The Newcastle United Fans Forum is set to meet on Monday (24 September).
Fair to say that the fans forum has attracted a lot of criticism from the wider fanbase.
Mostly to do with the perception that Mike Ashley and his minions don’t approach the whole process in the right spirit.
The belief being that the club manipulate the whole process and the fans who volunteer to take part, end up taking a certain amount of flak as they are seen to be used by Ashley and his people.
With a refusal to allow the Newcastle United Fans Forum to meet for the whole of last season until safety was achieved in April, matters were hardly helped, yet another way the club found to undermine those who volunteer to be involved.
Then when the latest scheduled forum (in August) was cancelled on the eve of the meeting, despite having been arranged for four months, it was just par for the course.
So what is it like for those inside the process?
We are grateful to Newcastle United Fans Forum member Jon Lane, who has agreed to give his own personal thoughts on how it works…or doesn’t:
The Newcastle United Fans Forum had always intrigued me since its inception. My perception before it went in was that the board weren’t really challenged on the right issues and ultimately it didn’t achieve a huge amount. I’d read the minutes, frustrated that certain questions that I had been suggesting to the right guys on Twitter hadn’t been raised, therefore I was always keen on joining.
I stopped my Season Ticket and became a “Member” in 2015, which arguably gave me a better chance of joining the Forum (not my motivation!). I’d applied previously and not heard anything but in February 2016 Lee Marshall called to let me know I’d been selected. I was excited, thrilled and was gutted I’d miss the first meeting.
The selection process gets a lot of heat but personally I think it makes a lot of sense. There is a wide range of different fan demographics represented, most of which are chosen at random every 2-3 years which ensures different people get a chance, not to mention different points of view have to be represented. As a classic example, myself and the “Away Rep” (has to attend at least 70% of Away games) discuss the loyalty scheme at large, and what might surprise you is we agree on more than you’d think given our polarising positions.
We (supporters involved in the fans forum) communicate in an email group (hoping to convert this to Whatsapp in the future) which ensures we can all submit agenda items/questions. I must stress that this is more for structure rather than a restriction exercise. Lee Charnley will answer whatever questions he can in meetings and there have been multiple cases where he’s used “non-minuted” examples to expand on answers. This helps give us some clarity, but yeah we also feel that we’ve found out a bit of “gossip” sometimes that we know we can’t share. We’re not restricted from raising further questions within the meeting with very much an “open Forum” atmosphere present through each agenda point.
Lee Marshall compiles all the minutes and emails onto us for approval before he then releases to the public. We have the chance to challenge the account made and again he’s been more than happy to make adjustments. The minutes give a strong flavour but won’t always capture the tone. Discussions are always constructive and at times can get heated, but that’s natural given that we’re all passionate about the club and how we’d like to see it run.
The first meetings I attended I found to be very constructive. A big win for us has been Strawberry Place, which I’d raised in a previous email chain, but was driven home by Kris Woods and Steve Hastie, along with Peter Fanning from NUST. Their work in pushing the Council has meant we now see Strawberry Place closed after the second half has kicked off.
I along with others found last season to be frustrating. The pre-season (2017/18) meeting took place (29 June 2017) around a week before before we signed Lejeune (4 July 2017), and the most recent meeting we’ve had took place in April (25 April 2018). To illustrate how long this was, I remember talking to Phil the East Stand Rep in that first meeting about how I was going to become a father later that year, and by the next meeting she’d been fully weaned onto solids!
When the meeting did come along we again asked the right questions about various issues and got answers – not necessarily ones we wanted but explanations were offered by the club. They committed to some fixed dates for future meetings for the coming season, along with a surprise in the minutes that we’ll be invited to a home match in November.
The recent postponement (of the 28 August 2018 meeting) has been well publicised and was communicated to us with around 24 hours notice. Given the difficult Summer it felt like it sent all the wrong messages. Most of (if not all) the members displayed their dissatisfaction and given the negative press the Forum has received, it felt like we’d just gone five steps back.
The reasoning we were given was that Lee Charnley was unavailable for the meeting and going ahead without him was counter productive. Although I agree with the sentiment, I’d have hoped that any clashes if genuine would’ve been ironed out sooner. That being said, for all we know it could be a genuine personal reason, no doubt we’ll get feedback on Monday around it.
The club are adamant that they want to communicate and be open and are fully committed to the Fans Forum. I believe them on this, however, sometimes there is only so much you can say as a business. And the reality is that Clubs have to be Commercially sensitive with any messages. They have to be considered in responses to difficult questions as a PR disaster could quite literally cost them Millions of pounds.
You probably didn’t expect to read this on The Mag by a fan but I don’t mind Charnley!
I think a lot of people forget how long he’s been at the club and has slowly been promoted up. He’s far from a “Derek Llambias” who has been dropped in from outside. If he’s not up to the job, that’s not his fault, and rightly we need to know if he’s getting outside help/strong guidance around certain decisions by people in Ashley’s circle of trust. He’s discussed things in meetings which has given us a little insight and will be honest if he can’t answer a question. As for the way the Club is currently being run, I can only judge him if Rafa leaves at the end of this year. If the manager decides he wants to stay on an extended deal, Charnley will have played a huge part in that, which he’s unlikely to get any credit for. If he doesn’t sign, he’ll (rightly) be one of the first blamed.
Newcastle United Fans Forum Members get a hard time and to be honest I don’t think we overly deserve it. A lot of us reach out on Social Media asking for questions and anyone who does respond, gets their question asked. An example of one question which was ridiculed by many regarding Ball Boys, was something one of the reps had been asked repeatedly. He was visibly embarrassed raising it at the time but what else could he do? We can only ask what we’re asked to!
There was one article written after the last forum which was essentially a “this is what you could’ve asked”, funnily the journalist didn’t think to write this 48 hours before, because we probably would’ve ensured we’d boxed those off. Most of the members go with pens and notepads and ensure we’ve not left the room without the contribution we wanted to make. We’re far from “puppets” – none of us have been planted there and we all have strong views about the priorities of who we represent. Don’t be afraid to get in touch and tell us what you want to be asked.
Bearing in mind at least three of the current Forum Seats are members of the Magpie Group, Monday’s meeting will be a more challenging tone with very specific questions about how the club is being run in relation to the owner. I expect that Lee Charnley will be well versed in the messaging he wants to deliver and will answer what he can. I hope that we get some positive answers, but if we don’t, we can only be responsible for what we’ve been asked to ask. I doubt Ball Boys will get a mention this time round……
On a personal note, I really enjoy being involved in the Forum and it’s given me insight I’ve not had before. I was a ST Holder for 15 years and have supported the club for over 20 years and it’s an honour to have the chance to do the role.
We have been able to make a difference in the last two years but not always on the big issues. We’re not daft and we know we’re never going to be able to choose Rafa’s transfer funds or who our next signing will be. But we can certainly make sure we are able to ask the questions the club needs to be asked and that the fans want asked.
Given the current mood, Monday promises to be an intriguing meeting, as always – I hope it’s constructive.
I promise you that any questions you want to be asked will be if you ask them of us. There is still time to get those to us through NUST, NUFC Fans United, NUDSA or any of the individual reps that represent you specifically.