In 2015, at a Newcastle United fans forum, the minutes confirmed how they like to “control and reinforce the positive messages the club wished to deliver.” The approach to the forum is very similar to their approach with the media.  In Mike Ashley’s words: “If you want to refer to dealing with the media as lying, then I would say yes, but I don’t think it’s lying in the true sense of the word.”

Anyone that goes into a forum representing fans, or reading the sanitised minutes that are belatedly released afterwards, must therefore take a sceptical approach.  Assume they’re telling you only what they want you to hear.

With this in mind, what misdirection have the club engaged in at the most recent forum?

Sports Direct sponsorship

The club state “Sports Direct is only allocated what the club doesn’t sell”, a point I queried on Twitter.

Anyone with eyes in their head can see that Sports Direct don’t just take what’s left of unsold space.  It’s an insult to the intelligence of anyone that has sat in St James Park to suggest otherwise.

Sports Direct retail agreement

Apparently, in comparison to the club shop “online sales are accounted for differently but the net profit for the club is unaffected.” Which is a very vague statement, after all, considering that the costs associated with websales are much lower, the profitability should be much higher, shouldn’t it?  Not just unaffected. Sports Directs accounts call what the club receive from websales a “service fee”, the pertinent question that springs to mind is what exactly is that service fee?

Unfortunately, while the minutes include a very innocuous statement – “During the meeting is was agreed that further clarification would be provided on online sales subsequent to the meeting” – in the meeting itself the question of what this service fee is, only became a requirement for a follow up  because the Chief Executive did not know how much the club receive from online sales.  It seems he has not been able to find out or tell us in the fortnight since either, despite taking it away.

Justin Barnes and Keith Bishop

These are two highly contentious individuals and the minutes tell us nothing about their roles, while claiming to clear up exactly what they do. It’s generic language that fills a few lines but tells readers nothing whatsoever.

Whose interests do they represent?

If the club don’t, who pays them to spend their time at the club and why?

Why don’t the club employ people to represent the club’s interests in those roles?

Why have they attended Rafa’s press conferences?

Why do they not attend the Fans Forum?

Why does the owner need a conduit to the Chief Executive?

Why doesn’t the owner replace the Chief Executive if he can’t work directly with him and needs a conduit?

If Keith Bishop is engaged in PR on behalf of NUFC, why is the club’s name in the mud?

Shouldn’t he be relieved of his duties and be replaced by someone that actually listens to fans and engages with them, to facilitate a stronger bond between club and “customers”?

Where’s The Money Gone?

The answer to this question provided the most alarming revelation of the forum, public confirmation from the club that they’re prioritising repaying Mike Ashley’s debt above improving the training facilities, the academy or the squad.

Newcastle United did not try to disguise the fact that there was money in the bank to sign players in August.  The minutes confirm “deals were not possible despite the money being available for these players.” Indeed, vast sums were apparently available, as was made clear “players were pursued, some of which were well above and beyond the club’s current transfer record.”

They did however try to muddy the waters about when cash can and cannot be spent. Pages are dedicated to a discussion about cashflow, about when the club receive premier league payments, about instalments for players, both in and out, but ultimately, that’s all redundant, a smokescreen.  The club have said they could have broken our transfer record if they wanted to, they chose not to though, or failed to do so (more on that later).

What should infuriate any Newcastle fan though, is that despite having all this money available, cash flow might have subsequently become an issue of the club’s own making.  That the money we had and didn’t spend in the summer, might not be there in January.  Not because we’re waiting on payments, but because we chose  to repay  Mike Ashley some of his loans – “The amount owed to the owner was disclosed in last accounts (£144m) and the figure is currently less than that.”

How do I know this repayment was made after the transfer window closed and not before?  Because on 7th August Mike Ashley wrote to MP Jeremy Wright and stated “As owner of Newcastle United, I have provided the club with interest-free loans, the outstanding balance of which as at today’s date is £144 million.”

So, between 7th August and 24th September some of the loan to Mike Ashley was repaid.

At a time when the manager is desperate for a few quality signings, Newcastle have conceivably created a cash flow shortage of their own making going into the January window. We’re waiting on future Premier League payments and transfer instalments to replenish funds we could have spent on the squad or training facilities, had Ashley not took them for himself.

Inability to sign players

Why, if the club had money to spend, was the manager left so dissatisfied in the summer.  The club covered this – “several clubs simply did not want to sell their players, or the players did not want to make the move.”

Is that not the most inadequate response you could come up with if you were trying to annoy supporters?

In mid-September The Magpie Group tweeted a damning list of the many statements from Newcastle United that have followed disappointing transfer windows.  For those of us that have heard these pathetic excuses for a decade now, to hear the same sort of thing repeated again is as inevitable as it is insulting.

These sorts of answers have always been dispiriting to Newcastle fans, but what’s most dismaying, is that the club see this as the end of the conversation.

Our Chief executive doesn’t further consider our inability to buy players for “well above” the record fees previously paid because “players did not want to make the move.”  This is ok by him that 19 other clubs in the league are more attractive to players.  There is no self-reflection whatsoever.  No cause and effect considered between running the entire operation like a discount tat store and not being able to attract proven talent.

For sale?

What the club found it important to relay to us on this matter is that it’s the fans’ fault no one is buying – ”There have been groups who have expressed an initial interest, but who have been discouraged with proceeding, due to the visibility and scrutiny that comes with the football club.”

This is nonsensical.  The visibility and scrutiny of the club is well-known and is one of it’s biggest assets.  Which top club with ambition to be a great club could (or would) hope to fly under the radar of media and supporter scrutiny? Any prospective buyer would be well aware of this at Newcastle and would embrace it.  They certainly would not contact the club and only then realise it was a big deal after having done so.  The only thing that would discourage a prospective buyer after they made an approach would be their interactions with Mike Ashley and his people.

The scrutiny that comes at Newcastle would only be an issue to a buyer if their intentions for the club were as insincere as Mike Ashley’s.  It’s a very good thing if such people think twice about making an approach.   It’s something that might have made Ashley think twice, if only he’d known anything about the history of the club when he bought it.  He now finds it problematic that he’s not been able to pillage the club quietly, hence his frequent pronouncements that he wants to sell.

All told, I like the fact that the fans forum, no matter how inadequate, cannot shield the club from the weakness of it’s positions being exposed.  There’s a range of people that attend with a range of perspectives, many of which I disagree with and I have a lot of sympathy with those people that take criticism despite their best efforts and genuinely held beliefs.

I think even club representatives are just as much victims of the process rather than necessarily part of the problem.  For example, Lee Marshall’s work day (and Twitter feed) would be much easier to manage if he was just allowed to dump a three hour mp3 onto the club website rather than poring through the audio for publishable snapshots.

Unfortunately, there are people at the club who will not allow that, they believe they can better manage the message coming from the club by sanitising the conversation. Considering nothing whatsoever above reflects well on the club, you have to worry how bad it would be if we could hear the audio.

You can follow the author on Twitter @bigchrisholt

You can also keep in touch with all of Chris Holt’s blogs via NUFC Miscommunication, NUFC-Ashlies Blogspot and BigChrisHolt on Tumblr

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  • Leazes.

    Very Good Chris…… between 7th August and 24th September some of the loan to Mike Ashley was repaid……

    ….He bought the House of Fraser on 10th August!

    • Wezza

      I think it is true. Now they’re saying he recouped his ‘loan’ as an excuse.

      • Leazes.

        He bought House Of Fraser with Sky’s money!

  • Paul Patterson

    “S****s D****t is only allocated what the club doesn’t sell”.

    If someone’s car is worth £5k, but they don’t want to sell it, they simply don’t tell anyone it’s for sale and keep the car.

    Ashley has kept the car . .

  • Billmag

    This club is run on lies and deceit, well done Chris good article.

  • bob0411

    1000% better than the drivel posted by Jon Lane.

  • Cockneytrev

    “SD only allocated what the club can’t sell”
    What about the signs that are painted on ? They’re surely permanent fixtures? E.G. The sign on the roof,,,,

    • Leazes.

      Wonga got rid of it

      • Cockneytrev

        It’s been a while since I flew over it,,

  • Blackburn1066

    We could still go down no matter how many words you put on here. The fat man must go. Toon

  • JohnnyH

    Lee Ryder, Mark Douglas or anyone from the Chronicle reading this article;

    This is what local journalism should look like,

    You haven’t got a backbone between you.

  • Wezza

    Great article Chris.
    What interests me is that the club isn’t hiding the fact that MA is now recouping his ‘loan’ instead of letting the club invest.
    We know where the money has gone and it isn’t just because of a ‘loan’.
    123M TV plus the 21M (or so) transfer profit equals?

    • Pezza

      That would be bad if it were true.

    • Wezza

      You’re blocked troll.
      I have zero time for you shill apologists. Nobody believes your lies as well as the clubs, so do one.

  • Steve Smith

    Expect the outstanding loan figure to miraculously be at 144m again when the next accounts are published.

    • HarryHype59

      There is and never was an actual loan in the true business context. The original £80m “debt” was part of the price Fatty paid for the club which included a fully redeveloped SJP. The additional money is down to Ashley’s mismanagement of the club resulting in relegation.

      The loan is a notional figure created by Ashley to justify him taking money generated by the club.

      He has already taken substantial money out of the club to “repay” himself yet the notional debt never decreases.

      • Pezza

        That would be terrible if it were true

        • HarryHype59

          I see Fleckman is posting as Pezza now!😁

          • Wezza

            Of course he is! We said ages ago, that one was a troll.
            Isn’t it funny though – the minutes have been shown to be a sham and the shills turn up. Bishop trolls no doubt.

          • Pezza

            I’m sure you can work out the need for a new name.

            The idea that we could borrow more and ride out the problems is fine but we a) didn’t have a willing lenders and b) were losing money so how were we to generate the additional £27m in interest and installments required to service this loan?

            The loan was not part of the purchase price but I can see the argument that he buys the assets and liabilities. £130m wasn’t really cheap, he should have waited and just allowed Barclays to force out Hall & Shep and do a deal with Barclays at a notional amount in the way Fenway & RBS dealt with Liverpool.

            I can’t believe you are criticising the 2009 fire sale, this managed to remove the albatross of high wages and under performing players. It provided the springboard to come back stronger.

            I don’t argue that Ashley has been good for the club, he did a few things that needed doing but some decisions have been daft. I simply don’t see any point in making up rubbish, rewriting history in order to get angry about stuff you’ve made up.

      • Wezza

        Too true Harry, I think even if we get relegated and he sells for say 150M then he still won’t be at a loss. I’ve estimated for years he has take around 200M now with the TV money and HOF purchase over 300M.
        We are right, look at the trolls pathetically trying to dispute the situation. The trolls are at the same level as the regime. Lies lies lies.

        • HarryHype59

          Too true mate!

    • Pezza

      If Holt is right, then it will be. The next accounts are up to 30 June 2018 and the loan appears to be reduced after that date.

  • Themoscow72

    Think your the bloke who wrote that compared to last year we still had thousands of season tickets left. What you failed to take into account is the club caps it at four thousand left to put on general sale each game so not many left at all. Apart from N.U.S.T. most members of the forum seem to be happy with the meeting and they were there. If Ashley has taken ten million back it just reduces the price of the club by that amount so not a bad thing.
    Would have liked more comments on the pricing of home games as had to pay sixty two pounds for tickets for the Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea games and a staggering fifty five pounds for the Leicester game as they were the only tickets left. Thousands of ordinary fans have been turned away this season because the Platinum Club is to large and to expensive. Also the phones need sorted out as you cannot get through and ended up with a one hundred and fifty pound bill for just over one month. Think the Forum is a great idea and people are proud to serve on it from all spectrums of Supporters. Even three members of the Magpie Group attend whereas the Club would never have the likes of me on the forum despites many applications.

    • Gallowgate Dave

      Monk is that you?
      Why the new name?

  • Gallowgate Dave

    Terrific article Chris. I’ve always said I’d rather the fans forum exists than not at all as it clearly makes the club uncomfortable with the constant cancellations, delays and sanitised, club controlled minutes but after reading Jon Lane’s article post-forum (and initially defending him pre-forum) I’m now not so sure. His article was just a load of waffle, it honestly reminded me of Ghostrider’s comments on here, and an acceptance of the club’s spoon fed drivel.

  • Lord

    Sooner or later the TV companies will cotton on that their big bucks are subsidising Mike Ashley at the expense of NUFC producing football neutrals want to watch.

    Imagine the quality of football on offer if every owner of every PL club acted like Ashley; that ‘product’ wouldn’t be very good would it.

    If Sky and BT finally wake up to this, they could actually make a difference.

  • mactoon

    Well the question I asked was what is the price Ashley is asking for the sale of the club and as far as I can tell that wasn’t asked so no answer there. The other one I asked to Kevin Miles Chief exec of the Football Supporters Federation, about the PL guidance for using the money they provide to clubs “to develop and acquire talented players, build and improve stadiums” No answer to that one either yet.

    I suppose the big question now is to anyone who was actually there and has now read the published minutes. Are they an accurate reflection of what was said and if not has this been challenged?