Much has been said about a potential backlash from Newcastle fans if things don’t change with Mike Ashley.
Pick any one of the reasons…
If Mike Ashley doesn’t sell the club.
If Mike Ashley doesn’t start treating Rafa Benitez properly.
If Mike Ashley doesn’t allow better quality players to be bought.
If Mike Ashley oversees a third relegation in nine Premier League seasons under his reign.
If Mike Ashley forces Rafa to leave.
All of these five reasons are of course inextricably linked, or at the very least four of them are.
Undermining Rafa and/or forcing him out, not allowing money to be spent on decent players, and possible relegation, these are part of the same overall problem with the way Ashley runs the club.
The fifth reason, Mike Ashley potentially not selling NUFC, is of course what most Newcastle fans would see as ensuring that things will never ever be done properly.
When a lot of people talk about supporters rebelling against what is happening, it usually goes along the lines of expecting mass demonstrations, attempts to get a coordinated boycott of matches going, and so on.
The reality though is that when Newcastle fans do turn, it is a silent revolution.
People just get on and do their own thing, they don’t wait for some unified campaign/voice to tell them to do so.
Everybody has their own threshold of loyalty/pain.
The point where you might potentially stop going for whatever reason, whether it is the actions of the owner, the quality of football, or whatever.
I know loads of people who would have still watched NUFC even in the Conference/National League but who have at some point now refused to go because of Mike Ashley.
The current position is unsustainable.
Off the pitch, it is surely impossible to imagine Rafa Benitez still being at St James Park next season unless things drastically change in the way the club is run.
On the pitch, the football has been shocking really, especially at home. You can’t honestly say you have been entertained.
The last seven Premier League matches at St James Park have seen five defeats and two draws, in five of those Newcastle failed to score. Only Swansea have scored less than Newcastle’s total of 10 PL goals at home.
Whilst Rafa Benitez has to take some small level of responsibility in some shape or form for that, this is not a criticism of him, we all know that he has been left in an impossible position by Mike Ashley. With the quality of players he has got, it is all but impossible to take the game to any but the weakest of oppositions. No coincidence that the small handful of more convincing and decent attacking displays have been against some of the worst teams, such as Stoke and West Ham.
Throughout this season, when you are at the matches and in the pubs afterwards, the feeling is that this poor level of football and settling for hopefully survival, has only a one season limit. The thought of watching this for any longer would be soul-destroying.
If backed with three quality signings then it could have made a massive difference but will Ashley ever support Benitez in that way, rather than feeding made up claims of an intention to spend £20m on a striker.
Bottom line is that the cracks are already appearing when it comes to Newcastle fans saying enough is enough.
On Wednesday night St James Park will see the lowest attendance of the season so far when Burnley visit. The 51,042 who turned up for the defeat to Everton will be beaten, the only question is by how many?
Tickets are still on sale in most sections of St James Park, not massive numbers, but enough. They haven’t even started trying to sell the blocks of away tickets that Burnley haven’t taken.
Yes it is January and it is midweek but if the mood was different, or the football decent, or most importantly there had been ambitious moves in the transfer window, then the game would have still been a sellout. Instead it is going to be under last season’s Championship 51,000+ average and very likely under fifty thousand.
With most of the stadium season ticket you are never going to see massive swings in attendances during this season but as I say, the cracks are appearing, with people who pay match by match choosing not to go.
The thing is, this isn’t a one-off.
At Chelsea on Sunday there were around 400 unsold seats. Newcastle have a massive following down south and with only a three thousand allocation, plus going on general sale, it would have been unheard of in the past for these not to sell out, particularly when they were at a relatively reasonable (especially compared to past Chelsea prices) £30 and £15 concessions.
The away allocation at Manchester City was all sold but the previous game at home to Swansea was around a thousand under capacity. Yes they didn’t take their full allocation but it was a 3pm Saturday match and yet many Newcastle fans are choosing not to go, can you blame them?
The game prior to Swansea was Luton and a forty seven thousand crowd was great – but that was more down to eight thousand away fans and the usual hordes of parents taking kids as a one-off with tickets £10 and £5 concessions.
This is not a doom and gloom article, it is more a warning of what will happen unless something changes. That change of course being Mike Ashley.
In fact things are already happening, the fans who pay match by match are now choosing not to in many cases and things will only get worse the longer things are run like this at Newcastle.
Of course fifty thousand crowds at St James Park are still remarkable but that is built on forty thousand people buying season tickets in blind loyalty to Rafa Benitez and/or the club. Much like what happened in the Championship last season.
If Mike Ashley stayed and Newcastle remained in the Premier League, but Rafa left, then I don’t think we’d see fifty thousand averages next season.
Likewise, I don’t think if Mike Ashley stayed and Newcastle were relegated, but Rafa stayed on, we would get that fifty thousand average either.
This is a critical time for the club and a growing number of Newcastle fans are already saying they have had enough, Mike Ashley won’t realise until it is too late and that stream of fans becomes something far more substantial and lasting.
In addition, how many people on the long-term direct debit season ticket deals are now cancelling?
For most of those people the last payment for their current season ticket will be taken on Thursday (1 February) and then after that their payments are for next season’s ticket. the club don’t publicise it but they will tell you if asked, that you have to inform them by the end of January (tomorrow) to cancel your direct debits or else you will be tied to getting your season ticket for 2018/19 – Mike Ashley having you in his pocket already, without even knowing which division we will be in or whether Rafa Benitez will still be at Newcastle.