Supporting a football club should be easy. You watch football on a match day and then spend the rest of the week in the build up to the following game going about your normal business. But here it isn’t. That’s because for the remaining 6 days of the week we analyse, question, pontificate and generally continuing to be absorbed by and caught up in the maelstrom that is Newcastle United Football Club.
Every word draws you in. Every decision seems to affect you. On match day you wake up tense; you head to the ground gripped by a mix of hope and apprehension. You kick and head every ball. A win brings out emotions that you would normally share only with an immediate family member (usually your husband or wife); defeat can deflate you to a point of despair.
It is little wonder therefore that events off the pitch impact upon supporters as much as those on the pitch. They are intrinsically linked. Why? Because as supporters we care that’s why. And that’s why, when events spiral in a manner that makes no sense, supporters see the need to call for change. For many, that point was reached this summer and they believe the time for that change is now.
Those calling for change are normal rank and file supporters. Decent, hard working, honest people. Supporters taking action born out of frustration for what has gone on in the past and as their poster says, they’re marching for ambition.
This is why we support #Time4Change.
OPEN MEETING, NEWCASTLE LABOUR CLUB
INTRODUCTION AND WELCOME
Steve Hastie gave a brief introduction, outlining the agenda which all attendees received copies of, before introducing Newcastle United’s Supporter Liaison Officer, Lee Marshall. Lee began by talking about some of the things that have been achieved by the Club working in partnership with Fans United. These include the return of the Gates to St James’ Park and Steve Harper’s 20 Years Charity Match.
Lee provided information on the Fans Forum recently announced by the club. He stated that much of the format and views have been shaped following meeting and talking to fans and fan groups. The club want to establish a robust structure for the forum so that it will stand up to scrutiny. They have worked to do this by working in consultation with the Football Supporters Federation who have provided feedback and constructive criticism to the club. They have also looked at examples from other clubs where forums are already operating. The forum will contain 15 fans. Three of these will be held permanently by established fans groups, NUFC Fans United, Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) and Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Association (NUSDA).
The 12 remaining fan seats are open to all Newcastle United fans to apply and they will represent different segments of the clubs fans base. These will include season ticket holders in the Milburn, East, Gallowgate and Leazes stands, an Away Season Ticket Holder, A Long Distance Traveller (attending at least five home games a season), a Young Person’s representative (under 21), an over 65s representative, a supporters club seat (for the secretary or chair of any supporters club containing a minimum of 20 members), a Black and White member (non season ticket holder), a corporate member and an equality representative. Two board members, John Irving and Lee Charnley will also sit on the panel, along with the club’s heads of safety, security, ticketing and media. The Newcastle United Foundation and Wonga will also be represented. Lee stated that the forum will meet for the first time in September. Lee stated that the introduction of the fans forum does not signal the end of him attending Fans United meetings and that the club will continue to attend.
When questioned about how non-ST holders can be represented by the Fans Forum, Lee explained that that was why the Trust, Fans United and NUDSA have permanent seats on the Forum. We can act as funnels, gathering views and opinion from fans and non-ST holders and feed that back to the Forum.
People were concerned that the Fans Forum is just a UEFA box ticking exercise as UEFA have a directive about improving supporter engagement with Clubs and the Supporter Liaison Officer (in NUFC’s case Lee Marshall) is a UEFA mandated position. Lee accepted this, but went on to explain that although the SLO is a UEFA mandate; the Fans Forum is not. The Fans Forum has been set up to give fans a line of communication with the boardroom, and two senior directors will sit on the Fans Forum when it meets quarterly.
People were also dismayed that Mike Ashley will not be in attendance and once again the question of why he does not address the fans, talk to the fans or explain his plans and motives for the Club to the fans was raised. It was suggested from the floor that Mr Ashley writes the programme notes occasionally as this would provide him with his own unedited platform to tell fans what is happening.
Malcolm Dix, Steve Wraith and Ian Cusack all said at various points that the Forum is great progress, coming from a regime that has had such a poor relationship with the fans; and that it should be given a chance to see what it can achieve.
Linking in with Lee’s information about the Fans Forum, Steve confirmed that Fans United will use our seat on the panel to pass on queries, comments and issued that have been raised by fans through ourselves. In addition to being able to do this via the meetings, social media, website and emails, Steve also announced that Fans United intend to create a You Tube account. This will allow fans to send video comments which will be uploaded to the Fans United website and can be viewed by other fans.
Both Lee and Steve updated the meeting on the progress of ‘the Gates’. They are currently undergoing restoration which is nearing completion. They are set to be installed on Friday August 23, the day before the first home game of the season against West Ham. There will be an installation ceremony on the day of the game itself.
Issues concerning away ticket allocations have been raised with the club previously through a number of sources including Fans United. The club has not always taken full allocations due to clubs having to reimburse the home club for unsold tickets. The club has pressed the Premier League to change this ruling and has obtained support from a number of other clubs. This has resulted in the Premier League changing the allocation rules to allow away clubs to take up the full allocation without being charged for unsold allocations, which is at present being ratified.
A number of ticketing issues from the floor were raised with Lee, in particular problems experienced as to how tickets are linked (with regards to applying for away games with friends/family members), and also the fact that though season ticket prices are frozen the compulsory membership fees are still rising year on year.
These are issues that Lee will feed back to the club on.
Questions were raised with Lee regarding the possibility of allowing fans to bring in flags, banners and surfers. It was noted that on occasions the club and or sponsors have had large scale banners and surfers in the ground, yet fans have not been allowed to bring their own on the grounds of health and safety. Lee agreed that if this is the case, it needs to be looked at. He stated that fans wishing to bring flags and banners should contact the club, to meet with the security team for advice. It was raised from the floor that fans had already done that were generally fobbed off with health and safety commonly being used as an excuse. Lee invited any fans who would like to work with him on this issue to contact him.
After a point raised from the floor, re flares and smoke bombs, Lee explained that prior to the Man City game all away fans were not routinely searched on entering SJP. Following the flare incident at that game, NUFC changed their policy and ALL away fans are routinely searched. Steve Hastie added that it might seem hypocritical to outsiders that we complain about away fans bringing flares into the ground when our away support routinely let off flares and smoke bombs during our Europa Cup campaign. Wendy Taylor (NUFC Head of Media) confirmed that NUFC were fined heavily for both flares and streakers by UEFA last season.
Points from Twitter included “why is the stewarding in the Strawberry Corner so aggressive and OTT?” and “even after Man City, flares were still a problem at SJP”
Calls for the return of a singing section have been brought up with Lee previously and the issue continues to be brought up with Fans United. Lee was asked if he had any further progress on the issue. Lee has fed this back to the club and the matter is being discussed within the club, though he does not have any specific updates or information at this time. NUFC Fans United will continue to press the Club on this matter. The consensus from Twitter was if the singing section is to be reinstated can it be located in The Strawberry Corner.
Steve talked about the recent Joe Harvey tribute night.. The organisers have raised £10,000 for a plaque which will be installed at St James’ Park. NUFC Fans United extent their congratulations to the Fairs Club for their sterling work in ensuring that the Joe Harvey Memorial Plaque will be installed.
NUMBER 9 PLATFORM
A new online fanzine, The Number 9 launches in August and hopes to become a platform to promote various NUFC related angles online. The fanzine and Fans United hope to establish a regular #NUFCHour on Twitter to help in this.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
Lee was asked if there was an update on the issue of the club providing/running its own travel club for away games. No update as yet.
It was also suggested that the club set up regular ‘Footballers Dinners’ events at St James’ to allow fans and players to engage with one another.
At the end of the evening Wendy Taylor stood up and explained that although she and Lee might appear to be relatively junior members of staff, they do work at the Club and there aren’t “twenty layers of management” between themselves and Mike Ashley. She meets Mr Ashley “every few weeks” and feeds back what she hears from the fans; “he does get the message”.
The meeting took place on the fourth anniversary of Sir Bobby Robson’s death. It was suggested that in the future a regular pre-season tournament could be established involving Sir Bobby’s previous clubs. This suggestion proved to be popular with those in attendance.
The meeting ended with a minute’s applause in memory of Sir Bobby.
The situation that we now find ourselves in is all Mike Ashley’s making. He chose to appoint Joe Kinnear; he allowed Kinnear free reign to make the announcement without notifying anyone at the club; he allowed Kinnear to go back on Talksport and continue to release information about his appointment, his position within the club and the imminent change of job description of the MD Derek Llambias. He also allowed Kinnear to explain the new transfer policy that the club would adopt; everything going through Kinnear himself.
Throughout his time at NE1 Ashley has never publicly uttered a single word about his plans for the club; instead choosing to speak through first Chris Mort and then Derek Llambias. His inner sanctum of advisors has fluctuated between the very public (Wise, Jiminez) to the very private. He has sacked or lost 5 managers (Allardyce, Keegan, Kinnear, Houghton, Shearer), paid millions in compensation to managers and back room staff; taken platitudes and stick in unequal proportion; had the club dragged through the courts; seen us relegated from and promoted back to the Premier League; taken us on a European journey that was long on enjoyment but ultimately impacted on our fight for Premier League survival by a failure to provide his manager with a squad capable of competing on both domestic and European fronts. We have seen sponsors come and go. More go, if utterances about our commercial position are anything to go by. We’ve had the fuss concerning the ground name; the new club shirt sponsors, transfer policy, ticketing arrangements for away travel, the ban on watching training sessions and reserve fixtures, the abandonment of L7 signing section, heavy handed stewarding, issues concerning standing in the Gallowgate Corner and a general perception that some at the club simply enjoy rubbing our noses in the dirt.
We have been told that we are following the Arsenal model (16 consecutive seasons in the Champions' League), the Aston Villa model (a youth policy based on Academy A status); the Liverpool model (is there such a thing?). Thankfully we have never been informed that we are following the Sunderland model !
We have been left sometimes dazed, sometimes confused; sometimes ecstatic and at other times bereft of an understanding of where we are heading. We have praised, we have berated, we’ve screamed and we’ve at times protested but as supporters we have continued to support the team as we always have and always will; loyalty comes as part of our birthright; we are born into it and we carry it with dignity and pride in equal measure.
We have supporters who simply want to attend on match days. We have others who see results as the be all and end all of everything. Some attend religiously home and away, never missing a game. Others just do home games and some simply dip in and dip out when the desire of finances allow. Some no longer attend; be it for work, family, financial or personal reasons but each and every one of them remain supporters; carrying with them the passion during 90 minutes with the same strength of belonging as the next man.
That is the beauty of being a Geordie; being a Newcastle Supporter. Being part of something collective. We feed off the oxygen of the club; eat sleep and drink its movements, utterances, publicity, products, success and failure. We talk football incessantly; we talk Newcastle United even more. And when our club is wounded we feel wounded too. When it doesn’t talk to us we feel rebuked; when it is successful we feel buoyed and we buzz. Success being measured in victories not trophies, obviously.
But because Mike Ashley hasn’t uttered a single word to supporters in six years and hasn’t explained a single decision that he has made for the “benefit and stability” of the club, many feel angry; take it personal and start to question motives. A void is created and without the oxygen of communication the void starts to get filled for many with a fear, a loathing and a desire to seek answers; a desire for change.
The change that NUFCFANS UNITED seeks is a change in attitude; a removal of the mistrust that exists between Mike Ashley and supporters; a desire to help the club realize the importance of direct and positive communication and a desire to see success. That’s why we set the group up; convinced by Malcolm Dix that in the long term, club and supporter needed to listen to each other.
The recent appointment of a fans' liaison officer was a great start and Lee Marshall, with the backing of Derek Llambias (now departed) and the support of PR officer Wendy Taylor. Lee is doing a great job building a set up based on trust and a sound understanding how important communication is. Indeed, Derek himself was working his way slowly into the task and in recent months was pulling in the right direction; engaging once more with supporters with grace and courtesy; and having met with him I warmed to his change of approach. Don’t get me wrong; he was no saint and I’m sure that his single minded approach to some issues would have remained and would not necessarily have been for the good for the club (my opinion). But with commercial finances starting to come into to the club I think he was finally being released from the shackles that Mike Ashley’s business plan held him to.
We know Derek’s departure was not anticipated by either himself or his staff and his successor needs to build on the important work that Lee and Wendy were implementing through fan liaison; ensuring that supporters views are taken as of paramount importance in decision making in the future for the benefit of everyone associated with Newcastle United.
NUFC FANS UNITED hold monthly meetings. Our meetings are open to anyone to attend; we have an agenda that lays down topics for discussion; we don’t shape or develop opinion; we simply provide the vehicle for supporters to come together to discuss issues or concerns; listen to opinions and see those opinions, concerns and issues fed back to the club for consideration. We ask people to join as “members” simply so that we can e mail them and invite them to bring forward agenda points before each meeting. Our last meeting saw an abundance of opinion put forward with various levels of passion; none more so than by the MAOC group. The meeting provided them with a platform and they put forward a motion to those attending that endorsed their own opinion on Mike Ashley’s Suitability to be the custodian of Newcastle United. Many in the room agreed and their motion was passed on a show of hands. That group will no doubt now carry on with its campaigning in whatever manner they see fit; good luck to them. They’ve started the debate and already social networks will be fuelling that debate as we crawl towards the first fixtures of the season. If there is such a thing as a Mike Ashley In Campaign (MAIC) then they too will be given the same opportunity as MOAC if they so wish; come along; talk, be listened too and run their counter campaign. That’s what NUFC FANS UNITED is all about; providing supporters with a vehicle to have their opinion heard and listened to by the club and if anyone has a problem with that then there is probably little we can say or do that will be of benefit to them.
NUFC FANS UNITED won’t run campaigns for change; we won’t be holding protest rallies and we won’t be calling for anyone’s head; that’s not our purpose. But we will continue to provide fans with a platform for their concerns to be presented to the club and help their fans' liaison team in the best way we can.
NUFC FANS UNITED
Newcastle United fans united under one banner at the Tyneside Irish Centre last night to discuss the best way forward in opening communications with owner Mike Ashley and the Club. Twelve groups were in attendance which included various fanzine editors, website administrators, and social media operators who all put there views forward on various topics that had affected fans and that the fans felt they would like answers to. The coalition of supporters calling themselves 'NUFC Fans United' invited honorary president at Newcastle United Malcolm Dix to the meeting and asked him if he would act as a link between the group and the club over the coming months. Also in attendance at the meeting was Lord Mayor of Newcastle Councillor Geoff O'Brien who was an elected member of the Fans Liaison Committee that met regularly with the club under the previous ownership. Topics covered at the meeting included fans being displaced from Level 7, the clubs change in stance with regards to fans applying for tickets for games away from St James Park, and how the club has dealt with fans direct debit payments in the pre-season. The group will be releasing there minutes from the meeting via the various websites and publications today and you can find them here www.nufcfansutd.com
The group will be meeting on a monthly basis. Those wishing to attend are asked to email 'NUFC Fans United' to reserve there place. All groups and views are welcome.