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Opinion

Newcastle United protests – No easy answer

6 months ago
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The Newcastle United protests have disappeared.

The first four months of the season saw a concerted campaign against Mike Ashley.

Large numbers of Newcastle fans running online interference on Ashley’s retail empire and causing real problems, with the likes of Sports Direct even stopping sending out promotional messages on social media.

Meanwhile, large numbers of supporters were congregating and protesting before games, getting great coverage from the media.

However, things really fell apart as we approached Christmas.

The Magpie Group innocently making some serious errors.

Guilty of maybe trying to do too much and not keeping the message simple.

A planned protest at the Sports Direct HQ was called off at the last minute but The Magpie Group organisers didn’t tell anybody, leading to some Newcastle fans still turning up, wasting their time and money.

However, things really fell apart with the late walk-in against West Ham (1 December 2018) and boycott of the Wolves match (9 December 2018).

The late walk-in wasn’t a great idea and was totally pointless when a boycott of the Wolves game eight days later was announced at the same time.

All it meant was that the hopes of large numbers boycotting the Wolves game would be dented, if the West Ham late walk-in was badly supported. Sure enough, few saw the point in the idea for the West Ham game and it totally undermined the hopes of the Newcastle United protests escalating against Mike Ashley.

The real death blow though was delivered by the cancelling of the Wolves boycott.

Sabotaged by certain ‘in the know’ fans who claimed they had insider knowledge that Mike Ashley was serious about selling the club this time, the message went out that continuing with the boycott could harm the chances of a sale of NUFC, the local newspapers picking up and running with the message as well.

The net result was that the boycott was called off by The Magpie Group as they came under attack from a number of fans as well as the media, with fears that they would be blamed if no sale happened.

I don’t blame them too much for caving in but I wish they hadn’t and believe they shouldn’t have.

Thousands of us knew that this was Mike Ashley lying yet again, a PR stunt to help blunt the Newcastle United protests.

As we surely all know now, there was zero substance in the claims of the club being sold, Mike Ashley having zero intention of selling.

However, with one blow/lie, Ashley had ended the Newcastle United protests. At least in any meaningful way, although the London Magpie Group have had their moments, away from St James Park.

Moving swiftly on to the present, I was interested to read an article on The Mag on Tuesday, entitled ‘I’d rather be in League 1 with no Mike Ashley and losing Rafa Benitez than Premier League with both.’

I thought it was very good and had points well made but I disagree with part of the argument.

The author exasperated as to what would it take for the majority of fans to get more active in Newcastle United protests.

In particular, what would it take for more people to accept they have to boycott to get rid of Mike Ashley.

I have a few issues with this…

Firstly, nobody knows what, if anything, would be the tipping point to persuade Mike Ashley to sell up.

Secondly, decisions on whether or not to go to the match aren’t always easy. For many people it is the heart of their social life, maybe the only time they meet up with friends, or indeed for a number of fans, the matches are one of the few times or indeed the only time, that they have social contact with others. Maybe going to matches by themselves and enjoying feeling part of the crowd, even though they might not even talk to those around them.

For your typical supporter, matchday is their chance to get away from the stresses and strains of home, work, family. If giving up the match, some fans might have enticing alternatives for their time and money, but for many it would just remove something they take a lot of enjoyment from, replacing it with nothing.

As for those people wanting to take their kids and get them into the NUFC way of things. Are you supposed to tell your eight or nine year old that they aren’t allowed to go to games until Mike Ashley leaves, which may be never, or at least long enough for kids to find something else to do with their time.

This isn’t to be defeatist or to say it is pointless to protest and stay away if you want to do it, it is more a case of saying that stopping and starting going to matches isn’t as easy as some want to make it out to be.

The only people who are idiots are those who call other fans idiots for either going or not going to the matches. It isn’t simple. Yes by all means try and persuade people to go to games or not, but fans aren’t stupid for wanting to go and support the team/club we all love and neither are they stupid if they feel so strongly that they don’t want to give Mike Ashley another penny.

Thirdly, the Newcastle fan/writer was talking as though, there was any number of Premier League clubs where Newcastle supporters could take inspiration from.

No club in the Premier League era has organised a successful long-term boycott to get rid of owners.

People talk about Liverpool fans and yes (just like Newcastle fans) they did everything they could to protest against Hicks and Gillett but got nowhere with it, it is only because they ran out of money that they were forced to sell Liverpool. The scousers didn’t boycott a single game, never mind for so many matches or indefinitely.

Same at Man Utd, the Glazers have been a disaster for them but their fans have got nowhere and once again, they didn’t boycott a single match.

With small clubs who have small fanbases you can potentially do something, with Blackpool the prime example. They have done an excellent job but in no way can you compare them to a massive club such as Newcastle United, where so many people are desperate to go to games, despite the rubbish so often on show.

I am all for pushing Newcastle United protests and making life as uncomfortable as possible for Mike Ashley but we all have to accept what a tough job it is, with no easy/obvious ways to tackle it.

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