This summer it was highlighted on The Mag that the Newcastle United season tickets weren’t proving to be the hottest…ticket in toon.
Last summer the club announced there had been a sell out of season tickets, fans supporting Rafa and his squad despite the meagre transfer funds made available to the manager.
The sheer number of season ticket holders ensuring that the incredible 51,000+ average in the Championship was improved on again, though obviously within the confines of the fact St James Park holds only just over 52,000 fans.
The lowest crowd last season for a Premier League home match was 50,174 when Burnley were the visitors on January transfer deadline day, very apt. Mike Ashley refusing to allow Rafa Benitez to buy and players and the club in the middle of yet another Ashley-inspired relegation battle.
I think it is guaranteed we will see a number of crowds below that 50,174 figure, maybe significantly so.
It takes me no pleasure to say it, because a full St James Park is something we all used to take for granted and take pride in, but Mike Ashley had already really messed with the foundations of our support long before the #IfRafeGoesWeGo fan initiative got into full swing pre-season.
The Rafa effect has managed to paper over some quite serious cracks that were apparent before his arrival.
Now I think if you scratch below the surface, those cracks are set to open up more clearly, in the weeks and months to come.
Back in 2015/16, despite in a final desperate move to avert relegation Mike Ashley allowed money to finally be spent (that had been stockpiled, leading to a very much understrength squad), Newcastle didn’t sell out a single home match that season before Rafa Benitez arrived.
The first 52,000+ crowd was ironically in McClaren’s last game against Bournemouth, that still few hundred under capacity.
Newcastle were regularly playing to crowds in the 40,000s and indeed even the likes of a home game against Man Utd saw a crowd under 50,000.
Indeed, Ashley had dragged things so low over a period of time, even once Rafa arrived we still saw a crowd of only 46,424 for a key relegation match against Man City at home.
These crowds in the Championship and last season in the top tier, have blinded many people to what was a clear downward trend previously. Only the presence of Rafa has fooled so many into thinking full houses are all but guaranteed.
Last season there was a season ticket sell out and then a handful of tickets went on general sale for the opening game against Tottenham, they were snapped up instantly.
That game on 13 August 2017 was sold out fully 17 days in advance, a year later and thousands of season tickets remain unsold and the Spurs match on Saturday wasn’t sold out.
Compared to others a crowd of almost 52,000 is of course respectable but it is a slippery slope from this point on. Unless Mike Ashley sells up or changes his ways, then even if Rafa stayed and struggled on with a lack of backing, the flow of fans saying enough is enough, will grow and grow.
Obviously, if the real tragedy happens and Rafa Benitez walks away, I dread to think what the outcome would be, including in terms of empty seats at St James Park.
With Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal the opening three home games, despite the ridiculous ticket price rises outsiders will look and still see very few empty seats. Attractive opposition and a combination of full away ends and enough match by match buyers, meaning the cracks still more or less papered over.
However, you only have to look ahead to mid-October and a run of three home games in a three week stretch against Brighton, Watford and Bournemouth.
Minimal numbers of away fans and expecting thousands of match by match ticket buyers making up the season ticket shortfall is very unlikely, never mind if then Newcastle are struggling on the pitch as well.
Five thousand or so empty seats a few matches in a row should be a wake up call for even Mike Ashley.
The migration of supporters sick of Ashley has already started, the only question now is whether he will be prepared in any way to halt that?
Selling up or making his peace with Rafa and a proper commitment to back him, starting in the January window, are the obvious answers for Newcastle United to be able to start again and attempt to rebuild properly.
Otherwise this club is only heading in one direction, both on and off the pitch.