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Building bridges

Building bridges

TOTT has been looking at the breakdown in communication between the club and supporters, highlighted by the mess of the transfer window. How can bridges be built?

It is still called Newcastle United Football CLUB. Contrary to the behaviour of owner and Chairman towards supporters, there is a definition of club other than the weapon used by cavemen to beat up their opponents. It is a club in the sense of "a group of people organised for a common purpose".

NUFC is a club that has been the focal point of the city`s recreation for over a century. The club has been in the hearts of Geordies for generations. Ashley has been here for a little over 4 years. He has yet to turn Newcastle United in Newcastle Football Ltd. but if the recent trend in crowds is anything to go by, he could be moderately successful in running a small business.

It is obviously in the interests of both supporters and Mike Ashley that Newcastle United remains a big club and a big business. If he wants to sell, presumably he wants a good price. If he wants to stay, then surely he needs to give us the opportunity to regain our heritage and values.

Other feature articles on ToTT have examined what went wrong. The recent troubles seem to have coincided with the arrival of Derek Llambias as Chairman. Communications have been bland and perceived to demean Geordie heroes. There is a popular view that he has to go.

Can Llambias redeem himself? If there is a chance, perhaps he should reflect on what communication is. It is a two way process. Communication can be defined as an exchange via different media. It can also be defined as interpersonal rapport. As a former casino manager, surely he didn`t encourage business by telling punters they were mugs to gamble?

To date, pretty much all of his communications have been through statements. Statements can be heard or read but not debated. It may not be well received at first but there is no hope of improvement unless the statements become dialogue.

The local media are immensely enthusiastic to convey messages from the club. With the depth of feeling towards our local institution, coverage of Newcastle United draws audiences. Audiences justify their existence.

To this end, surely Derek Llambias can surely open himself to challenge, as he could have done over the recent Chronicle questions. There are radio stations in Newcastle that would benefit from regular phone ins to the Chairman. Keegan opened himself to challenge over the sale of Andy Cole and became respected.

As long as Llambias hides behind a fountain pen or Dictaphone, he always runs the risk of being labelled a coward. If he is sincere about the way he runs the club, responding to challenge could be a way forward. Supporters will be able to tell from his manner of response how genuine the man is.

Of course there is some information that has to be produced in printed form, notably the accounts of the business. Those supporters who have been shareholders once had the opportunity to attend meetings, receiving a glossy brochure with everything out in the open.

As a private company there is not the same requirement. Instead, the latest accounts were released marginally before the legal deadline. Once upon a time, these were released earlier. It only adds to the sense of distrust that Ashley`s people now leave it until the last moment - a bit like transfer deadlines.

Supporters are left to make their own conclusions. All that the headlines tell us is that the club has made a transfer surplus, according to analysts, perhaps as much as £50m over the last few years.

A forthcoming article will look at the accounts again. If there is a financial viability that Shepherd eroded, supporters need more information to judge for themselves.

Another strong element of feedback from supporters is a perceived lack of ambition. The five year plan was communicated. Ashley has been here for 4 years. What supporters see is that the hottest prospect for the England and Newcastle number 9 shirt has been sold. The number 9 shirt remains vacant. Last season`s top scorer and captain, as well as the player of the year have also been dispensed with.

It took 7 months not to find a replacement for Carroll. There is obviously cash in the bank. The club HAS to act to make sure that the most prominent piece in the jigsaw is found within a year of Carroll`s departure.

There are contracts up for renewal at the end of the 2012-13 season too. Most notable is the current club captain and potential suitor to every Geordie wife, Coloccini. Is he too going to be told he is not wanted by the hierarchy? An immediate move to secure his services on a realistic contract would be hugely welcomed by supporters, after all, actions speak louder than words.

The club did announce the desire for long term stability in a bizarre way, by sacking a record breaking manager in Chris Hughton. His replacement has been fortunate in his start to the season, as he has before shortly before being sacked at Christmas. On his appointment, he confessed that his family were staying down south.

The late Sir Bobby Robson, in his Daily Mail column, highlighted the need for club officials to live close to the club. With such an institution as Newcastle United, it is important that the management understand the area. Failure to live here carries the hallmarks of working towards his compensation. Both Pardew, and his Chairman need to integrate themselves into the region if they are to have any hope of truly comprehending what this club really means. If Pardew and Llambias live here, appoint a manager and Chairman who will.

The bridges may take time to build. However, ToTT has put forward some simple steps for Ashley and Llambias to show willing. Be open about communication. Show some ambition. Reflect our values, including loyalty, to arguably the last of the big players for this club. Make sure that you honour the history of the number 9 shirt by getting someone worthy in January. At least the foundations of a bridge can be laid.

Mistakes have been made. Don`t just admit them, apologise for them. As more than one ToTTer has expressed, make a generous donation to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation in acknowledgement of what has been temporarily taken away from the character of the city.

Joey Barton is a testament to the nature of Geordie people. Despite relegation, having deprived us of his services for the crucial run in after a mad moment at Liverpool, he took the opportunity of rehabilitation, departing a respected footballer and person.

It seems fair to say that, at least for the time being, the fate of Newcastle United and Mike Ashley are intertwined. Supporters need the club, the club needs the supporters. We may not be the best of friends but some unholy alliances have been the most successful. 1969 marks the last significant trophy won by Newcastle United. It was also the year of the first lunar landing. It is up to Ashley and Llambias to take a few small steps for man and a massive leap for the Geordie nation.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Date:Thursday September 22 2011
Time: 10:00AM

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