The following piece therefore is the transcript from the minutes that were compiled during the initial meeting at The Tyneside Irish Centre, Newcastle, on the evening of Monday 8th June 2011, and done under the banner of the NUFC Fans United.
It was to be a meeting where fans, fanzines, blog writers and podcasts et al would all come together in a collision of minds (and voices) to discuss the state of affairs presently engulfing our beloved club.
In attendance were representatives of the following independent factions: - The Seats, United for Newcastle, Toon Talk, Mike Ashley Out, Toontastic, Skunkers, Taylor & Besty, NUFCforum.com, alongside the likes of Ian Cusack, Michael Hudson, Malcolm Dix and the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Councillor Geoff O’Brien, amongst numerous others.
First and foremost a copy of the meeting’s agenda was handed out to the thirty or so attendees, and from this the key personnel of Steve Wraith, Steve Hastie, Neil Mitchell, were ascertained. Of those persons Messer’s Hastie and Wraith were to introduce themselves and their aims for the both the evening and the future of NUFC Fans United, especially within the current predicament, was presented to all. Malcolm Dix was introduced as he whom would be entrusted with being the conduit between that of the supporters and the hierarchy at NUFC itself. The topics on the agenda would be marginalised into that of: -
- Level 7 and Fans Displacement,
- Allocation of Away Tickets and the non-purchasing of match tickets for those supporters without a season ticket,
- Direct Debits and the Financial Issues connected to the fans in the close season,
- Communication with the fans over issues that directly affect the supporters.
This would be started by Mr Steve Hastie, former member of the NUST (Newcastle United Supporters Trust) whom discussed the issues of communications, or lack of, in the club and welcomed the presence of Mr Dix, himself the Honorary Vice President of NUFC to the meeting and whom had offered his services as the afore mentioned conduit between the two factions. Hastie went on to discuss that this would be an amalgamation of groups to put across the voice of the fans to that of NUFC as a whole, not just Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias and would be quoted as saying ‘if you don’t keep plugging away then you don’t get anywhere’. Sentiments indeed.
Mr Steve Wraith, editor of Toon Talk fanzine and himself a former Fans Liaison Officer for Newcastle United was the next to speak and he began by stating that he had built up a working relationship with both Hastie and Mitchell over the past 18 months but stated that ‘everyone’s opinions are important, not just my own’. He would go on to then discuss that the strengths would lie in the opinions of the groups of fans which were present as well as those beyond this. There was a need for direction and communication not just with the club but with each other as well as reiterating point previously made by Hastie concerning the club and adding about continuance with any future regimes possibly at the club as well.
The introduction portion was concluded by a brief section with Mr Malcolm Dix and to who said that both parties (NUFC Fans United and Newcastle United) were to work as one and that it would be to make the club both successful and financially viable. However there was the need for a relationship between the two and for both to work together as one, solitary unit, not against each other.
It was also reiterated that all voices of the club, irrespective of format, were invited and would continue to be so invited to future meetings.
LEVEL 7 / FANS DISPLACEMENT
There would be points presented here by representatives of The Seats, Mike Ashley Out and United for Newcastle. Some of which would be interlinked with other topics of the meeting as well.
It was suggested that, although the supporters of the club had a reputation for being raucous, they also brought atmosphere to the stadium and that the said supporters were, understandably upset due to the main lack of communication and that they wanted something from the club’s hierarchy in relation to numerous points, some of which are presented within these minutes. In relation to the issue of Level 7 though it was said that, although it was initially taken as a pinch of salt, the break-up of friends built up over time was emotional and that it was more to do with a lack of engagement at all points of the proceedings. It was to be seen as a personal attack on the fans.
There have already been a number of meetings conducted in relation to the Level 7 issue, and with club representatives and that although the attention was gained, the response wasn’t really justified to the needs of the supporters. It was also mentioned by Neil Mitchell about the supporters’ panel which occurred at the start of Alan Shearer’s reign as NUFC manager and, with Llambias in attendance/calling to discuss points of view, progress was seen to be made. However, it was then pointed out that the willingness previously shown all but ended on the Monday after the football club was relegated to the Championship.
Mr Wraith stated that, overall ‘it’s not just a singularity but a group opinion. There is no banner, and that you are only tied to the group when present at meetings. Other times you would stay with your own representative faction’.
It was also mentioned that there seemed to be a mismatch into what’s there and what’s happening, a discussion about how and where the supporters can and will sit in family enclosures and the problems there could lead to campaigns being presented from other directions – that some sort of clarity was needed from those entrusted to provide it. But that the club or those connected to it, only seem to be surfacing when they are criticising someone from the club – Andy Carroll, Michael Owen etc.
TICKET ALLOCATION & AWAY GAMES
It was forwarded that there were already problems in the ticket allocation for the derby (second match of the season) against Sunderland, and that they were allocating on an unfounded, not working, points system.
This all stemmed from the Darlington game and the events surrounding it and that it was noted, obviously, that the club was looking for another excuse in which to have a go at the fans and that on top of this, the cost of season tickets and club membership costs would continue to rise on an annual basis. The stopping of the purchasing of away tickets was to be seen as suicidal and that this would not lead to supporters attempting to purchase their tickets by others means and for other areas. Although the reaction seemed to be kneejerk, as is usually the case with the club, it was actually more an untimely response and could have been done so differently. Also, the supporters of Newcastle United seem to have been given some label or tag by the media, however, they are just quick to react – good or bad is the question though?
DIRECT DEBITS & FINANCIAL ISSUES
As with all points raised, the main issue here is that of communication, or lack of, but from both sides of the coin. That the finances in today’s environment could lead to possible legal issues in regards of the payments that have been made/received between both parties. However, there need to be some admittance from the club for their mistakes and that the fans deserve some sort of feedback.
COMMUNICATION & DIRECT EFFECTS ON SUPPORTERS
Communication, under the present regime at least, is a major issue. This raised questions such as – How do we bring the fans groups together? How does it present a united front to the football club? Who and how communication is made at? From this it was suggested that one of the best communicators in recent years was Freddie Fletcher. Also that we need to find ways of being resistant and reliable and reasonable in presenting a medium to the football club, perhaps even some kind of advocating TUC model in order to present things. And that we need to think collectively and begin a dialogue through creating something meaningful.
Mr Hastie interjected by stating that we need to gain a rapport and confidence for each other over the coming months. That there was a need for questions, probing and probing by each faction that represents the NUFC Fans United, the models and unions themselves.
In the meanwhile we are empowering ourselves to have a point, not to feel disenfranchised and through the point of economic power and that money does indeed talk.
Other interjections were the mentions of the Save our Seats campaign, the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, and the Supporters 4 Change from 1989 where around eight thousand fans boycotted the opening match of the season against Leeds United, as well as that, although there was no support, what was present was apathetic in its own nature. However, is this achieved with the presence of some casualties or collateral damage attached?
There was also mentioned that there was a need to form obvious lines of communication between the group and the club and which creates both more and reliable credibility. As well as that there will be a point where all or most of us would agree upon and that when that specific day arrives then the strengths presented would become apparent.
United for Newcastle gladly pointed out that one of the biggest strengths from within the room was that we are supporting each other , irrespective of whether we agree with each other or not. That people need to think of ourselves and each other as human beings, that certain things do work, and that others have struck nerves in the past, irrespective of the in-house regime. It shows that with some willingness, one little thing will speak volumes, be that from the football club, where the main source of communication needs to come, or from ourselves, the supporters. But this needs to be done properly and in an orderly fashion.
Those present felt that the club should answer several questions to begin with, and to open those said channels of communications. These questions are –
What are the long-term intentions of the football club?
Is history seen to be repeating itself?
Upon conclusion, Malcolm Dix summed up everything upon his departure when he said, and I quote – ‘all I want to see is a successful club, and one that is winning trophies before I pop my clogs’.
The date of the next meeting will be announced at a later date.
Peter Mann 08/08/2011