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.

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.

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.
I was in Odessa on the night of April 19th 2010 and so, like the video, most of what I can remember of the game itself comes from YouTube links. The euphoric, guttural roar from the away end at the final whistle, bodies streaming on to the pitch, players mobbed, ‘I get knocked down but I get up again’ blasting out over the Home Park tannoy.  Before the game a group of Plymouth fans had unveiled a banner congratulating Newcastle on their promotion.  Now, the club’s PA system belted out ‘Local Hero’ and ‘Blaydon Races’.  What made the gestures even more remarkable was the fact that Newcastle’s 2-0 win simultaneously confirmed Plymouth’s relegation.   “Fantastic hosts,” goalkeeper Steve Harper said. “They played their parts and it was just a fantastic place to be at the end of the game.” Newcastle fans agreed – “We’ll never forget” was just one of many posts on the Argyle message board the next day.
We haven’t.  There are a surprising number of bonds between Newcastle and Plymouth, geographically remote one-club cities with fanatical local support and a history of underachievement. Scottish striker Jack Peddie, whose goals helped Newcastle United to their first ever promotion, later played for Plymouth in their first season as a professional club. Bobby Moncur, the last Newcastle captain to lift a major trophy, managed Argyle in the early 1980s.  John Carver, assistant to Sir Bobby Robson and now Alan Pardew, was on the Home Park staff last year.  Dan Gosling made his first Plymouth appearance against Hull City at the age of 16.

Despite the sacking of Chris Hughton and the lack of an adequate replacement for Andy Carroll – whose season in the Championship propelled him from reserve forward to England international – Newcastle have since consolidated their place in the Premier League.  For Plymouth, who survived two winding-up orders before they entered administration in the first week of March, the season culminated in a home defeat to Southampton and a second successive relegation.  Around 50 members of staff have been working without salary since January. Despite the Argyle Supporters’ Trust helping to raise money towards a hardship fund, many are now in debt and struggling to afford even the petrol to get them into work.  There are real fears that Plymouth Argyle Football Club may not survive at all.

The video made by Newcastle Fans United nearly didn’t happen at all.  Together with FNA Films I first approached Sky TV about footage “for a short 30 second video to try and raise funds for Plymouth Argyle”.  They passed us on to another company who, like Sky, said they would be happy to help but didn’t own the rights to the pictures from the game.  We were passed on again, explained the situation – and were told we would have to pay £800.  “It’s a short, non-commercial video to help a football club that might go out of business,” we explained. “Our rates are £800 per minute,” was all we received in reply.  We tried YouTube, but most of the footage was shaky and blurred.  One – from a Newcastle fan who was at the game - was better than the rest. “Can we use your video?” we asked. Ten minutes later we got a reply. “No problem.  Anything I can do to help.”  Compare and contrast with the (unnamed) TV company.

The video went live last night and will be plugged on Newcastle United blogs and websites.  It’s a small gesture but one we hope will remind Plymouth fans that they do not stand alone. I urge all football fans to contribute whatever they can towards helping the Argyle Supporters’ Trust keep their club alive.

Special thanks go to for the footage we used in the video.
Why should Newcastle fans care about the Northern League?  Well, if it hadn’t been for the world’s second oldest football league, there might not have been a club worth forming in December 1892.  Newcastle East End had turned professional in 1889, the year both Newcastle clubs took part in the inaugural Northern League season.  Four years later, the newly-christened Newcastle United joined Sheffield United and three-time champions Middlesbrough Ironopolis in Division Two of the Football League.  

If you think that was the end of Newcastle United’s involvement in Northern League football, then you’d be wrong. Stan Seymour, ‘Mr Newcastle United’, was packed off to Shildon – then of the now-defunct North Eastern League but now very much a part of its Northern rival – as a young player and told to “come back when you grow up”. He did – winning an FA Cup and title medal as a player before managing the team to further Wembley triumphs in 1951 and 1952. Frank Clark made over 450 appearances and won a Second Division Championship and a Fairs Cup winners’ medal after joining from Crook Town in 1962. Sixteen years later, Alan Shoulder went from night shift worker at Hetton Colliery to Newcastle centre forward.  In 1980, a gangly midfielder by the name of Chris Waddle left Tow Law Town and a sausage factory job in Pelaw in exchange for £1,000. More recently, Steve Harper was spotted while playing for Seaham Red Star.
Steve Harper
Doesn’t happen nowadays? Tell that to Michael Richardson, an eighteen year old who was working as an electrician and turning out for Walker Central – a Northern Alliance club with aspirations of stepping up to the Northern League – this time last year. “A really good prospect,” Alan Pardew calls him.  “It’s all right having the attitude, but you have to have the ability, and Michael has it,” agrees Peter Beardsley.

The idea of Northern League Day had been gestating  since September 4th 2010 when, along with fifty-odd others and George Caulkin of The Times, I took advantage of a free Premier League weekend to see Birtley Town beat Northallerton 2-0 on the afternoon of the first ever Non-League Day.  “It’s the first time Birtley’s ever had any fans,” one of the Gateshead team’s players said as he walked off at half-time.

It wasn’t my first Northern League game.  As a young kid, one of the highlights of every summer was watching a Newcastle XI play at Hebburn Town, just down the road from where I used to live. A few seasons ago I saw South Shields, with ex-mackem Craig Russell a portly figure at left back.  This year, I started at Horden in July and took in my twenty-first ground of the season on a foggy night at Seaham. In between I’ve seen some dreadful games and some wonderful ones, watched Johnny Godsmark at Ashington, Lee Kerr – who once partnered Albert Luque up front in a reserve team managed by Lee Clark - and Dean Critchlow, an FA Youth Cup semi-finalist along with Andy Carroll and Fraser Forster.  I’ve had pints of beer for under £2 at West Auckland Town, winners of the first World Cup when they beat Juventus 6-1 and listened to Graham Fenton swear his way through almost the whole of the second half at North Shields, and rediscovered the simple joys of Bovril laced with pepper. Most of all, I’ve had a laugh.

Some people claim that non-league football is the ultimate antidote to the Premier League, a return to how things used to be.  I know all the players names, they say, and we all meet in the pub right after the game.  And maybe that happens.  Other people – those who’ve never been to a game outside the top two divisions – think it’s all kick and rush, and one man and his dog, and freezing your bollocks off by the side of a muddy, divot-strewn pitch straight out of Hereford ’71.  Maybe that happens too.  But Northern League Day isn’t about either of those things.  As football writer Iain Macintosh put it in his piece for the site, “It’s about paying a decent price to see a decent game. It’s about being able to have a decent pint at half-time. It’s about being able to stand up. More than anything, it’s about supporting a team who represent your local community, even if it’s only for one day”.

This Saturday sees the Coach Lane Clasico between West Allotment Celtic – fighting desperately to stay in the First Division – and Newcastle Benfield, who still retain hope of pipping Spennymoor to the title.  Whickham play Washington at 11.30 am, giving you enough time to see two games in a day, and the perfect excuse to get out of doing the shopping.  Ahead of their third Wembley final in three years, Whitley Bay host Ashington in a Tyne & Wear – South Northumberland derby.  Ryton, who won their fourth point of the season at the weekend, are at home to Billingham Synthonia.  Other than Whickham, kick off in the games is 3pm.

Northern League Day is about the fun you can have with your mates, standing on a football touchline, watching two teams giving their all.  It costs £4, a fiver at the most.  Take a tenner and treat yourself to two drinks. 

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