Newcastle United – a football club divided?

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Unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture of the newly painted wall at SJP.

I’ve supported Newcastle United for forty years now and I feel like I’ve seen a lot. I watched blokes who looked like they’d just stepped out of the nearest pub representing us for years, but I’ve also witnessed the likes of Gascgoine, Keegan, Beardsley, Cole, Cabaye, Ginola and many others who have more than graced the shirt. I’ve watched us lose away at Bournemouth long before they were a Premier League club and I was there when Andy Griffin scored the goal in the Champions’ League that beat Juventus. And while I’ve never sampled the corporate hospitality of Premier League football, I’ve stood in a very different St. James’ Park to the one we know today. To paraphrase Lindisfarne, I’ve “wet on the wall” in the Gallowgate end, which if you’re old enough, is actually probably quite a pleasant memory.

I’ve sampled the agony and the ecstasy that goes with supporting Newcastle and I’ve sampled it in spades, but I have never felt as confused and conflicted as I do today.

Back in 1989 I walked past my cousin on the way into St. James’ Park for the opening day on of the then Division 2 season. Nothing remarkable in that, you might think, unless you’re a bit younger and have no concept of what Division 2 was. However, in terms of our support for Newcastle United that day, we were a family torn apart. That day I walked through a boycott in order to support my team. My cousin, on the other hand, was prepared to protest to end the rule over the club of a particularly unambitious regime.

With Gordon McKeag as chairman Newcastle had been run on a shoestring budget for years. We were the very definition of mediocre, with years of selling our better players and under-spending on their replacements and as a result were destined to stay beneath the top tier for years to come. The ‘Supporters for Change’ group had had enough and they organised a boycott of this first match. Thousands stayed away, some standing at various entrances to St. James’ Park, imploring those going in to change their minds and stay out. Despite my cousin’s plea – and some abuse at my ‘scab’ status – I went in.

I was rewarded with a 5-2 win against Leeds that included four goals for Micky Quinn, our new number 9, making his debut that day. I think I still have the issue of The Pink from that evening. But I was left desperately frustrated at the end of the season – as with many other seasons – as we failed to get promoted, losing to Sunderland in the Play-Off semi-final. Perhaps I should have boycotted. It didn’t work in that particular season and I continued to attend. However, within a few years McKeag and his cronies had been ousted by Sir John Hall, a movement at least in part brought about by boycotts and protest. By that time I’d begun a small protest of my own which I would carry out at every game attended. Ever in fear of authority though, I’d simply scribbled ‘McKeag Out!’on to the back of my scarf in marker pen and would furtively reveal it during matches, all the while fearing being kicked out by an over zealous McKeagite steward. With rebels like me about it’s no wonder social media does so well nowadays.

Almost thirty years on and there’s another boycott. This time though, along with many others, I’m taking part. And like myself back in 1989, many others are not. Newcastle, once again, doesn’t feel very united at all. Thirty years on and nothing has really changed. Yes, there’s been relative success in between times, but after 12 years of Mike Ashley’s ownership we’re faced with a club that is not only divided, but is sleepwalking through a period of utter mediocrity. For myself and thousands of like-minded souls now is the time to take action. A disregard for cup competitions in favour of the race for 17th place, a world class manager traded in for a journeyman from the managerial old boys’ club and a lack of consistent investment on players, the stadium, the training ground and the academy. The list could go on and on, but those are some of the headlines.

And yet, many fans continue to vow to attend matches. Somehow, the blatant disregard for our club doesn’t seem to matter. Somehow, it’s not enough.

I understand. I can empathise. I get it. But I can’t follow suit. Not again.

The lure of your football team is enormous. Look away now Premier League tourists, but silverware doesn’t have to matter. Glory doesn’t have to be a Champions’ League campaign or wining the league. What matters is the pull of your club. The feel for the town, the city, the region. The feeling of being surrounded by like-minded people from all kinds of backgrounds, all pulling in the same direction. The love of the club and those players and that shirt. That badge. So I understand that people don’t want to boycott. I understand that people don’t want a matchday without St. James’ Park or a trip down the country to watch Newcastle. Especially as, in my opinion, we have a special club in Newcastle United. But it is possible to stay away and in many people’s view, it is all we have left if we want change.

It’s sad to see but our fanbase is now split. Boycotters are criticising those who attend and those who attend are questioning the loyalty of those that boycott. And it’s exactly what the likes of Ashley, Charnley and Bishop want. Divide and conquer, right? The club know that the supporters will find it nigh on impossible to give up on their team.  After all, that trophy drought – 50 years and counting – is well publicised. And yet we still fill the stadium every other week. So Ashley and co have gambled for a while now. Keep the spending low, survive in the Premier League and they’ll still turn up. And in doing so, there’s a big chunk of money to be had as a reward, as well as all the free advertising you can cram in.

Every so often there’s talk of a takeover to placate those who are genuinely disgruntled and by the time it comes to nothing you’ve renewed your season ticket in some act of blind loyalty. And as fans, we’ve fallen for the same tricks for the last 12 years. So how long before more change their minds and decide that enough is enough?

The trouble here is a question of loyalty. As the song goes, “we are the loyalist football supporters the world has ever seen”, so staying away goes against the grain. Our loyalty has been blind for a long time now. Take out Keegan’s, Robson’s  and Rafa’s teams – and in fairness a season worth of Pardew – and recent history doesn’t leave a lot to be loyal to. But we’ve stayed loyal. Rafa brought us more hope than we’d had in a long time and meant that the loyalty was more than worth it. So now, post Rafa, thousands are staying loyal and criticising those that have had enough. The fans who are boycotting are largely pro-Rafa, while those that choose to still attend matches seem to now be picking Rafa apart. Turns out they never really liked him or his tactics after all. And there are many who are calling those who boycott out on the question of loyalty. In my own case, for example, after forty years of support, where thirty odd of them have seen me attending games, I’m not a fan.

But, in my opinion, loyalty can be shown in different ways and there’s a big picture that needs to be looked at here. The boycotters can see that the club have broken their transfer record twice in the last 6 months or so. We can see that other money has been invested in the playing squad – although, net spend, net spend, net spend…but let’s not get too bogged down there. We can even see that an entire wall at St. James’ Park has been given a shiny lick of black paint. Oh, and that the players’ entrance has been revamped. However, this isn’t enough to buy our loyalty. And it’s not enough to ignore the last 12 years of mismanagement and neglect. Not by a long way.

My loyalty is to Newcastle United, not Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United. I owe nothing to the Sports Direct Arena and nothing to the large scale advertising project that has been inflicted on my club for over a decade. My loyalty tells me to stay away from all of that, because in staying away I live in the hope that myself and thousands of others are forcing change. Hopefully change of ownership. This is loyalty to a cause. A cause for the good of Newcastle United. And in sitting in the stadium and handing that man your cash every week, nothing’s going to change. You can support the team, but I fear that it won’t change a thing. It won’t be enough.

For myself and thousands of other Newcastle supporters – and like it or not, that’s what we are – it’s time for change. In effect, thirty years on, we are still supporters for change. We can’t ignore over a decade that’s served up JFK, Wise, Pardew, paddling pool ice baths, awful kit deals that lead to awful kit, the horrific mismanagement of commercial link-ups, threatened player strikes because of year in, year out bonus cock ups, Lambias, Yohan Kebab and Charles Insomnia, sneaky, childish V signs from owner to fans, staff pizza nights by way of reward for professional sportsmen and world class coaches, pitch side headbutts, exclusive interviews that fail to ask pertinent questions, the open derision shown to fans by not only the ownership, but at times the management – Steve, Pards, Joe, I’m looking at you – , players signed from YouTube, banning the local paper, press conferences where journalists are referred to as c**ts…face it, the hits just keep on coming and this could be almost an inexhaustible list. Suffice to say though that my loyalty doesn’t stretch to that.

The mess made of Rafa Benitez’s contract was too much for me. It was too much for a lot of us. The disingenuous claims made by the club hierarchy since Rafa went have left a bitter taste. Out of it all has come The Magpie Group, the NUST and several other protest groups, all fighting for the same cause – to oust Mike Ashley and end his disastrous tenure of Newcastle United. All too predictably though, I still class myself as a Newcastle United supporter. I can’t completely desert the club. I was brought up with this club and it’s in my bones. Yes, I made a decision almost a decade ago now to give up my season ticket and not go back to St. James’ Park until Mike Ashley was gone, but I resent the views of people who still attend and now question my loyalty or accuse me of not supporting the club.

And this is what it’s come to. Name-calling, bitter claims on either side, ignorance and especially online, a whole host of smart-arse remarks. But the people who still populate the ground on matchday cannot question our loyalty in boycotting the games. All those years ago, I felt embarrassed walking past my cousin and his mates in the Supporters For Change. But there was no abuse on either side. I understood what he was trying to achieve and he understood my need to go and support the team. Nowadays, I won’t criticise those who attend. I don’t really understand what it’s going to take to see them vacate their seats, but I won’t criticise them. Perhaps, by the time the next game comes around, some more will decide to boycott. Perhaps, it’ll take a season or perhaps, like me, it’ll take decades of misery.

The point here is that Mike Ashley isn’t doing a very good job of running Newcastle United. An understatement if ever there was one! And we’re not talking about winning trophies here and fans making unreasonable demands. The mantra has always been about a team that tries and pride in the shirt. No one supports Newcastle United as part of a pursuit of trophies. Ashley himself has admitted that he’d give himself ‘1 out of 5’ for his ownership of the club. He admits he’s a negative. He simply hasn’t got the skills to run this particular football club. And despite all of this there are still thousands of fans that are quite prepared to stick by him, which makes us more divided than ever.

And the we get to the appointment of Steve Bruce as the new manager, Rafa’s successor. Now, I’ve nothing against Steve Bruce. He seems like a nice enough bloke and I particularly liked the Twitter account where he turned up at people’s weddings. Not real, you say? Well, I’ll have to look into that. Serial wedding crasher or not, in my opinion Steve Bruce doesn’t have what it takes to manage Newcastle United. He’s never done well at Premier League level and his appointment smacks of a managing director who is out of ideas. Uninspiring, unambitious and in many ways, desperate. Surely even those who are still attending, those that renewed season tickets, can’t actually believe that Steve Bruce is the right choice.

Newcastle United are more divided than ever. An owner who is despised, a managing director who doesn’t appear to be up to the job and a manager that isn’t wanted and deep down, must realise that he isn’t wanted. Add to that a fanbase who are now very much in two opposing factions. For me, this boycott has to work otherwise it’s terrifying to even think about the future.

 

Author: middleagefanclub

Man, husband, dad, teacher, coach, Geordie. Former street dancing champion of Tyne and Wear, guinea pig whisperer, developer of the best-selling fragrance, Pizzazz and alleged liar. Ex male model and a devilish raconteur. No challenge should be faced without a little charm and a lot of style.

3 thoughts on “Newcastle United – a football club divided?”

  1. Hi, an extremely interesting read !! Well done and hopefully there’ll be more ! Indeed a difficult time to be a NUFC supporter and even more so if you’re not from the UK. I’m from Cape Town, South Africa and have been supporting since the early nineties. I’m 54 and chose NUFC just because of the pure passion with which everyone supports, players included. On many occasions I’ve been asked “why Newcastle ??” Sarcastically I’ve replied, “why Liverpool, Manu etc?” For me it seems it was a calling, I grew up admiring Spurs Archibald and Crooks, so that would have been the obvious choice. But Newcastle is all about passion, the club, the players, the city … To conclude, I agree with everything you’ve written and though I’m a firm believer in getting behind the coach and players, nothing is ever going to change while Ashley is still there. Maybe when I do visit SJP one day it will be under much more pleasant circumstances !!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Paul. I’m glad you enjoyed it. These are testing times and I’m sure they’ll get worse, but hopefully, in the near future, we’ll pressure Ashley so much that he realises that his life will be better without us!

      Liked by 1 person

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