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Opinion

How quickly Newcastle United fans would walk away if it all goes wrong this summer

2 months ago
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Newcastle United fans are often accused of being their own worst enemy when it comes to Mike Ashley.

The argument goes that if they weren’t so blindly loyal to the club, this owner would have sold up long ago.

For example, if Newcastle United fans were like say Villa supporters, who have a history of crowds going radically up and down depending on how well things are going, the likelihood would be that St James Park would provide a half empty backdrop to the S***** D***** advertising.

Put simply, so the argument goes, Newcastle United fans just need to stay away and they will get rid of Mike Ashley.

However, it is a very difficult debate because nobody knows what would be the tipping point, if anything, to get rid of Ashley, plus the simple fact is that for most Newcastle fans, going to the match (when you can) is what being a supporter is all about.

The modern era also sees big clubs such as Newcastle United with the vast majority of fans having season tickets, probably around 80%/90% of the Newcastle fans who go to St James Park.

Back in the 70s and 80s it was pretty much the complete opposite, with 80%/90% paying match by match.

Back then you would at times see crowds fluctuate dramatically at St James Park, which was the case at all clubs. If you weren’t tied into a season ticket, especially later in a season when you could have meaningless matches, people would vote with their feet/wallet.

At Newcastle United it is further complicated due to Mike Ashley introducing long-term fixed price season tickets, which means that this season, around 20,000 season ticket holders would have had to cancel next season’s (2019/20) ST by January, or else direct debits would start coming out during this season just ended to pay for the next campaign.

So basically, the vast majority of matchgoing Newcastle fans are season ticket holders and roughly split between those who have to decide whether to renew in January, with the other half each summer.

As it stands that second half of the season ticket split sees those ST holders expecting to hear what prices will be for 2019/20 any day soon (in 2017 it was announced on 1  June and in 2018 it was 14 June).

Rather than it being a match by match decision, we are now looking at Newcastle fans making more long-term decisions on whether to keep going or not.

For those who think things couldn’t/wouldn’t change quickly if it all goes pear-shaped this summer, I would say think again, based on my info below.

If Mike Ashley doesn’t sell the club and Rafa Benitez leaves, how would you expect Newcastle United fans to react?

2009/10

After the first relegation under Mike Ashley…

36,944 – The first home crowd of the season as Newcastle beat Reading 3-0 with a Shola hat-trick!

43,904 – Second home crowd of the season boosted by Sheffield Wednesday bringing numbers.

38,813 – Third home crowd of the season v Leicester.

The final average at St James Park was 43,388 and crowds fluctuated for the rest of the season between high 30s and mid-40s.

However, the only crowd to reach 50,000 was the final home game of the season when 52,181 watched a 2-2 draw with Ipswich.

2011/12

Amazingly for many of you, Newcastle averaged less than 50,000 when we ended up fifth in 2011/12, a final home average of 49,936.

46,894 – The first home game of the season saw a 0-0 home draw against Arsenal.

Newcastle then went and won 1-0 at Sunderland (Ryan over the wall Taylor) but 8 days later…

42,684 – The second home game against Fulham.

2015/16

Despite the biggest spending that Newcastle fans had seen under Mike Ashley, they were sick of how things were going off the pitch, with Steve McClaren following Pardew and Carver.

49,019 – First home crowd v Southampton

50,388 – Second home crowd v Arsenal

47,806 – Third home crowd v Watford

That was the story of the season as the first 52,000 crowd was actually Steve McClaren’s very final game in March 2016 against Bournemouth. From what I remember I think there was a bit of a call to arms around that match, to try and collectively fight relegation.

52,311 – After that Bournemouth game, the next one was Rafa’s first against Sunderland (1-1) and the first full house of the season.

However, the crowds that followed under Rafa were:

48,949 v Swansea

46,424 v Man City

52,107 v Palace

52,183 v Tottenham

So it wasn’t an instant massive reaction to Rafa Benitez. It was positive but ironically the biggest crowd after that derby match was the very final day against Tottenham, already relegated BUT fans wanting to convince Rafa to stay!

2018/19

52,217 – We had to wait until 2 January 2019 for the first sold out home game against Man Utd.

50,861 – No full house though for the win over Man City.

Though then four of the final five home matches saw crowds of 52,000+, the exception 51,926 v Palace.

I think taking everything above together, these 12 years of Mike Ashley rule have seen the Newcastle United fans on the brink of mass desertion/protest and potentially setting off on a path that would eventually convince Mike Ashley to go, only for luck to come the owner’s way.

That 2009/10 season where Chris Hughton and a demoralised squad that should never have been relegated, came together and went straight back up.

The 2011/12 season when somehow the stars aligned and Newcastle ended up fifth.

The end of that 2015/16 when Rafa for some reason thought Mike Ashley’s NUFC was the logical next step after Real Madrid, his ongoing presence by far the biggest factor in Newcastle posting an incredible 51,106 home average in the Championship.

If this summer goes all wrong, I think we would see something around the following when it came to St James Park attendances.

Maybe around 5,000 season ticket holders not renewing this summer and early crowds averaging somewhere in the mid-40,000s, maybe even a little lower (43k/44k). With crowds for the rest of the season depending on performance on the pitch, though with still probably around 30k-35k season ticket holders they can only drop so far.

I think the following season (2020/21) would be the really big one assuming Mike Ashley still here and Newcastle having clung on to PL status.

Thousands of those on the long-term deals would have opted out by January 2020 and join a growing groundswell of those calling time. Leading to home crowds in the 30,000s for the 2020/21 season, even if in the top tier.

Newcastle United fans have kept going in such large numbers because of hope, hope which over the last three years or more has been overwhelmingly due to Rafa Benitez not walking away.

However, we are now reaching a crisis point where positive things need to happen if these 50,000 home crowds are to be sustained.

The clock continues to tick.

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