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‘If you are still going to the match you deserve everything Mike Ashley throws at you’

5 days ago
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Still going to the match? You deserve everything Mike Ashley throws at you. But the club doesn’t.

Four years ago – after 30 consecutive years of going to SJP, all but the first few years as a season ticket holder – I gave up. I was boycotting the club and I was not going back until things changed.

I never in my lifetime thought I’d voluntarily do that. One hundred percent, no way. Preposterous. Never going to happen. Impossible.

But I know many long-attending, long-suffering fans who thought likewise, and who did likewise.

With a heavy heart, lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, though acknowledging the distinct possibility that I’d bottle it at the ground, turn on my heels and run away down Strawberry Place, wondering what the hell I had been thinking, I went along to the ground I loved where I’d spent so many hours of my life, and handed in my written notice. My wife came with me, ostensibly for support, but also because she, too, didn’t believe I could or would go through with it. She looked on in disbelief and sympathy as, in a second, I became an ex-season ticket holder, facing the prospect for the first time in half a lifetime of not being at the match when I could have been.

I cried as I left SJP, trying to rationalise how it had all come to this, but immovable in my belief that I had done what was necessary. I had done the right thing for the club, which was suffering at the hands of the most toxic, dismissive and contemptible influence it had ever been subjected to (Mike Ashley, you won’t have been wondering).

Four years on and almost a century of home matches missed since that seminal moment, I’ve experienced much hurt because of my decision. I expected it and took it all on willingly. It still feels bizarre and unsettling that I’m not there on matchdays and following my team instead on the radio or the internet…but I’ve never for one nanosecond regretted it.

We should stand up to bullies. We should refuse to be treated with contempt. We should do what’s right for what (and who) we love, whatever the sacrifices we have to make. We should put those we love before ourselves. If you really, truly love Newcastle United, that includes Newcastle United.

The club is hurting and is in danger because of Mike Ashley and I’m not going to stand by and do nothing. And I’m certainly not going to be complicit, by shovelling £1000 of my money every year into his grubby pockets, by helping to fill the ground to watch an unnecessarily mediocre or poor team.

I’m not going to recount the litany of Ashley’s dismal and almost catastrophic reign here – it’s been done many times elsewhere. His attitude and his record are why we all (bar very few mavericks) want rid of him. But how much do some of us really want him out?

Enough to stand up to him and try to force him out? Enough to do all we can realistically do and to stay away? Clearly not – because as I write, tens of thousands of fans have just filled SJP to almost capacity, refusing to even watch one match in the pub or at home, to make a serious and important point.

And, like it or not, this is the truth: they may be supporting the team, but they’re also supporting the regime—the two are inseparable. They’re giving Ashley their money and validating his attitude and actions by filling the ground. He’s laughing at them all. He slaps them in the face, and they beg him to do it again. And again, and again.

A boycott is therefore essential, vindicated, justified, morally right. Would it work? Maybe, maybe not. But carrying on as we were sure as hell won’t solve or change anything.

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. That’s what too many Newcastle fans are doing. And unless they do something, it won’t get better. It just won’t. At least, not for some time…and what damage might have occurred in that time?

I completely understand the difficulty some fans have in giving up their season tickets – it’s one of the hardest things I ever did. But some of the excuses I’ve heard are desperate.

“We’ve been bad before.”

Undoubtedly – but for most if not all of that time, we’ve collectively been trying to be better, or at least not quite so bad. Under Ashley’s rule we haven’t been trying at all – we’ve been unnecessarily bad. His refusal to spend even a reasonable amount of money in an effort to improve testifies to that, and that’s different to what’s gone before.

“A boycott won’t work because gate money is a drop in the ocean.”

Match day income is estimated at 20% of the club’s turnover – if that was lost, it would hurt Ashley. On top of that, an empty ground is symbolic; jarring; shocking; newsworthy; a show of defiance and strength. The media would be all over it, and Ashley would hate it. And if it were sustained, the TV companies wouldn’t like it, and would surely seek to change things.

“I’m supporting the team, not the regime.”

You can’t do that – the latter goes with the former.

“It’s my choice.”

Everybody is, of course, entitled to their choices, but those choices are not, and should not be, immune to criticism. That’s how things work. Some choices are bad choices; all choices are there to be criticised. Debate and discussion are important to working out the best way forward.

“Don’t tell me what to do.”

Nobody is doing that. Discussion isn’t “telling anybody what to do” – it’s trying to appreciate both sides of an argument and others’ opinions, in order to try to find some common ground, a way forward, and/or the best most appropriate approach and course of action. Hostility to the opinion of others, which can manifest in the “don’t tell me what to do” defensive stance, is the death of debate and discussion, and we all suffer. We should be able to discuss all of this without falling out or taking offence, for the sake of the club. And criticising others’ opinions doesn’t means criticising them as individuals.

These excuses are poor, so fans who won’t boycott need to be honest: they just want to go to the match. Whether that’s out of habit, stubbornness, to get out of the house, or for any other reason, they just need to be honest. But I see the case for a boycott to be strong, and there’s one simple way of looking at this, with some unavoidable truths: if you regularly go to games, you’re giving Ashley lots of money, and validating him, his attitudes, his actions, and what he’s doing to the club. Every bum on every seat in the ground is tacit acceptance of him and what he’s doing.

I never thought I’d be so disappointed in fellow NUFC fans: never would have believed so many would let a rich outsider with no affection for Newcastle, humiliate them and the club for so many years, and meekly make pathetic excuses to keep turning up and giving him money to do it again and again. Those who attend matches are therefore complicit in what’s going on.

When I gave up my seat at SJP, Ashley hadn’t beaten me – I had taken a stand against him. I had refused to supplicate to him. I had rejected any more complicity in the damage he was doing to the club I’ve loved since my grandfather first took to me SJP as a 6 year old, and (to borrow the words from Bobby Robson), “Without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”

I love the club so much that I put the club before my own preferences and interest. I made the sacrifice, I took the pain and the hurt. But it’s not about me, or you, or anybody: this is all about the club. If you love the club, do what’s right for it. Help it. Support it in the true sense of the word. Put it before yourself. Show it you love it more than you love your habits and going to the games.

I’ll finish with an analogy. I love my family more than anything. Most of us do. So, if they were in trouble, we’d do whatever it took to help them because of that love, even if that meant pain for us, and separation for a while. It’s like taking somebody you love to rehab; you don’t want to; you’ll miss them; it hurts, and all that. But you love them so you do what’s right for them, for their sake. Now: replace ‘your family’ in what I just said with NUFC. If you regularly attend SJP, are you doing what’s best for the club?

I wish there were a great big black and white magic wand we could all wave to get shot of Mike Ashley, and we could all get on with supporting the club together without his toxic influence. But of course, there is no wand. So we have to do something. Realistically, practically, that means a boycott.

Every day, I look at a painting I had done of my Newcastle-daft Grandad, and me as a little boy, on my living room wall – walking hand in hand through the snow, past the pit where he spent his working life, wearing our black and white scarves.

He was responsible for my love of Newcastle United. He was the best, most amazing positive influence in my life, and a good, proud, man. He taught me to be selfless, and to do what’s right. I know he’d agree with my decision to boycott our beloved club until Ashley has gone.

I wish many more of my fellow fans could see it and follow suit.

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