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Opinion

A view from Berlin – What is love in the time of Mike Ashley?

4 days ago
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I promised myself I’d give it up. Yet here I am, on a Berlin train, travelling a few miles north to watch Newcastle v Arsenal on the opening day of the 2019/20 Premier league season.

I gave up my season ticket four years ago, unable to put money into a club which just did not want to compete, other than finishing at least one place above the Premier League relegation places.

In the interests of fairness, being a football coach, I was able to give up the club and find other activities to occupy my Saturdays fairly easily. A lot easier than lots of people I know.

Leaving the club behind didn’t really feel like a difficult decision and continuing to go just felt pointless. It felt like my mind had been made up for me.

Then, after this Mike Ashley Newcastle United took shooting yourself in the foot to baffling new heights, when replacing Champions League winning coach Rafa Benitez with Steve Bruce over the summer, I decided I just couldn’t even watch the games anymore.

The appointment of Rafa Benitez had fascinated me (Real Madrid to relegation battle is not a common career path) and I did go to the occasional game that my brother or Dad couldn’t get to (they both still have season tickets). My logic was that I wasn’t paying into the club, therefore getting free tickets did not flaunt the rules of my self-imposed boycott. Having your cake and eat it, I believe the phrase is.

I can’t say, that recently, I’d ever really enjoyed going but with Benitez in charge, there was an eminently likeable custodian of our club and someone who had fashioned a team of relatable grafters, with no little skill involved. Whether Mike Ashley’s club wanted to compete or not, Rafa Benitez’s did and I felt I could make that distinction but ultimately the frustration of unfulfilled potential overpowered any satisfaction of the results.

The departure of Benitez and the appointment of Bruce led me, I thought, to just giving up the whole sorry thing for good. Bruce being a reaffirming of Ashley’s need for a grateful yes man rather than someone insisting on dragging the club into modernity.

So then, with all that being said, why am I here? In a crass American theme bar surrounded by Arsenal fans with accents from all four corners of the globe?

Curiosity, primarily. I was interested to see the effect of the much talked about boycott and see what impact the summer had had on the fanbase. However, I also wanted to gauge my reaction to the game. Did I still care anymore?

Lately, I had been feeling that I wanted the club to continually lose and plummet down the leagues. Having explored all the avenues available to removing Mike Ashley from the club, this seemed the only realistic option. Ashley’s latest folly would be completely exposed and, with difficulties in other businesses, his running of the club would be a distraction too far and he’d sell up. Blackly utopian, I admit, but you can’t have it all.

The boycott seemed mildly successful, the official attendance given at 47,365. Lower than it would have been without a boycott in place and a number almost certainly to include season ticket holders who didn’t show up. This, however, is only one game and 40 odd thousand still decided to go.

Sadly, from my perspective, there just isn’t the appetite for sustained fan pressure against Ashley. Whether that be boycotts, protests or whatever. Anyone going down that road is firmly in the minority.

The game itself wasn’t of much interest. We played ok in the first half, Almiron looking lively in a free role, Joelinton having one decent effort and Shelvey hitting a post. The second half unravelled badly once Bruce began making changes and Arsenal were able to coast to a 1-0 victory.

What did happen during the game was interesting to me.

The Arsenal fans from anywhere but London, followed by the Man United and Chelsea fans afterwards, reminded me of the fact that I’m a Newcastle fan from Newcastle and, as such, I want the club to represent me in a certain way. I want it to be an extension of the city I love in a way that shows its greater qualities to the outside world. It should represent the best of us.

My inability to support the club came from that lack of identity. That the club serves to advertise Mike Ashley’s business ventures rather than represent the community which birthed and sustains it. Without that identity then what is it? What are you actually supporting?

Going to the game does not necessarily mean supporting the club. It may help to get three points on a Saturday, yes, but at what long-term cost if Ashley stays at St James’?

I now know I can’t wish the club ill. I don’t want then to lose but I don’t really want them to win either. It isn’t apathy, rather a redirection of the feelings. I want the club to represent me and, in its current guise, it cannot and therefore I cannot support it.

What the game has done is reaffirm the importance and my desire to be involved with protest and boycotts. If the club operates as an expression of our identity, how we hope it will represent us and the city to a wider degree then that is what I want. To resist and to drive Ashley out of the club. It may not be effective, who knows, but we can only do what we think is best.

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