The battle now on to save Newcastle United
The question I keep coming back to, is can Newcastle United survive?
Have things already gone too far?
Or does there still remain enough there that would enable NUFC to become the major force it was always capable of becoming?
I feel very much that the battle is now on to save Newcastle United.
I don’t mean will there still be a team playing in black and white kicking a ball around at St James Park in five years, ten years, fifty years time?
I mean, will there still be enough people around who care enough, in the near future and beyond?
We are now in the fourteenth season of Mike Ashley ownership and he has managed to do what would have felt impossible back in 2007. Ashley has drained so many hardcore Newcastle United fans of the love of their club. I don’t mean that they no longer care at all about NUFC, instead it has become something of a fondness, a bit of a feeling touched with nostalgia but little more than that.
We are now getting to the point where an entire generation of Newcastle fans know nothing other than Mike Ashley’s ownership. Pretty much anybody under 30 these days will not really appreciate what life was like before the FCB arrived. Yes some of the older ones under 30 will remember certain games and players etc but not really remember what supporting this club is all about.
Back in the days when myself and so many others of you out there started actively supporting Newcastle United, it was exciting. Even if the actual football was rubbish much of the time, the days of the terraces were exhilarating. The atmosphere in the old Leazes End and then Gallowgate corner (and scoreboard) were class, the singing, the crowd surges, everything!
Away matches were even better, Newcastle taking massive numbers pretty much everywhere, you felt you were part of something special regardless of how well (or now) the team was doing on the pitch. It was all of the moment, apart from rare matches, usually cup ones, you never had to buy a ticket in advance, you just went.
I look at young people now, including my kids, what is special for them these days about going to watch Newcastle United? Why would you automatically go, if you were them?
Pre-virus, Newcastle city centre is still a pretty special place on a matchday, a real buzz about the place, meeting up with mates and / or family, the pubs lively, modern Newcastle also offering such a great range of restaurants, cafes and so on.
However, the actual matches, the experience inside St James Park, has only headed one way.
All the underlying issues under Mike Ashley were coming to a very public head back in 2016. However, he got so lucky, out of the blue Rafa Benitez offering his services to a totally messed up club that were on their way down to the Championship.
Already relegated, Newcastle fans sold out the final game of that 2015/16 season to try and convince Rafa to stay, a 10 man NUFC team beat Tottenham 5-1, a Spurs team who had almost won the title that season.
Benitez stayed and St James Park sold out week after week, averaging over 51,000 in the Championship, incredible.
Without Rafa Benitez committing to that three year contract, crowds would have been in the thirty thousands for sure and it would have been no certainty to get instant promotion either. Needless to say, there is no doubt that Mike Ashley didn’t appreciate, nor want to, just how much the Spaniard had saved him.
Only months after Rafa’s departure, Mike Ashley had to give away 10,000 free season tickets for the second half of the 2019/20 season. Mike Ashley maybe deep down, now admitting to himself that Benitez had been the last bit of glue that had held the club together.
The arrival of the virus situation has blurred a lot of what happened last season, especially where the media are concerned. The fact that with Mike Ashley making clear his intentions, forcing out Rafa to bring in his latest patsy in Steve Bruce so he (Ashley) could once again have total control, he had managed to make 10,000 of the 40,000 or so regulars to walk away in just one summer.
Moving forward to the present day and the virus situation has changed all of our lives, the vaccines and other factors now though giving us hope that a return to some kind of normality might not be too far away, including when it comes to going to matches. Elsewhere in the world where the virus has been handled far better, such as New Zealand and Australia, they already seen a return to packed stadiums for sport.
Even if allowed though, when will we next see St James Park full?
A couple of weeks ago before we found out Newcastle was tier three and not tier two, The Mag had a poll and asked fans if they would go to games at St James Park if they could buy a ticket. The results were stunning.
Only 8% said they would go to games if allowed. Whilst when asked if saying no, what factors would make you not want to go to matches, Newcastle fans replied with:
79% naming Steve Bruce as a (or the) reason why they wouldn’t go
65% naming Mike Ashley as a (or the) reason why they wouldn’t go
38% naming the Virus as a (or the) reason why they wouldn’t go
In national polls, a lot of fans of other Premier League clubs have said they wouldn’t go back to games at the moment, BUT the virus situation is repeatedly pointed to by those supporters elsewhere, rather than more ‘local’ factors!
For Newcastle fans, I think the survival of Newcastle United as the kind of club we know it can / could be, all depends on the takeover happening. Will the moves going on behind the scenes help it to happen? Mike Ashley’s legal arbitration moves against the Premier League, whilst shifts in how Saudi Arabia do their business and changes in how the regime operates, can there be an outcome that ends up with new owners at St James Park?
Ashley has pretended he was trying to sell Newcastle United for over a decade and this has only changed because for whatever reasons he now genuinely wants to sell AND the Saudis are prepared to pay a lot more than the club is really worth. It is really all about them (the Saudis), Ashley will not sell for a realistic price and so unless the Saudis are allowed to buy at their over the top bonus offer to Mike Ashley, he won’t sell. Newcastle fans will be stuck for him for a long long time.
I honestly think that the 10,000 Newcastle regulars / season ticket holders who walked away in summer 2019 are just the tip of the iceberg.
Mike Ashley has not allowed a penny to be spent at Newcastle United that he hasn’t had to since taking over in 2007. The entire infrastructure has been starved of investment. The essential new training complex that was announced in 2013 has never even been started, both the Academy and St James Park similarly neglected. Then we have the chaotic and shambolic handling of the transfer market, where major money is only allowed to be spent when Mike Ashley is very hands on with patsy managers or head coaches, often when relegation is threatening.
There is no long-term plan, there never has been one. Just trying to survive in the Premier League so that Ashley’s business empire is promoted around the world and the PL revenues come in.
I think it is feasible that by August when the 2021/22 Premier League season will kick-off, we could well be in a position to have the return of normal crowds.
How many though will turn up at St James Park?
Whilst elsewhere I can foresee full grounds, with Newcastle United, if nothing changes in terms of ownership and Mike Ashley carries on with clowns such as Charnley and Bruce continuing in their caretaking roles, we will see crowds of less than 30,000.
People are sick of it all and have had enough. Yes some will still go, indeed tens of thousands of them, however, far far more will go rarely, if at all.
The virus situation will have been for many a bit of a circuit breaker, the thing of automatically going to the matches and / or renewing / paying for the season ticket, having been broken.
Many people getting used to not paying the money, not making the effort, watching on TV instead or not at all.
Plus you also have to factor in that many who were regulars at St James Park are in older age groups, so that despite whatever improvements in the virus situation we see in the months ahead, many people will still be resistant to the idea of been in a big crowd and travelling in on packed public transport as well.
Bottom line for them and the rest of us, Newcastle fans will be asking themselves why they should bother going to St James Park, instead of needing to be convinced not to go.
I think of all those ex-pats and other fans we have around the UK, massive numbers. However, how much has their resolve been weakened down the years by Mike Ashley and now the virus situation on top of that. How much harder to convince their kids to be Newcastle fans. As well as Ashley, down the years it has become so difficult for NUFC fans around the UK to get to games, especially problematic when it comes to taking their kids to their first matches, usually only 3,000 away fans per match and those tickets all going to season ticket holders if they want them.
I look at the incredible numbers of Newcastle fans around the world, both ex-pat and others who for some bizarre reason chose Newcastle United. Very difficult to think that this worldwide support for NUFC hasn’t massively been eroded by Mike Ashley, especially since Steve Bruce was brought in. Imagine getting out of bed at three in the morning to watch Brucey’s football?
The thing is as well, Ashley has turned everything so negative when it comes to people’s perceptions of the club. Year by year more and more people refusing to buy official merchandise, especially directly from the club, because they don’t want to risk cash going to this owner.
I know loads of people, myself included, who can’t remember the last time they bought anything NUFC official. Year after year people instead buying the copies sold out of China etc for around 20% of the price you would pay if giving Mike Ashley the money. Even with new owners at Newcastle United, how many people will suddenly be desperate to buy official when it is £65 for a replica shirt compared to less than £15 for copies that are just as good quality?
I hardly see any kids around Tyneside wearing Newcastle strips, that situation having also got worse and worse under Mike Ashley. Our club hasn’t been stalled under him, it has been in reverse.
Whilst every other club has done everything they can to grow and be more successful and look as desirable as possible to fans, with Newcastle United the owner has felt immune from having to do any of that because of a blindly loyal fanbase.
That has all gone now I feel, Newcastle United needs new owners and a fresh start, or else it is a lost cause I feel.
I think that there is still just about a position whereby if new owners come in now, there will be still enough people in Newcastle, in the UK, around the World, who will all rally to the cause, capable of coming together and helping Newcastle United to fulfil its potential.
However, that window of opportunity is shrinking fast.
If there is no Newcastle United takeover by the time the 2021/22 season kicks off, it may well be a lost cause.
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