The case for change at NUFC
ToTT is running a series of articles looking at the relationship between club and supporters. Views are invited on how things can change for the better. This article looks at the case for change.
There have been a number of events that have disillusioned supporters at St James` Park. An article published on this site on Sunday looked at how things have taken a turn for the worse since the arrival of Derek Llambias in the Chair.
Much has been written about the "Cockney Mafia". That is not to say that Geordies have an inherent dislike of those from the South, as indeed there are many who will testify. Malcolm Macdonald, Sir Les, Warren Barton, Rob Lee are among them as is Vic Keeble from Colchester, the last surviving FA Cup winner with Newcastle.
To understand the Geordie culture, it is important to have an understanding of the area, not least the club`s past and its role in the community. Perhaps this is something the current regime does not appear to have.
There is still a generation of supporters who will remember that players used to come from the community and live among them. Many of the great pre-war sides had a strong local contingent, who were scouted from pit sides or local teams. After their playing days they returned to routine employment.
Some came from further afield, another former miner, Hughie Gallacher was one of them. Chilean international George Robledo was a Yorkshire miner who made the same journey.
The pits and shipyards form a huge part of the club`s background. Saturday afternoon was an escape from the dangerous and humdrum lives of the local population. The start of the week would be spent talking of the excitement of Saturday afternoon. The latter part of the week would be spent looking forward to the next one.
For generations, schoolboys have crowded around the Journal in the morning before school to get the latest. A similar pattern saw the race for the Chronicle after school. Boys dreamt of being the Newcastle number 9. Fathers hoped for their sons to achieve the status. Not even number 9, but any black and white shirt would do.
The club is uniquely placed, overlooking the city centre, when in days of gender stereotyping, men went to the match whilst women did the shopping. The position at the heart of the city and dominating the city`s skyline means that it is a barometer of the area. The fate of the club and the city are interdependent.
Newcastle has been a powerhouse of industry over the years. The club was a force before WW1, having won 3 league titles. The interwar years saw another title and cup success, the years following WW2 were littered with more FA Cup wins. The common thread was excitement and passion.
The nature of the labour market may have changed, swapping industry for call centres but the nature of the beast remains the same. The quest for excitement and passion, reflected by the Toon is what drives supporters.
After the cup winning years, the club saw relative decline, fortunes being revived under the stewardship of Joe Harvey who created a team in his image. Hard work and excitement were characteristic, with the number 9 Milburn being replaced by partnerships between the likes of Pop Robson and Wyn Davies, Supermac and John Tudor.
A dismantling followed, with successive Chairmen, Lord Westwood and Gordon McKeag failing to invest in the club despite their own prestige elevated by significant positions in the game`s hierarchy. Stars like Gazza, Beardsley, and Waddle were sold. The crowd still showed passion, albeit with diminishing numbers.
Arthur Cox staged a mini-revival, starting with home grown talent before signing Keegan. After doubling the crowds, the opportunity was wasted with more years in the wilderness.
Although he has his critics, Sir John Hall provided investment, bringing back Keegan as manager. Nothing was won apart from friends across the country. Excitement was back and St James` was full again.
Yes the club made losses, but these could be attributed to ground development. Revenue increased, the talent on display was phenomenal. This came to a gradual end after the reins had been passed to Freddie Shepherd.
A series of managers came and went. It is said that Sir John stepped back in for the appointment of Sir Bobby Robson who Shepherd eventually sacked.
There may be many views on why the club declined again. One key moment is surely the summer of 2003, when after reaching the qualifying stage of the Champions league, the club failed to invest, signing lee Bowyer on a free and nobody else. A defeat to Partizan led to a loss of European revenue at a time when competitors continued to invest.
The path to financial collapse is history. Souness was the penultimate throw of the dice from Shepherd, with future revenues squandered on players who didn`t perform. The financial plight was such that Shepherd replaced Shearer with Sibierski. The last throw was with Allardyce who had a reputation for surviving on a budget.
It is not the supporters` fault that Ashley, or so it is reputed, bought the club without doing due diligence, or having even a cursory look at the books. Supporters who had been shareholders, many of them on ToTT, could have told him what was the state of affairs. Notes to the accounts held huge clues as to the lack of financial viability as well as why Hall had to find a buyer.
Ashley has a business, whether he wants it or not. The early signs of decline exist again. Despite a lack of success, Newcastle United had become the third best supported club in the country. That status even seemed secure in the Championship. Already this season, we have slumped, behind Liverpool and Manchester City. How much further must we slip?
Whether Ashley wants to sell or is in for the long haul, the club needs supporters, just as Geordies need Newcastle United. Yes, the club can survive on Premier League TV income. That does not make the club more marketable. A secure supporter base, driving matchday and commercial revenue does. Wigan have survived. Newcastle-upon-Tyne is not Wigan. Ashley can not sell as long as Llambias continues to alienate the fan base.
ToTT has members who feel passionate about the club, reflecting views in the region. We may not like the current regime, because of what it has done to the stock of the area and because our values have been lost along the way.
We do recognise that the club needs to be successful, for the sake of the region. Whether success allows Ashley to leave, taking his entourage with him, or whether he stays and has a successful business with NUFC, some of us recognise that despite our apparently mutual loathing, there might be a common objective.
The next article will examine if there might be a way forward, by keeping our friends close but our enemies closer.