minimum needed which would be made up as £128m for shares and £111m loan, £33m pays off St James holdings loan so new money in club is £78m & parity with Mike Ashley.

Realistically, I don’t think 250,000 people will cough up the money. Some fans are richer than others and we will need bigger players on board than folks with a bit of spare savings, but if we can get the intent out there and the ball rolling, we can attract the bigger players.

This does not have to be a proposal out of philanthropy or altruism. It can be a serious investment. With the current TV deal and the cost base at NUFC, the profits should be around the £30m a year mark and that alone makes the club pretty reasonable at £400m, where else can you earn interest at 7.5% a year?

The income could be higher (although personally I think unlikely) some commentators suggest: We lose £20m a year in lost advertising because of the Sports Direct advertising, We miss out on  £20m in commercial income a year, £20m in merchandise profit as we use Sports Direct for fulfilment, if these figures are right (I think they are fanciful), that makes the football club very cheap at £400m.

So, come on Newcastle United fans, don’t leave it to others, grab a slice of the action, take responsibility and invest in the club.
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