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Opinion

What’s the point?

7 months ago
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It’s not easy to explain to those on the outside why the majority of the Newcastle United fanbase are so disillusioned with Mike Ashley’s ownership of their club. And remember a football club ‘belongs’ first and foremost to the supporters.

In an attempt to explain why right now I am so disenchanted with the club I have watched and supported for more than 45 years….let’s rewind to the evening of 4th May 2019.

St James Park is bouncing as the largest ever crowd surfing flag is unveiled on the Gallowgate.

The atmosphere is electric, the match is close and entertaining. Liverpool edge it 3-2 and although they fail to win the Premier League they go on to win the European Cup. Liverpool are an outstanding team but on that night Newcastle United, under Rafa Benitez, all but matched them.

It was to be Rafa’s last home game as Newcastle manager, his last ever game was away to Fulham, a 4-0 victory.

For over three seasons Rafa Benitez and his team had worked hard to build not only a team but a club of whom it’s supporters could be proud.

Benitez knew that he would struggle to compete on equal terms with the billionaire clubs, but he recognised that Newcastle, like Liverpool, had a footballing soul. He recognised that here was a city that lived and breathed football and that at its best, football in a city such as this could be a force for good.

And over three seasons he restored the city’s footballing pride as he brought this often fractious club together, culminating in that glorious evening on 4th May where management, team and supporters seemed as one, even in defeat.

But throughout those three seasons Benitez had to battle with an owner who failed to recognise what he had. Purse strings were slackened to fund the promotion season but thereafter Rafa was continually shopping in the bargain bins, having to fund every purchase with a sale, trying to bring in first team quality and build a squad fit for purpose.

Requests for improvements to the training facilities and an overhaul of the youth system fell on deaf ears. Short-termism at the top seemed to inform all decisions.

The January 2019 transfer window witnessed lengthy negotiations with Atlanta United of the MLS for the services of Almiron, a player Benitez very much wanted. On the last day of the window the game of brinkmanship concluded with Almiron making the move for a reported fee of £16m rising to £20m based on appearances. Finally, after a gap of almost 15 years NUFC had broken their transfer record (sort of). Almiron was an instant success and sparked a late season improvement in form and results as Benitez was at last able to play a more attacking game.

And then came the summer. Benitez was shown the door as no effort was made to address any of the issues that had repeatedly been raised with the owner’s representatives (Mike Ashley and Rafa Benitez only met in person three times during the three years and four months that he was employed by the club.)

After a somewhat desperate search Steve Bruce was appointed, in the process acrimoniously breaking his contract with Sheffield Wednesday, and, lo and behold, after three years and four months of parsimony, Mike Ashley shells out £40m (or as he said himself £43m) on Joelinton, a player that Benitez had said wasn’t good enough. This felt personal, Ashley saying to Benitez, ‘there you go, Rafa my son, I’m the boss, I’ll buy who I want.’ Which is fair enough, but as a supporter who would you rather have choosing a player, a European Cup winning manager or a businessman who confesses to knowing very little about football?

So, here we are eight months on from that night in May. The club has spent £60m on 2 players with 2 goals and 2 assists between them (although Saint-Maximin has done well when not injured), and presumably in consequence, the kitty is bare as the club enters the transfer window with 10 first team players injured.

In addition, Newcastle United has, in an extraordinary and unprecedented move, given away up to 10,000 half season tickets.

Atmosphere, hope and pride have departed the stadium, so please, please understand when sometimes some of us say, ‘what’s the point?’

We know it could be worse, after all Sunderland are our neighbours! But you only support one club and the contrast between 4th May 2019 and 1st January 2020 is just too stark and too bitter to ignore.

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