“As passionate supporters representing a wide range of opinion, NUFC Fans Utd believes strongly in the importance of communication and in light of the furore concerning the renaming and the naming rights of St James’ Park in the future, we call upon Newcastle United to review how it effects its own communication with supporters. 

As the custodians of a Football Club steeped in 120 years of history and given the previous statements attributed to the Club’s Managing Director Derek Llambias that the name St James’ Park would remain an integral part of the Club’s future we are disappointed with the decision to drop the name St James’ Park, the manner of the announcement and how it was handled; without any consultation or appearance of constructive discussion with supporters.

We call upon the Club to act upon a collective desire among supporters for open and honest dialogue and we welcome any opportunity for supporters to engage in meaningful talk that benefits the Club in the short, medium and long term.”

Background

Following the recent shock announcement by Newcastle United’s Managing Director Derek Llambias that the Club would be dropping the name St James’ Park, officially ending the Club’s 120 year association with the ground name and replacing it with a more corporate and financially driven alternative, an open meeting of the fans Coalition Group NUFC Fans United was held on 14TH November to allow supporters the opportunity to debate its impact. A wide range of opinion was voiced, reflecting the emotive impact of the Club’s decision and at the same time voicing concern and confusion about the motives behind the decision and what it means for the future of the Football Club going forward.  

The outcome of the meeting is reflected in the following statement which reflects our feeling and those of many thousands of supporters in and around Newcastle, the North East, the UK and Worldwide. The statement also reflects the need for the club to engage in open and honest dialogue with supporters of Newcastle United Football Club; the lack of which they have rightly been criticised for and which can only benefit them in the future. The desire is there from the fans; now it’s the turn of the club to respond positively. 

NUFC Fans United was set up in April 2011 as a credible coalition of supporters, representative of the diverse range of opinion they hold regarding Newcastle United. Its main objective is to encourage and promote open and honest communication between Newcastle United and its fan base, encompassing individual fans and members of supporter associations or similar organisations, with the aim of helping the club excel both on and off the pitch.
 
 
NUFC Fans United is a coalition formed with the single goal of establishing a forum through which proper communication could be established between groups of fans, and individual supporters with the ultimate goal of creating effective lines of communication with Newcastle United Football Club.  We have been asked by a number of groups to arrange a meeting to discuss the current situation with regard to rebranding - which we have done (6:30pm 14.11.11 at the Tyneside Irish Centre.)

This is obviously a difficult and emotive subject and one which has threatened to destabilise the positive air that has surrounded NUFC of late.  We would like to remind anyone hoping to attend this meeting that firstly we welcome all views  and all individual opinion must be respected.  Secondly we are simply a conduit to allow discussion and debate; we cannot, and it is not our intention to, lead or form any kind of protest or direct action.  However that is not to say the meeting point would not allow any like minded groups to gather and share their intentions with other similar organisations.  We are simply here to discuss and gather the full range of opinion with the intention of carrying this forward to reflect the breadth and depth of feeling within the fan base of NUFC.

If you can't attend the meeting but  would like to have your feelings shared with those in attendance, please email a  "testimonial" to us: nufcfansutd AT gmail DOT com

Below are some we have already received.

"I can't make the meeting - but both as the councillor for the ward that houses St James' Park and a life long supporter I am shocked (but not surprised) at the re-naming. It seems that just as an opportunity to build bridges between the supporters and the club was beginning to emerge, they do something utterly stupid and crass. They clearly have no understanding of the supporters and the traditions of the club. It's simply money and perhaps another step by Ashley to sell the club. I wish you all well and hopefully will be around for the next meeting." -- Geoff O'Brien, Westgate Councillor, Lord Mayor of Newcastle.

"I am saddened but not surprised at this latest farce at our club. This regime appear love hitting the self destruct button and the timing of this announcement serves only to provoke the fans with the team sitting pretty in 4th place. The removal of the East Stand signage took place in the last International break so are we beginning to see a pattern here? What's next? Sports Direct on the strip...take that for granted folks...red and white stripes? Never say never! The Sports Direct theme tune playing the lads onto the pitch...why not...Get used to it folks....this abuser in an abusive relationship will keep slapping us round the face...its up to each one of us to decide whether we keep going back or not." -- Steve Wraith, Players Inc Event Management.

"Speaking as a 53 year old ex pat Geordie now living in Yorkshire, i have followed & supported the team all my life, so now do my two sons. Through all those 43 years + the team has been 'co-joined' with their 'home' SJP, in fact of course through out generations before. Yes, it is just a name, but in reality much more than that.  How about changing Wembley to The Microsoft Arena, or St. Paul's Cathedral to The Stadium of Eternal Osram Light, got to worth a few bob eh? Which is where it's at now, down to money & sod the heart felt Geordie emotion linked to its home name. The message is simple, please Mike, give us our 'home' back." -- Stuart Blackham

"All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing; and nothing is what the good men (and women) of Tyneside have been doing over the last four years while NUFC is slowly but surely transformed from a football club into a souless marketing tool for Mr Ashley’s first love. We’ve all been outraged, incensed, offended or insulted at some point but when it comes to the crunch as a collective we’ve done next to nothing to defend the club we claim to love.  Renaming St James’ Park is a watershed moment. If we don’t get our act together now we never will and the steady trickle of disrespect will become a flood. Supporters need the influential voices of the NUFC scene to put aside their differences and back a call for action. How and what doesn’t matter right now. The important thing is we stop shrugging our shoulders and saying there’s nothing we can do. Without us there is no business. We have it in our power to put up a real fight but we need to stop throwing in the towel when the bell is rung. Doing nothing isn’t a decision that is forced upon us, it’s a choice. We’ve chosen to let people who can’t spell carry the baton for NUFC, chosen to absolve ourselves of  responsibility."  -- Matt Flynn

"A few words about our stadium being raped of its heritage and history.Text Message - Get on Twitter now, you'll not believe what he's done now...The thing is, I had a feeling about was awaiting me when I logged onto the social networking equivalent of a fat loud mouth wifey, wearing leggings leaning over her back fence spreading bile into the ether.When I read the news, it didn't surprise me, it still doesn't. What else did he have left to desecrate with his red and blue rubbish? At first I was a bit numb towards the whole thing, kind of ignoring it, shrugging it off and going about my day. Now, however, I've had nearly a week to stew and now I'm boiling over with anger, shame, embarrassment and downright incredulity at how one mans ego trip can be used to strip a local landmark of its Identity in order to peddle third rate sportswear.Ashley has made some unbelievable PR blunders over the years, but how out of touch do you have to be with your customers, to think that this is a good idea.He says "we had no choice" "it will make the club £8-10m a year". In my opinion, the name St James Park is worth ten times that amount and the memories and history which we have experienced are literally priceless.Regardless of what our stadium ends up being officially called, it will always be St James' Park to the people who matter. The fans." -- Taylor, Taylor & Besty

"The renaming of St. James' Park is a classic case of penny wise and millions of pounds foolish. Americans like us who have adopted Newcastle United as our Premier League passion provide a perfect illustration.Why is the Premier League gaining audience so fast in America? It's not like we don't have enough on our plates already. We have leagues in four sports that rival the Premier League's popularity in England. And we have our own Major Soccer League that's growing in popularity as well. What's so attractive about getting up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday to watch English matches instead? One word: tradition. We're enthralled by the layers of history, the depth of support, the colors, the chants, the songs - and yes, the quirky, old-fashioned, covered-stand stadiums that don't exist in our younger nation and are so striking on our televisions. Fenway Park and Wrigley Field in baseball are venerated above all American stadiums for their age and coziness, and those ballparks are fundamental to the Red Sox' and Cubs' massive fan bases. English soccer has Fenways and Wrigleys dotted across the national landscape. That has tremendous pull for American fans, even those who may rarely if ever see the stadiums in person.We're entering a decade in which millions of Americans will choose a Premier League club to follow and support. For reasons previously stated, we think Newcastle United has a chance to be a huge club in America, and the steadily growing readership of this blog is yet more evidence. In that respect, St. James' Park is a decisive advantage for Newcastle over a bigger club like Arsenal that plays in a spaceship with corporate branding.At the critical, semi-conscious moment in which a club wins a fan's heart, branding can be as important as reality, especially when that reality is experienced at our distance. At that key moment, watching players march out behind a TV graphic that says "St. James' Park" might make all the difference. If I'd turned on a match one Saturday morning being televised live from Sports Direct Arena, is it possible I might have gravitated instead toward Old Trafford, or Stamford Bridge, or White Hart Lane? You bet. This site and its thousands of readers - maybe, before long, millions - might not exist. Or, worse, it might read 'I Wish I Was A Scouser.'Maybe Mike Ashley doesn't care about America. He'd better. The untapped market for English soccer in America is staggering. As global money continues to pour into the Premier League, it's grow or suffer for each individual club. Like it or not, America is where the growth is. We have enough sterile modern stadiums with awkward corporate names. Differentiation from the American experience means everything for a Premier League club seeking to plant a following in our fertile ground. "Sports Direct Arena" sounds more ridiculously American than most stadiums in America.So go ahead Mr. Ashley, if you must, and collect your paltry £10 million for the piecemeal sale of Newcastle's brand and soul. Try not to think about the hundreds of millions it might cost you down the line." -- Bob Schwoch, Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA www.newcastleunited.us
 
 
 
 
From our friends at United For Newcastle
On 9th November 2011, Newcastle United wiped away over a century of history and renamed their world-renowned stadium the Sports Direct Arena.  As expected, many fans responded furiously at the latest decision from the unpopular regime headed by businessman Mike Ashley.


One of the most common criticisms we receive at United For Newcastle is that we are overly negative, failing to highlight the good work of the regime and getting wound up over something as “meaningless” as the name of the stadium.

Others point to the decisions made at Newcastle as being symptomatic of a wider trend in world football: where commercial interests have to be considered, and finance rules supreme.

Whilst these fans are more than entitled to their views, the situation at Newcastle is not this simple.  The hypocrisy of the club and the lies they have peddled over the last half-decade simply cannot be brushed under the carpet.  They are numerous, from guarantees that for as long as Mike Ashley remained in charge that the stadium name would always include St. James’ Park, to promises of reinvestment from the sale of players that hasn’t yet materialised. 

The key to maintaining power with weak support – in politics, as much as in football – is to promise what will happen.  For instance, we will get back into Europe; we will buy new players; we will find someone else to sponsor the stadium.  The hallmark of a great regime, however, is their ability to look back and say “look what we have achieved”.  The current administration at Newcastle has precious little to show for five years in charge outside of relegation.  They have sold top players, sacked multiple managers and acted – all in all – exactly how one would expect from two people who, in the words of Kevin Keegan, know nothing about football.

It is clear that Newcastle United is not Mike Ashley’s priority: money is.  I would never be so ignorant as to claim Mike Ashley wants Newcastle to perform badly; why would he?  A successful club has global appeal and wide-reaching advertising potential both for brands such as SportsDirect in which he has a vested interest, and others willing to pay. 

However, the heritage of the club and what it means to the fans of Newcastle is of no concern whatsoever.  Most Newcastle fans would agree that the name St. James’ Park is worth more than a mere £8 million a season.   Especially when we can hardly trust that money to be reinvested fully.  As Kevin Keegan’s tribunal revealed, the club intentionally and repeatedly misled the supports and the media to suit their own needs.  How can we trust these assurances?

Do we even really need that money?  Can we really sympathise with an owner who will sell the heart and soul of the club for every penny its worth, when he then proceeds to blow £1 million in a single gambling session.

The Guardian summed the situation up on the 10th November 2011, when David Conn wrote that “part of what feels so wrong about the 'rebranding' of St James’ Park is clear to anybody who has actually been in Sports Direct.”

The real question is: what do we want from Newcastle?  Do we care only about the football on the pitch?  Or do we care about the history of our club, and of the city above which St. James’ Park proudly stands.  If we care only for the former, then sadly we have lost from football the spirit that has endured for generations.

There will be those who claim I am being a doom-mongering negativity junkie, and am blowing everything out of proportion.  I disagree.  I’m standing up for the history of the club I love, and trying to protect something more valuable than money – the soul of the club and the city – from vanishing forever.   
 
 
Minutes from 7.11.11

Attendees: Zahra, Duncan J, Graeme C, Martin W, Kevin M, Matty P, Brett C, Steve W, Malcolm D, Tom L, Ian C, Steve H, Paul R, Gary R, Dave A, Dennis T.

Apologies: Bill C; Neil M; Jamie F; Simon E (NUFC), 

Before we launched into the formal meeting, it was agreed that NUFC Fans United wish to acknowledge Newcastle United’s current form on the pitch. The record equaling start to the season is a source of great pride for all Newcastle United fans and NUFC Fans United feel that it is only right that the Club be praised for this success on field. 

We also take note of the clubs recent statements concerning the direction it is taking with regards to club finances and the making of amends for errors of the past. We support their endeavours in this regard and hope that supporters and club can work together to build a sound platform for two way communication with the club on the basis of our shared desire for success both on and off the field. Newcastle, united – can never be defeated.

Tickets For Troops - resolutions/ ongoing
Following the recent announcement by the club and their gesture towards the Tickets For Troops Initiative, it was agreed that we need to close the loop as far as NUFC Fans Utd is concerned. There is still the matter of a number of Fiorentina Ticket stubs that we have already collected or had donated. It was agreed that (after consulting fans who donated) we should select another local charity who might benefit from any remaining tickets; possibly one locally that works with former military personnel; as this is in keeping with the original spirit of the initiative.  We have set an informal deadline of the end of 2011 to finalise arrangements.

Christmas Party - yes/ no - resolutions
After a short discussion it was agreed that as we are still in our infancy as a group and as we are already into November that any pre Christmas get together should be an informal affair - in a pub somewhere in Newcastle. Dates and venues suggested included The Bridge Hotel on December 3rd (after Chelsea H).  This will be finalised and announced as soon as possible on our website and via Facebook and Twitter

Til I Die Book Series Participation
Til I Die is a series of books cataloguing fan memories from various football clubs. Fans are invited to write about their experiences and memories of supporting their club and as a many as possible will see their words in print. As a fans coalition, we have been approached to participate in the pending Newcastle United edition. It was agreed that we should open this up to as wide an NUFC fan base as possible and use our resources to help this happen and we will shortly announce how fans can get involved. 

Jackie Milburn/ Alan Shearer Statue
Local sculptor Tom Maley (whose previous work includes a statue of Jackie Milburn) has put together a proposal for a new piece that he would like to see commissioned in Newcastle.  This new artwork would consist of life size statues of Alan Shearer and Jackie Milburn on 5m high plinths that would stand on St James’ Boulevard, near Gallowgate; joined by a 10.5m arch of footballs.  He is currently in discussion with Newcastle Council and Nexus and would like our support in helping to publicise his idea in the hope of getting support for the installation to be in place in time for next year’s Olympic football tournament.  A short film with 3D rendering of the artwork will be posted on the NUFC Fans United website in the next few days to allow fans to provide feedback on the proposal and show their support. 

Fans Liaison Officer
“The introduction of a new UEFA licensing requirement from season 2012/13 for all clubs to have an operating supporter liaison officer (SLO) marks an important new chapter in club-supporter relations and emphasises how important this relationship is considered.

Under Article 35 of the new UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations, clubs will have the obligation to appoint an SLO to ensure a proper and constructive dialogue between a club and its fans. The move is the result of close cooperation between European football's governing body and Supporters Direct – the body that provides guidance and backing to fan groups in 17 countries throughout Europe. 

Supporter liaison officers at clubs already exist in a limited number of European countries and primarily help improve the dialogue between the fans and the clubs they follow. Most importantly, SLOs must be credible with supporters, and therefore should have experience with, and contacts to, the networks in the club's fan base.”

The above is taken directly from UEFA’s own website (uefa.com) 

Other than the statement above, little seems to be known about how this role will be implemented at a practical level or the emphasis clubs will place upon the requirement in terms of appointing the right person into the role. Questions raised include; should the SLO role be filled by an ex player or a prominent local personality; someone with experience from within the local business or political arena, or even an outsider with a background in diplomacy, mediation PR or be from a sporting background?

If an SLO is a role that needs to be filled by the club then we feel that now may be a good opportunity for supporters to help the club understand how all parties see the role being fulfilled and by what type of candidate. Is this a role that fans think should be appointed or elected? What function should the incumbent serve?  What do we (the fans) want from a supporter liaison officer?   

With this in mind we think it might be useful to canvas further opinion than our own on the role and how Newcastle United fans may wish to see this role at the Club filled. It was agreed that we will conduct a poll to get feedback from as broad a cross section of the NUFC fan base as is possible.  This will run from the NUFC Fans United website and will be online shortly.  We will be looking to share this poll as wide as possible and will actively be linking up with other fans’ groups to make this possible.

Racism
There have been a number of reports of pockets of racist and islamophobic abuse occurring at recent away games.  Although these are still being seen as isolated incidents it was agreed that as a fan base all Newcastle United fans need to be vigilant to prevent this behaviour spreading and hence bringing our support into disrepute.  Self policing is always the best policy - but this is often not possible, especially at away grounds, when the even stewards witnessing such racism do nothing to intervene. We understand that humour can often be misinterpreted, but blatant racism cannot.

With last weekend’s Sammy Ameobi incident, the Club demonstrated that it can and will act decisively when racist incidents are brought to its attention, and this is to be applauded.  However there is a vast difference between tweet reporting incidents to the Club and getting up the courage to stand up to small pockets sitting or standing among in the fan base and indulging in racist comments or chants.   

We welcome and invite the Club’s thoughts on the best way to manage this situation.  Often people are scared or worried about reporting incidents for fear of reprisals, how does the Club propose helping fans in this respect?  It was suggested that some form of anonymous reporting portal (along the lines of ethicspoint.com) could be a useful tool to help facilitate reporting . This type of portal is used successfully in many employer institutions to good effect and perhaps this is something the Club can investigate?

We must stress that at present we do feel that these are isolated incidents and we hope they are not part of a growing trend, however there was genuine concern shown that as a group, Newcastle United fans may all be “tarred with the same brush” if we do not stand together with the club and work to eradicate such intolerant behavior.

Bring Back The Scarves

This initiative is seen as still being important in helping to improve the atmosphere at St James’ Park. We will continue to push it and we are currently exploring sponsorship opportunities with local businesses to see if some form of discounted scarf loyalty scheme is feasible. We encourage ideas from fans on how this can be developed and we are actively asking for sponsors.

Website Articles/ blogs, links, publicity
It was suggested that as a group NUFC Fans United does not make full use of its website. We had an open discussion to come up with some ideas as to how we can improve our web presence. It was agreed that we should be generating a load more content by way of articles and blogs as well as improving the visibility and popularity of the forum.  Another suggestion was to introduce weekly or monthly features from NUFC Fans’ groups from other parts of the country or world.  This and other suggestions will be looked into and we should see a much improved website in the coming months.

Club Discount Season Ticket Policy
It was agreed that although we understand and appreciate the gesture by the Club of offering discounted season tickets to friends and family of existing season ticket holders, the scale of the discounts and the way in which the Club announced and handled the scheme, has left many existing season ticket holders feeling disgruntled.  We all want to see a full St James’ Park at every home game and we agree that this offer by the Club has helped significantly towards achieving this goal. However it was felt that some acknowledgement or reward for those who did not need such an incentive to buy a season ticket would be a fantastic gesture from the Club. This gesture does not have to be massively expensive for the Club and would go some way towards easing the feelings of resentment, discounted cup tickets was one suggestion mentioned.

Away Ticket Allocation
It is noticed that as a club we appear to be getting significantly less away tickets than in the past and many are questioning whether there is a reason for this.  Frequent and long term away day fans feel that we could easily sell more than our paltry allocations for Man City and Man Utd and we question whether this is this a long term trend to not take full allocations; Is this a league wide trend or a decision that the Club have made in isolation?

Also with regard to away tickets, NUFC Fans United condemns the minority of fans who caused disruption at Darlington in the pre season. As a consequence, the Club implemented a members/ST only policy for away tickets and at the time it was announced that this policy was being adopted “until further notice” - will the Club be removing these sanctions any time soon? Or is this now a permanent policy?

AOB
A suggestion was received that we may wish to consider the streaming of our meetings over the internet for those unable to attend. However at the current time those present felt this to be unfeasible.  Audio recording and podcasting was also suggested - however it is felt that both options will bring a degree of formality to the proceedings that we feel will be detrimental to our group at the present time.  This will be reviewed in the future.

Representatives from United For Newcastle gave a short presentation on the small North East based charity Josie’s Dragonfly Trust; an organization that makes funds available for children with terminal cancer.  It was agreed that we would help United For Newcastle in their fundraising endeavours for this worthwhile local charity.  Also United For Newcastle wish to let Newcastle United fans know that there are a limited number of Great North Run places available for next year for anyone wishing to raise funds for the charity via sponsorship. Please contact unitedfornewcastle@gmail.com for more information.

It was agreed that a structure would be put forward for discussion concerning a number of initiatives and ideas that had been suggested by individuals that may be of interest to supporters. These include contact with expat fans overseas and fans throughout the UK that can allow them to feed in to the Newcastle Fans United discussion process through the network of fan group affiliations 


Time and date of next meeting TBC